Hop Harrigan smiled, happy that his transportation service was picking up business. He almost had enough to hire another pilot for a plane he was considering to buy. The jobs he did for Adam Blake, Gotham City’s other man of mystery, had put him back on his feet and helped his two-man company grow.
Ikky “Tank” Tanker, his partner and mechanic, came to the office door with his habitual frown a little deeper than usual.
“Something wrong, Tank?” Hop asked good-naturedly. There was bound to be a lot wrong, according to the dour mechanic.
“Prop Wash is coming across the tarmac,” Tank said.
Hop jumped to his feet, his smile gone. “You’re kidding me,” said the pilot.
“Doubt it,” said Tank. “Looks like trouble on the hoof.”
Hop glanced at the man, frowning. He went to the hangar door to meet their old friend. Hop had cut himself off from Wash due to the HUAC committee smearing him, and Wash still worked for All-American Aviation Company. That raised another question. What brought him to Harrigan Aviation Services?
Prop Wash, a middle-aged pilot who was a veteran of two world wars, walked into the hanger, nodding at the two planes he saw there. The Jenny caught his eye, and he admired her until his mind fell back on the business that had brought him to Gotham City and his old friends, Hop and Tank. The two men smiled at him as he pulled himself from his reverie.
“What can we do for you, Wash?” asked Hop, sipping a bottle of Coca-Cola. “Gerry will skin you for leaving her behind, if I know her.”
“That’s why I came to talk to you,” said Wash, looking chagrined as he spoke. It had been a lifetime ago since he and Tank had met young Hop Harrigan, and Prop Wash was like an uncle or older brother to the boy. Now there was just too much water under the bridge for things to ever be the same again. “I didn’t want you to find out from anybody else.”
“Find out what?” Tank asked first with a hostile tone. His hands were engrossed with a rag; if that rag had been a man, it would have been dead.
“Geraldine has disappeared,” said Wash.
“What do you mean disappeared?” Hop asked, his hand tight around the neck of the bottle he held.
“She was on board a new prototype,” said Wash, looking at the floor. “The plane and everybody on board vanished.”
“You have to be kidding,” said Hop, putting the soda bottle down before he dropped it.
“No,” said Wash. “That’s why I came to tell you myself. The Feds think she took off with it.”
“Why would she do that?” asked Tank.
“To sell it to the Soviets,” said Wash. “They are trying to do a job on All-American.”
“We’ll see about that,” Hop said.
“We will?” said Tank.
“You’ll help us?” said Wash. “Thanks Hop, Tank.”
“Get the Jenny ready, you guys, while I get some help,” said Hop. He went to the phone as his friends started doing preflight checks on the Jenny.
His first phone call yielded nothing, much to his amazement. Hop had counted on Adam Blake to help him find Gerry Nolan, but the man of mystery was absent from the block of converted buildings he called home. Hop’s next call went a lot better. Professor Carter Nichols said he was on the way to the airport after he made some phone calls to some people he knew. They might be able to get the group faster access to public records with their connections.
Hop also called Paul Twitchell after checking the wall clock. He knew the former stool pigeon visited a few bars early in the morning to see who was doing what to whom. A series of calls caught up with him in the middle of his routine. Twitch said he would call Cully Morrigan and ask the gunman to help out. He didn’t hold any hope that the grinning man would lend a hand without the promise of payment. Hop understood that well enough. Morrigan was not a charitable man.
Hop gave the news to his friends as he got a flight plan ready so they could lift off from Gotham City to their destination.
The group assembled at the Harrigan Aviation Services hangar quickly. The Jenny taxied down the runway as soon as everyone was aboard and buckled in. Hop’s light touch propelled the cargo plane gently west toward California. The twin jet engines roared eagerly at top volume.
The men divided up the work to do upon landing. Hop and Tank would join the air search with the Jenny. If the plane had crashed, they would find the remains. Professor Nichols would get whatever official reports he could and go over them with a fine-toothed comb. Cully and Twitch would look around on the ground and see if anyone had seen anything. Hop found himself fighting for control as he urged the Jenny onward.
El Gordo Mesa sat in the middle of the high desert north of Las Vegas. It was surrounded by desert, with irrigation allowing the locals to survive with what they could as a stopover for air traffic into Southern California and points south and west.
The Jenny drifted in for a landing under Hop Harrigan’s careful hands. He rolled the plane to a stop in front of the hangar to refuel and drop off his passengers.
“Let’s get started,” said Cully Morrigan, his pasty face frozen in a smile because of his former employer’s retirement plan.
“Meet back here at six?” asked Carter Nichols.
“Right,” said Paul Twitchell, shaking nervously as he looked at the empty desert town. He had a feeling things wouldn’t be easy.
The men separated to carry out their tasks.
Hop and Tank went to get a load of gas from the airport manager. Hop wanted to get back in the air as soon as possible. He had doubts that the government was doing an exceptional job searching if they already thought Geraldine had taken her own plane. It would be up to him and Tank to find that plane and his old flame, if she was still alive to be found. Hop pushed those thoughts aside as he finally got someone to talk to about that gas.
Cully Morrigan and Paul Twitchell went one way, while Carter Nichols went another. Professor Nichols was headed for the terminal to go over the evidence gathered there. He hoped that Winston Rayne of the Luna Foundation had been able to clear the way for him. The federal government was beginning to regulate the flight industry, and private citizens like himself would not be able to see reports without filling out request forms in duplicate.
He headed for the radar tower. If they kept log sheets for the plane traffic, that would be the first steps to finding Hop’s old girlfriend. It would indicate an area or direction for the search to head into. Nichols found two men smoking, listening to the radio.
“My name is Carter Nichols,” the academic said. “I am here to help in the search for the missing plane.”
“Join the club,” said one of the men.
Cully Morrigan and Paul Twitchell arrived in town with no fanfare.
“Doesn’t look like much, does it?” asked Twitch, vibrating slightly.
“The only thing keeping this town alive is the airport,” said Cully, looking around as he headed for the only diner in sight. “If that folds up, this town will go under in a flat second.” The two stepped through the door of the diner. The place seemed busy, but Cully knew that half of these people were with the search effort, and when that was gone, they would be, too.
Blake’s associates found an empty booth in the back of the place and sat down. They placed an order with a harried waitress and listened to the conversation around them. They were not encouraged by what loose talk they picked up. Everyone they could hear had already decided that Hop’s girl had taken the new jet and flown south with it to Mexico to be sold overseas somewhere. None of them were really serious about the search at all.
Hop Harrigan and Tank Tanker took to the air as soon as the Jenny had been fueled. They flew a spiral out from the solitary desert airport. Other aircraft sailed the skies, but Hop only paid them attention when the other planes or helicopters came too close to his own plane. They spent hours on the search.
Night soon fell on the desert. The moon rose as Hop brought his plane in for a landing. His frown hid his normal good humor as he taxied down the runway. He hoped the others had better luck than he had.