GAINING AN ALLY

“Twin heads, Charlie!” said Bill, resuming his headphones sometime
later. The _Loening_ was flying in from the Atlantic. Bill had thought
it wiser than trailing up the coast for all eyes to see.

“Our house is over there to the left on the other side of those woods,”
returned his companion from the rear cockpit. “Did you find the answer,
old groucho?”

“No, I did not, fat boy. As the poet has it, we’ll be guided by
circumstances as we find them.”

He banked to port and leveling off, sent the amphibian speeding over the
treetops in the direction indicated. He was flying low now, barely a
hundred and fifty feet above the ground. His intention was to make a
quick landing if things looked propitious, rather than to advertise
their presence to these mysterious enemies of Mr. Evans by spiraling
down from a higher altitude.

“There’s the house!” called Charlie.

In a clearing Bill caught sight of a large red brick mansion, with
jutting wings and high gables. All the windows were closely shuttered.
The house stood back, quite close to the woods, amid unkempt lawns and
shrubbery. A broad avenue lined with maples led across the clearing into
the forest. He caught a glimpse as they shot over, of stables and a
smaller building, also of red brick, two or three hundred yards to the
left of the house.

“And there’s Dad—see him?” shouted Charlie.

A man walked from the front of the house across the drive and stood
watching them.

“Yes, I see him,” retorted Bill, “but stop your shouting or I’ll be deaf
for a week. When we come back, strip your headgear and stand up, so he
can recognize you. Hold on tight, though—it will be rough going.”

Pulling back the stick, he climbed to five hundred feet. Then, leveling
off, he made a quick flipper turn over the farther woods and headed back
toward the house, nosing downward, throttle wide open. Just before
reaching the garage, he zoomed, missing the roof by inches. As he banked
again to circle back, Charlie’s excited voice spoke through his
receivers.

“He saw me—he saw me! Look at him now! Has he gone crazy, or what? Did
you ever see anything so silly—waving his arms around his head like a
windmill!”

“Shut up! He’s wigwagging!”

Banked to an angle of 45 degrees, Bill kept the plane describing a tight
circle directly above the garage, spelling out Mr. Evans’ signals the
while. Presently he waved his understanding of the message, leveled his
wings and neutralizing his ailerons, headed the plane out to sea.

“What’s the matter? What did he say?” piped Charlie.

“His exact words,” returned Bill patiently, “were ‘Park plane Clayton.
Walk back after dark. Enter through garage.’”

“Then why on earth are we shooting off in the opposite direction?”

“Because, young Master Mind, it’s a lead-pipe cinch we’re being
watched—from the woods, probably. Maybe they’ll think we’re out for a
transatlantic record—I hope so. The last place we want them to think of
at the present time in connection with this plane is Clayton!”

Bill kept the amphibian headed out to sea for the next half hour.
Convinced at last that they were well beyond the ken of Mr. Evans’
enemies, he banked to starboard and headed his airbus on a course at
right angles to the last leg. He continued to fly in this direction for
some twenty miles, then turned back toward the coast again.

When at last they passed over the shore line once more, it was at a
point thirty miles along the coast from Twin Heads and the Evans house.
Bill steered his craft inland, turned right again and came in sight of
their destination as the hands of his wristwatch marked ten o’clock.

“Clayton has a small airport,” said Charlie tentatively.

“Thanks for that! If you’d told me before, you’d have saved me some
worry. The last thing we want to do is to advertise the _Loening_ in
this neck of the woods. If we’d had to come down in a farmer’s meadow,
it would have been all over town in half an hour.”

They were over the landing field now, and as Bill circled the plane,
preparatory to their descent, he saw that it was little more than a
meadow, a mile out of town, with hangar capable of housing three or four
planes. The flat roof of this building was painted black. Large block
letters in white paint proclaimed the legend

PARKER’S AIRDROME
CLAYTON ME.

Near the highway that led into the town, and separated from the landing
field by a white picket fence, stood a small farmhouse. As Bill swung
his bus into the wind and nosed over, he saw a man open the gate in the
fence and walk toward the hangar.

The wheels of the _Loening’s_ retractable landing gear touched the
ground. The plane rolled forward, and came to a stop on the concrete
apron of the hangar, before its open doors.

“Very pretty, very pretty indeed!” remarked the individual who had come
through the gate. He was a tall, rangy man of about thirty, wearing
overalls much the worse for grease and hard usage.

Bill and Charlie climbed down and walked over to him. “Good morning, and
thanks,” smiled Bill. “My name is Bolton. Mr. Parker, isn’t it?”

“It pays to advertise,” grinned the lanky individual, and he gripped
Bill’s extended hand with a horny fist. “Parker’s the name. I guess, by
the way you brought that _Loening_ down, it isn’t flight instruction
you’re after!”

“No,” said Bill, “not this time. What I need is gas and oil and a place
to park the bus for a few days. Can you fix me up?”

“Sure can, Mister. Business round here this summer is deader than a
doornail. Specially in my line. Want the bus filled up, looked over and
put shipshape, I take it?”

“That’s it. One of her plugs is carbonized a bit. I’d attend to it
myself, only I’m too sleepy. We’ve been in the air most of the night.
Anywhere we can turn in for a few hours? Our friends don’t expect us
till this evening.”

“Well, I can rent you the spare room over to the house for as long as
you want it. And how about something to eat before you turn in?”

“Lead me to it,” Charlie spoke up for the first time.

“Good enough!” Parker chuckled. “Come on, Mrs. P. will be glad to dish
up something tasty for you fellows.”

The Parker homestead proved to be as neat and clean as a new pin. Mrs.
Parker, a buxom young woman with dimples and a jolly smile, served the
hungry lads with wheatcakes and coffee until they couldn’t eat another
mouthful. Then she led them upstairs to the low-ceiled bedroom, where
two white beds invited them to rest. She promised to call them at seven
that evening and left them. Five minutes later, Bill and Charlie were
sound asleep.

“Seven o’clock—time to get up!” called a cheery voice which Bill
sleepily realized was Mrs. Parker’s.

“All right, thanks,” he called back. “Be down in a jiffy. And would it
be too much trouble to fix us a couple of sandwiches before we start?”

“Ezra and I,” said Mrs. Parker from the other side of the closed door,
“figured as how you’d be wanting something. We’re waitin’ supper for
you. And there’s a showerbath at the end of the hall—plenty of hot water
if you want it.”

“We certainly do,” called Bill, “thanks a lot, Mrs. Parker. We’ll make
it snappy.”

He leaned over and picked up a rubber sneaker. A moment later it bounced
off of Charlie’s red head, effectually bringing that young man back from
dreamland.

Supper with the Parkers was a pleasant affair. When it was over Bill had
some little trouble to make Mrs. Parker accept payment for their
entertainment. He guessed, however, that their financial condition was
none of the best, so when she asked him if a dollar would be too much,
he pressed a five-spot on the astonished young matron and refused to
take change. While he went out to assist Parker in an inspection of the
_Loening_, Charlie, not to be outdone in gallantry, insisted on helping
wash the dishes.

Out in the hangar, Bill came to a decision on a question he had been
considering throughout the meal. Ezra Parker and his pretty wife were an
honest, wholesome pair. He needed someone in Clayton whom he could trust
and so he came at once to the point.

“Mr. Parker, I need a friend,” he said quietly. “I dare say you aren’t
averse to making some extra money?”

Ezra smiled and laid a hand on his shoulder. “I liked you the minute I
set eyes on you this morning, Bill,” he declared. “I guess there need be
no mention of money in our friendship.”

“Perhaps not. But this friendship has a job attached to it, and you told
me when I landed, that business was none too good.”

“Well, that’s a fact, boy. Mrs. P. and I have had a hard time to make
both ends meet this summer. Anything short of robbery or murder with a
dollar or two tacked onto it will be a godsend. Our savings are tied up
in this little property and we hate to give up. But there’s been mighty
little joy-flying or anything else in this line of business since the
depression. It’s beginning to look as if we’d have to let the place go
unless something turns up soon. So I can’t say I’m not anxious to make
some ready money.”

“This job,” said Bill, “is worth five hundred a month, but you’d be
expected to keep a closed head about anything that might come up.”

Ezra stared at him in amazement. “You a millionaire in disguise?”

“No—only a midshipman on summer vacation. But Mr. Evans has plenty, and
he is going to pay your salary.”

“Gosh! you’re the guy that put the lid on von Hiemskirk and his pirates
over to Twin Heads harbor?”

“I helped some,” Bill admitted.

“I’ll say you did! What’s this job—more pirates?”

“No, I don’t think so. To be truthful, the whole thing is much of a
mystery to me so far.”

“Well,” Ezra affirmed, “I never earned five hundred a month in my life.
One month’s work will put Mrs. P. and me on velvet.”

“Then listen!” Bill gave him a sketch of affairs to date.

“I know the place Mr. Evans bought,” said Ezra when he’d finished. “Used
to belong to old Job Turner who died last year. They say there’s secret
rooms, underground passages and all manner of queer things about that
house. I expect it’s all lies—but no telling. Mr. Evans can’t be up
against that Hiemskirk gang. The government cleaned them up good and
plenty.”

“Well, he’s up against somebody equally unpleasant. I’ve had a taste of
them already. Are you really game for the job?”

“I sure am. What do you want me to do first?”

“Take this.”

Ezra took the money, albeit reluctantly. “What’s all this for?” he
asked, counting the bills.

“Oil, gas, your time on the bus and two weeks’ salary.”

“Don’t you think it’s dangerous, carrying a roll that would choke a
horse?”

“I’m not in the habit of it,” laughed Bill. “It was a birthday present
from my father. Don’t worry, Mr. Evans will reimburse me.”

“But maybe,” suggested Ezra doubtfully, “he may not be strong on the
deal.”

“He asked for my help,” returned Bill, “and this is part of it. You’ve
got a car of some sort about the place, I suppose?”

“‘Of some sort’ describes it. Want me to run you over to Turner’s?”

“Yes—but only to where the Turner road branches out of the one to Twin
Heads Harbor.”

“Right, Bill. Before we start, hadn’t you better tell me what you want
me to do?”

“We can talk about that on the way over,” said his young employer.
“While you’re dragging out the fliv. or the Chev. or whatever it is,
I’ll get hold of Charlie and say goodbye to Mrs. Parker.”

Ezra chuckled. “She’ll be some happy girl when I tell her what you’ve
done. The three of us will get kissed good and proper!”

“I don’t mind, if you don’t!” laughed Bill, and went toward the house.