Cully Morrigan knew Hop Harrigan had run afoul of the House Un-American Committee, same as a lot of guys. That had broken him and his girl up as he tried to deal with the slurs to his patriotism, and in the process he had lost the company he was vice-president of, the All-American Aviation Company.
Morrigan felt they went after the wrong guys. You couldn’t get any more un-American than some of those big-shot villains, but you didn’t see them in front of a bunch of congressmen, lying their guts out. Still, he was here on a job. He wasn’t getting paid money to be sympathetic to Hop’s plight.
The two men settled into the only two chairs in the hangar.
“What’s going on, Cully?” Hop asked. Morrigan wasn’t one for social niceties, the pilot remembered with a small smile.
“I hired on with this guy, Blake,” said Cully. “He wants a big plane with plenty of room and speed that can land on water. The Jenny fits the bill perfectly.”
“Blake?” said Hop. “A mobster?”
Morrigan thought about the seven missing bullets.
“No,” he said.
“When do you want to take off, Cully?” Hop asked. “We’ll have to file a flight plan and fuel up Jenny.” Hop Harrigan’s relatively modern cargo plane was named in honor of his father’s antique JN-4 Jenny biplane with which he learned to fly as a youth in the 1930s.
“Let me make a call,” said Cully. “Blake didn’t give me a lot of details, except he was in some kind of rush.”
“Here you go,” said Hop with a smile as he handed over a phone. “So you finally got some honest work?”
Morrigan listened to the phone before he answered. He really didn’t know anything about what he was hired on to do. “It’s work,” he settled for saying as the subject of their conversation answered.
“Hello,” said Blake in his quiet voice.
“I have a plane and a pilot,” said Morrigan. “They need a lot of details before you can leave the city.”
“Tell them that we are headed into the South Pacific as soon as they are ready. A flight plan to Perth, Australia, should be filed.”
“Right,” said Morrigan.
Paul Twitchell was amazed at the public library. He had never even been inside before meeting Blake. You learn something new every day, he told himself as the librarian pointed him in the right direction.
Where had this place been all his life? Of course, it would help if he could read a lot better. Still, there were plenty of maps and summaries of the place for the asking. He wondered why this would interest his new boss.
Twitch had never been on a plane before, either. Still, he was going to get a lot of smackers for his help and involvement.
That was when Twitch thought about how much he really knew, and he shook a little more, since it was next to nothing.
Twitch gathered as much material as he could, then called the number he had been given and received an address.
He took a taxi over to the place and was surprised by the block of buildings there. He paid the driver off before walking up to the door.
This Blake had weird taste, and didn’t he believe in doorknobs? The door opened, and Adam Blake gestured for Twitch to come in. He seemed remarkably still as his eyes fell on the material from the library. A great poker player, Twitch decided.
“Here’s everything I could find,” Twitch said as he followed Blake deeper into the building.
“This is Professor Nichols,” said Blake, introducing a bald man wearing eyeglasses. “Professor, this is Mr. Twitchell.”
“Twitch is just fine, Prof,” said the shaking man. He held out his hand, and Professor Carter Nichols shook it, feeling like he had put his hand in a blender afterward.
Blake led the way into a huge library. He placed Twitch’s research on a huge table, then sorted it with a practiced quickness. The job was very thorough, he admitted. The man had even dug up aerial photos from somewhere. A piece of pure luck.
“The official stuff is short and to the point,” said Twitch. “Natives live there, moved by the United States, island bombed with A-bombs.”
“So there should be no one there,” said Blake. His metallic eyes considered the aerial photos intently.
“Right,” said Twitch. “The Navy still uses it for artillery practice or something, according to the latest thing I could dig up.”
“Someone is on that island, according to these pictures,” said Blake. He pulled a drawer open on the desk and brought out a magnifying glass. “It looks like a concealed encampment of some type.”
“How can you tell?” asked Twitch.
Blake held the glass over the picture. Men in white suits were clearly visible when he did so.
“It looks like your seismic readings were correct as we feared, Professor Nichols,” Blake said.
“What’s this seismic stuff?” asked Twitch. “It’s trouble, right?”
“We don’t know for sure,” said Nichols. “There were some tremors, and this island is at the epicenter.”
“Yes, Mr. Twitchell,” said Blake, placing the glass on the table. “It is trouble.”
“We don’t know that for sure, Adam,” protested Nichols.
“What do you think, Mr. Twitchell?” said Blake as he retreated from the table.
Twitch picked up the glass and held it over the photo. He stared at it for a while. “I have to agree with the chief, Prof,” he said finally. “This is nothing but trouble.”
“Give me a hand, Mr. Twitchell,” Blake asked from behind a huge machine with a dynamo atop it, giving it the appearance of something from a grade-B monster movie.
“What do you need, chief?” asked the shaky stool pidgeon.
“We are going to pack some equipment for our flight,” said Blake, bearing a pair of silver cases in his hands. “Grab those other two for me, will you?”
“No problem,” said Twitch. He tried to pick up both cases, but immediately had to put them down due to their weight. One would have to do. He hefted it up on his shoulder and followed Blake to a garage in the back of the building.
How does he do that stuff? Twitch asked himself. Eyes like an eagle and muscles of a bear. He can’t be a mystery-man, unless he’s Batman, or even Superman, since most of them retired with the JSA. The cases quickly went into the trunk of a plain black sedan. Was Blake even his real name?
Twitch loaded the last case, shaking his head at the room he had seen. Machinery hummed everywhere. In the center was some kind of solitary steel chamber with a hatch in the front. A typewriter was hooked up to a TV on one of the desks.
What did Blake really have planned? Worse, what kind of trouble was he getting Twitch and Cully into? There were a bunch of guys in that picture. Maybe, he considered, he should ask for more money.
Blake had changed from his black suit to black fatigues with a yellow hourglass on the arm. A black beret was folded into an epaulet. He looked at a box hooked to the phone. Twitch noticed that numbers were displayed on the top of the box.
Picking up the phone, Blake dialed the number on the box. “Is Culver Morrigan there?” he said into the phone. He waited for a few seconds. “We are on our way to the airport, Mr. Morrigan.”
Cully Morrigan put the phone down on its hook. How the heck did he know where to call? Nothing was said about Hop’s plane service. The gunman could see the pilot was thinking the same thing.
“What your boss have to say?” asked Hop Harrigan.
“He’s on his way,” said Cully. “He’s bringing some essentials.”
“We’ll be ready to go by the time he gets here,” said Hop. “A trip to Australia is a long haul, and we’re going to have to refuel at least twice.”
“Blake can cover that,” said Morrigan. “I’m going over to the airport and get a sandwich. You want anything?”
“I’ll pass,” said Hop. “I’ve got some baloney sandwiches in the fridge.”
“OK,” said Cully. He left the hangar quietly.
“This is a fine mess,” said Hop’s friend and mechanic Tank Tinker from inside the engine cowling.
“It’s strange, I’ll say,” said Hop, “but it also seems legitimate.”
“Not to mention we can’t turn down a paying customer, or we’ll sink like a rock.”
“Not to mention that,” agreed Hop. “At least Blake isn’t telling us our business.”
“Even odds he will by the time we get back,” said Tank.
Adam Blake, Paul Twitchell, and Professor Carter Nichols drove around the airport perimeter until the Harrigan Aviation Services hangar came into sight. Blake pulled the car gently to a stop in beside the building.
“Looks like a dive,” said Twitch as he got out of the car.
“Do you think this is wise, Adam?” asked Nichols, standing beside the shaky informant, polishing his pince-nez with a soft cloth before replacing them on his nose.
“This is the only way to cover the distance involved with any amount of speed, Professor Nichols,” said Blake. “There is a certain amount of risk, but all we can do is minimize potential problems. Our quarry will not wait much longer before he makes a move of some kind.”
“Blake?” asked a blond man in coveralls. “I’m Hop Harrigan, and this is my mechanic, Tank Tinker. Cully went to get something to eat.”
“Yes, I am Blake,” he said, his metallic green eyes seeming to glow for a second as he considered the two men. “This is Professor Nichols and Mr. Twitchell,” he said, indicating the men. “How soon can we be ready to leave?”
“Any time you’re ready to go,” said Hop, with a smile. “In a hurry?”
“Yes,” said Blake. “Mr. Twitchell, please tell Mr. Morrigan we are getting ready to leave the city.”
“Right, chief,” said Twitch, sauntering away, whistling.
Blake pulled two of the cases from the trunk of the car and took them aboard the Jenny. He strapped them down efficiently, before retrieving the other two and placing them onboard.
Tank rolled his eyes in a what did I tell you? movement. Hop smiled at his old friend before grabbing his clipboard for the pre-flight checklist.
“We don’t know if this is connected to the readings I received from Winston Rayne,” said Nichols.
“We will, Professor,” said Blake. “We will.”
Twitch wandered into the airport. He kept his hands in his pockets and his eyes roving the place as he walked to the hot dog joint they had for travelers. He saw two familiar figures before they saw him, and he stepped into concealment behind a column, then moved over behind a baggage cart to get closer. One of the guys was Franko Morelli. That wasn’t good.
Franko pulled a grenade from a pocket, then pulled the pin. Twitch knew he was going to throw it into the little restaurant.
The informant grabbed a small bag. He closed his eyes, feeling the world still, then threw the bag, knowing it would go where he wanted. The bag sailed across the room in a nice trajectory, clipping Franko’s arm and making him drop the grenade. Smoke poured from the metal object.
There was a sound of smashing glass and the roar of gunshots. Twitch saw Franko take a couple in the chest as he tried to get some cover. The other guy had held a tommy-gun before Morrigan turned his attention on him. Twitch watched the man dance for a second before Morrigan was through with him. Then more men began pouring down the concourse toward Blake’s assistants.
“Mr. Harrigan, please ready the plane to get underway,” Blake said. “I shall be right back.”
“Sure, Mister–” said Hop, stopping when he saw that Blake was halfway to the airport building.
“Geez, he can move,” said Tank, speaking the pilot’s thought aloud.
“You heard the man,” said Hop. “Let’s get ready to fly.”
Ten men had come to the aid of Franko and his associate. That was the only thing that saved Franko’s life.
As the gangsters came into the concourse, firing as they went, Cully Morrigan met them with fire from his own automatics. He fired both pistols empty as he sought some protective cover behind an airline counter. Four of the men went down as bullets cracked against wood and glass.
A figure in black burst from the front door behind the gangsters. They didn’t even hear him as he struck among them like lightning. Twitch, the only observer, could not follow what exactly was going on except that bodies flew everywhere under heavy blows.
Morrigan reloaded and stood up. He, Blake, and Twitch were the only ones standing.
“Let us go, gentlemen,” said Blake, calm and placid as a still lake. “We will have to leave before they think about stopping the flights out of the city.”