Kerry Keen and Barney O'Dare - how do like those names for tales of daring and heroism written into a series of short novels published in Flying Aces magazine by author Arch Whitehouse? Kerry was a sort of Bruce Wayne, aka Batman, inasmuch as he was a young, flamboyant Long Island millionaire in public and crime fighter in private. Instead of a cape and driving a Batmobile, "The Griffon" (a vulture) wore an airman's attire and flew his supercharged Black Bullet seaplane. Mr. Whitehouse wrote other articles for Flying Aces, such as "What Makes a Fighting Pilot." Was The Griffon responsible for the destruction of the USS Vermont? Did our hero Kerry Keen stage the entire event to get paid for information about the attack? "The Silent Raider" will keep you guessing right up to the end.
The Silent Raider
by Arch Whitehouse
Author of "Wings of Sawdust," "Breed of the Hellfire," "The Death Dolphin," etc.
Illustrated by Alden McWilliams
Another Dramatic Griffon Mystery
A bomb that didn't kill and a camera that didn't need sun - that was the strange cargo on board the Griffon's speedy Black Bullet. But that odd payload was in keeping with the case, for Kerry Keen and Barney O'Dare were seeking a silent plane that - didn't fly!
Bombed: One Battleship
It was a strange piece of equipment for the Black Bullet to be carrying. Nothing quite like this had ever before been bolted into the steel and dural framework of the machine. It was black and ominous with strange but very efficient sights. It had a wide muzzle and a lot of knurled knobs and brass adjustment levers.
It was loaded, too, and ready for action - for action that the Griffon had never before attempted. It was a piece of Army Air Corps equipment that had been waylaid in transit.
The Black Bullet was outside Sandy Hook at about 8,000 feet. It had taken off from The Griffon's lair a few miles Southwest of Montauk Point on the tip of Long Island. It had flown well out to sea for twenty or thirty minutes and then had followed the Great Circle route the trans-Atlantic liners take coming into New York.
The Griffon and his gunner changed seats when they reached 10,000 feet and the Black Bullet was turned dead for the gleaming jewel that was Manhattan Island.
"Don't go too close before shutting off. We don't want any pick-up on this," said the Griffon to his pilot-gunner.
"We got the right wind, Boss," the gunner said over his shoulder. "If we cut in over Staten Island, we can make it all the way without the engines."
"Oke! As soon as you get within three miles of the lower end of the Island, cut them cold and make sure you set the full-feathering blades. We don't even want the prop to tick over."
"I get it, Boss."
The Griffon left it to the gunner guy and busied himself with the device that was bolted over an opening in the floor of the nacelle. He checked and checked again, twisting knurled knobs for height and range. He also made certain the big cartridge was set properly and carefully fused.
"We've got only one and we've got to do it right," he muttered to himself.
Then the engines that had been muffled through the Skodas were cut off. There was a slow hum of meshing gears and gradually the two three-bladed airscrew's fitted to the Allison engines swayed to a dull stop with their edges on the slipstream.
"Right! Now keep straight on so that you pass clean over the point between St. George and the entrance to the East River. Got that straight ?"
Their voices sounded strangely loud now. It was like talking in the open basket of a balloon. The cockpit heaters went off and it suddenly became uncomfortable with the stabbing cold They drew the zippers of their coveralls up tighter and knotted their woolen scarfs closer about their throats, trying to keep warm.
The Griffon looked over the gunner-guy's shoulder at the bank of instruments. He figured against the numbers on the inclinometer and nodded with satisfaction.
Outside, a velvety darkness hemmed them in. There was not even a paring of moon or star by which to calculate. They might have been flying inside a giant black tar barrel. There was a solemn numbness about it all, but death and destruction was in the offing.
"All right," said the Griffon.
"Hold her on that line and make the most of every pound of wind pressure we can get. I'd like to cut clear across Long Island and get as far as Long Beach before we switch on again, if you can make it."
The gunner-pilot nodded: "We can make. it, Boss. Give 'em the stuff."
The Griffon huddled behind the strange black and brassy instrument. He was taking a sight down a wire-stranded device set over a small glassed port in the floor. They were almost dead over St. George now and he began to fidget nervously.
Anti-aircraft shells burst madly around them, but the Mick held the Black Bullet straight for that kite balloon!
"Hold her dead all the way," he ordered. "No matter what happens!"
The Black Bullet was in a smooth glide with only a few notches drawn on the flap wheel. Then they were dead over the bay with their nose on the lights of Governors Island.
"All right. This is about it. A few more seconds," said Keen.
Then he scotched over the instrument, yanked a lever on one of the parts, and something scrawnched out of the stubby black tube and went down toward the water below.
The Griffon sat tense, counted "four" slowly, and pressed another lever and waited.
There was a dull boom, a splintering gash of mushrooming light, and then a silver glow was bathed over everything.
"Good!" the Griffon beamed. "Timed it beautifully!"
"Turn now, Boss ... for Long Beach," the gunner-pilot started to say.
But there was another boom. A roar that seemed to shove back the gums from their teeth. It came from the lower tip of Brooklyn, almost dead below them now. A fan-shaped. glare was thrown across the water off the tip of Queens. The rising cushion of concussion finally came up and made the Black Bullet bounce.
"What the devil?"
"What the heck did you do, Boss?" "I don't know. We won't know until we get home, but hold her on course and don't for any reason open that engine. Keep her gliding quietly, even if you scrape her belly over the buildings. This is really something !"
"You said it, Boss. That was really something!"
And the Griffon sat back and cursed himself for being too late.
At last, a silent plane! The most feared weapon in the imagination of aircraft designers had struck ... and struck with such force that for several hours not a newspaper appeared on the streets. Every radio station between New York and Chicago was ordered silent for more than ten hours. Not a plane left any field for fourteen hours.
It had been a silent plane that had struck; the officials were certain of that. They had checked the time bracket completely and there wasn't an airliner anywhere near New York City or even over the Metropolitan area. That much was certain from a check-up of the airlines. But they were even more certain because the new anti-aircraft regiment stationed at Fort Hamilton had been keeping close watch until 11:45 that night and their check chart was unmarked in the bracket after 11:33 when the Stratoliner went over, headed for LaGuardia Field. They had three Staff officers and six non-coms working the Sperry mike-bar. Also, they had three instruments hooked up and all three crews were on their toes.
That's why they were certain it was a silent plane.
But there was nothing silent about the bomb that hit smack on the battleship at the new Manhattan Navy Yard. The roar echoed all the way up into Connecticut. It blew out windows in Jersey City. More than a thousand panes of glass went out of the Metropolitan Insurance Building - right in the middle of the glaziers' strike, to make it worse.
They found the remains of about sixty dead when they got near the shapeless hull of the U. S. S. Vermont. More than three hundred more, who had been working like mad to have the vessel ready for the official launching the next day, were wounded. The dock was a shambles, the hull a battered hulk that would block up the slipway for weeks. Seven giant cranes went down and the explosion blew in the side of the drydock forty-five yards away.
It was a bomb dropped from the skies. They had all heard it whistling down. They found part of the guide vanes 300 yards away, so they were certain it had come from a plane.
But no one had heard the ship. It must have been a silent plane.
It was about 3 o'clock in the afternoon the next day before the newspapers got out to Long Island with sketchy details of the affair. It was at first put down as subversive element sabotage. The papers suggested that perhaps a time bomb had been built into the ship's hull itself. They were not allowed to suggest that it might have been bombed from the air by a silent plane.
The general public did not hear of it until about noon, but Kerry Keen was told early that morning.
"Just my luck," Barbara Colony said as she slipped out of her sport cabriolet, in front of Keen's Long Island retreat. "Here I had all the doo-dads for the launching, and someone goes and blows up the battleship !"
"What are you talking about?"
"You didn't do anything silly last night, did you ?" she asked quietly.
"I worked, if that comes under the head of foolishness," said Keen. "Barney engaged in his usual indoor sport of guzzling gallons of O'Doul's Dew. Why, what's wrong?"
"Haven't you heard? The battleship ... the Vermont. Someone bombed it last night. I was to take part in the launching ceremony today."
"No newspaper, no radio," said Keen simply, throwing out his hands.
"You weren't flying last night, were you? They think it was a silent plane - that is, an admiral hinted that."
"Come inside, you need a drink." "Didn't you hear the blast last night?"
"Blast? Yes, but I thought that was just Washington Bridge caving in. Get Pebbles a drink, Barney. She's just been deprived of the honor of smacking a battleship with a bottle of bug-juice. In the library, eh?"
"Hi, Pebbles!" grinned the Mick. "What'll it be?"
"Make it three, whatever it is, and come in and listen to this. We blew up" a battleship last night, Barney."
The Mick scratched his head, stood there with a puzzled grimace, and finally wandered off to the pantry. Keen led the girl into the study-library just off the corridor.
"Why would you be smacking battleships with bottles of champagne?" Keen asked when they had sat down before the big log fire.
"It was the admiral - Admiral Cunningham. He's an old friend of father's. He has no daughters or near relatives. He's a widower and he honored me with the christening."
"Isn't that the man who was just placed in charge of the new Atlantic Fleet organization?"
"Yes. He had come through from San Diego. He stopped in and saw father and then suggested that I do the christening stunt. He seemed to think I'd photograph well with the prow of a gunboat, or something," she said, smiling.
"Gunboat? The Vermont is the absolute latest in battleship design."
"Well, whatever it is, it's a wreck now. The admiral called me up and called it off. She was hit about 11:45 last night. A real blast, Kerry!"
"Well, we didn't do it," said Keen as Barney carne in with the drinks, "did we, Barney?"
The Mick just wagged his head. He was always speechless when Miss Colony was around. She took a Martini and thanked him.
"So that's what all that boom-boom was about last night," Keen said quietly as he began walking up and down behind the settee. "The admiral says she was bombed from the air?"
"That's what he said. He explained that the newspapers had been ordered to suggest sabotage - explosives placed inside the hull by Reds or something. I was afraid it was you when he suggested it might have been done by a silent plane."
"Ours isn't silent. The motors are muffled, yes, but they could pick up the prop beats."
"The admiral said none of the local anti-aircraft posts had heard anything even suspicious. Could it have been flown too high?"
"If it was too high to be detected, it was too high for accurate bombing-and that was accurate bombing if they only dropped one."
"That's all. Only one, they say." Keen sat down thoughtfully and sipped his cocktail.
"And the admiral believes it is a silent plane, eh?"
"But it could be," the girl argued. "No one heard it, no one saw it, but the bomb was dropped clean on the battleship!"
"If there was a silent plane, we could quit building battleships or any other weapons. If any enemy has a silent plane, what have we to combat what we can't even hear? I don't like this."
Suddenly he twisted and said: "Where's the admiral now?"
"He'll be at the Navy Yard all the time. They're conducting a careful investigation and they'll be examining the wreckage all night, he said."
"I think your admiral, and a lot more of them, are going to have lovely military funerals this week unless someone does something about all this."
He put his glass down, picked up a newspaper of the day before, and turned to the weather report. He read it carefully, wrote some cryptic letters and figures on scratch paper, and put the sheet in his pocket.
"They won't bomb it again, will they? They completely destroyed it as it is!" the girl broke in.
"Sure, they got the battleship. But they can get half the technical department of the Navy if they hit it again tonight. And what could be easier with all that gold braid floundering around in a wrecked hull, probably under enough glare to light up half the lower end of Manhattan? I think it will be a mass funeral."
"But that's terrible. Why don't you do something about it?"
"I may have to."
The telephone bell rang and Keen smiled: "I'm sure I shall have to now. Our mutual egg plant, Drury Lang, I bet!"
A $50,000 Agreement
The voice of Drury Lang gagged over the phone, "Hey, Keen, you know anything about bombs?"
"You know I never allow you on the place," said Keen.
"I didn't ask you that. I said do you know anything about bombs?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you said 'bums.' That's different. What's up now?"
"We got a piece of a bomb and none of these Navy or Army mugs can identify it. We thought maybe you might know something about it."
"What's it all about?" asked Keen, winking at the girl.
"What's it all about? Don't tell me you haven't heard about the 'Vermont' business. Where the deuce do you hang out, anyway?"
"I'm just a nice country boy and I don't mix with bums ... pardon, bombs. No, I don't get it, Drury. What's up?"
"Somebody came over the Navy Yard last night and dropped a beaut smack on the new 'Vermont.' She's just scrap iron now."
"That's all right. You can sell it to the Japs and build another."
"Look, Keen. I'm busy and I'm tired. We want someone to tell us what this one is so we can get an idea where it came from."
"I know all about bombs. I bought a book once. You ought to try books Drury. Sometimes they have pictures in them. Then, if you could only learn to read -"
"Okay, wise guy. You know all about bombs. Well, come down here and see if you know anything about this one."
"I'm busy!" snapped Keen.
"You're not that busy. There's ten grand in it for you if you can put your name on the bottom of a statement about this one. And the ten grand stands only five hours. Be here before 9 o'clock tonight!"
"For ten grand, Drury," laughed Keen, "I'd bomb your grandmother. Sit tight, and I'll be down shortly. Where is it?"
"In our office."
"You'll also kill all the tickets I get on the way, eh ?"
"You get here, you thieving devil.
Ten grand, bah!" snorted Lang as he hung up with a crash.
"Come on, Pebbles. Back to the City. You drive, and don't spare the octanes."
"Can I come?" asked Barney.
"No. You stay here. I have a job for you. And I'll want it ready by 11 o'clock tonight. Come on downstairs."
The Mick and Keen disappeared down the cellar steps for some minutes, and what went on down there Miss Colony had no idea, but she sensed that something was being prepared for the so-called "silent" plane.
Then Keen darted into the hallway again, grabbed a light but warm topcoat, and yelled to the girl in the library. In ten minutes they were thundering for Manhattan along Route 27. Keen sat quietly in the corner, his hands deep in his topcoat pockets, his mind deep in thought. The girl pressed her foot well down on the gas and let him ponder.
It's well over 100 miles from Graylands to Lang's office in the lower portion of the city and the last twenty are devilish, but Miss Colony clicked off the whole trip in a few minutes under two hours.
"Well, got it all worked out?" she asked when he crawled out and started for the old brownstone building which somehow had been turned into an office structure.
"I believe so."
"Then it is a silent plane?"
"I don't think so. Still .... "
"But it was a bomb that was dropped, wasn't it?" she persisted.
"Yes. It probably was. Look, Pebbles. Go get yourself some tea and be back here in half an hour. We may have to go back ... and we may not. I don't know yet."
"You've got to find out what this thing is. I'm really worried. It's like fighting something you can't see."
"That's what bothers me, but we'll have to do something about seeing it," he said with a cryptic smile as he hurried into the building.
The darkness of the Winter afternoon did not add anything to the already gloomy interior of the Secret Service office on the second floor. When Keen walked in he was confronted by an indistinct group of men who seemed like bulky ghosts in the murk of the pall of tobacco smoke.
Keen just said "Phew! What about some air?" when he went in and the figures shuffled about. One of them in a Navy uniform said: "That's right. Let's open a window." Another, obviously an Army man in civilian attire, shuffled things about on the table and kicked his chair back. Some got up and sat down quickly again. John Scott came out of the cloud and stuck out his big paw.
"Glad to see you, Keen. Glad you could come." There was a real tone of appreciation in Scott's words. He gripped Keen's hand warmly and then made a sort of general blanket introduction of the Army and Navy men about the table.
"This is Mr. Keen, gentlemen," Scott went on. "He's been a big help to us in the past. He's really a ballistics expert, but I had an idea he might be able to help us in this matter. He rather keeps up with this sort of thing."
"It's about time," razzed Drury Lang from an obscure corner. "What did you do, walk?"
"Something still smells here," argued Keen, sniffing. "Oh, I see, it's Lang ! You really should get this outfit fumigated, Scott."
"Stop it you two and let's get on with this business," John Scott protested.
Keen walked to the big table where lay a shapeless chunk of metal. There was a badly blown portion at one end that might have been half a metal ball. It was connected to a strip about two inches in width and about thirty inches long. At the top of the strip was another piece of metal that was cone shaped to which was riveted a flat section of sheet metal. It was obviously what was left of some sort of aerial bomb.
They watched Keen finger it and smell the burnt portions. His hands spanned the various pieces for general measurements.
"This is what hit the Vermont?" Keen asked after a few minutes.
"That's what we found, at any rate," a short, stubby Navy man explained as he pulled out a black pipe. "What do you make of it?"
"First, tell me something about what happened," Keen said, holding up one hand. Somehow he didn't like this Navy guy.
"We thought you knew all about it," the Navy man said.
"All I got was some hopeless babble from Lang. I want the straight of it."
"You were asked to identify what is left of the bomb," Lang butted in.
"There's still a bad odor in here," Keen said, ignoring Lang again.
The Navy man went on: "Well, at approximately 11:43 last night the Vermont, which was to have been launched today, was bombed from the air."
"How do you know it was bombed from the air?" Keen asked quietly.
"That's an aerial bomb, isn't it.
As a matter of fact, it fell flush on the quarter-deck, pierced it, and exploded inside. We've never experienced such damage from one projectile or bomb."
"Any explosive aboard the hull?" "None that we know of. There might have been, of course, but that is unlikely."
Keen nodded and selected a cigarette from a gold case he carried in his vest pocket. "Did you hear the attacking plane ?"
"No. No one heard it."
"No one heard anything - until the bomb exploded?"
"Well, there was a flash of some sort in mid-air a few seconds before this exploded, Mr. Keen," an Army Colonel broke in. "We are inclined to believe that it was discharged to cover up the raider, because it obviously attacked from a very low altitude."
"There was a terrific glare, too," another Navy man added. "It all happened in the sky a short distance away from the area above the Navy Yard."
"You think, then," Keen went on, "that this bomb was dropped from a plane?"
"It must have been."
"But no one heard a plane. No one saw one, and I believe the anti-aircraft batteries have no record of detecting one in that area at that time. Is that right?"
"Hey, I thought you didn't know anything about this," Lang broke in.
Keen ignored him and said: "Well, gentlemen, if this was dropped from a ship which no one saw and no one heard, we had better start scooting for the hills."
"It is a very, serious situation," a Navy man said. "If a possible enemy has a silent plane, we are certainly up against it. Things are tough enough as it is."
"Serious ?" a Brigadier-General bleated. "If they have a silent plane they can clean out every factory and Navy yard in six months!"
"Who?" said Keen, smiling.
"Who? .... who?" the Brigadier gargled. "Who, but the devils who dropped that? But that's what we brought you in here for. What is that and who manufactured it? And what is more, who do you think dropped it - and how?"
"I get ten grand for telling you what this is, don't I?" Keen asked.
"I believe that is the figure agreed on."
"What do I get if I find out who dropped it and how it was dropped?"
"Just what do you mean, Mr. Keen?" the pudgy Navy man asked.
"He knows all about it," ranted Lang from the corner. "He's a Mister Griffon, or at least he works with him. Anyway, we're pretty damned sure he knows who the Griffon is."
"I wish someone would shut off that deranged phonograph," Keen said. "Sure I'm the Griffon. I'm the Shadow, Dick Tracy, Superman and Don Winslow all rolled into one. I go about blowing up Navy battleships with a silent plane just so I can get you gentlemen to pay me ten thousand dollars to tell you what I did it with. Isn't that a laugh?"
"Why don't you shut up, Lang?" Scott argued.
"Well, the mug is going to tell us who did it and how they did it. He will, too. And you can't tell me he don't know something about it. Ask him what he was doing last night!"
"What were you doing last night, Keen ?" asked Scott.
"That's easy. I have taken up amateur photography and I just happened to be developing some film."
"I'd like to see those pictures?" grunted Lang.
"Don't worry, my sweet," beamed Keen, "you will."
The Army and Navy men stared about and whispered to each other and gave the impression that they had no idea what this small sized feud was all about. The chubby Navy guy made a move for the phone but restrained himself.
"You have any idea what really happened last night, Mr. Keen?" the Brigadier asked feebly.
"Yes. I have a good idea, but I'm not ready to express my views."
"I suppose it is a matter of money again."
"That guy won't do anything unless he gets paid," stormed Lang.
"Everybody in this room is being paid, aren't they?" demanded Keen. "The only difference is that I get more," he added with a smile.
"I think we're getting off the track.
What is your figure for this information you believe you have, Mr. Keen ?"
"Ten grand for the dope on the bomb - and fifty thousand for the clearing up of the rest of it."
The Brigadier gulped and pawed at the air.
"Okay, forget it," Keen went on.
"This," he explained," is a German Luftwaffe 50-kilogram or 110 pound high explosive bomb. I know this because of the unusual side fuse. They put both a nose fuse and a side fuse in to make sure of delayed action."
They sat there staring at him.
"You see, gentlemen, this is a special armor-piercing nose-piece. The Germans learned that very often the nose fuse is damaged and does not ignite the charge at the correct instant, so they have incorporated a side fuse a few inches up the side of the bomb. In the case of the 50-kilogram bombs, they have two side fuses - just in case."
"How do you know all this?" someone asked.
"That's my business, gentlemen. That's how I get the Government to pay me ten thousand dollars for identifying bombs. I happen to have good friends abroad who for a few good American dollars are quite willing to provide me with the information I seem to be able to sell for even more good American dollars."
"It's a racket!" Lang snarled. "Everything's a racket. Even the Secret Service, Lang. They are paid to do the things they have to pay for themselves. Now shut up, you bore us all."
The aimless patter between Keen and Lang was ignored by the rest in the room. It at least gave them time to think, and there was plenty to think about. The Navy man broke the silence with: "Well, if this is a German bomb, do you mean to infer that it was dropped from a German airplane, Mr. Keen?"
"That comes in on the fifty grand," Keen said with determination.
"You are sure this is a German missile?" the Brigadier asked.
"I'll bet you the ten grand I'm going to get against five Army bucks," grinned Keen,
"Well, in that case," the Brigadier muttered, "it must have been dropped from a German plane."
They all waited for Keen to answer, but he sat down and lit another cigarette without answering.
"You won't get anything out of him," Lang expounded. "We've been trying to for years. You've got to have it on the line."
"One of these days," said Keen, "I'm going to open a sanitarium for mentally deficient Secret Service men. I'll have old Lang over there, cemented up in the cornerstone. Years later, when they open it, all they'll find will be a set of scrubby whiskers, a 1905 guide to the City of New York and an old China doorknob."
"Yeah? I don't get the doorknob," gagged Lang.
"That will represent the egg the Secret Service laid when they signed you," taunted Keen. Then he got up, flipped a hand, and added: "Well, I guess that's all, gentlemen. You know where to send the check, eh ?"
"But wait a minute, Keen," the Brigadier floundered. "We're not through yet. What about the rest of it ?"
"You heard the price ... and it's worth it!'
"What do we get for fifty thousand?"
"A thrill, for one thing. A photographic print, for another, and an explanation of how that bomb was dropped on the Vermont. What do you want, a set of dishes thrown in?"
"We want to know who did it and how," the Brigadier barked. "We want proof, too. Fifty thousand is a lot of money!"
"The Vermont would have cost sixty million. They had spent probably thirty million on her. There's the new Rhode Island not many yards away from where the Vermont was bombed. Do you want her to go up tonight?"
"Why not?" Keen said. "You can't stop them if they have a silent plane. What are you going to cover it with - a few yards of mosquito netting?"
"You think they'll try to get the Rhode Island, tonight?" the Brigadier spluttered.
"Of course they will!"
"How do you know, Keen?" asked Lang.
"At last an intelligent question from old Drury!" beamed Keen. "Well, for old Lang's sake, let us assume we're the crowd that pulled off the Vermont show. We did what we set out to do and apparently no one is any the wiser. Tonight, it will be even easier, because all the Navy experts will still be studying it under the glare of all the floodlights they can get. Simple, eh?"
Keen went on: "Fifty grand is pretty cheap insurance, gentlemen, to save a couple of sixty million dollar warships. Still, I suppose you have your own way of figuring."
"All right. All right, Keen," the Brigadier exploded. "You'll get your money. We'll give you twenty-four hours to produce some evidence. But, if the Rhode Island is bombed and damaged tonight, I'll see that you are investigated down to the last whorl in your fingerprints. Is that clear?"
Keen came back to the center of the room. "I'll try to clear up my theory and I'll try to prevent the Rhode Island being bombed - but I have to do it my way."
"You have twenty-four hours I"
"I also have a complete free rein. I am not to be followed or interfered with in any way. I demand the right to go anywhere I please."
"We'll get you Navy Yard passes," the Navy Commander said.
''A row-boat will be all I need," smiled Keen.
"A row-boat?" they all gasped. "Just an idea," grinned Keen.
"Don't touch any row-boats you happen to see anywhere about in the lower bay. Is that clear?"
They all nodded dumbly.
"And, remember, no lights near the present wreck. Have the Navy Yard as clear as possible. I'd even keep searchlights out of the picture:"
"Uh ho!" grunted Lang. "Here's the tip-off. So your Griffon pal is going to pull it off for you while you paddle about the bay in a row-boat, eh, Keen?"
"You'll have to stop reading those comic strips, Lang. They're beginning to get you dizzy!" grinned Keen, heading back for the door again. "But," he added as an afterthought, "you might have a Coast Guard cutter somewhere off the St. George ferry slip. It might come in handy, if I get swamped in my row-boat!" And with that he walked out, leaving the ring of faces utterly numb.
By nine o'clock that night, Keen and Pebbles were well on their way to Graylands. They rested and took dinner at a roadhouse outside West Sayville where Keen was able to tell the girl most of what had happened.
"Well, it was queer, but we ran into that gag in a strange way," he said thoughtfully, fingering the stem of his glass. "I was downtown in New York a few days ago in a marine supply store. I was buying some equipment for a new boat we're building."
"You run into the darndest things in the darndest places," the girl agreed, "but stealing an Air Corps aerial camera outfit takes the prize!"
"While I was there, somewhat secluded in a rope storehouse," Keen went on, "someone came in and asked for a peculiar kind of steel cable. I wouldn't have noticed anything except that the man called for a certain type of steel cable, mentioning the weight and certain information on the proper method of splicing it. Well, to cut a long story short, I later asked the salesman what it was they wanted."
"No one but you would go into details like that. No wonder you're always in trouble."
"From what the fellow told me, I began to sense that something unusual was up, but the sales guy didn't know what boat the man came from or where the vessel lay. He did know that the man was from a visiting ship and I presumed that she must be about New York somewhere."
"So you used that flimsy excuse to swipe a Government -"
"I really didn't swipe it, as you so colorfully put it," Keen interrupted. "I borrowed it for an evening or two. Anyway, I was dumb enough to worry about that guy and his steel cable. I was certain he was not just another first mate off some third rate tramp steamer. I felt certain
Keen quickly twisted in his chair. There was a man behind him - tall, rugged, and flinty of features. The one with him was short, pudgy, and weather-beaten. Without a word of invitation, they sat down in the remaining two chairs.
"We got company," said Pebbles.
"Friends of yours?"
Keen sensed trouble, but somehow could not figure it out. The little pudgy man was the Navy Commander who had sat in with the investigation committee in Scott's office.
"Take it easy, Keen," the Navy man said out of the corner of his mouth. He had changed his Navy jacket for a civilian blue serge coat.
"I thought I told you expressly that I was not to be followed or bothered In any way," Keen said.
"That's what you said," the Navy man scowled. "Smart guy, eh? Getting yourself set for fifty grand. Taking aerial photos at night, eh?"
"Who's your ugly friend?" Keen asked, staring at the tall man who so far had said nothing. His right hand was near his left lapel.
"He's what they call a trigger man in the best rub-out circles."
Keen quickly took in the whole scene. They were in a very secluded corner of the roadhouse. A small crowd was there and an orchestra was beating out the latest swing air. The waiters were busy setting out their special areas and beaming at incoming groups. Whatever it was this Navy man had in mind, Keen knew they were trapped - and trapped cold.
"Look, Keen," the Navy man said. "It's too bad, but we've got to do this. I'm sorry for your lady friend, but she has to go, too. Where do you want it, here or out along the road?"
"I don't want it anywhere," Keen said. Then he saw that Pebbles was crying. She was in abject fear.
"Take it easy kid," he said quietly. "This is just a gag."
But Pebbles was sniffing. This was a new line for the girl. She never gave in like this before.
"Take it easy," he comforted again - and then he caught it.
She was sniffing, yes - in dots and dashes! Just a couple of Morse Code words, but it gave Keen encouragement.
"So you're in on the silent plane gag," Keen said to the pudgy Navy man. "Nice work, getting in that close and sitting in on all the business."
"You're putting up a good show yourself," said the Navy man, "but it won't work. You're due for the rub-out."
"Okay! If that's the game; we'll show you we can go through with it," Keen said boldly. "But a guy like you, who hides inside a Navy uniform and then double-crosses his own crowd, must be a prize Class A-1 stinker!"
"So what? Why should we take it in a gun turret fighting battles for civilians who can get ten grand for knowing too much?" the Navy man grunted. "They're trying to get this country in a war - with either Japan or Germany. But will guys like you fight it? No, you'll stay home and be civilian experts and get paid big money."
"If we go to war, and I'm still around," Keen gritted, "I'll be the first guy on our block to volunteer for active service."
"Sure you will, but they won't take you. We'll be the guys to go."
"So what does it all add up to?" "I'm going to see that we have enough to take care of here at home, without getting embroiled in any foreign war. This is just our way of doing it."
"You wouldn't by any chance be in the pay of a dictator nation, would you?" taunted Keen.
"If I am, I don't get as much as you," the pudgy Navy man argued. Then he became anxious and looked around. ''Well, what is it. Do we plug you both here and call it a night, or -"
"That would be a dirty trick to play on the fellow who runs this place," Keen reflected. "Come on, Pebbles, blow your nose and make yourself pretty. Maybe we can buy these guys off."
"We won't do that, Keen," the Navy guy snarled. "You're in too deep!"
Miss Colony was still sniffing, but she took Keen's tip and began to fumble with her handbag in search of a handkerchief. She suddenly whipped out a small but respectful pearl-handled automatic. Palming it carefully, she stuck it up against the heart of the flint-featured man on her right.
The trick had been played so fast that it was fully twenty seconds before the Navy man realized what had happened. He started to say something and then saw the glint of the weapon in the girl's palm.
"Nice sniffing, Pebbles," said Keen, reaching over and taking a heavy automatic from the shoulder holster of the flint-faced man. He inspected it to make certain it was loaded.
The Navy man was stiff. He tried to argue with the flint-faced gunman, but his words died in his throat.
Keen frisked the Navy man, took a gun from him, and then sat down. "Now we'll do the talking and you'll do the walking - straight out the door. And if you make a move, I'll blow your kidneys clean into the kitchen!"
"The girl smiled and put her small weapon back in her bag - but not before she had pulled the little trigger and lit a cigarette from the tiny flame that flicked up from the open breech.
"Just one of those things," grinned Keen when the Navy man stared with unbelieving eyes at the evidence of the fraud.
"How was I to know?" the flint-faced guy whined. "It certainly looked like a real automatic to me. I'd like to see you with it rammed under your pump!"
That was the first time the flint-faced man had spoken, but Keen immediately recognized his voice as the same one that had asked for a special type of steel cable in the marine supply-store.
Keen tossed a bill to the waiter, and with his hand in his pocket he guided the men through the crowd and outside where they were forced to get into the car. They ran them into West Sayville and put them in custody of the police with a quiet explanation of what was in the wind. The Police Chief nodded and listened while Keen called John Scott in New York and made arrangements for the two to be picked up by the Federal Authorities.
"And that will be a nice chunk of change for Miss Colony, too, remember," he added. "It was her trick that nailed them. Beside, she needs a new car!"
"Don't you ever stop?" Scott asked.
"You two will have the Government broke, the way you are going on."
"Just another way of keeping money in circulation. We win it in rewards and spend it fast. That's better than burying it in Fort Knox, isn't it?" Keen demanded."
"What are you going to do now?" Scott asked.
"Get a rowboat and find out something else. You pick these babies up and put the screws on them. Don't let them contact anyone until morning."
"I can't believe it about that Navy man."
"Well, you'll find out later on. Got to be hurrying. Otherwise, all the rowboats will be gone." Keen hung up, hurried the girl out to the car, and once more they were scorching up the roads.
At Graylands they found Barney pacing up and down the studio like a caged animal. He let out a deep and gusty sigh of relief when he saw them walk in.
"How's that film?" asked Keen.
"Dry, but I can't make anything out of it, Boss."
"Come on," Keen ordered. "Let's get a quick print before we leave."
Miss Colony wondered about much of it, but followed them down into the cellar where a temporary dark room had been set up. Keen splashed developer, water, and hypo bath into three trays and selected the large square of negative. He put it in the printing frame and selected a sheet of printing paper after the light had been cut off. Then, snapping on the light again he exposed the frame for several seconds and turned on a red photographic bulb.
"Now we'll see what caused that explosion aboard the Vermont," he said.
The paper was slipped into the developer and slithered around. Gradually the details of the print began to show. Miss Colony looked over Keen's shoulder. "I thought you took a picture of the Navy Yard," she said. "That looks like the lower bay!"
"It is," said Keen taking the paper out of the developer and running it through clear water. "That's what we were doing when we lit up the sky."
"But that doesn't make sense!"
Keen ran the wet print into the hypo bath and let it fix the chemical progress. "We were looking for whatever dropped that bomb, Pebbles !"
"But I still don't get it. Wasn't it a plane?"
Keen broke it up a minute and talked to Barney. Then he brought out the print and held it up under a strong light.
"Just a lot of boats anchored in the bay," the girl said.
"Look at it again," Keen said. Pebbles studied the picture a minute more and finally gave up.
"You see this one here?" Keen pointed out a tanker of the flush-deck type. "Notice that a large area of the deck is black and the other part white. That means that a section of the tank is open."
"Anything unusual about that?"
"No, but the machinery aboard that tanker is. It just doesn't go with usual tanker design. But forget that; look farther up the picture. What do you see there?"
"Just some sort of a blot or bubble in the paper, isn't it? It looks like a ship of some kind sailing across the lower end of Brooklyn. That's a mistake, isn't it?"
"It would be, if we missed it.
That's what we were looking for. It's a kite balloon, not a surface vessel."
"A kite balloon?"
"Exactly! It is up on a steel cable running through a winch on the deck of this tanker. The balloon is sent up at night when the wind is right, and the special German bomb is released from the basket. It's the simplest idea in the world."
The girl was silent for several minutes as she studied the picture. "Who would have thought of that?" she asked finally.
"The Japs. That's a Jap tanker converted into a balloon carrier. The British use much the same idea at the mouth of the Thames in their balloon barrage and sub-spotting work. This is the first time a balloon has been used as an offensive weapon. But, baby, how it worked!"
"But they can use it again if they have more bombs, can't they?"
"Not after tonight," the Mick broke in. "We'll stick an ice-pick in their little balloon, won't we, Boss?"
"Get going," said Keen, glancing at his wrist watch. "They won't use it tonight if we time it right."
Keen turned on an electric dryer and completed the stiffening of the print. Then he hurried upstairs and called someone on the telephone. Miss Colony caught some of the conversation, which ended like this: " ... and no matter what you see, Jerry, you stay there until I show up. Be sure to have the boat ready. Keep your mouth shut and I'll see that a brand new Chris-Craft cabin cruiser is delivered to your dock on Saturday morning. Is it a deal?"
Keen listened again a minute and then said: "Right ... no identification of any kind. Right ... right, Jerry," and hung up.
From that point on it was all action at Graylands. Keen leaped upstairs with the print and scrawled something on the back with a crude crayon. Then he stuck it in an old manila envelope and sealed it. He addressed it to John Scott, stuck on enough stamps for first class mail, and then reached inside his closet and took out his black coverall and parachute pack.
"What am" I supposed to do?" Pebbles asked.
"You get into your little car, take this envelope - and drive. I suggest that you go up to Montauk and take the ferry across the Sound to New London. From there you can cut back, let's say, to Hartford, Conn., where you may drop it in some nice green mail box. But don't stop there. Cut across farther into Winstead and stay overnight at the Beeches Hotel. From there, tomorrow morning, you can tootle up into Pittsfield, Mass., where I will meet you in the afternoon. I'll come up by train."
"I hope!" the girl said sadly. "Don't worry, I will. Beside, I'll have sixty grand to squander. You don't mind giving me a hand, do you?"
"Why this envelope, though?"
"Well, Scott has to have some evidence, and there it is. I've marked it plain enough. There won't be much left, you know, after we get through tonight. And I can't hand it to him; he'll have to get it through some unknown agency. He'll think I sent it, of course, but he won't be able to prove it because I'll be somewhere else when it is mailed."
"I get it," the girl said. "I'm on my way."
The Man in the Boat
The Black Bullet was ready when Keen in his Griffon make-up got into the underground hangar. The Mick was also ready and anxious to get going. Keen looked around and selected an ancient-looking shotgun. He took a handful of cartridges from a box, stuffed them in his pockets, and climbed up with the lot into the control pit of the plane. He started the engines and in a sweeping glance saw that Barney had everything in readiness.
The engines reported perfectly over the rev-counters. The fuel dial needles were all the way up. The ammo in the cans gleamed through the upper slots, and the temperature began to rise in the thermometers.
"All right. Let's go," sang Keen.
The lights of the hangar were snapped off and Barney pressed the switches that operated the door motors. They opened outward and the cool air of the night swept in from across the lawn. Keen ran the plane out into the open and waited while Barney closed the doors which were camouflaged as ornamental rookery. Then the Mick came up again, folded down the wing tips, and got the Black Bullet ready for flight.
They watched Miss Colony's car cut around the front of the driveway and throw its double beams out into the roadway. Then Barney climbed up into his seat and the Black Bullet trundled down the turf across the dull hard beach and lowered itself into the water. There Keen adjusted the angle of the pontoons, and under Skoda-muffled power she moved out into the lapping waters of the Sound.
Keen handled her slowly, watching his dash clock until they were well clear of the marker buoys, and then he let her race away under the muffled engines.
"Same wind and same sort of night," Keen said over his shoulder. "They'll be trying it again, or I'm a Dutchman."
"I hope Army planes are kept out of the air," said the Mick.
"Don't worry. We can evade them!" The Black Bullet swept well out to sea and flew on until the glare of Montauk Light was only a mere glimmer. Then Keen shot her upstairs, still keeping the Skodas in, and turned back for the lower tip of Staten Island, just as he had done the night before, but this time they were a few minutes earlier.
"All right," Keen ordered, "now you take over and carry it out almost the same, only this time glide into that tanker anchorage. I'll handle the other business. Get it?"
"Okay, Boss. I get it."
They swept inland at low speed to keep down the whip of the props, and when they were in position they again shut off the motors and feathered the prop blades.
Below and ahead lay the edge of Staten Island, over which they turned again and headed with the wind up the bay. Keen studied the area below and left the flying in charge of the Mick. They could see the Statue of Liberty light and all the activity in the upper bay, but owing to the darkness of the night it was all indistinct.
"She was a short distance off the line of the Bush Terminal," Keen muttered, "almost in a line to the piers off Bayonne!"
Below them now was the upper end of the lower bay. A searchlight spanged out from Fort Wadsworth and swept across the sky toward Gravesand Bay.
"What are they looking for tonight?" the Mick growled.
"Nothing. Just practicing. But I hope they don't pick us up by mistake."
"Leave it to them gravel-crushers to make a mistake," the Mick went on, holding the Black Bullet steady and on line.
But the blade sawed across the sky in an uneven course, fingered into the blackness toward Kill Van Kull, and rested there.
Keen arched over the small panel in front of him and muttered more instructions to Barney. The Mick nodded with each sentence but kept his eyes ahead. They both sensed they were in the danger zone now, but evidently they had evaded the detectors at Fort Wadsworth, because the searchlight was now directed well off to the East.
Keen suddenly sensed danger. The old intuition that somehow always gave him that warning was ringing a small bell in the back of his head. His neck was suddenly cold and he felt the old tenseness across his shoulder-blades.
"Look out, Barney - there's something on!" he warned.
He had no more than spoken when all Hades opened up. The blade of searchlight whipped across the sky and bathed the Black Bullet in a coat of silver. From below three-inchers opened up and rammed a bracket of high explosive shells all about them. Another searchlight came up from Fort Hamilton opposite Wadsworth, and together the two lights forked into them and left the Black Bullet a wide-open target for the gunners below.
The sky was ablaze with anti-aircraft. The shells vomited their venom in an directions. Shrapnel screamed and whined. Streaks of burned explosive set up garish designs against the night sky, designs that became taunting figures and snarling faces - grim caricatures of betrayal. More shells, and then a stream of .50 caliber machine gun bullets.
But somehow the Black Bullet rode through it all. Barney gave her the gun and she leaped to the attack. Every sinew and fiber in her makeup responded nobly and they skated madly about the sky in an effort to evade the fingering lights.
"Keep it up but work your way toward that tanker. We might catch her cold!" yelled Keen.
Barney kept it up with a vengeance and the Black Bullet ripped, tore, and snorted in all directions. The searchlights criss-crossed, parried back and forth, and tried to hold them, but for a fraction of a second the black amphibian cleared and Barney nosed her dead down for the water. Keen held his breath because the plane was heading straight for the group of vessels that lay at anchor off the Bush Terminal, but the Mick was flying like one possessed now and they shot across a jack-staff over a set of tramp steamer masts and then ...
"Look out!" yelled Keen as something big, bulbous, and burley loomed up ahead of them. "That's the bag!"
"Sure!" beamed the Mick, and then the front guns roared in synchronized savagery.
The shells spat flame up front and then the Black Bullet went up hard. Keen somehow managed to press two buttons, shunting a shower of small dart-like objects out of a container below. There wasn't much else to see then, because as they went up in the mad zoom the world suddenly lit up with a garish glare. There was a dull but satisfactory explosion below and torrents of debris streamed up and charged after them.
"You beat me to it," Keen argued, "I couldn't resist it, Boss."
"Well, you may have shot at her, but I sure gave them a dose of incendiary. What the dickens was that explosion?"
"Only one thing, Boss."
"I guess you're right. They were either just letting her go aloft or they were bringing her back and she still had one of those bombs in the basket. Good night!"
They whipped out of the zoom and looked down. Below them a vessel was aflame and swinging wildly at her anchor. Already she was sinking by the stern and they knew they had stopped the bombing of the Manhattan Navy Yard, but there was still more to do.
"Beat it now. I've got to work fast," said Keen slipping out of his coverall and parachute. "Keep out of those searchlights, too. Stay down low and they'll miss us completely now. They've got too much to worry about wondering about that tanker."
"Right, Boss," Barney said with a cool air. "Say when you're ready."
Keen was soon ready. He was now in his regular street clothing and minus his scarlet mask and other makeup. He pulled an old felt hat well down over his eyes and stared about while Barney headed for a sandy stretch near Bay Ridge. She was back in her silent glide again and Keen reached down for the old shot-gun and pushed the hatch cover back.
Overhead, the searchlights were again plugging away with their silver blades, seeking the elusive black plane which none of them could identify. They were so busy searching the upper reaches of the sky that not one of them noticed a black winged wraith slip down to the water some distance above Fort Hamilton, nose its pontoons into the silver beach, and run up onto the hard sand. They didn't see it rumble around again down into the surf once more and clip away over the rollers toward the Lower Bay. They were too busy seeking at least a squadron of bombers that was presumed to be attacking the Manhattan Navy Yard.
That was how Kerry Keen slipped away from the Black Bullet and made his way farther along toward the Upper Bay and somehow found a rowboat, complete with oars, anchor, and practically no means of identification.
Keen gave a low whistle, dropped the shotgun in the bottom, and shoved the boat into the greasy water. Then he took over the oars and pulled hard for the center of the channel, moving up as fast as possible to where the grim burning hulk of the Japanese tanker still illuminated the harbor.
Once in the middle of the channel, however, Keen relaxed and just kept the boat with headway. He watched the trim lights of a racing Coast Guard cutter that was making its way at top speed from the general direction of the Lower Bay. He loaded the shotgun, stood up in the boat, and fired two shots into the air.
Immediately, a searchlight from the bridge of the cutter splattered out and blazed full at him. He waved and gesticulated and the cutter swung off toward him. It had almost lost headway by the time it was alongside.
There were a number of seamen and others along the rail. They all leaned over and stared at the strange figure standing there in the disreputable rowboat. The glare of the searchlight was still on him and then a booming bellow broke out from the rail.
"Why, that's Keen! What are you doing here?"
"Enjoying a sail up the Bay. What are you doing, risking your asthma like this, Lang?"
"What happened up there?" John Scott bawled through his cupped hands.
"I shot a balloon with my little shotgun from a row-boat," "You what?"
But the sailors were lowering a narrow gangway and preparing to take Keen and his rowboat aboard. They gave him a hand and he went up the swinging gangway to the deck.
"Let the boat go. You can pick it up on the way back. You'd better hurry; some of those men may be in the water yet," Keen ordered.
A Coast Guard Commander gave the order and the engine room bell jangled again and they were off toward the still burning wreckage.
"But how did you get here?" Scott demanded. "You said you would use a rowboat, but we thought you were kidding."
"Oh, no! I wasn't kidding. I found out all about it."
"About what?" the Army Colonel asked from the turned up collar of his great-coat.
They all stood there in a dumb circle trying to figure it out.
"The guy must have socked himself with an oar?" muttered Lang.
"Don't be silly! They were using a captive balloon from an empty, re-designed oil tanker. They just anchored the vessel in the right spot, waited for a dark night and for the proper wind, and let the bag out until it was dead over their target. That's how they dropped the bomb."
They all looked at him with unbelieving eyes, but Keen went on: "That's why you thought it was a silent plane."
"The one they were shooting at tonight wasn't a silent plane, Keen," taunted Lang. "Who was that, your pal the Griffon?"
"I wouldn't know. I couldn't see anything except searchlights and bursting shells, but I did see the balloon when they brought it out. I was almost alongside it and saw it start up. I could hear the winch whine. So I took a pot shot at it and - well, down she came and she hit her deck with the bomb they must have had in the basket. That was meant for the U.S.S. Rhode Island, I suppose."
Finally, they began to get the drift of it, but they still had an argument: "But look here, Keen. You nailed Commander Lyle in West Sayville after nine o'clock and had him jailed. How did you get back here that fast?"
"That's easy. I came down by motor boat. I left it at Jerry' Blumberg's boat yard at Bay Shore and borrowed a boat of his. He doesn't know I took it."
"You came down from West Sayville to Bay Shore in about two hours?"
"Sure. I have a new high speed Chris-Craft."
"Or he will, by the time we try to investigate him," broke in Lang.
Keen just grinned and went on: "Well, there's your aerial mystery. Just a gang paid by the Japs, I suppose, who use the British sea-going kite balloon gag. They got away with it once, but I had an idea they were doing it that way."
"Where'd you get the idea?" snapped Lang.
"From a photograph," Keen said as they drew' up near the boats that were trying to rescue some of the Japanese crew.
"I'd like to see that photograph."
"Don't worry, you will," taunted Keen. "See, there's the balloon winch on the forward deck. Look, before she goes down. Put a light on that deck, Skipper!"
And when the Coast Guard searchlight rested on the doomed tanker, they could see the tangle of steel cable, a section of balloon basket, and the balloon winch and drum that had controlled the height of the balloon.
"You're right, Keen," the Brigadier General said calmly. "We missed that possibility entirely. I have no doubt you have saved the Navy Yard another bombing. You sure earned your money."
"Thanks, Sir. Queer how a cheap old-fashioned shotgun will sometimes foil the efforts of the ungodly who might use even the most modern weapons," Keen answered.
"I wish I could believe you, Keen," John Scott said, "but what can we do? Here you were in the channel, in a rowboat, carrying a shotgun. You say it was a balloon and you show us a piece of one, cable and everything, and yet none of it makes any sense. I don't believe you - but I have to."
"What do you want for fifty grand?" grinned Keen.
"I'd just like to know how you did it, that's all!"
"That will cost you one hundred fifty grand, John.
"I suppose I should be satisfied and leave well enough alone."
"Yeah, let's!" Keen said. '''Beside, I've got a date in the morning with Pebbles. We're driving up into New England for a trip."
"Pretty soft for you. We have to put the screws on that guy Lyle and make him tell the rest of the story. But, really, there isn't much more he can tell us, is there?"
"No, except who was paying him." "And they won't push that, diplomacy being what it is," John Scott said mournfully. "No one will believe the story, anyhow."
"And I know how that feels," said Keen, laughing slyly.
"I think I'll try to get you for hunting without a license," Scott said handing back the grin. "Shooting a balloon, out of season!"
"I like you better every day, John."
"And you're the only crook I can stand being anywhere near," Scott said with finality. "Why don't you reform?"
"What would you do then?" taunted Keen.
Posted June 4, 2016