Reaching the last prin

The _News-Vue_ sound truck pulled into the private grounds of the
Excelsior Polo Club at exactly ten minutes to three. Through the elm
trees George Doyle caught sight of the field, and gave a chuckle of
pleasure.

“The match is still on!”

The seventh chukker was underway as the truck drew up at the sidelines.
Flash and Doyle worked swiftly, knowing they had little time.

“How’s the score?” the technician demanded of a spectator.

“Six to four in favor of the Internationals.”

Flash carefully looked over the field as he focused his camera. Two
riders were outstanding, Rajah Mitra for the Internationals, and Herbert
Rascomb on the American team. Mitra, a handsome, dark man of thirty,
handled his mount expertly. His clashes with Rascomb were frequent.

Deliberately, Flash trained the camera lens upon them. Doyle’s protest
was immediate and explosive.

“Say, what’s the idea? Do you want to make Rascomb sore?”

“Since when are we working for him?” Flash countered. “We’re here to get
good pictures. He happens to be one of the best players on the field.”

The argument might have waxed warmer, but just then the chukker ended
with a spectacular goal made by Rascomb. He wheeled his horse, a
beautiful black mare, and rode over to the sound wagon.

“Good afternoon, boys,” he said heartily. “Taking a few pictures?”

“_News-Vue_,” Doyle replied. “That last shot of yours was pretty, Mr.
Rascomb.”

“Thank you, thank you.” The sportsman doffed his cork helmet mockingly,
and his lips parted in a smile. “The fact is, Rajah Mitra is too fast
for me today. A marvelous player, that man!”

There was an expansive, friendly quality to Rascomb which attracted
Flash despite himself. For some reason he had felt distrustful of the
man. Now that he had heard him speak, the feeling was slipping away.

“A little request, boys,” the sportsman said casually. “No close-ups of
me, please.”

“You don’t like to be photographed?” Flash inquired, watching the man
curiously.

Rascomb’s dark eyes appraised the cameraman. His glance took in the
cheap suit, the muddy shoes, wrinkled tie.

“You’ll have to excuse Evans’ appearance.” Doyle spoke apologetically.
“He fell into a river this morning.”

“A river?” Rascomb asked in amusement.

Flash did not bother to explain or correct Doyle’s misstatement.

After a lengthy pause the polo player inquired thoughtfully:

“Haven’t I seen you somewhere before? Your face seems familiar.”

“Funny. I was thinking the same thing when I first saw you—that was at
the Indianapolis auto races.”

“Oh, so you saw me there?”

“Yes, I have a picture as a souvenir. Snapped it while you were talking
with one of the drivers in the pit.”

The pleasant smile receded from Rascomb’s face. The corners of his lips
twitched.

“I dislike being photographed,” he said. “I dislike it intensely. It
makes me especially nervous to know that a camera is focused upon me
during a polo match. I trust you’ll oblige me by not taking any pictures
except from across the field?”

“Oh, sure,” Doyle said instantly before Flash could answer. “We’ll be
glad to do you that little favor.”

“You’ll not lose by it.”

Rascomb wheeled his horse as if to ride away. Plainly he was irritated.
Flash decided to court further displeasure.

“I’d like to ask a personal question, if you don’t mind, Mr. Rascomb,”
he remarked. “Are you related to a man named Povy?”

“Povy?” the sportsman demanded sharply.

“Albert Povy. He was listed as killed in the recent train wreck.”

“Whatever gave you the idea I knew him?”

“I was told that you had claimed the body.”

Rascomb’s expression became inscrutable. His dark eyes bored into Flash
as if probing for what lay behind the question. He moistened his lips to
speak.

At that instant a player motioned to him from across the field.
Rascomb’s relief was obvious.

“Excuse me,” he said, “I’ll talk with you later.”

Jerking his mount’s head, he rode to his post. The game was resumed.

“What was the idea of deliberately trying to antagonize Rascomb?” Doyle
accused. “Such tactics won’t get you anywhere!”

“Maybe not a trip to the hunting lodge,” Flash cheerfully admitted.

He had no intention of allowing Rascomb to dictate what pictures he
could or could not take. Oddly, as the game continued, no occasion arose
to photograph the sportsman at close range.

Rascomb played erratically. His mallet slashed wickedly but many of his
shots were badly placed. Losing his temper, he began jerking his horse
about and calling it an “evil brute.”

The Internationals, led by the Rajah, piled up two goals in rapid
succession, and won by a wide margin. Secretly Flash wondered if Rascomb
had been upset by the question about Albert Povy.

The game over, Doyle seemed in no haste to leave the club grounds.

“I’ll be back in a little while,” he said vaguely, and wandered down to
the stables where Rascomb last had been seen.

“Take your time.”

Presently Flash saw the pair disappear into the clubhouse together. He
settled himself in the truck for a long wait.

“Doyle is breaking his neck to make a good impression on that fellow,”
he thought. “Oh, well, it’s none of my affair.”

He was half tempted to follow Doyle into the clubhouse. While he had no
desire to seek Rascomb’s favor, he would enjoy driving the sportsman
into a corner with another question about Albert Povy.

A half hour elapsed before Doyle returned to the truck. He was in high
spirits.

“Rascomb and I had a long talk together,” he declared enthusiastically.
“I think I’ve swung it!”

“An invitation to Rascomb’s lodge?”

Doyle nodded as he guided the sound truck down the winding road to the
main highway.

“He’s been thinking of getting up a week-end party out at his place. If
he does he’ll telephone us tonight at the Parker Hotel.”

“Us?”

“Rascomb isn’t a fellow to hold a grudge. You were short with him but
he’s overlooking it.”

“Nice of him,” Flash said dryly.

“He was interested in you,” Doyle admitted. “Asked a lot of questions.”

“Did he? What sort of questions?”

“Oh, nothing out of the way. Just who you were, where you came from, and
what sort of fellow you were. If the invitation comes through, we’ll
both be included.”

“It was decent of you to put in a good word for me,” Flash said.
“Nevertheless, I don’t think I’ll be interested.”

“Then you’re a sap! Rascomb would show us a wonderful time. And it
wouldn’t cost us a penny.”

“I’m not so sure. I figure there’s a string attached somewhere.”

“A string? What do you mean?”

“I don’t know myself,” Flash admitted. “I’ll be frank and say Rascomb
has me puzzled.”

Driving back to Excelsior City, the newsreel men located themselves at
the Parker Hotel. Not wishing to be far from a telephone, Doyle insisted
upon dining in the building. Later he returned to his room. Flash
remained in the lobby reading a newspaper until after nine o’clock.

Entering the bedroom, he found Doyle gloomily playing a game of
solitaire.

“Your telephone call didn’t come through?” Flash asked.

“No! Rascomb must have been handing me a line! It’s enough to make a
fellow sick!”

“I’m sorry you didn’t get the invitation, George,” Flash said sincerely.
“Still, I don’t see how you could have made the trip. We’re supposed to
be working for _News-Vue_.”

“No new assignment has come through. They expect to give us a day off
now and then.”

Flash began to check through his suitcase to see what clothes he would
need to buy. He had written his mother for additional shirts and
underwear, but it would take days for a package to overtake him. The
suit he had worn in his river plunge must be sent to the cleaners.
Whether or not it ever could be worn again was problematical.

As he sorted garments, Flash came upon the envelope which contained
photographic prints. He poured them out on the table, examining them one
by one.

Reaching the last print, a peculiar expression crossed his face. “That’s
queer,” he muttered.

He went through the stack a second time, taking care that two did not
stick together. The picture he sought was not there.

His chair made a grating sound on the bare floor as he turned to face
his roommate.

“Doyle,” he said quietly, “tell me the straight truth. Did you remove a
picture of Herbert Rascomb from this envelope?”

George Doyle slammed the deck of cards together, tossing the box into a
suitcase which lay open on the floor. He regarded Flash with an
insolent, offended gaze.

“Now what would I want with any of your pictures?”

“I thought you might have looked at them while I was downstairs.”

“You thought!” Doyle mocked. “Why don’t you come right out and accuse me
of being a sneak thief! Your personal effects are of no interest to me,
little man! Not the slightest.”

“I’m not accusing you,” Flash replied quietly. “I was merely asking.”

“I don’t like your tone.”

“I didn’t mean to imply anything. But it still seems queer that the
picture isn’t here.”

Doyle lighted a cigarette in his most deliberate manner and then asked:

“Which one is missing?”

“A snap I took of Rascomb at the races. The only good picture in the
lot.”

“You probably lost it yourself.”

“It was in the envelope yesterday when I showed the pictures to Captain
Johns and Bailey Brooks.”

“Then maybe they took it,” Doyle suggested sarcastically. “Why don’t you
get out search warrants?”

Flash allowed the matter to rest, yet he was not altogether convinced
that his roommate knew nothing about the missing picture.

“Herb Rascomb may have asked him to get it from me,” he thought. “I made
a mistake in talking too much today at the polo match.”

The telephone rang. Doyle leaped to his feet.

“That must be Rascomb now!” he exclaimed. “We may get our trip yet!”

“Count me out,” Flash murmured, but the technician did not hear.

Doyle talked for several minutes on the telephone, and his eager
responses made it evident he was speaking with Rascomb. Presently, he
placed his hand over the mouthpiece, turning toward Flash.

“Rascomb wants us to come out to his place for the week-end.”

“Well, your fish is playing with the bait. Better play him right so he
doesn’t get away.”

“Rascomb says to bring you along.”

“Thanks. I’m not interested. I’ll stay here at the hotel.”

Doyle frowned.

“For some reason, Rascomb especially wants you. And it will be a
wonderful opportunity for us to get some unusual newsreel shots.”

“Of what?” Flash asked, showing faint interest.

“Rascomb has invited Rajah Mitra as one of his guests. If we can get him
togged up in full dress regalia he ought to be worth fifty feet at
least!”

“Maybe,” Flash conceded.

“We might get some good nature pixs while we’re there,” Doyle went on
eagerly. “It’s wild around Clear Lake. How about it?”

Flash had no time to consider. While he was reluctant to accept
Rascomb’s hospitality, he did have a curiosity to see him again, if only
to ask about Albert Povy.

“All right, I’ll go,” he decided.

Doyle relayed the message to Rascomb and hung up the receiver.

“Rascomb and his guests are motoring out to the lodge tonight,” he
explained. “We leave in the morning. Rascomb says it will be a slow trip
over dirt roads so we ought to get a fairly early start.”

Flash nodded and began to prepare for bed. Long after Doyle had gone to
sleep, he lay in the darkened room, staring at a patch of electric light
which shone through the window. There were a number of things which
puzzled him. Why had Rascomb insisted upon including him in the
invitation? He felt satisfied the sportsman had not liked him
particularly.

Unable to solve the puzzle, Flash finally dropped off to sleep. He awoke
to find Doyle shaking his arm.

“Roll out! Seven o’clock!”

As Flash dressed, Doyle made slighting remarks about his appearance,
suggesting that it might be well to buy a new suit of clothes before
they started for the lodge.

“Sorry but I can’t buy a new suit before I get home,” Flash replied,
unmoved. “This one will have to do.”

They breakfasted at a café across from the hotel and by eight o’clock
were ready to start for Clear Lake, twenty miles away.

As the sound truck rolled out of the city, Flash remarked:

“You sent Clewes a wire didn’t you, telling him we were after special
pictures?”

“Well, no, I didn’t,” Doyle answered carelessly. “This is Friday. He
won’t be around the office until Monday anyway.”

“Do you think we should pull out without leaving word?”

“Sure. After those flood pixs we turned in, Clewes will expect to give
us a few days off. It’s customary.”

While the arrangement was not pleasing to Flash, he could do nothing
about it, and so settled himself for an uncomfortable ride.

They followed the pavement for a distance of four miles, and then turned
down a narrow, rutty road. The truck jounced and bumped, shaking the
loose equipment around.

There was almost no traffic, but whenever they did pass an automobile, a
great cloud of suffocating dust rolled into their faces.

“This section must have missed the rains,” Flash remarked. “Even the
trees look dry.”

The car rattled on, making poor time. Doyle fumed at the delay and kept
glancing at his watch.

Flash was in no hurry for the trip to end. While the ride might be
uncomfortable, the scenery was interesting. Hillocks were studded with
huge boulders, and the twisting roadway was hemmed in with pine trees.
Now and then they glimpsed a patch of blue lake tucked behind the screen
of evergreens.

A half hour’s drive brought them to the railroad town of Clear Lake
which consisted of little more than a post office and a few houses. At
the edge of the village stood a ranger’s station. A man in uniform held
up his hand for the truck to stop.

“You’re newsreel men I see,” the ranger observed pleasantly. “Going in
to take pictures of the fire?”

“What fire?” Doyle asked in astonishment.

“A small one has been reported over near Craig Point. The wind is
blowing it this way. Thought I’d give you a word of warning.”

“We didn’t know anything about it,” Doyle replied. “We’re on our way to
Herbert Rascomb’s lodge.”

“You’ll be in no danger there. At least, not unless the wind should
shift again.”

“I wonder if we couldn’t get some fire pictures for _News-Vue_!” Flash
began speculatively. “How far is Craig Point from Rascomb’s place?”

Before the ranger could answer, Doyle broke in impatiently:

“Listen, we’re not doing any fire pictures this trip! Mugging the Rajah
will be the extent of our labors.”

Now that it had been called to their attention, Flash and Doyle both
imagined they could smell smoke in the air. They could not see it, nor
were they able to detect any actual signs of fire.

“It seems to me we’re passing up an unusual opportunity,” Flash
remarked, as they rode on.

“You’re new at this business,” Doyle replied discouragingly. “When you
first start in everything looks like a wonderful idea. I helped cover a
forest fire in Minnesota two years ago. It was no fun, I’m telling you.”

“I shouldn’t think it would be.”

“You burn yourself to a crisp and ruin your clothes. Then more than
likely your shots are no good, or the editor cuts ’em out in favor of a
bathing beauty parade at Atlantic City! Not for me.”

A short distance beyond the town Flash called Doyle’s attention to a
cleared field. In its center stood a lone hangar. Through the windows
they were able to see a red and black-painted airplane.

“This must be Rascomb’s private landing field,” Flash remarked.

“Probably,” Doyle agreed. “We’re close to his place now.”

A half mile farther on the sound truck reached a road which branched off
to the left. Entrance was blocked by a wooden gate which bore a carved
sign plainly marked: “Rascomb Lodge. No Admittance.”

Flash unfastened the barrier and Doyle drove through. The road led them
deeper into the forest and presently emerged in a cleared area. To their
right lay a crescent-shaped lake with motor and row boats tied up at the
dock.

Some distance back stood a sprawling structure made of logs with a great
cobblestone chimney. There were no automobiles parked in the yard. The
boats, tugging gently at their moorings, provided the only sign of
occupation.

“This place looks deserted,” observed Flash.

“Rascomb will be here.”

“But you said he had invited other guests. Rajah Mitra—”

“They may not have arrived yet.”

Leaving the sound truck at the end of the road, Flash and Doyle walked
to the side door of the lodge.

Their approach had been observed. Before they could knock, the door
opened. Herbert Rascomb, dressed in dark shirt and slacks, a pipe thrust
in the corner of his mouth, greeted them heartily.

“Good morning, boys. Glad you were able to come. How do you like our
roads out this way?”

Rascomb stepped aside for them to pass before him into the living room.
A fire blazed on the hearth. It was an inviting scene and their host had
a comfortable way of making them feel welcome. Yet, the absence of
guests puzzled Flash.

“Rajah Mitra isn’t here yet?” he inquired.

Rascomb hesitated, and then said: “I deeply regret that the Rajah was
compelled to change his plans.”

“He isn’t coming?”

“Unfortunately, no. The Rajah expected to be my guest but he was called
to New York this morning. I should have telephoned you. We have no
telephone here at the lodge. It would have meant an early trip to the
ranger station.”

“Then if there are to be no pictures, we may as well start back to
town,” Flash remarked, glancing at Doyle.

“I couldn’t think of allowing you to hasten away,” Rascomb interposed
smoothly. “You must have luncheon and remain for the night. I can put
you up quite comfortably. My cook is excellent.”

“That’s mighty nice of you,” Doyle said, giving Flash a hard look.
“We’ll be glad to stay. You sure have a nice place here.”

“Merely comfortable, not pretentious,” Rascomb smiled. “Now make
yourselves at home. If you care to fish, my man Fleur will be glad to
take you out on the lake.”

Rascomb’s manner was perfect. He chatted with Flash and Doyle about
their work, and after they had removed the dust of their trip, left them
to entertain themselves.

The cameramen wandered alone down to the lake. A breeze ruffled the blue
water, slapping waves against the boats tied up at the dock. It whistled
softly in the pine trees, rubbing the boughs gently together. About the
place there was an atmosphere of quiet and peace, yet Flash felt uneasy.

Turning his head, he glanced back toward the lodge. Rascomb stood in the
doorway. The man was watching them and smiling—a cold, triumphant smile.

“Doyle,” Flash said in a low tone.

“Yes? What’s on your mind now?”

“This Rajah business is a phony! Rascomb never did invite him to the
lodge. Do me a favor, and let’s get away from here!”

Continue Reading

HIGH WATER

Bailey Brooks arose to greet the newcomer. As he turned to introduce
Flash, Captain Johns forestalled him by saying in a curt voice:

“We have met before, I believe!”

“At the Columbia Hospital,” recalled Flash.

The Captain seated himself on the opposite side of the table, regarding
the cameraman with a cold scrutiny which was not easy to interpret.
Assuming that he was an intruder at a private business conference, Flash
offered an apology and started to leave.

“No, don’t go.” Captain Johns waved him back into his chair. “Finish
your dinner. Why did you fail to keep your promise to Major Hartgrove?”

Flash now understood the reason behind the officer’s coolness. Major
Hartgrove had reported his failure to give up the requested pictures.

“I made no promise,” he replied.

“It was understood that you would bring the pictures to the hospital
without delay.”

“The Major may have understood it that way,” replied Flash evenly. “But
I work for the _News-Vue_ Company, not the United States Army.”

Captain Johns’ lips twisted in a faint suggestion of a smile. Yet his
voice had an edge to it as he asked:

“You still have those pictures?”

“I have.”

“What is your reason for withholding them?”

“No reason,” Flash admitted cheerfully. “As a matter of fact, I went
back to the hospital yesterday after I had them printed. The Major was
gone.”

“You went back _after_ you had looked at them yourself?”

“Quite right, sir. I wanted to see what I was giving away. Just
protecting my paper, you know.”

“Yes, I know,” responded Captain Johns dryly. “You may be interested to
learn that Major Hartgrove has been removed to the army hospital at
Melveredge Field.”

“Doing well I hope.”

“He will be dismissed tomorrow or the day following. Now about those
pictures. Where are they now?”

“In my room at the hotel.”

“May I see them?”

“I’ll be glad to show them to you, Captain,” replied Flash, grinning.
“But I don’t think you’ll find them of any aid in running down the man
who struck the Major.”

“Let me be the judge of that. Now as I recall, Major Hartgrove said you
were the first person to reach him after the train wreck.”

“Hardly the first, sir. As I approached the car, I saw someone slipping
away into the dark. It may have been the man who robbed him.”

“You are mistaken. Major Hartgrove was not robbed.”

“I understood otherwise.”

“An attempt was made to take Major Hartgrove’s wallet. The man did not
succeed.”

Flash accepted the explanation without comment. He was rather inclined
to believe that the Major had not been robbed. However, it seemed
unreasonable that the army men would be making such strenuous efforts to
apprehend an ordinary thief. Obviously Major Hartgrove had carried
military papers or something of far greater value than money.

Ignoring Bailey Brooks for the moment, Captain Johns asked Flash a
number of questions about his actions following the train wreck.
Cleverly but without success he tried to make the cameraman contradict
himself. At last, he seemed satisfied the young man was telling the
truth, and turned his attention once more to the parachute jumper.

After the meal had ended, Captain Johns volunteered to go with Flash to
his room. The three walked together to the Clarinda Hotel.

George Doyle looked up in surprise as Flash pushed open the bedroom
door. He rose quickly to his feet.

“You remember Bailey Brooks,” said Flash. “And this is Captain Ernest
Johns.”

Doyle was impressed by the caller. He lost his customary indifference
and put himself out to be agreeable. But the captain paid him scant
attention.

“I have only a few minutes,” he said impatiently. “May I see the
pictures now, please?”

Flash found the envelope in his luggage. Doyle sat watching him
curiously as he sorted through the prints.

“I have only one which will interest you,” he said to the captain. “It
isn’t much good.”

The army man examined the picture carefully and returned it to the
stack.

“You are right,” he admitted regretfully. “For our purposes it is
valueless.” Methodically, he thumbed through the other prints. “Now here
is an excellent one!”

“A snap I took at the races. Too bad the wreck picture didn’t come out
the same way. Conditions were against me.”

Bailey Brooks had crossed the room. As Captain Johns dropped the prints
carelessly on the table, he picked them up and glanced through the
stack.

The army officer turned to leave but Doyle stepped forward, neatly
blocking his way.

“Say, Captain,” he began, “Flash and I are with _News-Vue_, you know.
What are the picture possibilities out at Melveredge?”

“There are none, Mr. Doyle.”

“Oh, come now, I know it’s hard to get in there these days, but it can
be done with pull. How about giving us a permit?”

“I regret I am not in a position to grant such a favor,” the captain
returned stiffly. “Good evening.”

Accompanied by Bailey Brooks, he went away. As soon as the footsteps
receded, Doyle turned angrily to Flash.

“You might have said something instead of standing there like a clam!
Here the Captain is a good friend of yours. He could have passed us into
Melveredge Field.”

“The Captain isn’t a friend of mine.”

“Then why did you bring him here?”

“You must have observed for yourself, Doyle. To look at those pictures.”

The technician picked up the stack and glanced through the prints.

“What’s all this about anyway?” he demanded. “Why would the Captain be
interested?”

Flash made an evasive answer which only irritated Doyle further. Despite
the technician’s displeasure, he had no intention of taking him into his
confidence.

“I’m tired,” he said shortly. “Let’s go to bed.”

It was dark in the hotel room when Flash awakened to hear the telephone
ringing. Struggling out of sleep, he reached to roll up the window
shade. A few carts were creaking by on the street below. The sky was
barely light.

The telephone rang again.

“Answer it, will you?” growled Doyle.

“All right.”

Flash took the receiver from its hook. He was informed by the hotel
operator that long distance was calling. As he relayed the message to
Doyle, the latter leaped from bed and seized the instrument.

“That must be Clewes!”

Doyle talked for several minutes and then hung up the receiver.

“Get dressed!” he said curtly. “We’re clearing out of here. And we
haven’t much time.”

“What’s up?”

“We move again. Clewes says to let the Melveredge pictures slide.
Arrangements can’t be made with the authorities.”

“A new assignment?”

“Yeah. Not a bad one either. We’re to cover an International polo match
at Excelsior City. We ought to be there not later than twelve-thirty.”

Flash looked at his watch and whistled.

“It’s nearly six now. Excelsior City must be at least three hundred
miles from here.”

“Nearer three twenty. It means fast stepping.”

Quickly they dressed and crammed their clothing into suitcases. There
was no time for breakfast. A clock on the street chimed six-thirty as
they pulled out of the drowsing city.

A fog hung low over the valley. Before the sound truck had covered many
miles a fine, steady rain began to fall.

Strangely, Doyle offered no complaint about either the weather or the
early morning call to duty. Flash stole a curious glance at him. The
technician’s face was animated and he whistled a cheerful tune.

“This assignment seems to please you, Doyle.”

“It could be a lot worse.”

“What teams are playing? You haven’t told me anything about the set-up.”

“An American team against one from India headed by Rajah Mitra. Know
anything about polo?”

“I’ve seen a few games.”

“Herbert Rascomb will be playing on the American team.”

“Rascomb!”

“He’s one of the best players in the country.”

“I never even heard of him until a few days ago.”

“Rascomb doesn’t like publicity. He goes into a rage if his picture is
taken. The boys humor him, and he returns the favor by showing them a
good time at his lodge.”

“Buys them off?”

“Nothing of the sort. It’s only to show his appreciation. We could do
with a day in the north woods, eh?”

Flash avoided answering the question. Instead he inquired:

“Why is Rascomb so against publicity? A pose?”

Doyle shrugged as he steered the sound truck into a filling station.

“No, he’s just that way. But they tell me Rascomb is a fine fellow.”

An attendant filled the gasoline tank, checked the oil and replenished
the water in the radiator. As Doyle paid him, he volunteered road
information.

“Aiming to take U.S. 49 out of here?”

“That’s right,” answered Doyle. “How is the road to Excelsior City?”

“The road’s in good condition. But if you want to be on the safe side
you’d better take Highway 23. We’ve had some hard rains around here. The
Coon River is over its banks, and there’s a bad bridge about six miles
beyond town.”

“Then the road is closed?”

“They were keeping it open an hour ago. A radio report said it would be
closed if the water came any higher.”

Doyle and Flash studied a map. Highway 23 was graveled and at least
fourteen miles out of their way.

“We’ll keep on 49 and take a chance,” Doyle decided.

The decision satisfied Flash, for it had occurred to him that possibly
they might have an opportunity to take interesting flood pictures.

Two miles beyond the town limits they began to see evidence of high
water. Ditches on either side of the road ran with it. In several low
places tiny rivers blocked their way. The water was not deep and they
rode through it without mishap.

They picked up speed on a long stretch of clear pavement. Ahead they
could see the bridge, a long, wooden affair of ancient design. A flimsy,
make-shift barrier of boards had been raised across the entrance way.

“Closed!” muttered Doyle in disgust. “We’ll never get to Excelsior City
by game time now!”

He slammed on the brakes and brought the truck to a standstill not far
from the bridge. Thrusting his head out the window, he called to one of
the guards:

“How about letting us through? We’re newsreel cameramen and in a big
hurry.”

“The bridge is unsafe,” the man answered. “It’s apt to go out any time
now.”

Flash leaped from the truck and went to look at the bridge. He saw for
himself that much of the underpinning had washed away. The weight of an
automobile, even higher water, would be almost certain to shift it from
its position.

“Water still rising?” he questioned a guard.

“Coming up fast, brother. Three inches in the last twenty minutes.
Another half hour and this road may be completely covered.”

Flash ran back to the truck. Doyle had turned it around and was
impatiently waiting.

“Jump in!” he commanded. “We’re going to be late getting to Excelsior
City now that we have to back-track.”

“Listen, Doyle!” Flash was excited. “While we’re breaking our necks
trying to reach there, we’ll be passing up better pictures.”

“What do you mean, better pictures?”

“The bridge is going out any time.”

“Maybe,” Doyle retorted. “But we’re not waiting here several hours on a
slim chance like that! Our assignment is to shoot the polo match.”

Flash gazed steadily at the technician.

“Sorry to disagree. We’re staying right here.”

“Say who do you think you are?” Doyle drawled insolently. “I’m not
taking orders from any fresh kid.”

“I’ve taken plenty of orders from you. But not any more. I’m washed up!
Through!”

“Oh, so you’re through, eh? Well, quit any time you like!”

“I’m not quitting,” Flash corrected. “Just letting you know that from
now on I’m not your man Friday. Mr. Clewes gave me to understand I was
to use my own judgment about picture values. Your part is to record the
sound effects.”

Doyle stared at Flash. Spots of bright color tinted his taut cheeks.
With an effort he kept his voice under control.

“All right, Evans, you’ll take full responsibility for this!”

“I expect to,” Flash retorted grimly. “Now help me get my stuff up on
the roof! That bridge won’t last many minutes!”

Flash was prepared for a curt refusal. Surprisingly, Doyle considered a
moment, and then began to unload equipment. He said nothing, but his
smoldering eyes made it clear he intended to make a full report to Mr.
Clewes.

With camera set up and focused on the bridge, Flash nervously waited.
The only thing which would justify his high-handed action would be
success. If the bridge failed to go out, Doyle would score heavily in
the final reckoning.

The water rose higher and higher, slapping against the piling with a
powerful surge. Yet the bridge held. Minutes elapsed and Flash became
increasingly uneasy. Surely, he thought, the structure could not
withstand such punishment for long.

Doyle looked at his watch with a disgusted expression.

“We’ve wasted another half hour—” he began.

From far down the road came the roar of a fast traveling automobile.
Flash and Doyle both turned to stare.

A car raced toward the bridge at seventy miles an hour. It struck a dip
in the road where water flowed, and the tires sent up a great muddy
sheet. With undiminished speed, the automobile sped on.

At the bridge, guards leaped into action, shouting and waving their red
flags to draw attention to the barrier.

The driver could not fail to see that the bridge entrance was blocked.
Still the car roared on. Flash suddenly comprehended the reason. The man
was being pursued by a state highway police car. If he halted for the
bridge, it meant capture!

“There’s our picture, Doyle!” he shouted. “Get ready!”

The car struck the barrier with a resounding crash. Boards splintered
like so much match wood, but scarcely slowed down the daring driver.
Bridge girders rattled and planks pounded as the automobile plunged on.

Nothing happened for a moment. And then a cry of horror arose from the
crowd of spectators.

“It’s going out!”

One side of the bridge wrenched free from the piling and swung around in
the swift current. There it held an instant and then slowly toppled
sideways into the boiling flood. As the car slid with it, the driver
pushed open the door and leaped into the river. His dark head remained
above the surface for a minute, then disappeared.

Horrified at the disaster, Flash nevertheless pivoted his camera to
photograph the entire scene—the crumbling of the bridge, the driver’s
wild leap, even the arrival of the state police car which raced to the
end of the road and stopped with a jolting lurch.

Attracted by a startled outcry from the excited spectators, his gaze was
drawn far down river. He caught a fleeting glimpse of the struggling man
before the unfortunate fellow was pulled under again by the racing
current.

The distance was too great for an effective shot, but Flash was not
thinking of pictures. Leaving his camera behind, he plunged into a deep
ditch at the roadside. Wading across, muddy water oozing about his
armpits, he ran on through a soggy field to a bend in the river.

Once more he glimpsed the struggling man who was fighting gamely for
life against overpowering odds.

With no thought for his own safety, Flash kicked off his shoes and dived
into the river. Exerting all of his strength, he fought to keep from
being carried downstream.

He had judged the current accurately, for the man was brought directly
toward him. Reaching out, he barely grasped him by the coat. There was a
brief struggle and they both disappeared beneath the surface.

After an exhausting effort they regained the surface, and drifted with
the current, using what strength remained to keep their heads above
water. Even with lungs bursting, Flash managed to hold tightly to the
man. Whenever he could, he gulped in air, but breath and strength were
ebbing.

Suddenly he felt himself dashed against a solid object. The current had
brought a long, heavy plank downstream. He pulled himself and his
companion onto it, and they clung with head and shoulders well above
water.

For a minute the river carried them swiftly. Then their ride ended
abruptly, as the plank caught against a half-submerged fallen tree which
was festooned with a motley collection of debris and foam.

There the plank lodged fast. They were able to secure fairly firm holds
on the projecting arms of the tree, but the current whipped their legs
beneath them and threatened to sweep them on.

Grimly they clung to their precarious refuge. The man Flash had aided
aroused himself after a dazed moment, and looked about in panic.

“Easy now,” warned Flash.

Instead of thanking the cameraman for saving his life, he began to
revile him.

“If you had kept out of this I would have made a clean get-away! Now the
dicks probably are on my tail!”

The man’s words proved prophetic for the state police had followed down
river and were at a point opposite where the pair clung.

A rope sailed accurately through the air, settling across the tree.
Reaching to his full length, Flash was able to grasp it. As he started
to knot it about his companion’s body, the man struck wildly at him.

“They won’t get me!” he shouted hoarsely. “I’ll drown first!”

His hold loosened, but Flash acted quickly. He seized the man’s coat
collar with his left hand, maintaining his own grasp on the tree limb.
The swift current whipped his legs from beneath him.

But help was at hand. A state patrolman who was a strong swimmer,
reached the sunken tree. He tied the rope about the struggling man and
signaled for a fast haul-in to shore. Flash followed with the officer.

“Good work,” a trooper praised him. “You took a big chance, young man,
both with the river and your pal here. Know who he is?”

Flash shook his head. He was searching for his discarded shoes.

“Andy Clevenger.”

“Not the bank robber?”

“The same. He was recognized at a quarantine stop, but got away. We’ve
chased him twenty miles.”

Flash began wringing water from his ruined suit. He was plastered with
mud from head to foot.

“There’s a reward out for Clevenger’s capture,” the state policeman went
on. “You may get some of the money. Give me your name and address. I
think I can guarantee you a new suit at least.”

“I can use it. And I’d like permission to take some pictures before you
pack this fellow off to jail.”

“Go right ahead.”

Handcuffed, the prisoner was led back to the patrol car where Flash shot
close-ups and obtained complete information about his past record.

Doyle, somewhat stunned by the events which had transpired, had little
to say.

“Are you sorry we waited?” Flash asked him. “These pictures should stack
up any day with a polo match.”

“You’re a fool for luck, just as Joe said,” Doyle muttered. “I suppose
you knew just what would happen?”

“I only hoped for a good bridge picture. But when Lady Luck showers down
I believe in spreading a wide net.”

Flash was shivering from cold. Wrapping himself in his overcoat, he
allowed Doyle to do most of the loading work.

Back in town once more, he sought a clothing store and quickly purchased
a new suit. While it was cheaply tailored, he thought it would serve
until he reached Excelsior City.

“You look like a country rube in that outfit,” Doyle jeered as his
companion climbed back into the sound truck.

“Can’t help it,” Flash replied, undisturbed. “It’s warm and clean, at
least.”

The cameramen followed Highway 23, avoiding the river. At the first city
of any size which boasted an airport, they paused long enough to ship
their cans of film to the home office. Then they drove on at break-neck
speed for Excelsior City.

Doyle squinted at a clock in a store window as they went through a town.

“By skipping lunch we still might get there in time for the last chukker
of the game,” he announced.

“It won’t do any harm to try,” Flash agreed. “But after the pictures we
just took, polo will seem pretty tame.”

“It’s our assignment,” Doyle said sharply. “Don’t forget that.”

“I’ve not forgotten.”

Flash glanced sideways at his companion. He could not believe that Doyle
honestly thought they had made a mistake in passing up a polo game for
the flood pictures. Obviously, the technician had a special reason for
wishing to reach Excelsior City.

“And that reason,” he reflected, “has nothing to do with our work. If
I’m any good at guessing, he’s bent on wangling an invitation to
Rascomb’s lodge!”

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Everything will be fine

Flash stepped forward into George Doyle’s view. The soundman saw him and
lapsed into confused silence.

“Sorry. I couldn’t help hearing,” Flash apologized. “I don’t mind saying
I’m curious about this proposition which wouldn’t interest me.”

“You’re not Flash Evans?” inquired the stranger before Doyle could find
his voice.

“Yes, sir, I am.”

“Flash, this is our district manager, Mr. Clewes,” Doyle said
unwillingly. “We were just speaking of your fine work at Indianapolis.”

“Yes,” nodded Mr. Clewes, “as I mentioned in my telegram, those pictures
were the best we’ve had in months! The sound effects were fairly good,
too.”

Flash glanced at Doyle who shifted uncomfortably from one foot to
another.

“Thank you, sir,” he said politely to the district manager. “I didn’t
happen to see your wire.”

Mr. Clewes gazed questioningly at the sound technician.

“I repeated the contents to him,” Doyle said defensively.

Ignoring the technician, Mr. Clewes turned to Flash again.

“Howard Brandiss, who heads our company, was much impressed by your
work. When he saw the crash films run through he said to me: ‘Fly down
to Columbia and sign that photographer on the dotted line before some
other company gets him.’ But Doyle here tells me you wouldn’t be
interested in any proposition we might offer.”

“Flash already is employed by the _Brandale Ledger_,” Doyle broke in
hurriedly. “He’s on his vacation now. I understood him to say he
wouldn’t consider working for a newsreel concern.”

“I’m afraid your hearing was almost too acute,” Flash said pleasantly.
“Either that or I gave the wrong impression.”

“Then you are interested?” Mr. Clewes asked quickly.

“Not in a permanent job. I might consider filling in a month for Joe
Wells. That is, if Mr. Riley has no objection.”

“And who is Mr. Riley?”

“My editor on the _Brandale Ledger_.”

“I am sure we can arrange everything to his satisfaction,” said Mr.
Clewes. “And I respect you for being loyal to your employer. If you are
unwilling to leave the _Ledger_, we should not try to convince you
otherwise. Nevertheless, after a month of newsreel work, you may decide
you prefer it to your newspaper position.”

“That’s quite possible, sir.”

Dismissing Doyle with a curt nod, Mr. Clewes drew Flash aside. For a
half hour they talked together, discussing salary and matters of general
routine. The district manager then insisted upon placing a long distance
telephone call to Riley of the _Brandale Ledger_.

He stepped from the booth, smiling broadly.

“Everything has been arranged. Mr. Riley says you may work for us,
providing we don’t try to steal you away from him at the end of the
month.”

“I aim to go back to Brandale when my vacation is over,” Flash insisted.
“My home is there.”

Mr. Clewes gazed about the lobby in search of Doyle. The technician had
slumped down in a chair in front of the fireplace. He came over as the
district manager motioned to him.

“Doyle, meet your new partner. You two will continue to work together.”

The technician’s face twisted into a strained smile.

“Glad Mr. Clewes was able to persuade you when I couldn’t,” he said to
Flash. “We’ll get along fine.”

The district manager glanced at his watch. “I have fifteen minutes to
catch my plane,” he declared hurriedly.

“How about our next assignment?” asked Doyle.

“I was coming to that. No news of special importance is breaking in this
section of the country right now. Your instructions are to start East
again. Stop off at Melveredge Field and try to get shots of the new
bombing plane which is being tested there.”

“Try is right,” grumbled Doyle. “That place is so surrounded by
barbed-wire red tape a newsreel man couldn’t cut his way through in a
month. How about permits?”

“_News-Vue_ will endeavor to make the necessary arrangements. Even if
you can’t obtain pictures of the bomber, you should be able to get
routine maneuvers. Do the best you can. Further orders will be forwarded
to you at the Clarinda Hotel.”

Mr. Clewes shook hands with both Flash and Doyle, and hastened to his
taxi. In silence, the two newsreel men went to their room. They began to
pack.

“This is a poor assignment,” Doyle complained, jamming shirts into his
bag. “We’ll waste a lot of time at Melveredge Field, fail to get the
pictures, and then be reprimanded for our pains.”

“Mr. Clewes must think we have a chance or he wouldn’t send us.”

“Us,” said Doyle with biting sarcasm. “A lot of good you’re going to do
me!”

The words were spoken before he thought. Once said, he could not retract
them. But instantly he was ashamed of the unwarranted outburst.

“Sorry,” he apologized curtly. “I shouldn’t have said that. But you made
me sore, trying to show me up in front of Mr. Clewes.”

“In what way?”

“Letting on that I hadn’t shown you his telegram. And then the way you
breezed up and accepted a job after you made me think you wouldn’t take
one.”

“I don’t remember that we ever discussed it,” Flash returned coldly.
“But that’s neither here nor there. I’ve taken the job. Whether we like
it or not, we’ll be working together. Why not try to get along without
friction?”

“Suits me. All I ask is that you do your work and don’t expect to use me
as a crutch.”

“We understand each other perfectly, Doyle. Now when do we start?”

“Twenty minutes.”

“I’ll meet you at the parking lot. I want to telephone Joe and tell him
I’ve taken the job.”

Flash had another errand in mind, one which he did not reveal to Doyle.
Quickly he made his telephone call from the lobby of the hotel.

“I’m glad you’ve changed your mind,” Joe told him gratefully. “Can’t you
come over to the hospital before you leave town?”

“Afraid not. We’re starting in a few minutes.”

Joe Wells hesitated, and then said: “You’ll get along fine, Flash, if
you manage to stay on the good side of Doyle. He can help you a lot. But
I’ll give you a tip. If he takes a dislike to a fellow, he knows all the
ways of making it plenty tough.”

“Everything will be fine, Joe. I’ll manage. And your job will be waiting
whenever you want it back.”

He hung up, smiling ruefully at his friend’s belated warning. Already he
had incurred George Doyle’s dislike. But he was not afraid of what the
technician might attempt to do. He would be ready and waiting.

With fifteen minutes to spare, Flash made a quick trip to the railroad
station. His next errand was anything but to his liking. Yet he was
unwilling to leave Columbia without verifying a certain fact.

He found the station agent in his little office behind the ticket
window.

“What may I do for you, sir?” the man questioned.

Introducing himself as a representative of the _Brandale Ledger_, Flash
added that he was checking upon the death of a man reported killed in
the streamliner crash.

“Sorry I can’t help you on that,” replied the agent. “It’s against
orders to give out information about the accident. You’ll have to see
some other person.”

Flash was persistent. He explained that any information obtained would
not be published in a newspaper.

“I’m trying to learn about a man named Albert Povy.”

“I guess I can tell you about him,” the agent conceded. “He was among
the victims.”

“The body was shipped from here?”

“It was.”

“To relatives?”

“Couldn’t tell you as to that. The body was claimed by a man named
Rascomb. Herbert Rascomb.”

Flash was startled by the name. He wondered if it could be the same man
George Doyle had been telling him about. But that scarcely seemed
possible.

“And where was the casket sent?” he asked after a moment. “That is, what
city?”

“To a place called Clear Lake.”

Flash thanked the agent for the information and left the station. He was
ten minutes late in reaching the parking lot. Doyle was waiting in the
sound truck, appearing none too pleased at the delay.

They drove out of town with Doyle at the wheel. The truck made good
speed. For a time neither of them spoke.

“Oh, by the way,” Doyle said at length, “what sort of salary did Clewes
give you?”

“Somewhat less than Joe was getting,” Flash answered vaguely. “More than
I’ll earn probably.”

“You’ll be getting a double salary while you’re on vacation, won’t you?”
Doyle could not hide his envy.

“Yes, but it won’t last long.”

Flash decided to ask a few questions himself. A little later he
introduced the subject of the sportsman, Rascomb, asking Doyle the man’s
first name.

“Herbert. Herb Rascomb.”

“And where is his lodge located? What town is it near?”

“Couldn’t tell you exactly,” responded Doyle. “I understand it’s not far
from where we’re heading—Melveredge Field. But why this sudden interest
in Rascomb?”

“Merely curious, that’s all. What sort of reputation does he have?”

“Reputation? Oh, he steps around in fast company, if that’s what you
mean. He has a lot of foreign friends.”

“Was he ever mixed up in trouble with the government or anything of the
sort?”

“Rascomb? Say, that fellow is in the blue book. The only thing he’s
interested in is having a good time. If he did get into trouble he could
buy himself out.”

Again Flash fell silent, for he saw that Doyle had grown irritated by
his questions. It struck him as an interesting fact that Rascomb had
been connected with Albert Povy, a man of dubious reputation.

Actually there was no good reason why the pair should not have been
friends. With a large circle of acquaintances, Rascomb could have met
Povy in his travels about the country and, learning that the man was
without relatives, might have claimed the body out of kindness. In any
case, it was none of his affair. He never expected to see Rascomb again.

Throughout the day the sound truck rumbled steadily eastward, making
only brief stops for oil and gas. Twice Flash offered to relieve Doyle
at the wheel, and both times was turned down.

Toward dusk they pulled into a busy little city of some fifty thousand
population. They had reached their destination. Melveredge Field was
located close by.

Doyle glanced at his watch.

“Ten after five,” he announced. “Too late to do anything tonight. We’ll
find the Clarinda Hotel and call it a day.”

Flash nodded. Doyle never bothered to consult his wishes. He quickly had
learned that the easiest way to get along with the technician was to
have no opinions of his own. So far any differences they might have had
were trivial. But clashes were certain to come later.

Flash had been relieved to learn that _News-Vue_ paid all traveling
expenses. The arrangement, however, had one distinct drawback. He and
Doyle were expected to share the same room.

“We see too much of each other as it is,” thought Flash. “Before the end
of a month we won’t be on speaking terms.”

They registered at the Clarinda Hotel and inquired for mail. There was
none. The anticipated orders from the _News-Vue_ Company had not yet
arrived.

The newsreel men both were tired and dirty from their long journey.

“Me for the tub,” Doyle announced.

Slamming the bathroom door behind him, he started the water running, and
remained soaking for nearly an hour. Flash became irritated at the long
delay.

“Say, have you gone to bed in there?” he called at last. “You’re not the
only dirty pebble on the beach!”

Doyle did not answer, nor would he hurry. He took another half hour to
dress. Finally be unlocked the door and sauntered out.

“What’s all the shouting about, Flash?”

“You’ve been in there exactly an hour and a half!”

“Well, it’s all yours now,” Doyle shrugged. “Such impatience! Dear!
Dear!”

Flash glanced at the tub. It was rimmed with dirt. Every bath towel had
been used.

“Say, you lug—” he began.

An outside door slammed. The culprit had gone.

Ringing for more towels, Flash cleaned the tub and hastened through his
own bath.

“I’ll get even with him tomorrow,” he thought. “We’ll see how he likes
it when the joke is on him.”

It was after seven o’clock when Flash finally left the hotel in search
of a restaurant. He sauntered along, pausing to read menus printed on
the plate glass windows. Suddenly he felt a hand touch his shoulder.

Flash whirled around. For a moment he did not recognize the smiling
young man who stood there. Then he gave a pleased cry:

“Bailey Brooks! What are you doing out this way?”

“Oh, prowling around,” the parachute jumper replied. “Had your dinner?”

“Not yet.”

“Then let’s go inside. I’m meeting a man, but he’s not due to show up
for fifteen minutes.”

Flash felt flattered that Bailey Brooks had remembered him. He was even
more pleased when the parachute jumper praised him for the pictures he
had taken at Brandale.

“All the publicity helped,” Brooks declared warmly. “Since the parachute
test proved successful, several concerns have been after me. I’ve not
had a definite offer yet, but it’s only a matter of time.”

The two young men entered the restaurant and selected a table not far
from the door. Flash hesitated, and then said:

“Too bad about Povy.”

“Yeah.” The smile faded from Brooks’ face. “He was interested in my
invention. Offered me a good price for it, too. But probably it’s just
as well the deal didn’t go through.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You know who Povy was, don’t you?”

“I’ve heard rumors.”

“He was mixed up with a spy ring years ago and probably was doing
espionage work at the time of his death. That was the main reason I held
off about selling him the parachute. I liked Povy personally but I never
trusted him.”

“I wonder what government employed him?”

“I never learned. Povy was very cautious in his dealings. He revealed
nothing about himself. All he ever told me was that he represented a
firm which would pay well for my invention, providing the tests were
successful.”

A waitress came to take orders and Flash gave his. Bailey Brooks said
that he would wait for a man with whom he had a dinner appointment.

“You say several other persons are after your invention now?”

“Several is an exaggeration,” Brooks admitted with a grin. “One private
party and the United States Army.”

“So that’s why you’re here!”

Brooks nodded. “The ’chute is to be given exhaustive tests out at
Melveredge Field. If it comes through okay, I’ll be sitting pretty.”

“When will the tests be made?”

“All week. There’s an endless amount of red tape.”

“I’m with the _News-Vue_ people now,” Flash explained abruptly. “Any
chance to get some shots of the tests?”

“Not a glimmer. Melveredge Field is closed tighter than a drum these
days. I doubt if they’ll even allow you near the place with a newsreel
camera.”

Flash mentioned the chain of events which had led him to spend his
vacation working for the _News-Vue_ Company. The parachute jumper
immediately recalled Joe Wells and expressed regret over his accident.

“While I was in Columbia I inquired about Albert Povy,” Flash presently
remarked. “You know, I thought there might have been some mistake about
his death.”

“There wasn’t?”

“No. His body was shipped to a place called Clear Lake.”

“That town isn’t so far from here,” Brooks said thoughtfully. “I’ve
heard of it.”

“Povy’s body was claimed by a man named Herbert Rascomb. A well known
sportsman and—”

Bailey Brooks had been toying with a silver knife. It slid from his
hand, making a clatter as it struck the floor.

“Rascomb?” he asked in a strange voice. “Did you say Rascomb?”

Flash could see that the information had startled the parachute jumper.
But before he could explain further or ask a question, the door of the
café swung open.

A dapper man in army uniform strode across the room directly toward the
pair at the table.

“Ah, here is my host now,” murmured Bailey Brooks.

Flash turned his head. The man who approached was Captain Ernest Johns.

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