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´╗┐Title: Eagles of the Sky - With Jack Ralston Along the Air Lanes
Author: Newcomb, Ambrose
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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AVIATION



EAGLES OF THE SKY

OR

With Jack Ralston Along the Air Lanes

BY

AMBROSE NEWCOMB

Author of "The Sky Detectives," etc., etc.

Published by

THE GOLDSMITH PUBLISHING CO.

CHICAGO



Eagles of the Sky

Copyright 1930

The Goldsmith Publishing Co.

Made in U. S. A.



CONTENTS

        I Ready for Business                                    13
       II The Curtiss-Robin Plane                               26
      III Like a Night Owl on the Wing                          35
       IV The Dance of the Fireflies                            42
        V A Battle Royal                                        51
       VI The Tear-Bomb Attack                                  58
      VII A White Elephant on Their Hands                       67
     VIII The Spoils of Victory                                 74
       IX Engineer Perk on Deck                                 83
        X Tampa Bound                                           90
       XI Perk Holds the Fort                                   99
      XII Old Enemies Face to Face                             108
     XIII When Greek Met Greek                                 115
      XIV The Coast Guard Men                                  124
       XV With the Coming of the Moon                          131
      XVI The Lockheed-Vega Flying Ship                        140
     XVII Okechobee, the Mystery Lake                          147
    XVIII The Master Crook                                     154
      XIX The Scent Grows Warmer                               161
       XX Denizens of a Florida Swamp                          168
      XXI The Mysterious Coquina Shack                         175
     XXII The Man of Many Faces                                182
    XXIII A Pugnacious Rattler                                 189
     XXIV On Hands and Knees                                   196
      XXV Perk Demands More Water                              203
     XXVI The Fight at the Well                                211
    XXVII At Bay                                               218
   XXVIII The Come-Back                                        225
     XXIX A Last Resort                                        232
      XXX Fetching in Their Man                                239



EAGLES OF THE SKY



CHAPTER I

READY FOR BUSINESS


When the "Big Boss" at Secret Service Headquarters in Washington sent
Jack Ralston and his pal, Gabe Perkiser, to Florida with orders to comb
the entire Gulf Coast from the Ten Thousand Islands as far north as
Pensacola and break up the defiant league of smugglers, great and small,
that had for so long been playing a game of hide-and-seek with the Coast
Guard revenue officers, the task thus assigned was particularly to the
liking of those two bold and dependable sky detectives.

They loved nothing better than _action_--never felt entirely happy
unless matching their wits against those of skulking law breakers--while
to sup with danger, and run across all manner of thrilling
adventures--that was a daily yearning with them.

Since so much of their work must of necessity take them over that vast
stretch of salt water lying between the Florida coast and the far
distant Mexican shore line, the wise men in Washington had supplied Jack
with a speedy plane of the amphibian type, capable of making landings
either on shore or in any of the numerous inlets dotting the coast, it
being equipped with both aluminum pontoons and adjustable wheels.

Jack had spent several days at the Capital, conferring with various high
officials, being thus put in possession of every available scrap of
reliable information at the disposal of the Department.

He had also been given documents of authority, calling upon each and
every Government agent in all Florida to afford him any possible
assistance, should he require such backing while learning the identity
of the "higher-up" capitalists guilty of financing the secret clique
that had been giving the revenue men such trouble recently.

The fact was well known that besides the valuable _caches_ of unset
diamonds, and other precious stones, coming surreptitiously into the
country without yielding the customary heavy duty imposed on them, there
was also being smuggled into the innumerable lonely bayous and inlets of
the lengthy coast line vast quantities of contraband in violation of the
eighteenth amendment, also batches of undesirable aliens like Chinese,
anarchists and Bolsheviks, such riffraff as Uncle Sam had been holding
off under a strict ban.

So, too, it was understood that besides the fleet of swift, small
power-boats employed night after night in this profitable game of
mocking the Treasury Department, latterly the smugglers had been
freighting their cargoes by means of airplanes that would be able to
land the contraband stuff in lonely places far back of the low coast
sections.

It was therefore a monumental task, covering a wide field of operation
and with constant peril hovering over the heads of the two adventurous
aviators who had undertaken so joyously to spread the net and draw its
meshes about the offenders.

Their preparations having been completed, they were waiting in an
isolated little bayou surrounded by inaccessible swamps and mangrove
islands ready to take off with the coming of the friendly shades of
night.

To those who enjoyed reading the preceding volume of this series of
aviation adventures, where Jack and "Perk," in order to get their
man--one of the boldest and most successful counterfeiters known in the
annals of crime--found it necessary to fly across the Mexican boundary
line and snatch their victim out of an extinct volcano crater that had
once been the fort of the fierce Yaqui Indian tribe,[1] will think it a
rather far cry for the Sky Detectives to be detailed to active duty some
thousands of miles distant, and in the extreme southeastern corner of
the republic.

So it always must be with the famous Secret Service men--their motto,
like that of our present day Boy Scouts, is "Be Prepared"; for day and
night they must hold themselves in readiness to start to the other side
of the world if necessary--China, Japan, India, the Philippines
perhaps--detailed to fetch back some notorious malefactor wanted by
Uncle Sam, and information of whose presence in distant lands has
reached Headquarters.

As a rule it was Perk's duty to see that their flying ship was well
stocked with all necessary supplies, from liquid fuel and lubricating
oil down to such food stores as they would require, even if forced to
remain for days, or a week, without connections along the line of
groceries and commissary stuff.

Perk himself was an odd mixture of New England and Canuck blood, one
branch of his family living in Maine, while the other resided across the
border. Hence Perk sometimes chose to call himself a Yankee; and yet for
a period of several years he had been a valued member of the
Northwestern Mounted Police, doing all manner of desperate stunts up in
the cold regions of Canada.

He was considerably older than his gifted chum and had seen pretty hot
service flying in France while with Pershing's army in the Argonne. It
was his knowledge of aviation in general that had caused Jack to pick
him as his assistant when the Government decided to fight fire with
fire, by pitting their own pilots and aircraft against those employed by
the powerful combine of smuggling aces.

Sometimes it chanced that Jack, for good and sufficient reasons of his
own, did not fully explain the necessity for making plans along certain
lines.

This was not because he lacked confidence in his loquacious chum's
ability to keep a still tongue in his head or exercise due caution, but
usually through a desire to make doubly sure of his own ground before
submitting the arrangement to Perk's sharp criticism, which Jack valued
even more than the other suspected.

Consequently Perk, with the Yankee half of his blood stirred by an ever
present curiosity, wanted to know and invariably asked numerous
questions in the endeavor to find a leading clue.

It was in the late Fall and already the advance guard of the winter
tourist crowds had begun to arrive from the North, in ever increasing
numbers, all set for an enjoyable winter in the sunny resorts of both
coasts.

Jack had already made quite a thorough investigation and picked up some
important clues that he meant to run down in hopes one of them might
lead to definite results.

The amphibian floated on the surface of the isolated bayou with glimpses
of the open gulf toward the golden west forming an alluring picture as
seen between the jaws of sand points, with palmettoes guarding the
entrance to the sheltered nook.

It was just sunset, and inside another hour the night would have
advanced far enough to permit their departure on the first leg of their
intended flight up the coast.

Perk was exceedingly fond of his pipe and choice tobacco, and looked the
picture of contentment as he squatted in his seat, scratching his ankle,
where a burning sensation told him he had once again been visited by the
tiny but venomous red-bug pest which he hated with all his heart.

"Drat the little beggars," he was muttering as he kept on digging at his
leg, "they sure do beat anything I ever run acrost in all my wanderin's.
It ain't so bad to be slappin' at pesky skeeters, 'cause I'm used to
sich bloodsuckers; but sandflies, and' jiggers, an' redbugs make a
combination that'd be hard to beat."

"Try that kerosene again, brother," advised Jack, who somehow seemed to
be a favored one, since he was immune from similar attacks, and greatly
envied on that account by his unlucky; pal.

"Yeah!" growled the usually good tempered Perk, "I've rubbed that on,
an' witch hazel, an' all sorts o' lotions till I guess now I smell like
a stick-pot set out, with old rags smoulderin' to keep the skeets away.
Salt water helps a mite, but this scratchin' which I just can't let up
on to save my life, makes things worse right along."

Thereupon he kicked off his shoes, removed his socks, and thrust both
feet over the side to dabble them in the saline water of the lagoon.

"Keep an eye out for that big 'gator we scared off the bank a while
back," warned Jack, wickedly, "he might think it was a wild duck
splashing, and try to pot it for his supper."

"Huh! mebbe now that's about the only way to get relief--let him snap
the foot off an' it won't itch me any more."

Nevertheless, despite this reckless assertion Perk quickly ceased his
splashing and resumed his footgear, heroically refraining from rubbing
the affected parts. After a short interval of staring at the glowing
heavens, as if the sight fairly fascinated him, Perk again spoke, this
time finding something of more importance than insect bites to talk
about.

"Wall," he drawled in his customary slow fashion, "here's hopin' we
ain't agoin' to be knocked out in our calculations tonight, but get a
line on what the boys are doin' up the coast, eh, partner?"

"Won't be our fault if we don't," said Jack, who doubtless recognized
from the signs that his mate had something in his mind, which he meant
to spring on him by cautious insinuations and half questions.

"A right decent crate that was we saw pass over early this morning I'd
say, old hoss," continued Perk, nodding his head as if to punctuate his
remarks and also to cause his thoughts to flow more smoothly. "I had a
good peep at it as we lay behind that bunch o' saw palmetto out front,
an' unless I'm away off in my guess, she was a Curtiss-Robin ship--a big
crate in the bargain."

"They need them big in their line of business," Jack went on
significantly. "A full cargo of wet goods is pretty heavy, you know,
Perk."

"You said it, partner," assented the other, grinning amiably and yet
with a shade of Yankee cunning. "An' what's more to the p'int the guy
handlin' the stick was no slouch at his job, b'lieve me. I wonder now
could he have been that Oscar Gleeb we been hearin' so much about since
comin' down here,--got an idea he might abeen, ain't you, Boss?"

"Just as like as not," Jack told him.

"Huh! Some go as far as to say he used to be a Boche pilot in that fuss
across the big water," continued Perk, reflectively, as though certain
memories of the long-ago had awakened in his brain--recollections that
breathed of action, staccato machine-gun fire, exploding shells, and the
terrible odor of gas that had poisoned so many of his former mates.

"Yes, they said there wasn't any doubt about that," Jack asserted.
"After the war was over and he couldn't find work in his home country,
he managed to get to America and has cut quite a figure in flying
circles. I reckon he was tempted by the big money in the smuggling game
to take a job with this combine along the coast and has been fetching
heaps of cargoes ashore from vessels anchored far out on the gulf, or
even across from Bimini or Santa Fe Beach near Havana over in Cuba."

"By jinks!" ejaculated Perk, "that there's the place we learned they was
shippin' Chinks over to Florida from, ain't it Jack, boy?"

"Just what it was," admitted the other. "It seems that this big combine,
made up of rich American sporting men, with a mixture of Cubans and
adventurers from all nations, doubles up in crashing Uncle Sam's coast
gates with aliens, as well as hard stuff in bottles and barrels."

"Me, I'm jest awonderin'?" continued Perk, "whether it could a'happened
that this same Oscar Gleeb an' me ever hit it up and had an air duel
tryin' to strafe each other when flyin' across No-Man's-Land over there.
Kinder like to meet up with him so we could run over our scraps an' see
if one o' us sent t'other down in a blazin' coffin. It'd be funny if it
turned out that way."

"Queer things do happen sometimes," agreed Jack, yawning. "This warm
day's made me feel a bit lazy but as soon as we get a move on all that
will slip away like fog under the morning sun."

"I say, partner, how 'bout that Greek sponger we talked with when we
dropped in at Tarpon Springs t'other day--you kinder s'pected he knew a
heap more about these goin's-on than he wanted us to grab, even if we
was jest s'posed to be Northern tourists, bent on havin' a fishin' spree
later on when big tarpon strike in around Fort Myers--could them
spongers have a hand afetchin' in bottled stuff, or ferryin' Chinks over
from some island halfway point?"

"Some folks seem to think that possible," he was told. "After looking
over the ground, and getting the opinion of a heap of people who ought
to have an intelligent opinion covering the facts known and suspected,
I've come to the conclusion that if ever there was a time when you could
play safe by suspecting everybody you met of having some sort of money
interest in this big game, it's down along the Florida west coast and
like as not over toward Miami just the same. I'm not trusting my secrets
to a living soul, saving a few Government agents to whom I've been
directed by my superiors--and I'm even a bit leery about some of that
bunch."

"Yeah! From this time on seems to me we'd be wise to play a lone hand,
an' not bother about takin' any gyps into our confidence, eh what,
Jack?"

"You never said truer words, my boy," assented the other, smiling as he
noted the look of pleasure flashing across the bronzed face of his pal
at thus having his own opinion confirmed; for Perk valued a few words of
praise from Jack far above any other source.

"Kinder get to thinkin' that Greek sponger--Alexis was his name, if my
memory ain't gimme the bounce--was a bit o' a sharper, an' knew beans in
the bargain from the way them black eyes o' his'n kept watchin' us all
the time we asked questions, just like we'd heard people sayin' queer
things concernin' how easy it was to grab any quantity o' bottled stuff
if on'y you had the ready cash, an' a good eye for winkin'."

"We may know more about Alexis before we're through with this trip," was
all Jack would say concerning the matter. "On my part I'm shaking hands
with myself because we were smart enough to camouflage our ship with
green stuff for that pilot passed over and could have glimpsed our crate
lying half hidden here, and through his glasses--which I understand they
all carry--made out how it didn't match up with any of the aircraft they
use in their business."

"Thanks to you, partner," Perk hastened to confess. "If it all depended
on my poor head I kinder guess I'd a'slipped up right then an' there an'
give the hull scheme away which would a'been a danged shame, an' busted
the game higher'n a kite."

"We make a pretty good team, matey," said Jack. "Sometimes it's you that
goes loco, and threatens to step off your base, and then another time I
feel myself side-slipping and have to lean on you to hold my own. That's
just how it should be with partners--give and take, with never a bleat
if our calculations go wrong."

"It's right nice o' you to talk that way, brother," Perk hastened to
assert, beaming with pride and making out as if tempted to begin
scratching again when Jack reaching around, gently steered his clutching
fingers away from the itching locality, at which Perk heaved a relieved
sigh and nodded his thanks.

"The sky has lost most of that glorious color," mentioned the head
pilot, "and before long now we can be hopping-off. Our first job will be
to swing down the coast and learn if there seems to be anything going on
among the southern islands in this beastly mangrove section where a man
could easy enough lose himself for keeps among the countless water
passages and inlets. See here, what's the matter with you, staring that
way, Perk?"

"Wouldn't that jar you now," snapped the other, "that Robin ship is
headin' back this way; or else some other crate that looks like its
twin!"

[Footnote 1: See "_The Sky Detectives_; or _How Jack Ralston Got
His Man_."]



CHAPTER II

THE CURTISS-ROBIN PLANE


Jack, a bit startled by his companion's sudden exclamation, took a good
look and hastened to remark:

"Reckon now you hit the nail on the head that time, Perk and it's
heading this way in the bargain. Why d'ye suppose we didn't see the
crate before?"

"Huh! I kinder guess now," Perk went on to say, "she bust out o' that
little fog cloud right to the south--a'swoopin' up the coast, you
notice, partner, don't you?"

"Sure is," assented Jack, as though that small circumstance assumed some
importance in his eyes, as well as those of his comrade.

"Ginger pop! but mebee I ain't glad we didn't show any hurry to kick off
this camouflage green stuff, thinkin' it'd served its purpose okay and
could be knocked into the discard. See how they keep dodging' in an' out
like they might be scourin' every foot o' shore line, little bays back
o' these mangrove islands an' all. Strikes me they're a'searchin' for
somethin', Jack, which might be the pair o' us, eh, what?"

"Right you are!" snapped Jack, without hesitating a second.

"Which, I take it, would mean there might a'been some sort o' little
leak up at Headquarters, hang the luck, when we figured we'd got the
gang buffaloed right smart. Don't think they c'n lamp us lyin' here, do
you, Boss?"

"Small chance of that, boy, if only we lie low, and make no move apt to
attract their attention," Perk was told in a confident tone that
effectually calmed his rising alarm.

He hastened to settle down in a position where he could thrust his
glasses between interstices in the green covering of the fusilage and
wings so as to keep close tabs on the advancing plane without making any
particular movement of arms or body.

"How?" asked Jack, a few seconds later, when he fancied his mate must
have made up his mind as to the identity of the flying ship.

"Curtiss-Robin crate, that's right, Jack an' the same we saw before,"
replied the observer, excitedly. "Hey! guess now they got a glass up
there too. I sure saw the sun shinin' on somethin' bright, 'cause the
old boy's still on deck to chaps that high up."

"I've discounted that fact long ago, Perk; men engaged in the desperate
game they're playing night after night would need such a useful
instrument, so's to keep a sharp lookout for Coast Guard boats or
bunches of revenue men lying in ambush close to the place they expected
to land a wet cargo, or a couple of high-pay Chinks, it might be."

"Then you got an idea they must have a spy up in Washington--a sneaker
who c'n find out what's bein' hatched up so's to cook their goose an'
that he manages to get warnin' down here to the workin' crews so's to
put 'em on their guard--is that it, partner?"

"Looks that way--that's all I can say, Perk. Now lie low and don't do
any talking, though with their crate kicking up all that row I reckon
there'd be small chance of their hearing us even if we shouted."

Perk was chuckling to himself at a great rate and could not keep from
taking advantage of the invitation Jack had really extended to say:

"Yeah! an' I kinder guess now we got one thing they ain't, which is a
silencer on our engine that'll keep it muzzled, even if it does knock
off a bit o' our speed when we happen to use it. Luckiest thing ever you
managed to get the Big Boss to send us such a bully contrivance that
seems to work jest great. Listen to the racket they're kickin' up right
now--enough to tell any chump ten miles off a crate's headin' his way.
Jerusalem crickets! but ain't I glad we're fixed as we are."

The ship far up in the heavens was almost directly over them by this
time and Perk relapsed into silence, being vastly interested in watching
it passing over.

Possibly he had his eyes glued on the figures--there were two occupants
in the Robin's cabin he could easily see--leaning over and doubtless
closely scrutinizing the intricacies of the ragged shoreline below,
hoping to make important discoveries.

If the leading figure, piloting the craft, was actually Oscar Gleeb,
onetime noted Hun ace over in the Argonne, it might be Perk, with his
past war history rising up to thrill him afresh, may have found himself
half expecting to hear a terrific explosion close by on the shore as the
German flier let drop some sort of bomb, with the idea of striking their
concealed bus which his keen eyes might have detected despite their
wonderful camouflage.

But nothing like that came to pass and the cruising ship kept moving in
a northerly direction, growing less distinct as miles were being covered
at the fast clip it swept along.

"Cripes! that was worth somthin' to glimpse, bet your sweet life,
partner," Perk finally observed as he ventured to make a little
movement, feeling dreadfully cramped and the danger of discovery growing
momentarily less as the first shades of coming evening began to gather
around the secluded cove. "Jest as like as not they started away down
toward the tip o' the mainland, an' hev been examinin' every mile o' the
coast, bent on doin' a clean job while they're at it. An' if they meet
up with no luck mebbe now they'll make up their minds it was only a
false alarm, and let her go at that."

Presently they could no longer glimpse the faintest sign of the scout
plane--when last seen it was still heading up the coast as though making
for some destination where action awaited the members of its daring
crew.

"The passing of that crate settles one thing, anyway," observed Jack
presently.

"As what, partner?" queried Perk, who had already begun to denude the
anchored amphibian of its covering, as though it was settled they need
no longer fear being spied upon from above.

"We needn't bother striking into the south when starting out to look for
suspicious lights, such as would tell of business being put
through--those boys are right now heading for their rendezvous and it's
our game to chase after them, as soon as nightfall makes it safe to get
a move on."

"That suits me fine, Jack old hoss. I'm right sick o' keepin' our nose
stuck so close to the ground--me for the high places where I c'n get my
lungs filled with clean air--this swamp stuff don't make no sort o' hit
with me, I'm tellin' you. Gosh! looky at that bunch o' measly big
pelicans flappin' their wings as they fly close to the water, headin' to
some island where they have a rookery, like as not. An' Jack, honest to
goodness if I didn't see the head an' knobby eyes o' a monster scaly
'gator stickin' up out o' the water in the lagoon jest now. Got me
goofy, this sorter thing, an' I'm asighin' for the air lanes two miles
high."

"I understand just how you feel, Perk, but hold your horses a bit. Hurry
is something we've got to fight shy of in this game of hide-and-seek
with these dangerous smugglers of the gulf coast. As smart a group of
men as we can ever claim to be, have bucked up against the gang and
dropped out of the chase--more than a few of whom have disappeared
mysteriously, and up at Headquarters it's believed they've met with foul
play. This big Mex gulf hides a heap of secrets and has ever since old
Blackbeard and that crowd of buccaneers used to sink Spanish galleons
after looting them of their gold cargo and sending hundreds of poor
wretches to a watery grave."

"I'm wise to all them facts, partner," piped up Perk, grinning amiably,
"an' I sure don't hanker after bein' sent down to that port o' missin'
men in no hurry. I'll stick it out on this line jest as long as you say
an' try to keep from grumblin'. Thar goes the last o' the rotten stuff
overboard, Boss, an' we're all clear again. While we're a'waitin' till
the last speck o' daylight slickers away, wouldn't it be right smart if
we set our teeth in some o' that fine grub I laid in, to keep us from
starvin' to death?"

"Suits me okay, buddy; suppose you trot it out and we'll pas the time
away bolstering up our strength--no telling what we may have before us
tonight if we happen to strike rich pay-dirt."

Accordingly they busied themselves with what to Perk especially was a
most agreeable occupation, for it must be confessed that the Maine lad
possessed a fairly good appetite while his capacity for storing away
good things was something close to marvelous.

So the night settled down around them--sounds indicative of a Florida
coast camping ground began to make themselves manifest--mullet jumped up
out of the brackish water where some stream emptied its tide straight
from the Everglades into the gulf, to fall back again with resounding
splashes. Now and then there was a rush, and a great deal of agitation
of the water close to one of the mangrove islands, showing where some
fierce piratical deep water fish was making an evening meal of the
unlucky mullet--several wild ducks came spinning along from other shore
places to settle further in where the reedy islands offered effectual
shelter from night-raiding owls and hawks that could see in the dark.

"Gee whiz!" Perk was saying as he finished eating and started to put
away what sandwiches and other stuff had been left over, "this sure must
be a dandy place to do some shore shootin' an' if I hadn't other fish to
fry I'd like to hang around a week'r so, takin' toll o' ducks, turkey,
an' deer up on the mainland, with like as not a bobcat, or even a
panther in the bargain!"

"All very fine for those who are down here sporting for sport, brother,"
Jack told him, "but our bunch has another kind of game to pull in and
you've got to forget all this temptation so as to buckle down to
business. Reckon it's time for us to be hopping-off and getting that
taste of cool, clean air a mile or so up. Shake a leg, buddy, and we'll
shove off."

Jack, of course, had long since figured just what he meant to do when
the moment arrived to leave their hiding place and take to their wings
again, so after their little anchor had been drawn out of the mud,
carefully washed, and then stowed away where it would take little room
and not be in the way, each of the occupants of the double cockpit set
about carrying out their customary duties when a launching was in order.

"All set, Mister Pilot!" remarked Perk, finally, "give her the gun,
boy!"

With only a fraction of the rush and roar usually connected with a
start, the amphibian, with cut-out choked down, commenced to glide
through the water of the partly enclosed bay, heading straight for the
jaws of land beyond which lay the open and mighty gulf.



CHAPTER III

LIKE A NIGHT OWL ON THE WING


The rush and gurgle of the water parted by the pontoons beneath the
fuselage of the plane was sounding most delightful to the ears of Perk
as he sat there watching the jaws of land draw rapidly nearer.

Resting up was always a painful thing to Perk whose nerves called for
action and had done so ever since he served in the flying corps across
the Atlantic when men's souls thrilled with frequent contacts in the
line of equally daring Hun war pilots.

Now they had shot past the twin points and were out upon the open gulf,
their speed increasing every second as Jack pulled the stick closer
against his chest. Then the experienced pilot lifted her in a zoom that
was simply magnificent, and they were off on their adventure at last.

Rising fast, the boat was soon at a good ceiling for flying. So too the
night promised all manner of favorable things for men of their
calling--up where they were the wind did not amount to much but it was
blowing at quite a lively rate closer to the earth and doubtless the
broad palmetto leaves must be making a considerable slashing as they
struck one another, dead and withered ones sawing like some giant violin
bow.

This, with the wash of the waves upon the pebbled beach, would make
enough noise to effectually deaden the whirr of the propeller--the new
and novel muffler or silencer, fashioned very much on the order of such
a contraption as successfully applied to small firearms, was doing
wonderfully, and Perk every little while made motions as though shaking
hands with himself because of this addition to their security, for under
the usual conditions prevailing anything like secrecy in a noisy airship
had been unknown to the sky detectives.

Perk had been under a strange hallucination when that other plane was
soaring overhead--in fact he was once again back in the Argonne, with
his boat hugging the earth, and an enemy swooping in circles
overhead--he had even gone so far as to imagine the German war ace might
be maneuvering so as to drop one of his bombs straight down on the
stranded craft, with results that must spell a complete wipeout.

When they did not have their handy earphones in service Jack and his
right bower had arranged a secret alphabet of signals, consisting of all
manner of pokes and nudges, by means of which they were enabled to
communicate along professional lines at least. If it seemed necessary to
Perk to ask questions not down on the brief list thus worked out, all he
had to do was to adjust Jack's harness and then his own little outfit,
enabling him to chatter away to his heart's content--and often to the
annoyance of his less talkative chum.

But first of all he proceeded to make good use of the binoculars upon
which so much depended. From side to side he would swing the glasses and
search for anything that looked like a suspicious light on land or water
then turn to what lay dead ahead.

In this region of the Ten Thousand Islands--all fashioned from the queer
spreading mangrove that drops its long seeds so that they stick upright
in the mud, and, quickly developing roots, spring up to add to the
dimension of the original "island" there were never at any time many
settlers so that the coast has been reckoned as the "loneliest ever," on
which account Perk realized that if he should happen to glimpse a light,
whether on land or gulf, the chances were fifty to one it might have
some connection with the operations of the smuggler league.

Perk remembered how that Curtiss-Robin ship had finally disappeared in
the haze lying to the north and from this he sucked more or less
consolation, since it seemed evident the location of their job must lie
in that quarter toward which they were now bound like a great owl
swooping on noiseless pinions to seize its prey.

A delicious thrill ran through his frame from time to time. If any one
could "get a kick" from such a situation it was Perk, who was already
visioning some sort of a battle royal when they struck the smuggling
gang in the midst of their lawless work. The gang did their best to
create a reign of terror.

Once far out toward the west, where rolled the tides of the broad gulf
that stretched for a distance of five hundred miles across to the Coast
of Mexico, he certainly did glimpse a light, low down on the horizon
where just the faintest gleam of the late departed day still lingered.
Ha! the mother ship no doubt, riding at anchor some miles out where the
gulf was shallow and holding ground good--a heavily laden sailing craft,
coming possibly from the Bahamas, and passing into the gulf between the
Florida keys. Its captain knowing that the cargo they carried could be
much more easily landed there than around Miami, where the Coast Guard
was more vigilant.

Long and earnestly did Perk stare, picturing the shore motorboats
speeding out through the gloom toward that signal light to take aboard
their several loads and make for certain secluded harbors where trucks
would be waiting to transfer the illicit stuff to its destined markets
where prices ranged high with the holidays approaching and rich, thirsty
tourists to be supplied.

"Bang! it's gone blooie!" Perk suddenly told himself as he no longer
found himself able to distinguish that suspicious gleam which had
gradually grown dim and then utterly vanished from view. "Now, what in
thunder does that mean I want to know--why should they douse the glim in
such a hurry--wonder if they could have caught any sound from us to give
'em a scare? I'm in a tail-spin, seems like. Oh I shucks! mebee it was
on'y a measly star after all, that's set back o' the horizon. Who got
fooled that time, I want to know, Gabe Perkiser, you smarty?"

He took it humorously, happening to be one of those sensible lads
capable of laughing, even when the joke was on himself.

Shortly afterwards Perk picked up what seemed to be a low-lying light,
this time off toward the east, where he knew the land lay.

"Huh! I kinder guess that ain't a silly star," was the way he expressed
his feelings as he continued to watch the glimmering object that rose
and then grew dim, only to once more flash brightly. "Might be some
squatter sittin' alongside his campfire--mebbe a fishing camp, on'y I
got an idea the light comes from a big lantern and not a blazing fire.
Strikes me it oughter bear watchin' just the same."

A minute afterwards and he could no longer see the object of his
concern.

"By jinks! what sort o' hocus-pocus might _that_ be, I want to
know--did somebody blow that light out just when I was hopin' big things
might come from it, or was it only a bunch o' cabbage palms that come in
between me an' the glow?"

It did not reappear, although Perk kept turning his glasses in that
particular quarter time after time, as fresh hopes awakened.

The amphibian was running as smooth as silk, Perk told himself more than
once--why not, when they had most carefully checked it over with
scrupulous exactness, so as to be able to pronounce it in perfect
condition. That new muffler did the work like magic and Perk really
began to feel as though the efficiency of their aerial mount had been
increased a hundred per cent by the installation of such an up-to-date
contrivance, even if it did cut their speed down more or less--when they
had good need of swift wings it could be done away with, since racket
was powerless to hurt them then.

A few clouds had started up and were drifting overhead by this time.
Perk gave them several hasty looks, possibly wondering whether there
could be any chance of a sudden blow arising since indeed they came from
the southwest, where many of the rains and high winds had their brewing
place, far out on the mighty gulf to be followed in turn by a "norther,"
cold and violent.

"That might be rotten luck for us," he grumbled, sensing trouble in
putting Jack's scheme into operation, "but I guess there ain't anything
to it--right cool even downstairs, I noticed an' they tell me it always
heats up afore one o' these fall rains come along."

He put that matter out of his mind as hardly worthy of attention then a
minute later he made another discovery. Again his attention was turned
toward the west, for a light had appeared low down, a light that
actually moved, this fact convincing the vigilant observer it could by
no possibility be another setting star in the bright firmament above.

"That's the genuine stuff, or I'll eat my hat!" was his characteristic
way of confirming this fresh discovery, and there was certainly a trace
of triumph noticeable in his voice, as though this would wipe out his
former blunder.



CHAPTER IV

THE DANCE OF THE FIREFLIES


Perk, now fully convinced that he had "struck oil," as he mentally
termed it, laid the binoculars down on the front seat beside his pal and
gave him certain nudges in his side, thereby telling him he, Perk, would
take over the controls while the head pilot used the glasses.

When this had been accomplished Perk managed to point toward the west,
so as to draw the attention of his mate thither without any waste of
precious time.

Of course Jack immediately located the light and was watching it
closely. He could easily make it out to be a lantern that must be on the
deck of a vessel, since he discovered a mast and rigging near by, also
the moving figures of several men.

The lantern did not remain stationary more than a few seconds at a time,
but kept up a swinging movement that was eccentric to say the least, now
passing back and forth like the weighty pendulum in an old-fashioned
"grandfather" clock; then with an up-and-down action and, as a windup
performing a circular movement, repeated twice.

Of course Jack understood that those on board the smuggler must be
trying to signal to those of their group who were on shore, the land
workers of the hard-working bunch, which conclusion caused him to turn
his attention in that quarter.

At first he was not rewarded by any discovery but not in the least
discouraged he continued to wave his glasses back and forth, feeling
certain those continuous signals from out on the gulf must be noticed
and returned.

He chanced to be again watching the moving gleam when he felt Perk
trying to gain his attention and when this had been accomplished
pointing eagerly off to the east.

Yes, there it was as plain as anything--in fact there seemed to be two
separate lights looking like twin stars and even as Jack watched he saw
them carry on in a most remarkable fashion. Now one would be in violent
motion, perhaps doing some intricate figure that had a meaning; then the
other would join in, with the pair swinging back and forth, crossing
each other's path, and going through the most wonderful evolutions.

To Jack's mind they looked like a pair of gigantic fireflies gone loco
with excitement and carrying on in the most astonishing manner. Indeed,
he could easily picture it as a wild dance of make-believe insects on a
greatly magnified scale.

Of course Jack never had the slightest doubt as to what all this
mystifying activity must be--the two extremes of the smuggling
fraternity were exchanging signals--each and every movement had a
meaning of its own and conveyed such information as was most valuable to
the business in hand--in Jack's mind it was as though the conversation
might be running something after this fashion:

"Well, here we are on hand according to promise, with a full cargo of
the finest wet stuff you ever had drop down on your coast. How does the
land lie over there?"

"Coast all clear--we will start the fleet out to lighten your cargo
right away--keep the beacon burning so they'll make a straight line to
your anchorage, which will mean a saving of time."

"We get your meaning--glad you are so prompt to send back word--come
right along and get your invoice--the more the merrier, boys. Wind
getting rougher, and we ought to be off this shallow shore before it
swings around any more. Don't hold back--Merry Christmas to you all,
boys!"

Perk on his part was also trying to keep tabs on all that was going on,
not neglecting his duties with the controls, it can be set down as
certain. He twisted his neck and cast swift glances first to the right
and then in the opposite direction, fascinated by that flashing beacon
conversation.

"By gum! if they ain't holdin' a regular confab with them lights," Perk
was telling himself, delighted with his opportunity to witness such a
proceeding, knowing as he did what this all meant to himself and Jack.
"That guy on shore is sure some punkins about this signal layout--works
jest like a Boy Scout might, sending a message across to another o' the
troop standin' on top o' a high peak--makes me think I'm back on the
front, with Signal Corps men wigwaggin' for all that's out. Huh! There
goes them twin lights, showin' the chinnin' must be over with both sides
posted on the program. Say, ain't this the boss job though? I guess I
never did get half as much fun outen any game I tackled before."

Just then Jack signalled that he wished to handle the stick once more,
which the other was indeed not sorry for, since it began to look as
though they were close to a critical moment when considerable skill
would be required in manipulating the ship so as to accomplish their
ends without unduly alarming those they spied upon.

Already they had managed to collect a certain amount of valuable facts
which were only guessed at previously, so cleverly had these transfer
bases been kept concealed from the most skillful of the Government
agents. Perk himself felt confident that they were as yet only on the
threshold of still more important discoveries.

It was one of Perk's peculiar little eccentricities that he could do
better thinking if only he had a bit of chewing gum between his teeth,
just to keep some muscles at work, he said, and in some mysterious
fashion having this energy pass from his working jaws to his brain and
hasten its activities.

So what did he do now but fumble in a pocket of his oily dungarees and
produce a slab of his favorite brand, Perk thrusting it into his mouth
and savagely rolling it between his teeth, really believed this helped
his brain to function more easily.

Perhaps it may have done so--some people have all manner of strange
hallucinations, which, being favored, bring satisfaction to their train
of thought. If Perk actually believed in his remedy that was half the
battle and no other person's business whatsoever.

Looking out to sea he could still find that lone beacon, even without
the aid of his binoculars. It was easy for such an imaginative fellow to
picture in his mind the lingering sloop, loaded to the gunwales with
case goods, worth almost a millionaire's ransom--the dark sailors from
Bimimi lolling around on deck, ready to up-sail and flee should the
slightest sign of a Coast Guard raid make itself manifest. From off
toward the distant shore line there came dully to their listening ears
the repeated throb of one or more speed boats hastening to lay alongside
and transfer their prearranged quota of cases, after which the burden of
getting the illicit cargo safely landed would rest on the shoulders of
those who manned the smaller smuggler craft.

It was a beautiful little game, Perk was assuring himself, when he
realized how everything had been arranged to make things work as though
greased. As the isolated places along the gulf coast were without number
and the enforcement agents woefully pressed to even half cover their
allotted territory, the reason for the few arrests that had rewarded the
most strenuous efforts on the part of the Coast Guard could be easily
comprehended.

"And that's just why they picked out Jack, out of all the boys in the
service, loaded him up with this here amphibian crate that c'n drop down
on land or water, it don't matter a darn which, got him a sort o' side
partner to help make things go and turned him loose to pull in the net.
Huh! we'll know before long just what this racket is goin' to wind up
in, for we've made our first move, our hat's thrown into the ring, and
we'll either make Pike's Peak, or--bust!"

Presently Perk began to convince himself he could at times pick up the
throbbing sound of a humming motor, undoubtedly one of those on their
way out to the supply boat off shore some miles and ready to deliver
such number of high-priced cases as the lists called for.

Yes, when the night wind veered or shifted a bit he was absolutely
certain about picking up the chug-chug-chug that betrayed the presence
of the leading speed boat.

About this time Perk noticed two separate things that had a bearing on
their mission--the first was that for some reason they no longer romped
along at their earlier speed, showing that the pilot had seen fit to
slacken his craft to a considerable degree, though keeping up steerage
way. The second thing that struck Perk was the fact that they were
slowly but surely making a decided swing off to the west, which if
continued would make their immediate course a complete circle.

"Go to it, old hoss!" he was saying, just as if he expected the other to
hear every word which was out of the question with that whirring
propeller keeping up its low, sing-song tone. "You got 'em beat a mile
when it comes to playin' safe, that's right. Don't want to rile the
water an' let everybody in on the fact that we're hangin' around here,
waitin' for somethin' to turn up. 'Sides, it ain't good policy to make
the ten-strike till they got the stuff on board the chuggin' speed
boat."

He was intensely interested in Jack's play for time and listened with
his heart almost up in his throat, fearing lest the steady chugging
should suddenly stop and the game be thrown by default. But no, it was
keeping on in perfect rhythm, sounding in Perk's ear something like the
tattoo of a machine-gun in action and sending out its swarm of leaden
missiles--a sound that had long ago become so familiar to his ears as
never to be forgotten, despite the lapse of time.

Surely by now that leading boat must be getting close to the schooner so
that the transfer would soon be an accomplished fact, after which the
return trip was due to be started which was when they meant to break
into the game.

"Ginger pop! if I don't ketch the grumble o' a second tug further away,
and I guess now a consid'able bigger craft than the leadin' one. Get a
move on, fellers--the dinner gong's struck and the grub's on the table
waitin' to be swallered--first come, first served's the rule things go
by, so stir your stumps, an' put in the best licks you know how--an' may
the devil take the hindmost. Hey there! that drummin' noise, it's
stopped--wonder if they got out to the sloop or else smell a rat an' are
lyin' low till they make it a dead certainty? Gosh, but ain't this all
mighty thrillin' though, and how it does tickle me most to death,"
muttering which Perk, still listening, actually held his breath the
better to catch any sound from below.



CHAPTER V

A BATTLE ROYAL


Jack, being desirous of ascertaining just what was taking place over
where the sloop laden with contraband was anchored, did his best glide
or coast, a feature at which he was most competent.

When the engine ceased to function and the whizzing propeller lost much
of its dizzy momentum, both he and Perk strained their ears so as to
catch any sound calculated to inform them as to what was going on.

The trick proved worth while, for plainly they could make out human
voices; also a certain rumbling sound that Jack imagined might be caused
by the rush back and forth of a small hand truck on which cases of
imported liquid refreshment were loaded.

This told the story to the effect that the speed launch must have
reached the schooner and was lying alongside with its intended cargo
being delivered with no loss of time. Probably, if everything went with
machine-like precision, the speed boat would soon be fully laden and
started back toward some secret haven where big motor trucks would be
waiting to transport the cargo to Tampa, St. Petersburg, or some other
city to the north.

Meanwhile the second boat was due around that time--they could hear her
hoarse exhaust as she bucked the billows rolling in toward the shore
line and a moving light about half a mile distant betrayed her position.

If one thing tickled Perk more than another just then it was the
realization that he and Jack held aces in the game--their possession of
that almost priceless muffler, by means of which they could approach
fairly close without the working motor betraying their coming, gave them
an enormous advantage.

"We sure have got the upper hand in this tangle," Perk was telling
himself in great glee as he listened to the chugging of the second
transfer boat. "Huh! I kinder guess them guys been sleepin' at the
switch not to savvy what a bully thing one o' these here silencers'd be
to the smugglin' game. Looks like it might be a walk-over for our team,
if the luck on'y holds good."

Jack had about decided on his course of action. He did not mean that
either of those boats should get safely ashore with their loads, if he
had anything to say about it, and he reckoned he had.

Still, it was not politic to be too quick on the trigger--they could
just continue to hang around and be ready to pounce down on their
intended prey after the fashion of a hungry eagle striking a fat duck
that had been selected out of the flock on the feeding grounds.

One thing he did do was to cut his intended wide circle short and again
head toward the scene of action, a move that certainly afforded the
eager Perk more or less satisfaction, he being thrilled with the
expectation of breaking into the game without much more loss of time.

But you never can tell just what may happen when rival forces are
striving against one another. The best laid plans often go wrong and
there was always a chance of the unexpected happening.

Hardly had the airship whipped around again so as to head into the north
than Perk became aware of the fact that there was a sudden accesssion of
weird noises springing up from the goal toward which they were now
aiming. Jack, too must have caught the increased volume, for he sheered
off as if to hold back a bit so as to grasp the meaning of the new
racket.

Men were no longer simply talking or laughing as they so cheerfully
labored in transferring some of the contraband from the sloop to the
deck of the speedboat--their voices were raised to shouts in which
surprise, even the element of near-panic, could be detected.

Then came a flash, succeeded by a sharp report, undoubtedly standing for
the discharge of some species of firearm! Others of a similar character
immediately followed until there were all the elements of a genuine
rough and tumble fight discernible in the growing confusion and uproar.

Perk was astounded by such unaccountable goings-on. Whatever could
possess these smugglers to start a fight among themselves, when such a
disturbance was likely to be heard by any Coast Guard boat that might
happen to be cruising within ten miles of the spot and bring down all
manner of serious trouble on their heads, certainly breaking up the fine
combination that had been effected for that especial delivery?

"Holy smoke! they sure must a'gone looney!" Perk was telling himself,
lost in wonder and dismay, for he began to suspect that this would be
apt to mix their own plans and upset all Jack's calculations.

It would seem to be the only explanation possible--that some of the case
goods had been tampered with, the result being that the willing workers
were not only hilarious, but ready to start a rough-house then and there
on the deck of the schooner.

Then suddenly remembering how both he and Jack had their head-phone
harness attached, and could thus exchange words when they pleased, Perk
broke loose in his usual impulsive fashion, seeking the light which he
somehow had reason to believe his chum could give him.

"Gee whiz! partner, what's broke loose, would you say?" he demanded.
"Them guys act like they'd been tryin' out the high power stuff they
fetched all the way from the Bahamas. Danged if it don't sound to me
like a reg'lar old Irish Tipperary Fair fight--listen to 'em shootin'
things up to beat the band! Say, if they keep agoin' like that, they'll
smash every case they got an' we won't find any evidence to grab. Got a
line on the racket, old boss?"

"It's a fight, and a lively one at that," admitted the pilot, "but I
reckon you're away off when you figure it's a ruction between those on
the schooner and the boys of that speedboat."

"You got me guessin' partner," said the puzzled Perk; "then who's mixed
up in the shindy, I want to know?"

"Sounds a whole lot like hijackers to me, Perk."

"Ginger pop! Is _that_ what it means then, Jack--some tough guys
been out there on the gulf keepin' a close watch on the schooner that
came up the coast loaded to the gun'ls with case goods, an' crept in
with small boats to make a big haul! Listen to 'em squabble, will you,
boy? What wouldn't I give for daylight so's to see that boss
shindy--shootin' keeps a'goin' on like the old days over there--wow!
They must be a bunch o' rotten marksmen, or the whole lot'd be wiped out
afore this time. What're we a'goin' to do 'bout it, Jack--we ought to
have some say what's to be done with all that stuff--no use bein' eagles
o' the skies if we gotter stick around an' let a measly set o' hawks get
away with the game."

"Don't worry, that's what we're _not_ aiming to do!" snapped Jack,
as he banked, and once again headed in the direction of the spot where
all that wild commotion was taking place.

"I get you, boy--the machine-gun, is it?" barked Perk, starting up from
his seat as though to make ready.

Before he could throw off his head-harness Jack stopped him.

"Wait--you got me wrong--let the gun lie where it is. You know we never
expect to use it unless our lives are in danger. Get the bombs,
Perk--the simple tear bombs--they ought to fill the bill!"

Perk evidently not only understood now but was fully in sympathy with
the scheme Jack had hatched out under the spur of necessity--quick
thinking was one of young Ralston's strong points and his cleverness
along those lines had served him wonderfully on more than a few previous
occasions, where the situation looked desperate.

They were sliding down a steep glide with the engine shut off. The deck
of the nearby schooner was plainly visible due to the lights aboard, and
the successive discharges of firearms, each looked like a miniature
flash of lightning. As they approached the scene of confusion the racket
grew in volume,--a dozen men seemed to be whooping things up as though
under the impression that the battle could be won by sheer noise--and
broken heads.

Perk kept his wits, and managed to locate the small stock of tear bombs
that had been given into their charge, with the idea they might find
them more or less useful should they strike a superior force of reckless
law breakers and get into what Perk would call a "jam."

Already he had succeeded in clutching a couple of the round missiles
that were charged with the acrid gas that could play such havoc with
human eyes as to render the strongest men as weak as babes and settled
down in a position where he could throw them to advantage.



CHAPTER VI

THE TEAR-BOMB ATTACK


It was certainly a thrilling moment for Perk as he crouched there in his
awkward cubicle back of the pilot and waited for the proper second to
arrive when his accuracy at throwing the bombs would be tested.

Jack meanwhile had his hands full attending to his part of the
business--it was of course of prime importance that they should drop
down as close to the deck of the schooner as possible so the full effect
of the bursting tear-bombs might be felt by those struggling smugglers
and hijackers, but there was the mast of the cruising vessel to bear in
mind since it towers many feet in the air.

To strike this spar would entail danger of a crash, or having their
landing-gear torn away, which would prove a disaster. Consequently Jack
held himself in readiness to once more start his engine when
sufficiently near the object of his attack.

Perk knew just when their downward velocity terminated, for not only
were they again on a level keel, but the motor commenced working with
its customary intensity and the whole fusilage quivered as usual when
they were under way.

All this had consumed mere fragments of a minute and Perk had already
drawn back his hand to make ready for his first toss. It was his
intention to follow this up with a second bomb, hurled in double-quick
order, for a dual fire would make the results more complete.

Jack left it completely to his comrade to decide just when to let fly,
relying on the lessons Perk had taken along those lines in order to make
himself as near perfect as possible. If it so chanced that their initial
attack turned out to be futile, it was always possible for the fighting
airship to swing around so as to permit a second attempt.

Much would depend on just how those who were struggling like mad wolves
on the deck of the schooner to gain or retain possession of the spoils
took the attack from the air. Jack rather fancied they would be panic
stricken at having a grim spectre of the skies descend on them like a
plunging eagle and before they could possibly recover sufficient energy
to strike back, the monster roc must have winged past, and the pungent
gas started to affect their eyes, rendering them frantic with a
threatened temporary blindness.

Then Perk began his share of the vicious attack. He followed out his
prearranged programme with machine-like movements, sending his first
bomb with such cleverness that it struck close to the stern, for Jack
had made his hawk-like swoop so as to pass completely along the entire
length of the deck--this in order to give his working pal a better
chance to fulfill his assignment.

Even before that missile struck, Perk had instantly changed the other
bomb to his eager right hand and in a rapid-fire way sent it, too,
hurtling downward, to crash further on close to the bow.

Then they were speeding into space beyond the bowsprit of the anchored
rum-runner, with Jack starting to climb in order to bank and swing
around, so as to complete the job if his first endeavor lacked in any
detail.

Lucky indeed for the two aviators that they had their goggles on, else
they too might have suffered from the fumes that so quickly spread in
every direction as though fanned by the night breeze. Perk afterwards
admitted that he had caught a whiff of the penetrating gas despite the
covering helmet and close-fitting goggles but thanks to the haste with
which Jack carried their ship past, the gas had little or no effect.

The clamor still continued, if anything, redoubled, for now the element
of fear had gripped the hearts of every man on board both boats as they
felt that terrible, unseen agency stabbing at their eyes and making the
stoutest writhe with agony and alarm, thinking they must be doomed.

Jack could easily comprehend why they should be demoralized under the
prevailing conditions--there had been enough excitement in the air to
start with when the hijacker crowd boarded the rum-runner and joined
issues with the crews of the two allied boats but when from out of the
skies there descended a swooping monster, apparently about to fall upon
them as might a stray meteor from unlimited space in the firmament, and
that strange, racking pain gripped their eyes, nothing but panic could
describe their condition with any degree of accuracy.

But one element was now lacking in the dreadful turmoil--Perk could no
longer detect the quick percussion of blows, as fists and clubbed
firearms clashed against human bodies backed by a fierce anger that had
been fanned into a blaze by injuries received and a sense of impending
victory, with the spoils in sight.

Apparently every man among them was thinking of nothing save his own
individual sufferings and terror--unable to see with any degree of
certainty, they must be staggering this way and that, colliding with
each other and then one by one either falling into the water or else
jumping aboard the speedboat so conveniently nearby.

Jack had by this time brought the ship around again so as to head into
the wind as before. Perk, divining that this meant a second slash at the
mob on the sloop's deck reached out for another relay of missiles. Now
that he had got started he was in prime condition to "keep the ball
rolling" until there did not remain a single hijacker or smuggler aboard
the rum-runner.

But Jack, more inclined to pity than the former war ace, did not make
that second dip--he had a good idea the punishment thus dealt out with
their initial swoop would be severe enough to clear the deck and set the
late rival forces to quitting the vicinity of the ill smelling sloop
with the utmost speed, regardless of the means employed to accomplish
such a retreat while the going held good.

Perk could hear splash after splash, as though the frenzied sufferers in
their agony had been seized with the possibility of cooling water being
a sovereign remedy for the ills that had so suddenly gripped their
aching eyeballs.

Perk was chuckling to himself, even as he continued to crouch there, and
held a third tear bomb ready for instant use when Jack was pleased to
give him a fitting opportunity to throw it.

"Zowie!" he was telling himself, "if that don't make me think o' the
times when us boys lined up on a dock and made the dive, one right after
another--plunk--plunk--plunk! Go to it, you terriers--swim for the
shore, boys, and good luck to you all. Our job'll be to pick up the
rum-boat with her juicy cargo, an' hand her over to some Government
official Jack knows about around these diggings. High--low--Jack an' the
smugglin' game--that spells the hull thing I kinder guess!"

Perk was by no means so lacking in sagacity not to understand just why
his comrade was hanging fire and keeping at a respectful distance from
the sloop. He wished sufficient time to elapse so that most of the
penetrating gas from the tear bombs would be carried off on the night
wind and it might be reckoned safe for them to go aboard.

He could vision the terrified hijackers after their speedy plunge
overboard managing to find their several boats and dragging themselves
over the gunwales with but one thought in their bewildered minds, and
that to put as much distance between themselves and the rum-runner as
possible.

He even told himself he could catch the sound of splashing and oars
working madly in the locks, although this may have been only imagination
on Perk's part, but for one thing, he did glimpse a moving light and
could detect a chugging movement such as would accompany the inglorious
flight of the speedboat, racing for some shore harbor.

Silence followed, as though all the human elements in that late wild
tumult had managed to leave the scene of their defeat. Still Jack
continued to swing around in a short circle, showing how even with the
spoils of victory close within their reach he could keep to his standard
maxim of "watch your step!"

Minutes passed, and it went without question that the penetrating gas
must be well swept away by the night wind so that it would be safe for
them to board their prize and take a quick inventory of the illicit
cargo.

Perk knew the time for action had arrived when he felt the plane head
toward the surface of the gulf, as though it was Jack's intention to
drop just back of the sloop's stern when they could taxi alongside and
readily climb to the low deck.

There was nothing surprising about their coming in contact with the
surface of the water--Jack had acquired a habit of making perfect
landings whether ashore or with pontoons. Knowing this, Perk never
looked for anything else.

They came down with hardly any more of a splash than a pelican might
have made and almost instantly Jack started taxiing ahead in the
direction of the nearby anchored sloop.

Perk had set the third tear-bomb down with the belief that there would
be no necessity for his using it. Silence hung about the sloop, and he
had decided there could be no one around, unless, when they clambered
over the side, they should discover some poor chap who had succumbed to
the provoking gas or else been stunned by a blow in the wild melee that
had raged previously.

Just the same wise old Perk did not mean to be caught off his guard and
so he dragged out a formidable looking automatic, supplied by the Secret
Service to all its accredited agents as a means for compelling a
surrender on the part of any "wanted man" when overtaken in his flight.

The head-phones had been disconnected so there was nothing to hinder a
prompt boarding of the captured boat when Jack gave the word. With the
glorious flush of victory thrilling his whole frame Perk stood by to
fend off as they drew close to the squatty stern. It would be his duty
to clamber out on one wing and get aboard, carrying a rope by means of
which the floating airship could be secured to the water craft.

This he managed to accomplish without much difficulty, wondering while
so doing whether he and Jack might not be making history, for he
suspected that never before in the annals of aviation had an amphibian
plane been afforded a chance to take a prize of war in such an original
fashion as bombarding the enemy crew with tear-gas bombs and causing
them to flee in mad haste.

It was an exultant Perk who stood erect on the deck and waved his flying
helmet with the proud air of a neophyte hunter planting his foot on the
body of his first slain lion or tiger.



CHAPTER VII

A WHITE ELEPHANT ON THEIR HANDS


"Come on in, Jack old hoss, the water's fine!" was the way Perk greeted
his chum after gaining the deck of the captured rum-runner.

"First make that rope fast somehow so we'll run no risk of losing our
floating crate," Jack advised him.

"Yeah, that's just what I'm goin' to do, buddy," continued the other, as
he proceeded to make fast to the sloop's wheel after which Jack managed
to clamber aboard.

There were lanterns scattered around, and in the haste with which the
afflicted crew had abandoned their ship no one had bothered about
extinguishing them. By means of the meagre illumination afforded by
them, the two airmen were able to take a fairly comprehensive survey of
their surroundings.

"Huh! I kinder guessed we'd find a bunch o' the scrappin' critters
stretched out, an' lookin' all bloody like," ventured Perk, with
possibly a shadow of regret in his voice and manner, "but shucks! never
a one do I set my lamps on. Here's a case or two o' wet goods been
busted open, seems like, in all that kickup an' mebbe now some o' the
wild boys got a taste that helped keep 'em in the roarin', tearin' fight
they had but looks as if every man must a' been mighty keen on jumpin'
his bail. Wow! I can't blame 'em any, if the way my eyes feel is a fair
sample o' what they got served out to 'em!"

"You said it, partner," echoed Jack, "but keep from rubbing it in, if
you know what's good for you. The gas is being carried away right along
by the breeze, so let's forget it and take a look around."

"Let's," echoed Perk, always more or less curious and eager to "peek"
when the chance offered.

It seemed as though they were alone on the anchored sloop that was
rising and falling on the long rollers coming in off the wide gulf.
Piles of cases lay on the deck around them, ready to be transferred to
such smaller craft as were expected to draw alongside with orders for
them from some mysterious central clearing house. Possibly there were
many more similar packages down below, for the sloop was evidently
heavily laden.

Now and then the voluble member of the firm would let out a crisp
exclamation as though those keen eyes of his had run across some visible
sign of the recent rough-house disagreement that tickled him more or
less.

"We sure broke in on a sweet little party all right, Jack," he observed,
at one time with a chuckle, "see, here's a broken bottle that I guess
must a' been smashed on some poor guy's bean and from the blood spots
hereabout he had a plenty, but still he managed to skip out when the
grand march started. An' looky what I found--a coat that's tore into
shreds. Gee whiz! but that was some hot tamale scrap, believe me. I'd
give somethin' for a chance to look in on the round."

Jack was apparently puzzling his own head over something that did not
hit him as so very humorous.

"Yes," he told Perk, with a grimace, "we've made a bully capture all
right, partner, but when you come to think twice it may be we've got a
white elephant on our hands after all."

"Huh! what d'ye mean by sayin' that, old pal?" questioned the other, who
apparently saw nothing in the affair calculated to create any tendency
toward dismay in his mind. "You got me in a tail spin, partner--lift the
lid, won't you, an' gimme a look in?"

"Well, we've got the rum-boat okay, haven't we?" demanded Jack.

"Looks thataways, I guess," Perk admitted.

"Just so, and what d'ye reckon we're going to do with it?" continued the
head pilot, hitting straight from the shoulder as usual.

"Why--er--ginger pop! that's so, old hoss, _what?_ Mebbe now the
shoe's on the other foot, an' it's the blamed sloop that's got us held
up. Would it be proper to set the bally boat afire and see all this hot
stuff go up in flames? or we might knock a hole in the bottom, an' sink
her right where she stands, though that might get us in Dutch with our
people, since the rum-runners could come around an' salvage this case
stuff again. Only way to settle the puzzle'd be for us to have a bargain
day sale, opening case after case, knockin' the neck off each and every
bottle and makin' all the fish in this corner o' the gulf dizzy with a
mixture o' rum an' seawater."

Jack laughed at hearing all this wild stuff come from the bewildered
Perk.

"Strikes me I'm not going to get much satisfaction from you, partner,"
he bluntly told the other. "Our folks expect to see some evidence to
prove the big yarn we're bound to tell--about our dropping those tear
bombs and scattering the fighting hijackers and rum-runners and all that
stuff which means that by hook or by crook we've just _got_ to get
clear with this sloop and all the contraband that's aboard--hand it over
to some of Uncle Sam's agents along the gulf coast, whose addresses I
was given before leaving Washington, to be used in just such
circumstances as these. So try again, and see if you can suggest some
way it can be put through."

Thereupon Perk started scratching his tousled head in a fashion he
always followed when given a problem to solve, since his wits were apt
to be a bit rusty and in need of oiling so as to cause them to function
properly.

"Wouldn't that jar you?" he finally exploded, "we jest can't load our
crate with the bally stuff, 'cause it couldn't lift a tenth o' the cargo
we grabbed so easy-like. An' as to towin' the sloop after us by a
hawser, it'd be too much like a caterpiller creepin' along. I own up
it's got me buffaloed. Jack, an' if anything's goin' to be done it's
bound to come out o' your own coco."

"No hurry at all, brother," the other told him, little chance of those
lads making back this way in a hurry, since they got the scare of their
lives tonight. "Let's look around some more and possibly a suggestion
will pop up to give us the glad hand and see us out of the mire."

"Suits me okay old hoss," agreed Perk, nodding his head confidently as
though he had known all along that such a clever partner as Jack would
have a spare card up his sleeve to play when things began to look
unusually gloomy.

Perk picked up one of the lanterns, for he knew they would need some
sort of illumination if they intended to explore the regions below deck
which he termed the "hold," not being much of a sea-going man, although
capable of filling quite a number of different callings from engineer to
air pilot.

He had not taken half a dozen steps after descending the short flight of
steps leading below when he came to a sudden halt.

"Glory be! what was that?--sounded real like a groan, Jack!" he
exclaimed, trying to peer into the gloom of the hold, where there seemed
to be row after row of the same type of wooden cases with foreign
inscriptions burned on them.

"Just what it was, Perk," agreed his chum, pressing close behind the
holder of the lantern, "lift the light a bit, I think I can make out
something stretched out flat--yes, it must be a man, I'm certain."

"Kinder guessed we'd run across one or two o' the scrappers knocked out
an' left behind in the getaway rush," commented Perk who had drawn his
automatic before starting to explore the lower regions of the
rum-runner, not knowing what they were apt to meet there.

He continued to advance, and presently they were bending over a dismal
looking object, undoubtedly a man who might be a member of the crew,
judging from his rough sea clothes and his bare feet.

There could be no question but that he had been in the fight, since his
face was bloody and his general appearance betokened rough treatment.
Undoubtedly he had been senseless at the time the tear-gas penetrated
every part of the small vessel, and was only now coming to.

Jack lost no time in examining the pitiful looking object while Perk
waited to hear what his verdict would be. After all the old fighter bore
no malice toward any of these reckless men who were so assiduously
engaged in breaking the law of the land by running contraband goods into
Uncle Sam's domains and he was just as willing to bind up the wounds of
this luckless adventurer as if the other had only been an ordinary
sailor in sore trouble.

"Nothing serious, it seems," was Jack's decision. "He has had a pretty
hard knock that started the blood from his nose and as like as not laid
him out here senseless for there's a fine big lump on his head."

"So we'll have _one_ prisoner to fetch in after all," chortled
Perk, as if pleased by the prospect of being able to produce a witness
to testify to the work they had just accomplished.



CHAPTER VIII

THE SPOILS OF VICTORY


"Take hold, Perk," continued Jack, without losing any time. "We've got
to get this poor chap out in the open air for it's pretty bad down below
here, and bothers my eyes more or less."

So between them they managed to carry the wounded rum-runner to the
deck, where he was laid down, still groaning, although showing no other
signs of life.

"Step lively, brother, and see if you can run across any fresh water,
so's to pour a little down his throat," Jack went on to say. "I can dip
up some salty stuff by reaching down over the gun'l and mop his forehead
so's to fetch him around."

"Okay, boss!" snapped the ever ready Perk, "kinder guess I spied a
barrel with a faucet--hope now she don't hold spirits instead o' water.
Watch my smoke, that's all."

He was indeed back in what he would term a "jiffy," bearing a battered
and rusty tin kettle in his hand which proved to contain something that
might, with reservations, be called "drinking" water though it proved to
be lukewarm and possibly full of "wigglers," as the larvae of mosquitoes
are called.

Jack raised the man's head, which he had succeeded in washing to some
extent, and forcing open his mouth allowed some of the contents of the
pannikin to drain down his throat.

This set him to coughing and so he came to, showing all the signs of
bewilderment that might be expected after going to sleep in the midst of
a most clamorous battle with the reckless hijackers, and now waking up
to find strange faces bending over him, heads that were encased in
close-fitting helmets and the staring goggles of airmen.

"You're all right, brother," Jack assured the man, on seeing how alarmed
he appeared to be. "Your crew skipped out and deserted you, but we'll
stand by. Consider yourself a prisoner of Uncle Sam, although you'll not
be punished any to speak of if only you open up and tell all you know
about the owners and the skipper of this smuggler craft. What's her name
and where are you from?"

The man had by this time recovered sufficiently to understand what was
required of him. Jack's manner was reassuring, and he came out of his
half panic so as to make quite a civil reply to the questions asked.

So they learned that the sloop had been known as the _Cicade_,
which Jack knew to mean a locust and that her home port was in the
Bahamas, hot-bed of the smuggler league, Bimini, in fact, being its
chief port of departure.

"What're we goin' to do with this chap?" Perk was asking. "We don't want
him to give us the slip, since he's the on'y prisoner we got, do we,
partner?"

"I reckon not, brother, and to make certain that doesn't happen we'll
have to tie him up or fasten him to the mast here while we finish
looking around. I hope to run across the ship's papers, if they've got
any such things aboard."

"Leave that to me, Jack, I'm some punkins when it comes to splicin' up a
prisoner o' war, so he can't break away." Perk proved himself a man of
his word by securing a piece of rope, wrapping it several times around
the ankles of the seaman, and finishing with a succession of hard knots
such as would require the services of a sharp knife blade when it came
time to liberate the captive.

The man was a pretty tough looking customer, thanks to the treatment he
had met with in the merry time the rival parties had had aboard the
sloop, but at least he knew when he was well off and something in Jack's
manner as well as his voice told him these strangers would go easy him
if only he gave them as little trouble as possible.

So once again the pair set out to finish their exploration of the object
of their latest "strafing" feat when a battle had been brought to an
abrupt close with all hands in full flight simply by a dextrous movement
of Perk's arm and the tossing of a couple of innocent looking tear-bombs
into the midst of the warring factions.

This time it was Jack who made the discovery. Perk saw him step over,
while they were still on deck, and lift a ragged tarpaulin that seemed
to cover some bulky object toward the stern of the sloop. After that one
look Jack gave the well-worn covering a hitch and a toss that sent it
flying revealing something that caused Perk's eyes to stick out with
astonishment, not mentioning a sudden spasm of delight.

"Wow! what's this I'm seein' partner?" he yelped joyously. "A reg'lar
engine or I'm a crocodile from the Nile! Why, this must be what they
call an auxiliary craft, fitted to use canvas or hoss power, whichever
fills the bill best. You c'n ditch me if this ain't what I'll call luck.
An' heaps of it."

"I had a sneaking suspicion we'd run across something like this,"
confessed Jack, who nevertheless seemed just as well pleased as his
comrade over the find. "It's taking too big a chance to ship a cargo as
rich as this one in a tub like this with only rotten sails to speed the
craft if she happened to run afoul of a revenue cutter or one of those
new sub-chasers the Coast Guard's been fitted out with. And now the
problem's been solved, just as we hoped it would be."

"Meanin' we c'n get somewhere without tryin' to tow the rum-boat behind
our crate, and making a long and tiresome job o' it, eh what, partner?"
Perk suggested, with considerable animation.

"Take a look at this engine, Perk, and tell me if you reckon you could
run the thing if it became necessary."

Accordingly the other investigated and it was not long before he
ventured to give his decision.

"Seems okay to me, Boss. Course I can't jest say for sure till I tries
it out, but the chances are three to one she'll work for me."

"We'll soon have a chance to put that to the test, for it's our only way
to hang on to our spoils and have something to turn in for the night's
work."

"I'm laughin' to see how things keep happenin' jest to suit our crowd,
old hoss," Perk went on to remark, still chuckling at a great rate. "Do
we tow the ship behind the sloop, partner?"

"Not that you could notice," he was informed. "I aim to have you stick
to the rummy, while I get up a thousand feet or so and kind of play the
part of an aerial scout, just like you've told me you used to do when
you were running one of those war sausages, known as blimps in these
up-to-date times. No objections, have you, Perk?"

"What, me? I should guess not," the other exploded. "Why, it'll be jest
a rummy time with this kid, runnin' off with the old sloop and a
prisoner on board to boot. I'm tickled pink to know we're right in
action at last, after waitin' so long, an' ding-dongin' around till we
both got stale. But how 'bout draggin' that ere mudhook up off the
ground--think we c'n tackle the job between us, Jack?"

"Oh! That can be put through without much trouble, I reckon," Perk was
assured by the confident one. "I think if you investigate you'll find
they've got some sort of winch, a bit like the old-fashioned windlass we
used to wind up whenever we pulled the old oaken bucket up from the
country well. Let's take a peek and make sure."

It took them but a minute to have Jack's guess verified, for there was a
winch, with the rope of the anchor attached; all that would be necessary
was to start winding and by main strength the anchor must be hauled out
of the mud and lifted to the vessel's bow, there to hang until needed
again.

"No use of our stickin' 'round these diggin's any longer, partner," Perk
suggested. "The canvas is all clewed up or reefed, whatever they call
it, so we won't have it flappin' around after the ship gets under way.
Say the word, Boss, an' leave the rest to me."

"But nothing has been said as to what port we're meaning to strike out
for," observed Jack, "and that's a matter of considerable importance.
First of all it would be apt to queer our business some if we sailed
openly into Tampa, St. Petersburg, or even Key West; for some of those
smart newspaper reporters would be bound to get on to the facts and like
as not we'd have our pictures printed in all the papers. A fat chance
we'd stand to do any more work ripping this contraband conspiracy up the
back, after _they_ got through telling things."

"Well, I guess now that would queer our game, wouldn't it, partner?"
bleated the annoyed Perk, then brightening up as he eyed his chum in a
suggestive fashion as though anticipating further interesting remarks
along that particular line, he went on to add: "S'pose I'm let into the
plan I know you've got all fixed up for us to foller."

"All things considered," began Jack, thus urged, "I reckon it would be
the best scheme if we managed to get the rum-runner anchored back in
that big bunch of mangrove islands on the outer edge of which we lay low
with our crate so nicely camouflaged. For that matter we could cover the
deck the same way, since it'll be from the air most likely the danger is
bound to come--through Oscar Gleeb, the German ex-war pilot."

"Sounds good to me, buddy!" snapped Perk, grinning.

"I'll swing around overhead, and have my eye peeled for any sign of
trouble," continued Jack, "and also keep tabs on you while on the trip
south. Of course we don't know just what speed you can coax out of that
rusty old engine, but even at a minimum of six or eight miles per hour,
we surely ought to get in hiding before sun-up."

"Easy enough, Boss, and mebbe long before," Perk agreed. "Didn't you get
the far away grumble of a marine engine working just when we climbed
aboard this junk--I didn't say anything at the time, but I guessed as
how it might be that second tub turnin' tail an' puttin' for the shore."

"I made up my mind that was what it stood for," Jack told his companion.
"They listened to all that terrible racket and just made up their minds
it was too hot out this way for them to make the riffle. Oh, well! two
may be company, but three's considered a crowd and we might have found
we'd bitten off more than we could chew, so what does it matter?"

"We've gathered in the booze," Perk was saying proudly, "or most of it
anyway, together with the rum-runner, and one o' the crew to turn
State's evidence, so what else could we wish for--I for one don't feel
greedy. Plenty more where this one came from, and the smuggling season
is long. What we got to pay most attention to is liftin' the lid, so's
to find out just who the big guns are, backing this racket an' chances
are we're on the right road to doin' that this very minute."

"That's correct, Perk, but let's get a move on and be going."



CHAPTER IX

ENGINEER PERK ON DECK


Everything else being in readiness Jack and his muscular comrade started
to work the deck winch in order to get the anchor "apeak," as Perk
called it, being desirous of showing off with his limited knowledge of
things nautical.

"She's amovin' okay, old hoss!" gasped Perk who had been doing
considerable straining, anxious to display his ability as a mudhook
lifter. "A few more good pulls an' we'll have the old gink where we want
it."

The task being completed, the sloop began to move backward, very much
like those fiddler crabs Perk had watched retreating before his attack
on one of the sandy Florida beaches.

"Looks like I'd better go aboard our ship and get away from here before
anything happens to disable a wing," Jack hastened to remark, sensing
possible trouble which would be in the nature of a serious calamity just
then.

"Go to it then, matey," Perk told him, light-heartedly enough, "I'm
ready to do my stuff as a half-cooked engineer. Don't worry a bit about
my gettin' there with both feet if the bally motor only holds together.
Don't like its looks any too much, but then Lady Luck seems to be givin'
us a heap o' favors, so we're goin' to finish after the Garrison
style--heavy on the home stretch."

Before Perk reached the last word his chum had gained his seat in the
cubbyhole of the amphibian, and almost immediately called out:

"Cut that rope and let me get away, partner--hurry up before I get
another and harder bump!"

Ten seconds afterward the airship was entirely free from contact with
the drifting sloop. Then came the roar of the motor showing that Jack
had given her the gun. Instantly there was a forward movement of the
amphibian, which increased rapidly until it was rushing along with great
speed presently lifting its nose toward the heavens and leaving the
rolling surface of the gulf, soared aloft in repeated circles.

Perk, after seeing that his pal was well on his way, turned his
attention to his own job. He had no particular trouble in coaxing the
engine to start, although it did considerable "grunting" as though its
joints might be rusty and in need of lubricating oil, thus telling that
the late skipper had allowed his engineer to neglect his duties in a
climate where the salt in the air always rusted the inside of gun
barrels, machinery of all descriptions, and in many ways played havoc
with exposed metal parts.

However, after the engine got well warmed up it began to work more
smoothly so that Perk lost some of his first anxiety.

"Goin' to get along okay I guess," he assured himself and then, keeping
the prow of his vessel headed due south, he found time to try and
discover where Jack and his soaring crate might be.

The engine was a gas motor and well supplied with an abundance of fuel,
since the winds on their recent voyage around the Florida Keys must have
been favorable as a whole and with the motive power idle there had been
no drain on the gas.

Perk was feeling prime at that particular moment in his checkered
career. It afforded him much pride to thus be in sole charge of a
captured rum-runner with a cargo of contraband aboard. Then, too, all
doubts concerning his ability to serve as an engineer were already
dissipated for the sloop was making fair time and carried a bone in her
teeth, as the white lines of foam running out on either side attested.

Perk was softly singing to himself some marine ditty he had picked up in
the course of his adventurous life afloat and ashore and which had for a
title "Rolling Down to Old Mohea"--it thrilled him to the core to feel
that he was luckily able to afford Jack just the assistance the other
required so as to perfect his plan of campaign.

Now he believed he could glimpse the amphibian overhead--yes, the moon,
poking her nose out from behind a bank of clouds, allowed him to make
certain--Jack had swung back and was circling, so as to keep the sloop
within range of his vision.

"Just like a guardeen angel," mused the enraptured Perk, standing at his
post and sending frequent curious as well as proud glances aloft, "as he
told me he meant to be. Say, ain't this simply great stuff we've
struck?--never felt so joyous in all my life as when I smashed them two
tear-bombs down on the deck here an' busted up that fightin' mob. Zowie!
how quick they got a move on, every single man but the one lone dickey
we found knocked out down below-stairs. Ev'rything movin' along like
silk--who cares whether school keeps or not, with us boys on the top
wave o' success."

Then he concluded to stop premature boasting, knowing very well that as
in a game of baseball nothing is settled until the last man has been put
out.

So the voyage down the coast continued steadily enough, the minutes
running along into hours, with faithful Perk keeping steadfastly at his
new job.

From time to time he would find the plane hovering directly over his
head, and was able to catch certain signals which he could understand
because of a previous arrangement he and Jack had.

Although the moving sloop was not over a mile or so from the shore line,
it was next to impossible for Perk to catch a fleeting glimpse of land,
so as to get his bearings.

"Huh!" he told himself at one time after he had received instructions to
draw a bit further toward the open gulf, as he was approaching some
point of land jutting into the water, and thus making a shoal possibly
covered with coon-oysters, on which he was apt to pull up hurriedly with
disastrous results, "this here is like flyin' blind at a five
thousand-foot ceilin',--Jack, he c'n see the land by usin' the night
glasses, so it's a good thing I c'n get tips from him right along. Gee!
this sure is gettin' some monotonous, keepin' this old motor hummin'
when it's on the blink so bad. Must be a wheen past midnight, I'd say,
an' we ought to be clost to them Ten Thousand Islands by now."

He had been keeping close watch on the stars and although making no
claims to being a first-class woodsman, Perk could tell the time of
night by the heavenly bodies setting one after another, which would
account for his late confident assertion that morning could not be so
very far distant.

Once only during all this time did Perk happen to see a far distant
light out at sea. It interested him more or less and naturally caused
him to speculate as to whether it might have any connection with the
great game in which he and Jack were now engaged. Everything he had ever
heard or read connected with the Mexican Gulf seemed to pass in review
through his active mind--there was a halo of romance hovering about that
historical sheet of salt water and while Perk was not much given to
flights of fancy, he found himself picturing some of the thrilling
scenes he had recently read about, after learning that the next locality
in which he and Jack would play their adventurous part was along the
Florida Gulf Coast.

Then he suddenly found himself listening intently, for above the
pounding of the old motor, with an occasional "miss" to break the
monotony, he fancied he had caught the signal Jack was to give him when
the time arrived for making a turn toward the coast.

"Bully boy, Jack!" Perk cried out when he found that he had not been
deceived. "I'll be right pleased to drop this tiresome job an' think
myself some lucky to miss havin' the tub run on a reef, or the bally
motor kickin' off an' quittin' cold. Yes, an' there's what looks like a
bunch o' cabbage palms stickin' their tops against the sky-line. Better
slow up, Perk, old scout, afore you hit some stump or get aground off
shore."

So he throttled the motor a bit and fairly crept along. He even found
himself wishing he had fixed things so that the prisoner might stand by
with a sounding pole in the bow of the sloop to sing out the depth and
give warning of sudden shallows but it was too late now to attempt such
a thing, even if he had dared take the chance of the fellow jumping
overboard and either drowning or getting ashore to give warning as to
the menace hovering above the operations of the far-flung smuggler
combine.

But fortune was still kind and presently Perk found himself softly
gliding past the outermost mangrove islands. Here, he remembered, it was
his duty to come about and lay to until Jack could drop down and taxi
over to where the sloop lay so as to consider their further plans in the
coming dawn.



CHAPTER X

TAMPA BOUND


"Congrats, Perk," said Jack, as soon as he came close enough, "you did
the thing up in first-class shape. If all other jobs went back on you I
reckon you could get your papers along the engineering line. A bit tired
in the bargain I take it, partner?"

"Lay off on that stuff, matey," replied the other, scornfully, "me, I
never get what you'd call tired, but jest the same I'm right glad it's
all over an' the rotten crate didn't get sunk out there--hate to lose
all this bottled juice we come by in such a queer way. Climb aboard,
Jack, an' let's have a little talk-fest while we rest up."

"Later on I'd be glad to do that," he was told. "We'd be wise to push
further in among these islands before morning comes along if any sponger
or fisherman happened to glimpse this pair of odd sea and air craft he'd
spread the story far and wide and get us in Dutch. I'll fasten a tow
line on to the ship here, if you'll toss me a coil and taxi away back
where there wouldn't be one chance in a thousand of our being seen."

"I get you, buddy," Perk hastened to say, as he made ready to toss the
bight of stout rope to his waiting chum, "and it's all to the good with
me. Dandy luck we've been havin' for a fact, on'y hope it keeps on that
way to the finish line. Here you are, Boss!"

After Jack had made the small hawser fast he started the taxi stunt and
presently they were moving past the outlying clumps of mangroves with
never a bit of trouble. Perk made himself comfortable by throwing his
really fatigued form flat on the deck and stretching his muscles to the
limit.

This continued for some little time until finally Jack shut off his
power and came alongside, ready to climb aboard the sloop.

"We'll tie her up to this nearby clump of mangroves, where you'll notice
there's a bunch of tall palmetto trees growing, showing there must be
ground, such as few of these islands can boast. I'm picking this place
especially because those cabbage palms will keep the mast of the sloop
from sticking up and betraying its location to any flyer passing over."

"I'd call that a mighty fine idea, partner," declared Perk
enthusiastically. "Never would athought o' anything like that myself--my
old bean don't work along them lines I guess. An' when I've done that
camouflage act again nobody ain't agoin' to spy out a single thing down
this-aways. Great work, if I do say it myself, Jack old boy."

After he had managed to fasten the bow of the sloop to one of the
palmetto trees, Jack crawled aboard. He must have also felt more or less
tired, after being caged in the small confines of the cockpit so long,
for he followed Perk's example and dropped down on the deck to stretch
out while they exchanged opinions.

"None too soon for our safety," was the first remark Jack made, "see,
there in the east the sky has begun to take on a faint rosy tint which
means the sun must be making ready to rise."

"Things are workin' just lovely for us, I'd mention, old hoss,"
suggested Perk, with one of his good-humored chuckles that told how well
pleased he must be on account of the many "breaks" that persisted in
coming their way. "Let the mornin' come along when it pleases, it don't
matter a red cent to us back here in this gloomy solitude."

They started to exchange opinions concerning the remarkable happenings
of the night just passed and in this way many things that had not been
very clear to Perk were made plain. On his part he was able to offer
several suggestions that added to the stock of knowledge Jack already
possessed so that it was a mutual affair after all.

"I rather reckon somebody's going to get a surprise packet when I finish
explaining just how this contraband sloop and cargo fell into our
hands," Jack was saying at one time, apparently vastly amused himself.
"Fact is, I wouldn't blame the Commissioner for believing I was drawing
the long bow when he hears about those tear-bombs you tossed out that
scattered the crowd like I've heard you tell a shell used to do when it
dropped into a dugout over in the Argonne."

As they lay there taking things easy, the heavens in the east assumed a
most wonderful range of various delicate tints that made even Perk gasp
with admiration. Birds started singing, mocking birds and cardinals
among others, crows could be heard cawing close by as though there might
be a hidden bird roost not far distant. This was corroborated later on
when streams of white egrets flew past, scattering to find their morning
meal.

So, too, circling buzzards could be seen far above as they searched for
signs of a feast in the shape of a dead fish cast ashore on some sandbar
or mudbank--a heavy plunge not far away told of a monster alligator that
had been lying asleep on some log, taking a dive as he noticed the
presence of two-legged human enemies whom he had reason to suspect of
designs on his life.

"How about a little grub for a change, partner?" demanded Perk, after
they had been talking for quite some time.

"I reckon it wouldn't come amiss," admitted Jack; "but if you've got any
idea of starting a fire and making coffee, better throw that overboard
right away, for in the first place you'd find it a hard job to run
across any solid ground among all these mangrove islands and then
besides it might not be the wisest thing going to send up a column of
smoke to attract attention to this quarter. Get that do you, Perk?"

"Y--es," admitted the other, with a disconsolate shrug of his shoulders
as if he had no liking for the scheme being thus tabooed, "s'pose it's
jest like you put it, Jack, though I own up I was hopin' we might make a
pot o' coffee. Just the same we got plenty o' fresh water along, even if
it is sorter warm an' coffee'd taste just prime, but I c'n stand
anything when necessity drives. So let's get our teeth in some eats
without botherin' further, 'cause I'm half starved an' them sandwiches'd
go fine."

Accordingly they started operations, Perk clambering aboard the
amphibian to fish out the package of "eats", he knowing best where it
had been secreted on the previous evening after they had supper near
this same spot.

As they munched their dry food they continued to talk, finding plenty of
subjects bearing on their work that would be the better for further
study.

"There's only one way we can arrange things so as to keep our clutch on
the spoils we've rustled so far and do our duty according to orders."

"I kinder guess I c'n smell a rat already, Jack," chuckled Perk as he
wrapped up the remnant of the food supply which he had taken from their
main stock--"I'm the goat in the deal--you figger on me stayin' here in
this 'gator hole to stand by the ship an' knock the block off'n anybody
what tries to get away with our property--how's that for a straight hit
square in the bullseye?"

"Go up head, Perkiser--you got the answer first clip, for that's just
what has to be put through. I'll start off presently and make a bee line
for Tampa where they told me our immediate boss, Colonel Tranter, is
stopping with his sick wife. I'll make my report direct to him and take
further orders. He'll like enough detail a couple of revenue men on duty
along the East Coast to come back with me to where you're lying here so
they can take the sloop and her wet cargo to Tampa to be given over to
the proper officers who will see that no clever smuggler has half a
chance to run away with her."

"I c'n easy enough see how you've thunk ev'ry thing out, an' on'y need a
little time to put the scheme through with a rush. Tell me, Jack, will
you be apt to get any further lines on the way things stand down
here?--there was some talk, I 'member, about them bein' able to give us
a few pointers concernin' them higher-ups the Government is so anxious
to cage so as to break this whole gang up for keeps."

"Certainly, I intend to ask about that very thing," came Jack's ready
reply, "and I'm also in great hopes they'll be able to add some news
worth while, that, in conjunction with what we already know, or suspect,
will put us sleuth hounds on the hot trail of the big millionaire they
feel certain has been the main backing of the whole ugly bunch while
keeping in the background himself all the while. They're depending on
you and me, Perk, to produce the evidence that's going to convict him of
conspiracy against the Government, which may send him to Atlanta for a
dozen years or more."

"Know how long you'll be away, Jack?" demanded the other casually as if
it was really a matter of but little moment to him what the answer might
be, since he could be depended on to hold to their booty with the
tenacity of a leech.

"That all depends on circumstances--I may be back by noon, and again not
till late in the afternoon or evening. I expect to fetch a couple of
sandbaggers along who will take over the sloop and stuff that's aboard.
Having washed our hands clean of those encumbrances we'll be in fit
shape to delve deeper into the game and see what we get out of the
grab-bag. Anyway, don't expect me until you see me heading this way and
keep a sharp lookout, for from all accounts this crowd we're up against
is said to be a tricky combination, always stepping on their toes and
doing big things."

"Yeah, we've heard lots o' that kind o' stuff but just the same the lads
makin' up the crew o' this sloop didn't keep their eyes open, or they'd
never been taken unawares by them hijackers. Leave it to Gabe Perkiser
to hold fast to what he's got; they'd have to be a regiment, armed with
machine-guns, bombs, an' even gas, to knock _me_ off'n my perch an'
I don't mean that for boastin' either, Jack."

Later on Jack decided it would be just as well for him to jump off and
be on his way to Tampa. Contrary winds or something else might delay his
arrival, and an early start was bound to be of much help toward bringing
a quick return.

He first used the binoculars in order to scan the heavens as well as
they could be covered when he was so surrounded by those strange
mangrove islands and discovering no sign of any cruising, spying crate,
he bade Perk goodbye and taxied in the direction of the open gulf, which
he knew lay due west.

Perk answered his signal ere the amphibian turned a bend in the tortuous
channel and saw Jack vanish from view; nor could he long detect any
sound to indicate the presence of an airship since cautious Jack had
again made use of that wonderful "silencer" which they had found so
useful while conducting their search during the preceding night. Then
the appointed guardian of the captured contraband sloop turned his
attention to matters which had to do with his making the tied-up craft
as thoroughly invisible from the upper air as he knew how.



CHAPTER XI

PERK HOLDS THE FORT


First of all Perk set about getting the one boat that had been left
aboard the smuggler sloop into the water as he would need it for
conveying his green material with which he intended to cover the exposed
deck.

There was little trouble about accomplishing that and when he dropped
into the rowboat with a pair of excellent oars in his possession, he
felt considerably encouraged.

So he started to poke around, hoping to run across some island that was
more than a mere patch of the omnipresent mangrove tangle. This he
succeeded in doing without much loss of time and his pleasure redoubled
at finding a mass of dwarf saw palmetto that would yield him a plentiful
supply of fronds with their queer serrated edges such as would stab
cruelly unless one took care to handle them properly.

Here, too, were some young palmetto trees with the new leaves within
easy reach. Working with a vim Perk speedily loaded his small boat with
green stuff, after which he returned to the sloop and proceeded to
scatter his material to the best advantage all over any exposed part of
the contraband vessel.

It necessitated a second trip before he felt satisfied for whatever his
shortcomings might be in other respects, Perk always tried to fulfill
his whole duty whenever he tackled a job.

By the time he had finished he was "reeking wet" as he called it, with
"honest-to-goodness sweat," not perspiration, but it was worth all it
cost to be able to feel that the sharpest vision on the part of a sky
pilot passing over the spot, and even equipped with powerful binoculars,
would not be able to detect the presence of the sequestered runaway
sloop.

"Good enough," he told himself, as he lay down to rest a bit and scan
the blue heavens so as to learn whether there was any sign of a cloud
chaser from horizon to horizon where the clumps of mangroves allowed him
a clear vision.

Several times he gave a little start, and proceeded to strain his eyes
so as to make doubly sure, but in every instance the moving dot he had
noted far away to the north or nor'east proved to be a circling buzzard,
keeping up his eternal weaving to and fro in search of a belated
breakfast after his own peculiar kind.

So the time passed, and Perk even dozed, lying there amidst his "Palm
Sunday greens," as he fancifully called the camouflage stuff, for the
climbing sun kept getting warmer, and induced somnolence, especially
after such an eventful night as the one he and Jack had just passed.

Later in the morning he sat up, took another cautious look around at the
clear sky, and then proceeded to enjoy a good, old-fashioned smoke, for
Perk was a lover of his under-slung pipe _a la Dawes_.

Noon found him thus, picturing his chum arriving at Tampa and
interviewing the Government official who could give him what assistance
he required so as to turn over the captured sloop and the contraband it
carried, both above and below decks.

At one time Perk out of curiosity--as well as a desire to be in a
condition to state the amount of spoils he and Jack had "corraled" in
their swoop upon the fighting smugglers and hijackers--took a pad of
paper and a pencil and proceeded to go over the entire vessel, securing
a rough invoice of the numerous piled-up cases bearing that foreign,
burnt brand.

Then a temptation gripped him, and, as he took another "eyeful" sweep of
the azure arch overhead, to again find the coast clear, he tortured
himself with the vision of a pot of boiling coffee to go with his
otherwise dry midday snack of lunch.

"Huh! no use talkin', I jest _can't_ stand it any longer--got to
have my coffee if I want to keep happy as a clam at high tide. Nothin'
to prevent me paddlin' across once more to where I got these here
greens. I noticed heaps an' heaps o' dry wood, broken branches, stems o'
palmetto leaves an' such dandy trash for a quick fire. Might as well
tote the machine-gun along, so's to be ready for anything that comes--it
could be a frisky twelve-foot 'gator wantin' to climb me or mebbe one o'
them sly painters I been told they got down in this queer old country.
Anyway, here you go, Perk, coffee pot an' all."

He was soon busily engaged in building his little fire, hoping no
hostile eyes might detect the trailing smoke ascending above the tops of
that palmetto clump. Then came the pleasing task of watching his coffee
pot as it stood on the tilting firewood, a job that required constant
vigilance if he hoped to save its precious contents from spilling.

Presently the odor began to fill him with delight and later on he found
himself sitting cross-legged, like a Turk, and swallowing gulp after
gulp of the amber fluid he loved so well.

Taken altogether it proved to be as satisfactory a little lunch as Perk
had partaken of in some time. After finishing the entire contents of his
coffee pot, he concluded it would be just as well for him to clean up,
destroying all signs of the fire, and return to the sloop.

He had good reason to shake hands with himself because of this
exhibition of caution, for later on, as the afternoon began to lengthen,
with the sun starting down toward the western horizon, he suddenly began
to catch faint sounds such as sent a sudden thrill through his whole
nervous system.

"Dang it if I ain't hearin' somethin' right like human voices," he told
himself, cocking up his head the better to listen, and applying a cupped
hand to his right ear. "Yep, that's a fact, an' over in that quarter to
boot," nodding toward the northeast where his instinct told him the
mainland must lie, even if some miles distant.

So, too, he decided later that the suspicious sounds kept growing
louder, from which fact he judged the speakers were slowly but surely
approaching his hiding place.

"All right, let 'em come along," Perk muttered grimly as he clutched
that deadly little hand machine-gun with which he could pour a rain of
missiles in a comparatively speedy passage of time. "They can't ditch
me, I kinder guess, an' nobody ain't agoin' to grab this crate if I have
to shoot up the hull mob o' galoots."

Nevertheless, since there was always a fair chance that the secreted
sloop might escape discovery, Perk finally concluded to dispose of his
own person, at the same time meaning to keep in readiness to give the
intruders a hot reception, did the occasion warrant such a course.

Then he could hear what he knew to be the splash of oars, and squeaking
sounds of the row-locks. But he had already discounted this fact,
knowing as he did the impossibility of anyone ever reaching the fringe
of that vast wilderness of mangrove islands in which many a fisherman
had been lost, never to find his way out of the myriad of zigzag
channels without the possession of some manner of boat.

On they came until finally Perk realized they were just around the
corner, for he could pick up every word that was uttered as well as see
specks of foam from the working oars as it carried past, the tide being
on the ebb just then.

"Told yuh it was a steamer runnin' past thet sent up yer smoke trail,
Zeb," a harsh jeering voice was saying, accompanying the words with a
string of oaths as though he felt more or less "mad" because of the
exertion necessitated in working at the oars so long and on a bootless
errand at that.

"Wall," came another drawling voice in which keen disappointment could
be detected. "I judged it shore lay in this direction, but like yuh
says, it must'a ben a steamer out yonder on the gulf--mebbe thet rev'nue
boat they done tole us to watch out fur er else some o' them spongers
frum up Tarpon Springs way. Anyhow, I got all I wants o' exercise so I
move weuns call hit a day an' get back to the shanty."

"Yas, thet's the best thing we kin do," agreed the other, with a snarl
in his heavy voice, "we got heaps o' work ahead tonight, if so be thet
Fritz airpilot does drop over with his batch o' yeller boys like weuns
been told he'd do. I'd like tuh see the whole caboodle o' Chinks dropped
inter the middle o' the gulf, I hate 'em so, but thar's good money in
the game, we happens tuh know, Zeb, which I jest caint hold back on
nowhow. Les go!"

Greatly to the relief of the listening Perk he heard the sound of
splashing gradually recede until finally it died away completely. This
gave him a feeling bordering on relief, for while Perk was an old hand
at the fighting game and stood ready to give a good account of his
ability to defend their prize; at the same time he had no violent desire
to open up on the two occupants of the unseen rowboat nor yet was the
idea of the sloop being discovered at all to his taste.

"Lucky lads you might count yourselves if on'y you knew how I was layin'
right here in ambush, ready to sink that boat an' make the biggest sort
o' a splash. An' I'm guessin' I got off right smart 'bout that cookin'
fire racket, come to think of it--might a'spilled the beans all right,
and made all sort o' trouble for our crowd."

Talking in this fashion to himself, Perk again set about taking things
comfortably nor did he ever hear of that pair again. Still, he treasured
up in his mind what he had heard the man with the harsh voice say in
connection with the smuggling of unwelcome Chinese immigrants who were
ready to pay so well for an opportunity to beat the Government
regulations in their eagerness to join the foreign colony in Mott
Street, New York City, where the vast majority of them were bound. It
would naturally interest Jack when he heard the news, although it could
hardly be considered startling, since they already knew full well this
sort of thing was being carried on by daring airplane pilots in the
service of the far-flung smuggling combine.

By now it was well past the middle of the afternoon. Light fleecy, white
clouds had been drifting up from the direction of the Dry Tortugas and
Key West but this far they did not look at all portentous, as though any
kind of a storm might be brewing. Perk hoped that would not turn out to
be the case since they had work planned for a part of the coming night,
which would be greatly hampered by unsettled weather.

Then, on making one of his habitual observations of the upper air, he
discovered a moving speck that he soon decided must be a plane heading
in his direction. At first Perk fancied it must be Jack on his way back,
but later on he realized the air craft bore a great resemblance to the
Curtiss-Robin boat which they had figured belonged to the Hun pilot,
Oscar Gleeb.



CHAPTER XII

ODDENEMIES FACE TO FACE


"Je-ru-salem crickets!" Perk told himself as he stared, "I do b'lieve
that's the same Curtiss-Robin crate we saw before, an' making direct for
this here section o' the map in the bargain! Now I wonder what he wants
to barge in for when things seem to be doin' their prettiest for us
fellers? Guess I'd better get ready for boarders. If that smart guy took
a notion to swoop down for a close-up o' these mangrove islands, he'd be
apt to pick me up, 'specially if he happens to own a pair o' glasses,
which stands to reason he sure does. Huh! what a bother. Better be slow
'bout foolin' with a buzz-saw, that's all I c'n say to him."

No sooner said than done, which was Perk's usual way of playing the
game. He changed his position for one that offered less chance for
discovery and while about it Perk started to build up something in the
shape of a formidable fortification.

"What luck to have all these logs lyin' around when I need them," he
went on to tell himself with many a dry chuckle. "Guess now they had 'em
aboard to pull the wool over the eyes o' any customs men that happened
to board the sloop lookin' for contraband stuff--meant to claim they was
fetchin' mahogany logs to a States market. Gee whiz! they sure are a
tough proposition to move around but here's the cutest little fort any
playboy could wish for. Let him come along--who cares a red cent what he
does, so long's I got this here machine-gun with plenty o' cartridges in
the belts to riddle things with. Ring up the curtain, an' let the play
start. Makes me think I'm back in the old line again along the Argonne,
an' say, jest 'magine how it all works out with one o' them same Hun
pilots swooping down on me! It sure is to laugh, boys."

By this time the oncoming plane was drawing perilously near and Perk
wisely settled himself so that he could see all that occurred.

He possessed a pair of marvelously keen eyes and while it would have
simplified matters considerably had he been handling those wonderful
binoculars, just the same he could get on without them.

By close application he was able to see a figure bending over the ledge
of the cabin window, apparently scrutinizing the queer combination of
mangrove patches and crooked water passages between. The plane was
rushing down a steep slant in a clever dive, or glide, so that with the
passage of each second the chances for the pilot to make a discovery
increased.

"Gosh! but ain't this the life, though?" muttered the watcher, thrilled
to the core with what was hovering over his head yet not so much as
making the slightest movement that would attract attention. If discovery
must come, Perk was determined that no act of his would hasten it along
and no responsibility for the tragedy--if such there followed--could be
laid at his door.

He had discovered some time back that the rival crate resembled their
own, in that it was in the amphibian class--could hop-off either from
the land or when on the water.

Really he had taken it for granted that such would turn out to be the
case, since occasions without number must arise when, for instance, the
smugglers wished to take alien Chinamen from some schooner or speedboat
by means of which the first part of their journey to the Promised Land
had been carried through, when it would be necessary for the plane to
drop alongside the boat from Cuba or other foreign ports and make the
transfer.

The prospect was far from displeasing to Perk--he felt positive that it
would be the first time on record when one of Uncle Sam's Secret Service
men fought it out with a taxiing seaplane on the subtropical waters of
the great gulf.

The outcome of course was hidden behind a haze of mystery--one, or both
of those engaged might never live to tell the story but then that sort
of uncertainty had been his daily portion during his thrilling service
on the French front and its coming to the surface again after all these
years of less arduous labor only made Perk hug himself, theoretically
speaking.

Now the flying ship was passing directly over his place of concealment,
although at rather a high ceiling. Would the Argus-eyed pilot make any
suspicious discovery, or, failing to do so, continue his scrutiny along
the many leagues of similar mangrove islands stretching far into the
south?

Perk saw him pass the spot, which caused him to imagine the game was all
off, and he would have nothing but his trouble for his pains. Indeed a
sense of heavy disappointment had even begun to grip his heart when he
saw the other suddenly bank and swing as though meaning to come back
again.

"Zowie! kinder looks like he _did_ glimpse somethin' that struck
him as wuth a second scrutiny," chuckled the anxious watcher, that
delicious thrill once more sweeping over his whole frame.

Indeed, it was a moment of more or less suspense, although Perk was
telling himself he did not care a particle whether the smuggler pilot
discovered the mast of the sloop, with its camouflaged deck below or
not.

He was only hoping that the other might not take a notion to fly
overhead and try to drop some sort of a miserable bomb down upon the
spot where things looked a bit suspicious to him. Possibly Perk still
seemed to get a faint whiff of the tear-gas that had drenched the
smugglers' boat at the time he himself hurled those two bombs with such
deadly accuracy and the possibility of being himself made the target of
a similar attack was anything but pleasing for him to contemplate.

This time the Curtiss-Robin sped past not much more than three hundred
feet above, so that he could plainly make out a head, with its
protecting helmet, earflaps, and goggles, that was projected from the
cabin.

"Darn his nerve, if he ain't wavin' his hand to me to say, 'I see you
little boy, you're it!' Spotted me, danged if he didn't, by ginger! an'
now the fun's a'goin' to start right along. Wow! this is what I like,
an' pays up for a wheen o' lazy days. How the blood does leap through a
feller's veins when he feels he's in action again. Oscar, old boy,
here's wishin' you all the compliments o' the season an' I hereby
promise to send back whatever you throw me. Go on and do your stuff, old
hoss--I'm on to your game okay!"

He found further cause for congratulation when he made certain that the
plane was now headed for the smiling surface of the little bay close by,
showing that the pilot intended to make his little splash, and take a
look at the hidden sloop with its illicit cargo of many cases that had
been so mysteriously snatched from the hands of those with whom he was
in close association.

This was as Perk would have it if given any decision in the matter. Once
the amphibian started to taxi toward him and they would be placed on the
same footing, each with a machine-gun to back him up and former
experience in handling such a weapon equally balanced. Could anything be
fairer than that, Perk asked himself, preparing for business at the drop
of the hat?

The plane had made contact with the water and was floating there like an
enormous aquatic fowl of some unknown species. Now the pilot was making
a right turn as though meaning to come down on Perk with the western
breeze--his motor was keeping up more or less of a furore, which told
Perk that shrewd though these up-to-date contraband runners might be, at
least they had slipped a cog by failing to keep up with the inventions
of the times, for undoubtedly this pilot had no silencer aboard his
craft to effectually muffle the exhaust of his engine.

However, this was no time to bother about such minor things when the
main issue was whether he was destined to "get" the ex-war ace, or the
other put him out of action when the battle was on.

Perk shifted his gun so that its muzzle kept following the moving
seaplane in its advance. Let Oscar but make a start in his projected
bombardment, and Perk stood ready to answer with a similar fusilade that
must rather astonish the other, for as yet he could have no assurance
that the concealed sloop was manned--doubtless he would figure the
seized craft had been hidden here and temporarily abandoned until such
convenient time as the captors could return with recruits and run it to
some port where the confiscated shipment might be turned over to the
proper authorities.

Just the same Oscar Gleeb might think it good policy to make sure of his
ground by spraying the boat's deck with a round or two of searching
missiles before attempting to board it.

Whatever way the cat was going to jump, Perk knew the issue was bound to
be joined before many more seconds slipped past, and he held himself
ready.



CHAPTER XIII

WHEN GREEK MET GREEK


The seaplane had stopped short, although its engine still rattled away
as vehemently as ever. Perk understood the reason for this--Oscar may
have been a hot-headed youngster away back when the great war was on,
but apparently his later experiences had cooled his blood to some extent
and he did not mean to be too rash.

Doubtless he could by this time plainly make out the sloop which was so
skillfully concealed, especially from the air above, and there may have
been a sufficiently menacing air about it that called for caution. He
was not such a fool as to blindly walk into what might prove to be a
clever trap, set by a bunch of those despised Government workers to
catch him napping.

Accordingly he considered it good policy to hold off and pepper the
sloop from stem to stern before taking any further steps at doing any
boarding and seizing it for its rightful owners.

Then again, in order to get the best work from his firearms and have his
hands free, he knew he should fix matters so he could drop the controls
and pay strict attention to his other job.

Perk was lying low, holding himself in readiness for action. He believed
he would be amply protected by the logs he had piled up, but just the
same he did duck his head involuntarily at the first crack of the
machine-gun the pilot of the Curtiss boat was handling so lovingly, as
though it might be an old and valued "baby" in his estimation.

But just the same Perk could not allow any misunderstanding to keep the
other in ignorance of how matters stood--he had sent out his impudent
challenge, and Perk was quick to accept it.

So the din was further increased by a second barrage, chiming in with
perhaps its notes ranged along a little higher key, but on the whole
playing skillfully and merrily its own part in the mad chorus that
reigned.

How the chatter of those two rapid-fire guns did carry on, with the
splinters flying every-which way as the missiles tore them loose from
the logs and the coaming of the sloop's deck.

Perk was compelled to do most of his work while keeping his head down,
lest he be potted in that rain of bullets the other fighter was pouring
in on him. Consequently he could hardly be expected to do himself full
justice. Perhaps Oscar on his part was working under a similar
disadvantage, for he really had little in the way of a barricade to
intercept the shower to which he was being subjected.

Lucky for him he had shown the good sense to stop his advance with
considerable distance separating him from the hidden sloop--had they
been closer there was not one chance in ten that some damage would not
have placed his seaplane out of commission, even though the pilot
himself escaped death.

Then suddenly a white flag shot up from the sloop's breastworks. Oscar,
with the gallantry such as had ever distinguished the air fighters on
both sides in those days that tried men's souls, ceased firing.

"Give up?" he was bawling, as the rapid-fire guns both became silent,
while their hot barrels cooled off a bit.

"Not so you could notice it," Perk shouted. "Jest wanted to exchange a
few words with you, if you're Oscar Gleeb, an' it's true that you was a
live-wire over there in France an' the Argonne--say, is that all to the
good, Mister Pilot?"

The other did not answer immediately. Plainly he must have been
considerably astonished at the queer turn the engagement had taken; and
then again possibly he did not exactly like the idea of being compelled
to acknowledge his identity, fearing it might be only a trap to ensnare
him in the meshes of the law he had been defying so flagrantly.

"What's that matter to you?" he finally yelled testily, so that Perk
began to suspect he must have touched up the other with one of the
bullets that struck the seaplane.

"Oh! nothin' much," sang out the complaisant Perk, cheerfully, "on'y I
wanted to let you know I was over there in the same line and had the
good luck to send down a few o' you Hun pilots in a blazin' coffin.
Wondered now if me'n an' you mightn't a had a private scrap o' our own
in them bully times. Allers did hanker to have a talk-fest with you,
sense I heard 'bout you bein' one o' them bloomin' hot Junker pilots."

A hoarse laugh greeted this amazing sally of Perk's.

"Say, what sort of a crazy gyp are you to want to talk things over while
we got this scrap on?" bellowed the helmeted man in the shot torn cabin
of the amphibian. "That's our boat you're standin' on, and we need it in
our business, see? Give you three minutes to clear out, for I'm comin'
aboard. Get that, Kamarad?"

"Sure thing, Oscar old hoss, but when you do it'll be feet first, for
I'm fixed to fill your carcass so full o' lead it wouldn't need any
cannon ball to sink you if you died at sea. So mind your step, Mister
Pilot--jest been gettin' my hand in so far, but what's comin' next'll be
a whole lot different, bet your boots!"

The other did not show the white feather but immediately set to work
once more with his weapon. No sooner was its chatter "on the air" than
Perk started giving his own gun a chance to show its worth. This made it
lively again and once more those aggravating splinters began to scatter,
worrying Perk not a little, for strange to say he dreaded lest one of
them find lodgment in his anatomy and this troubled him much more than
the possibility of being struck by a speeding bullet.

It was quite warm while it lasted, but presently Perk realized that the
opposition had suddenly ceased. Being a polite man and always pleased to
meet his antagonist on even terms, Perk also stopped firing. If Oscar
had decided to advance once more and try conclusions at close quarters
where it would be give and take, he, Perk, could prove himself a most
accommodating chap.

Sure enough the engine of the amphibian had started up with increased
vigor and Perk, cautiously lifting his head, saw that the plane was
really in motion. But it was also veering to one side, which action
might mean either one of two things--that the other had had quite enough
of this exchange of hot fire and was pulling out, or else that in his
crafty German way he was meaning some sort of flank attack in hopes of
carrying the fort.

Faster and faster was the taxiing airship rushing through the water and
Perk continued to hold his fire, realizing that the fight was over.

"Go to it, Oscar old hoss!" he burst out, as he grasped this clinching
finish of the strange engagement with the rival gunmen separating after
a hot exchange of compliments, each apparently able to move off under
his own steam, "Beat it for all you're worth while the goin' is good.
There, he's lifted his crate in one big pull an' I kinder guess he ain't
hurt much either, else he couldn't show so much steam. Wall, here Perk's
been left in possession, after all that bluff he put up. But it sure was
a dandy jig while it lasted."

At that Perk began to laugh as though the true perspective had flashed
before his eyes for then, and later on, too, he was ready to declare
that a more ridiculous as well as unprofitable battle had never been
waged between two rival pilots of the upper air lanes.

Now the fleeing ship had mounted to a fair ceiling and was rushing off
in a roaring zoom but Perk noticed his late foe was heading due east as
though bent on picking out an entirely different direction from the one
he had used when coming with an impetuous rush to investigate the
mysteries of the mangrove islands.

"Huh! that strikes me as a bit queer," Perk was telling himself as he
gazed after the ship, now growing smaller and smaller as it placed miles
between them. "Looks like Oscar might a remembered a mighty important
engagement he ought to keep. Oh well, I've had my little shindig, and
it's just as well we both came through okay--them as 'fights an' runs
away, may live to fight another day,' that old sayin' has it which is
sure a true thing. Hey! what's this mean--seems like I didn't come
through as soft-like as I figgered I had--blood on my hand, yep, an' on
my face ditto. Guess one o' them nasty zippin' bullets must a creased my
ear, and fetched the juice a little. Shucks! nothin' to bother about I'd
say."

He took his old red bandanna and dabbed at his right ear with many a
grunt as well as chuckle.

"Seems like it's the only time I've weltered in my own gore for a coon's
age," Perk was saying as he looked at the stains on his faithful if
faded rag that had been his close companion on many a long flight
through fog and storm, wintry cold and summer heat. "But then I got a
notion Oscar must a'been nipped, too, mebbe a whole lot worse'n me.
Honors are 'bout even, I guess, and if ever I do run across that lad
again I'm meanin' to shake hands with him, jest out o' consideration for
the fox an' geese game us air pilots used to play in the big ruction
over there."

By chance Perk turned his gaze in another direction for he no longer
found any interest in keeping tabs on his late antagonist whose ship was
now growing dim in the distance, having entered among a bunch of fleecy
clouds.

Hardly had Perk turned his head than he gave utterance to a low cry.

"What do I see but another crate humping along this way, an' outen the
no'th in the bargain?" he observed, with ill concealed eagerness in his
tones. "Could it be Oscar, an' the other skunks got 'em a hull fleet o'
airships to carry on their trade o' smugglin' in licker, diamonds an'
Chinks that want to get in this country more'n they do the yeller man's
Paradise? Oh! rats, what'm I thinkin' about--wake up, Gabe Perkiser, an'
use your noodle like it was given to you to handle. To be sure that
second plane is our own bus, with my pal handlin' the stick. An' I guess
Oscar must a glimpsed him headin' this way, which made him reckon this
wasn't the healthiest place in the country for a feller o' his size, so
he skipped out _pronto_. Yep, that's my pal for a cookey, I'd know
his way o' handlin' a ship in a dozen an' as far as I could lamp the
boat."

On the whole he was extremely glad to see Jack returning, although also
pleased to know he had had his little frolic in a miniature battle that
for the brief period of its life had been able to give him a most
delicious thrill.

He watched the oncoming ship grow in size and noted the significant fact
that its approach was so lacking in all the customary racket that
deafens the human ear.

Then presently a hand waved to him, Jack swung around and dropped with a
little splash upon the water--just where Oscar had so recently left
it--to taxi along and pull up close to the camouflaged sloop.



CHAPTER XIV

THE COAST GUARD MEN


Perk made a discovery just then that afforded him more or less
satisfaction. This was the fact that apparently Jack's mission to Tampa
had not been in vain for he could see several heads in the cabin of the
amphibian beside that of his best chum.

"Huh! 'pears like Jack fetched through okay, an' has ferried some guys
back with him to take this stuff off'n our hands," Perk was muttering,
even as Jack started to clamber aboard the sloop, being closely followed
by a couple of determined looking young men.

"Back again, brother," Jack observed, as he clasped the extended hand of
his partner, then, gave a queer grimace upon taking note of the
splintered coaming of the sloop as well as the badly pockmarked
barricade of mahogany logs. "Say, what's all this mean, I want to
know--looks like you might have been mixed up in some sort of rumpus
while I was away!"

Perk grinned and nodded his head cheerfully.

"Had a heap o' fun, old boss, an' got loads o' thrills out o' it. Mebbe
now you noticed some sort o' crate just vanishing among them clouds off
toward the east as you breezed along?"

"Thought I did," came the immediate reply, "but the visibility was
getting poor, and I couldn't be sure it wasn't a buzzard, or even an
eagle ducking in and out. What's it mean, Perk--was he kicking up a mess
around here?"

"You said it, partner, an' his name was sure Oscar--Oscar Gleeb, 'cause
he got mad as hops when I asked him, an' told me that wasn't any o' my
business. But we sure did have a nice hot spell, Oscar'n me."

"Yes, and I reckon now you got your old right ear touched up again,
Perk, for I can see streaks of half-dried blood running down your
cheek."

"Yeah, he nicked me okay, an' if this keeps on much further I'll soon be
taken for the Manassa Mauler, 'cause it'll gimme a cauliflower ear. Who
are these two lads, Jack--look like they might belong to the Coast
Guard."

"Just what they are--meet Tom Cairns and Red McGrath, who have been sent
along with me to take charge of this contraband and hand it over to Mr.
Philip Ridgeway, temporarily in charge of the Treasury Department
interests along the West Coast here, with headquarters in Tampa--this is
the fine pal you heard me speaking about a few times, boys--Gabe
Perkiser, commonly known simply as Perk, a veteran of the big scrap over
in France where he flew one of those sausage observation blimps, and was
later on considered something of an ace in our flying corps."

So Perk gladly shook the hands extended to him, grinned in his genial
fashion, and from that moment on they were as brothers all.

"While we're stretching our legs, after being cooped up in that cramped
cabin for some hours," suggested Jack, whose curiosity had naturally
been aroused by the multitude of signs all around indicative of a warm
session, "suppose you sketch your little adventure for us, Perk. And I
want to say that Oscar was pretty much of a fool if he reckoned on
snatching this boat away from an old fighter like _you_, when you
had a nice new machine-gun to back up your claims."

"Shucks! he showed the right stuff for a scrapper," expostulated the
honest Perk, anxious to give credit where credit was due. "We stopped
the barrage at one point to have a little chin, but unable to agree, we
jest started all over again. An' I kinder guess I must've notched the
critter some, for he hauled off an' skinned the cat by kickin' out. I
was jest tellin' myself it sure turned out to be a good thing he didn't
have any Chinks aboard at the time, 'cause they might've lost the number
o' their mess in the racket--I'm willin' to stop the yeller boys from
crashin' Unc' Sam's gates, but I don't crave the job o' sendin' the poor
dicks along to their worshipped ancestors, not me."

"Well, get a move on you, Perk, and let's have the story of your
fight--did he drop down, and have it out with you on the water; or was
he circling above your head all the while?"

"If you'll take another squint at these bullet marks, old hoss," said
Perk, reproachfully, "you'll see they passed along on the level. Yeah,
he was a square shooter I want to say and some day I'm hopin' me'n Oscar
c'n shake hands, since the war's long past an' German is being taught
again in our public schools."

Then he launched forth in a graphic, if terse, description of the
remarkable battle that had so recently taken place. The others listened
with intense interest, for if Perk did have a way of cutting his
sentences short and never going into lengthy descriptions, nevertheless
he made his points tell, and kept his audience of three breathing fast
with the thrill they received.

"Now let's get a move on," Jack was saying after Perk had finished the
exciting description of his adventure, "and go over all this mess of
cases, so these boys can give us a little document to say how we turned
over that number of boxes to their charge, together with the sloop.
McGrath here used to run the engine of a tug in New York harbor and is
well able to manage this rusty cub here--we found it capable of doing a
day's work, you know Perk, on the way here."

Jack's word was law, since he was in command. Accordingly they started a
systematic check of every case of bottled goods to be found aboard the
confiscated vessel, above and below decks.

"Just an even two hundred and twenty-six," announced Jack, after they
had gone over the entire lot twice with the same result. "I reckon a few
got away aboard that speedboat but they didn't have much time to work
the racket before the hijacker mob swarmed aboard and kicked up that
riot--then along came Perk, with his armful of tear-bombs and broke up
the Boston tea party in great shape. I'll make out a paper for both of
you to sign, after which you can kick-off when you please."

All this was satisfactory to McGrath and his comrade and the paper
having been duly signed, they set about examining the engine so as to
learn whether it could have been injured in any way from the storm of
missiles that came aboard during the hostilities so lately ended.

"The bally old thing seems to be in fairly decent shape for running,"
was McGrath's verdict after the checking had been completed, "and since
we've got some distance to cover before we make Tampa Bay, p'raps we'd
better be shoving off."

"No such big hurry as that, boys," observed Jack. "I'm a bit hungry
myself and reckon you both must be in the same boat. We've got plenty of
grub, and to spare, also Perk here knows a few wrinkles along the
cooking line. Suppose we have some sort of spread to celebrate Perk's
victory."

"Huh! pleases me okay, brother," announced the expectant _chef_.
"I've run across a little rusty kerosene burnin' stove here in what I'd
call the cook's galley, an' we might as well have some hot coffee with
the eats."

As there were no dissenting votes the motion was carried unanimously;
whereupon Perk bustled around and soon had his coffee pot over an
apology for a flame which would, however, answer their purpose.

It was only a simple supper, but with good appetites to back them, every
one of the quartette declared it was great and would long be remembered.

Then the mess of saw palmetto leaves and other stuff utilized for
camouflage purposes was cast overboard after which McGrath "fiddled"
with the engine and soon had it running, limp and all, for its misses
were plentiful, although the engineer allowed there did not seem to be
anything fundamentally wrong.

"If we have fair luck," he announced, confidently, "we ought to fetch
our Tampa dock, where all prizes are tied-up, before morning comes
along. On the other hand, if we break down we'll either hang on to the
sloop, or if luck runs against us, sink her, after smashing every bottle
aboard."

"Good enough, Red," Jack told him as they shook hands for the last time.
"I hope we run across you boys again some day, and please keep your lip
buttoned about our being down here with an amphibian to knock some of
these smugglers of Chinks and rum galley-west."

"You can depend on us to keep mum, Jack," the red-headed ex-harbor tug
engineer assured him.

So the last line was cast off, Jack and Perk retired to their own ship,
and with many a wheeze and complaint the sloop started to pass out to
the open gulf, and commence the night journey to Tampa Bay.



CHAPTER XV

WITH THE COMING OF THE MOON


"Wall," Perk was remarking as the sloop passed beyond range of their
vision amidst the gathering shades of night, already drawing her sable
curtains close, "I hopes they get through without runnin' smack against
a bunch o' the racketeers."

"With fair luck they ought to manage to slip along," Jack went on to
observe, confidently. "You heard me warn them to keep a watchful eye out
for smugglers and hijackers by land and sea and air? Anyway we've
finished our part of the job and this paper proves that our find was all
I cracked it up to be when I talked with Mr. Ridgeway."

"Course, you knocked up against the gent then, eh Jack?"

"Sure, or I shouldn't have been able to fetch those lads back with me to
take over the sloop and contraband cargo," the other told him. "But I
was in a tail spin at first when I learned that Mr. Ridgeway had gone
down to St. Pete to interview some people who had reasons for not
wanting to be seen going into his Government offices in Tampa. But I got
his address and jumped my boat, slipped down Tampa Bay, and pulled in at
the long municipal pier at St. Petersburg."

"I first hired a dependable man to keep watch over my ship while I was
off hunting my superior officer but I found him after a bit and he was
sure glad to see me, shook hands like a good sport, and asked me a bunch
of questions before starting to tell me what important fresh news he had
picked up through his agents working the spy game for all it was worth."

"Was he tickled to learn how we managed to run off with that slick
little sloop that carried so neat a pack o' cases marked with foreign
stamps?"

"Seemed to be," came the ready answer. "He isn't a man of many words,
you know, Perk, but what he says he means. He told me they were banking
on the pair of us to bring the high-hat chaps at the head of this
smuggler league to the bar, with plenty of evidence that would convict
them, no matter how many big lawyers they employed to beat the case."

"That sounds all to the good with me, old hoss," snapped the pleased
Perk. "'Taint often we get half the praise that's comin' to us--not that
I care a whiff 'bout that, though--satisfied to do my duty by Unc' Sam,
an' let them high-ups have the main credit. But I guess we'll get some
kick out o' the game just the same an' that's worth all it costs us.
Tell me, did this Mr. Ridgeway fork over any news worth knowin'?"

"He did," the other assured him. "I showed him those papers I found
hidden in the cabin of the sloop, with a fine list of names, such as
would cover customers who'd ordered the stuff they had aboard and he
reckoned that several of them might point to the heads of the combine
swinging the big smuggling deal."

"That would be a clue worth while, I'd say," Perk asserted warmly, his
eyes flashing with renewed zeal as though he might be telling himself
they must be getting on a pretty warm scent which would soon lead them
to the party they sought above every one else--the capitalist whose word
was _law_, and whose money purchased all the supplies, from liquor
and vessels to aircraft and everything else needful for carrying on
their business of swindling the Government through the Treasury
Department.

Just as he always did in forestalling any likely move when an important
case was placed in the hands of himself and Jack, Perk was already
engaged in mentally spreading the net destined to gather in the chief
culprits--the outlook promised a multitude of warm episodes calculated
to stir the blood to fever heat and afford him the wild excitement
without which life lost much of its charm--in his eyes at least.

The pulsating throb of the old engine aboard the sloop had long since
ceased to make itself heard, so that they could with reason believe
McGrath and his pal well on the way to their distant goal, with no sign
of stormy weather to be seen in the southwestern heavens.

"How 'bout spendin' the night here, partner?" Perk queried, as he sat
contentedly smoking his favorite pipe after the manner of a man who had
good reason to congratulate himself on the close of a perfect day.

"I was just thinking that over, Perk. We might be in a worse situation
than this, if locality was all that mattered. I don't believe the
'gators would keep us awake with their splashing and roaring along
towards early morning, but then I'm a bit bothered thinking of the man
who skipped out after having his little machine-gun duel with you."

"You're jest crampin' my style when you say that, partner," complained
Perk. "That Oscar happens to be a German, we both know, an' from what I
learned about the breed when over there, they're some obstinate, once
they get workin' in a game--hate to give it up wuss'n pizen."

"I see you're of the same opinion as myself, buddy," Jack remarked,
nodding his head. "You reckon there might be some chance for him to pick
up a bunch of his mates and swing back here to do a little bombing on
his own account. Well, we're not hankering to try our own medicine, not
if we know it, and on that account I think we'd be wise to pull out of
this and find a new refuge--perhaps on some lake back from the coast
where we might pick up something interesting in our line."

"Je-ru-salem crickets! I kinder guess now you've got somethin' danglin'
back o' them words old hoss," broke out the newly interested Perk,
showing considerable animation. He was used to most of Jack's habits and
could in many instances tell that something lay hidden back of his
word--something of a character to promise great happenings when followed
to a finish.

That seemingly casual mention of a freshwater lake was not made without
some deep meaning--Jack must have been told something very important by
the Government official with whom he had gone into conference at Tampa
and this was his sly way of starting Perk's wits to working overtime in
the endeavor to figure things out.

"Wait and see what's in the wind, Perk," said the head pilot, with a
chuckle. "I promise to let you into all I know or suspect before a great
while passes. Just now I'll own up this scheme of slipping over to a
certain sheet of fresh water for a change of base has a meaning that
connects with our big game of Blind Man's Buff."

This seemed to square things with Perk, for he beamed as though pleased.
Whatever Jack decided was always all right in his eyes because he felt
certain that the bright mind of his comrade just could not make a
blunder.

"When do we hop-off, then?" he said.

"Oh, when the moon shows up will be plenty of time," came the ready
answer. "Our objective isn't so very far distant and you know we can
make a hundred miles an hour if necessary. I'd like to pick up a bit of
my lost sleep while we wait, unless you object to standing sentry."

"Not me, matey, I managed to snooze some during the time you were away.
Lucky I had everything fixed for company and wasn't caught nappin' when
our friend Oscar tipped his hat an' made his bow. Now I was wonderin' if
he had that ole quick-firin' gun away back when he was riddlin' things
along in the Argonne--wouldn't it be a queer thing if true? He knew how
to rattle that cantankerous bus to beat the band an' he did nick me in
that silly o' ear o' mine that keeps on gettin' in the way every time I
have a little spat with a sassy guy."

Perk insisted on his chum making himself as comfortable as possible,
considering the cramped quarters they occupied in the cluttered cabin of
their ship, which continued to keep up a soothing movement with the
successive waves that worked in from the open gulf inclining a sleepy
person to slumber.

"I'll jest sit here an' ruminate while I consume my tobacco," announced
the accommodating Perk, making light of his job. "Once in so often I'll
take a look skyward with the glasses, so's to know if there's any chance
o' Oscar comin' back here to try it all over again. When the moon peeps
up in the east yonder I'll put a hand on your arm, so's to let you know
it's near time. Go to it, partner--do your stuff."

Jack was feeling pretty tired, since he had enjoyed mighty little decent
sleep from one cause or another during the last few nights. It was not
at all surprising, therefore, that he should be in slumberland before
five minutes passed after he and Perk had exchanged the last word.

The self-posted sentinel did just as he had promised, every little while
he would quietly stand up and with the glasses take a keen observation,
covering the blue vault above from one horizon to another, then, finding
all serene, he would silently resume his seat, with only a sigh to
indicate how he felt. Once more he filled his everlasting pipe, began to
puff delightedly, and finally lay back in a half reclining position to
smoke it out.

He was a great hand at ruminating, as he called it--allowing his
thoughts to travel back to events that may have occurred months, and
even years before, but which had been of such a nature as to fix
themselves in his memory most tenaciously. This afforded him solid
enjoyment, together with the charm of his adored pipe and he asked for
nothing better.

Thus an hour, two of them, and more passed, with nothing out-of-the-way
taking place to attract his attention. He figured that if the pilot of
the Curtiss-Robin crate intended to come back that night, he was subject
to some sort of delay.

There was frequent splashing in the lagoon near by--at times Perk could
tell it must be caused by jumping mullet, but on other occasions the
sound being many times exaggerated, he reckoned it had been made by an
alligator plunging off a log into the water, either alarmed by some
sound further off, or else possessed of a desire to enter a secret
underwater den he laid claim to. This would probably have a second
entrance, or exit, up on some hummock that Perk had failed to discover
when poking around on the preceding day hunting green stuff with which
to conceal the deck of the sloop.

Suddenly Perk noticed a slim streak of pale light fall athwart the
propeller blade just before him and looking hastily up discovered the
smiling face of the moon--a bit battered it is true, for the silvery
queen of night was just then on the wane.

It was high time they were moving and making for the goal Jack had
mentioned as an inland lake, though at no time did he give the name by
which it was known to the settlers and tourists who flocked to Florida
during the late Fall and early Winter. So he touched Jack on the
shoulder, just he he had promised he would do, nor did he have to give
the slightest shake for the other stirred and raised his head, showing
he was wide awake.



CHAPTER XVI

THE LOCKHEED-VEGA FLYING SHIP


"Moon coming up, partner!" was all Perk said.

"Then it's time we were moving," Jack told him as he started to stretch
his cramped arms and yawn. "Feel a heap better now after that little nap
and ready for what's coming."

They did not have much to do, since everything was in perfect condition
for hopping-off--trust Jack for that, with his slogan of "be prepared."

"All set, Perk?" asked the pilot, presently.

"Shoot!" was the terse answer.

The bright moon would have to take the place of the customary equipment
of a landing field in the way of guidelights, markers, and
search-lights, but there was no necessity for so much light with the
channel before him along which he could taxi unerringly, until, arriving
at the point where the great gulf stretched out toward the western
horizon, the speed must be advanced for the take-off.

Now they were free from the mangroves and Jack accelerated the pace of
his ship accordingly--two twin foam-crested waves rolled out from the
pontoons as they sped along until, testing things, Jack found that his
charge was impatient to leave the water and leap upward into space.

Perk looked backward toward the scene of his amazing afternoon
battle--how many times in the future would the picture rise in his
memory to haunt him and bring that quizzical grin to his face.

With the newly risen moon gilding the small waves of the gulf below
them, the picture looked most peaceful. Perk, although not much inclined
to romance, could not but admire the spectacle after his own rude
fashion while Jack fairly drank it in as he continued to pay attention
to his manifold duties.

Their course was almost due north, Jack keeping out a score or more of
miles from the coast, having reasons of his own for so doing--perhaps he
found the wind more favorable out there and this is always an important
factor in the calculations of a pilot of experience. Just as in the
earlier days of ocean steamers when they were also equipped with masts
and sails, the latter were always hoisted when the wind favored, since
this helped them make progress and saved coal at the same time.

They had been booming along for something like half an hour when
watchful Perk, the observer, made a discovery worth while he believed.
He communicated with his companion, the useful earphones chancing to be
in place--trust Perk for that.

"Somethin' doin' out there to the west, partner--look up to a higher
ceilin' an' you'll see it. Headin' to cross over our trail in the
bargain, I guess."

"A crate, all right," commented Jack, whose quick eyesight had
immediately picked up the moving object.

"Looks like it might a come all the way across the gulf--d'ye think from
some Mexican port, Jack?"

"Like as not," assented the other. "These crooks make a start from any
one of a score of jumping-off places, but always with a specified
landing field ahead."

"Then you figger," continued Perk, "he might be one o' the gang,
fetchin' Chinks across or mebbe precious stones, bought in Paris, and
shipped to Mexico on the way to New York, eh, partner?"

"Chances are three to one that's what it means," Jack told him.

Perk continued to wield his important binoculars and presently, when the
lofty plane was passing over, he stated his opinion.

"'Taint _him_, anyway, that's dead sure, Jack, I guess I ought to
know a Lockheed-Vega crate, no matter how far away, or by what tricky
moonlight either, 'cause you see I used to run one o' that breed for
nearly a year when I took a whirl at the air-mail business up north out
o' Chicago till I had a bad crash an' quit cold."

"That settles it then, partner," said the pilot, still observing the
speck swinging past out of the tail of his eye. "I hadn't any idea it
could be the same chap you had your little picnic with some hours back,
for you told me he'd blown off toward the east."

"Jest what he did," replied the observer. "Ginger pop! but what wouldn't
I give right now to know jest whar that galoot was meanin' to drop down,
once he gets over the land. How 'bout that, old hoss?"

"It might help out considerable," admitted Jack although not as much
interested as Perk considered he might be. "We'll sift things out in
good time, and for all we know, run across a few surprises in the
bargain."

Perk studied that last part for a minute, feeling almost certain Jack
had some deep meaning back of his words, but it proved too much for his
capacity in the line of figuring out mysteries, and so he dropped it
"like a hot potato," as he told himself.

The mysterious air voyager had by now disappeared entirely, although
they might still have caught the throbbing of his madly working motor
had it not been for their own engine kicking up so much racket, Jack not
being inclined to make use of the capable silencer just then.

Perk had made up his mind that the unknown aviator, even if other than
Oscar Gleeb, was undoubtedly working the same profitable line of
business as the pilot of the Curtiss-Robin ship. So, too, Perk
considered it worth while to try and figure out the exact course of the
high flyer as he was probably making directly for his intended goal and
this knowledge was likely to prove useful to them later on.

This he was able to accomplish. Working mental problems come easily to
one who has played the part of a navigator aboard a modern galleon of
the clouds.

"Huh!" grunted Perk after figuring out his problem twice and both times
reaching the same conclusion, "the guy's really striking in to mighty
near the same point Jack's meanin' to make and mebee now our lines might
cross if we both kept on goin' long enough."

He studied this matter for some time, wondering if Jack also realized
the fact and had kept silent about it for good and sufficient reasons.

It afforded the ambitious Perk considerable satisfaction to hug the idea
to his heart that possibly the chance might be given Jack and himself to
locate some of these land stations where all this flagrant smuggling
business was going on--the prospect of their's being the force to deal
the outlaw organization a killing blow brought in its train the thrill
he loved so well.

Then came the moment when Jack banked and changed his course radically,
heading directly into the east where lay the peninsula of Ponce de Leon,
seeker after the Spring of Eternal Youth, and finding instead, a land of
flowers.

Perk knew what this evidently meant--that Jack had flown far enough up
the west coast and was now bent on making for that inland sheet of fresh
water he had mentioned to his comrade as a likely place for them to drop
down and pass the balance of the night.

The uncertainty was keeping Perk keyed up to a high tension--something
told him in no uncertain tones that Jack had a vastly more important
reason for attaining that lake than the mere desire to avoid attracting
attention--just what it might mean he could not guess, for when he
attempted to solve the enigma he found himself floundering in a
shoreless sea of doubt and uncertainty that was baffling, to say the
least.

Perk was mumbling to himself as if he might be on the verge of reaching
some sort of decision. He bent forward several times as if about to make
an important remark and on each occasion drew back, as though he could
hardly decide how to approach the matter he had in his mind. Then he
would chuckle, as if it might have its humorous side as well as a
serious one.

Already had they reached a point where he could easily see the shore
several thousand feet below and now Jack was sliding down as if bent on
striking a ceiling that would be only a few hundred feet above the
palmetto fringe Perk could distinguish running along the coast.

It seemed a fitting time for him to give Jack the start he contemplated
and so, summoning his courage, Perk began to talk in as unconcerned a
tone as possible.

"Partner, would you mind tellin' me what about this here Oswald Kearns?"



CHAPTER XVII

OKEECHOBEE THE MYSTERIOUS


"Say that again, Perk!" demanded the startled pilot, as though that
apparently innocent question had given him a severe jolt.

"Oswald Kearns--kinder queer name, I kinder guess now, an' I'm wonderin'
if I ever heard it before--that's all, Jack."

The pilot was busy with his work in handling the ship and therefore
debarred from turning his head to look at his companion but at least he
could put the astonishment he felt into words.

"So--you think that's a queer name, do you? Well, I'm asking you again,
where did you ever run across it--who ever spoke it in your hearing,
Perk?"

"Why--er, guess it was on'y _you_, partner," came the hesitating
reply.

"You don't say?" gasped Jack, tremendously excited, "please tell me when
that happened because I don't remember doing such a thing, though I
meant to carry out our partnership arrangement this very night when we
had settled down and could have a nice quiet confab--go on, though, and
say when I lifted the lid, and let you into this part of our big game,
Perk."

"Huh! you talked in your sleep some, old hoss--first time ever I knew
you to do sech a thing--said that name exactly three times, like it
meant a heap in the bargain."

"You mean _tonight_ while I was picking up a few winks of sleep--is
that a fact, Perk?"

"Sure thing, boss--course I knew somethin' must be pesterin' you like
all get-out, so I made up my mind to ask you who that Oswald might be
an' what we'd got to do with such a critter."

Then Jack laughed as the humorous side of his recent thrill had begun to
grip him.

"Well, well, seems like I'll soon have to put a padlock on my lips after
this when I hit the hay. It's a serious offence for a fellow in
_our_ profession to give away his secrets like that! Never knew
myself to be guilty of babbling that way before. Lucky you were the only
one to hear me give the game away so recklessly. The joke is on me,
partner."

"But say, Jack, whoever is this Kearns guy anyhow--I sure never heard
his name before tonight an' I kinder got the idee in my head he must be
some big-wig you ran up against when in Washington--somebody who had the
orderin' around o' poor dicks like me'nd you."

"That's a far guess, brother," Jack told him, "for the fact of the
matter is, this Oswald Kearns happens to be a certain party just now
under suspicion as being the king-pin of these smugglers who're giving
Uncle Sam a run for his money down along this gulf coast!"

Perk took it with a little break, as though the information fairly
staggered him, but he was quickly back again at his fly-casting--seeking
information at the fount in which he had so much faith.

"You sent me into a reg'lar tail spin that time, Jack, but after tellin'
me so much, it'd be right cruel to keep me a'guessin' any longer."

"I don't mean to keep you in the dark after this, Perk," he was told in
jerky, broken sentences, as though Jack found it difficult to talk and
pay the proper attention to what he was doing, for the amphibian had
again commenced a steep dive, seeking a much lower altitude. "There are
too many things connected with the story to try and spin it now--just
hold your horses till we settle down on that lake, and you'll get
it--all I know, or suspect, anyhow. Just now I can only tell you that
this Kearns is a most remarkable personage, a baffling mystery to the
Department who's outsmarted the whole Service and played his game of
hide-and-seek before their very eyes--nobody so far has been able to
pick up a shred of positive evidence that would convict him.

"Gosh, amighty, we're flyin' high, buddy!" was what Perk exclaimed and
immediately his wits went into a huddle. He must get busy and figure
things out, just as football teams do when a change in signals becomes
essential.

They had been passing over the land for some little time and still Jack
kept heading almost directly into the northeast. He knew just where he
expected to make his goal, due to a close application to his charts and
maps of the Florida region.

Debarred from fishing for information while the flight was on, Perk was
forced to seek consolation in making good use of his binoculars,
sweeping the heavens for signs of other suspicious planes or endeavoring
to make out the character of the terrain over which they were speeding.

Occasionally he managed to discover some tiny light and this gave him an
opportunity to speculate as to its meaning--if isolated he concluded it
must either be a campfire made by alligator hunters, or a street light
in some small hamlet, such as he imagined might be found in this almost
wild section of lower Florida where the Everglades with their eternal
water kept settlers from picking out locations for starting truck
patches or citrus groves--all of which would probably be vastly changed
when the great reclamation plans for draining had been fully carried
out.

He often felt certain he glimpsed water below and had enough knowledge
of the country to understand what that would mean.

"Wonder jest how long he means to keep this up," Perk was saying to
himself when the better part of an hour had passed since they left the
open gulf behind, "huh! by this time we must a'gone more'n sixty miles
an' say, in places the hull State ain't more'n a hundred across from the
Atlantic Ocean to the Mex. Gulf. Whoopee! could it mean he's aimin' to
strike that terrible, big lake--Okeechobee--that overflowed its banks
not long ago when they had that nasty hurricane and drowned a wheen o'
poor folks around Moore Haven? Gee whiz! it's got me a'guessin' but then
Jack knows what he's tryin' to do, an' I'm goin' to leave it all up to
him to settle."

Somehow this suggestion appealed to Perk as being quite in line with the
magnitude of their tremendous task--it was only appropriate to have the
scene of their coming operations the biggest freshwater lake by long
odds in the entire State, barring none--it would have been what Perk
might term as "small pertatoes, an' few in a hill," to have such a
wizard of an operator as Oswald Kearns pick out an ordinary body of
water, say of a mile in diameter, as his secret headquarters where he
could continue to keep his whereabouts unknown to the Government revenue
men.

Lake Okeechobee--well, that certainly offered some scope for any display
of their own cleverness in finding the proofs they so yearned to possess
in rounding up the "cantankerous varmint," as Perk was already calling
Kearns in his Yankee vernacular.

It could not be much longer delayed, Perk assured his eager self--less
than another hour of this sort of work would take them entirely across
the peninsula, and cause the plane to fetch up somewhere along the
Atlantic coast between Miami and Palm Beach. Much as Perk would like to
set eyes upon those two opulent Southern winter resorts in the midst of
their splendor, he felt that such a thing would hardly be proper under
the conditions by which their visit would have to be governed--small
chance for anything bordering on secrecy to be carried out in such a
region of sport seeking and excitement day after day.

Ah! it must be coming closer now, he decided on noting how, far below
the plane, he could make out what looked like a vast sea with little
wavelets glimmering in the light of the moon--assuredly that must indeed
be the lonely lake, long known as the home of mystery, Okeechobee, the
mightiest stretch of fresh water in the whole country of the South.

Jack was passing up along the western shore line as though his plan of
campaign called for a descent in some obscure quarter where they could
find a hideout in which to park their aircraft while they pursued their
urgent call ashore.

Not the faintest gleam of light anywhere proved that settlers were
indeed few and far between and this fact would also explain just why
Oswald Kearns, wishing for secrecy and isolation, had selected this
region as best suited to his purpose.

Now Jack was dropping steadily, his silencer in full play--it was time
for Perk to get busy and through the use of his marine night glasses
keep his pilot posted regarding what lay below them.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE MASTER CROOK


One thing Perk noticed with more or less satisfaction as they drew
closer to the surface of the water was the fact that quite a stiff
breeze seemed to be blowing out of the north. The waves were running up
along the shore with considerable vigor and noise while the dead leaves
hanging from the palmetto trees fringing the bank above the meagre beach
kept up a loud rustling, such as would effectually drown any ordinary
splash made by the contact of their pontoons with the surface of the
lake.

Conditions could hardly have been more favorable for an undetected
landing--the time was late, so that it hardly seemed as though any one
would be abroad, the moon kept dodging behind successive clumps of dark
clouds that had swept up from the southwest and everything seemed to be
arranged just as Jack would have wished.

Perk had received instructions from his mate to keep on the watch for
certain landmarks that would serve to tell them they were not far
distant from their intended location. When in due time he made out the
wooded point that jutted out so commandingly from the mainland and had
communicated that fact to the pilot, Jack turned the nose of his craft
sharply downward, proving that the decisive moment was at hand.

Noted for his ability to carry through a delicate landing, Jack
certainly never did a prettier drop into a body of water, fresh or salt,
with less disturbance than on this momentous occasion, and they were
soon riding like a wild duck, just within sight of the shore.

There were no signs of anything stirring along the waterfront, Perk
observed, and yet if his suspicions were correct, there must have been
considerable activity around that same spot, with a ship coming in laden
with stupefied Chinamen, terrified by making such a trip from Cuba or
some Mexican port in a "flying devil" that could soar up among the very
clouds and span the widest of angry seas--perhaps on the other hand the
incoming aircraft would bring a cargo of precious cases, each almost
worth its weight in silver or maybe the skipper would carry a small
packet in his pocket that might contain a duke's ransom in diamonds that
would never pay custom duties to the Government.

No wonder then Perk was thrilled to the core with the sense of mystery
that brooded over this most peculiar locality--to him it already assumed
a condition bordering on some of those miraculous things he could
remember once reading in his boyhood's favorite book "The Arabian
Night's Entertainment," the glamour of which had never entirely left
him.

But already Jack was casting about, as though eager to find some place
of concealment where they could stow the ship away and so prevent prying
eyes from making a disastrous discovery--disastrous at least to those
plans upon which Jack was depending for the successful outcome of his
dangerous mission.

"We've got to taxi up the shore a mile or so," he was telling Perk in
the softest manner possible, although the noise made by the rolling
waves and the clashing dead palmetto leaves dangling from the lofty
crowns of the numerous trees would have deadened voices raised even to
their natural pitch.

"So," was all Perk allowed himself to say, but it testified to his
understanding of the policy involved in Jack's general scheme of things.

This was done as quietly as the conditions allowed, and how fortunate it
was they had held off from crossing over from the gulf until the middle
of the night--but then it might be expected that Jack would consider all
such things in laying out his movements.

In the end they managed to get the amphibian between two jutting banks
where the vegetation was so dense that there was no chance of a trail or
road passing that way. In the early morning Jack planned to once again
conceal his ship, even as the captured sloop had been camouflaged by
Perk's clever use of green stuff.

"That part of the job's done and without any slip-up," Jack was saying,
vastly relieved, "and now we can take things easy for a spell, during
which time I'll try and post you as far as I can about this queer fish,
Oswald Kearns, and what they've begun to suspect he's been doing all
this while."

"In the first place he's about as wealthy as any one would want to be,
so the reason for his playing this game doesn't lie back of a desire to
accumulate money. Some say he must have run afoul of the customs service
in the days when he hadn't fallen heir to his fortune and all this is
just spite work to get even--a crazy idea, but there may be a germ of
truth in it after all."

"He has a wonderful place not far out of Miami--they all say it's a
regular palace, where he entertains lavishly and yet not at any time
have they known of a raid staged on his castle, as some call the
rambling stone building that shelters a curio collection equal to any in
the art museums of New York City."

"Every little while Oswald Kearns disappears and no one seems to know
his whereabouts--some guess he's fond of tarpon fishing and goes out
with a pal to indulge in the sport, his destination being kept secret so
that the common herd can't swarm about the fishing grounds and annoy
him; then another lot say he is not the bachelor he makes out, but has a
little cozy home somewhere else with a wife who detests society and
that's where he goes when away from the Miami paradise."

"Both of these guesses are wide of the truth--what they told me up at
the Treasury Department set me thinking and I found some papers aboard
that sloop we captured that opened up a startling line of action that
might be unbelievable if it were any other man than the eccentric Oswald
Kearns."

"By the way, Perk, after I'd committed the contents of those papers to
memory I sent them by registered mail to Headquarters because, you see,
something might happen to us before we get to the end of this journey
and I reckoned the Department would like to be able to take advantage of
our discoveries."

"You did jest right there, partner," Perk told him--he was sitting there
drinking it all in with the utmost eagerness. "It sure would be a pity
if we kicked off an' Uncle Sam couldn't profit by what work we'd done.
But what you've already told me 'bout this here queer guy gets my goat,
like as not there never was a feller as full o' kinks as he is."

"I'm pretty certain of that, partner," Jack assured him, "there's no
doubt about his having been gassed in the war and that might account for
his actions--he's dippy along certain lines and he finds this way of
defying the Government gives him the one big thrill he wants. It's
almost incredible, I own up, but I believe we're going to prove it
before we quit.

"Some men you know find this excitement in driving a speeding car along
the beach up at Daytona at a hundred miles and more an hour, others go
out and hunt tigers in India, lions and elephants in wildest Africa, but
with this wealthy sportsman the craze takes the form of snapping his
fingers in contempt at Uncle Sam's Coast Guard and all the revenue men
in Florida.

"I was a bit skeptical at first, it all seemed so silly, such a whimsey
for a rich man to fancy--taking such big risks just for the thrill he
got--but the more I picked up about the man the less inclined I became
to doubt, and by now I'm convinced it is the truth."

"But what makes him keep all this smuggling business clear of this
wonderful show place near Miami?" asked Perk, apparently still groping
as though in a daze.

"Just wants to be living his double life," explained Jack, "with one
line never crossing the other--you might call it a Jekyll and Hyde sort
of an existence. But the truth will come out in broad daylight if ever
we _do_ round him up and catch him with the goods."

"Er--'bout how long will we be in makin' some sort o' start, boss?"
asked Perk anxiously.

"We may have to stick around here for some days while we do a little spy
work and lay our net," Jack told him. "A great deal depends on, how the
land lies and what success we strike in making our approach--you know
how it is with all golfers--approach means a whole lot to them. But if
we have the good fortune to nab our man after making certain we have
plenty of convincing evidence to be used against him, why there's our
boat ready to spirit him away before his gang can forcibly take him off
our hands."



CHAPTER XIX

THE SCENT GROWS WARMER


It all seemed so simple, as Jack put it, that Perk felt everything was
bound to come their way eventually if not just then. All the same his
sound common sense told him there was apt to be some pretty lively times
in store for them before the end they sought had been obtained.

He had the feeling of one who had been fed up on thrilling details and
figured on having a great volume of tragic possibilities to mull over in
his customary fashion--for all the world, as Jack often told him, like a
cow chewing her cud.

Realizing that Jack had now posted him thoroughly, Perk managed to curb
his curiosity besides, the chances were his pal would be likely to frown
on anything approaching garrulity.

Several hours passed and most of this time they spent taking short naps
in order to keep in condition for anything that might crop up. Then came
the dawn, to find Perk pawing over his haversack in which he had food
stowed away, with which he calculated to meet any "hold-over" that might
come along.

That dawn was a wonderful one, especially for those unaccustomed to what
Florida could offer in the way of sunrises. Even while the pair partook
of their limited breakfast, they kept an eye on the amazingly delicate
shades of color that marked the approach of the sun above the eastern
horizon.

But they had work ahead and could not waste time by lingering over the
early morning meal. In order to lessen the chances of discovery it would
be necessary for them to conceal the ship from spying eyes and with his
former effectual result in camouflage as a sample of how it could best
be accomplished, Perk took it upon himself to repeat the operation.

They had aboard the amphibian a cleverly arranged collapsible canvas
boat that could be launched in short order and was to be propelled by
means of a short but serviceable paddle. While up in Canada with the
Mounties, Perk had become quite proficient in the use of a paddle and
also in balancing by sheer instinct while in a tipsy little canoe.

Accordingly he convinced his chum that since both of them could hardly
expect to occupy the small shallop and carry any quantity of greens, it
was up to him, Perk, to put the job through in good shape. Jack could be
checking up his motor and taking a survey of the boat so as to make
certain it was in serviceable condition.

"Cause you know, partner," Perk went on solemnly, "when we _do_
want to skip out it's bound to be in a hoppin' hurry an' there'd be no
time to look her over then, by jiminy. Jest lie around an' take things
easy-like--your work is a'goin to be mostly with the brain, while I'm
the lad to use the muscle."

Jack felt that since the canoe was so diminutive, Perk's logic was
unanswerable, so he agreed to the division of labor.

"Only, if it turns out that the job's a bigger one than you reckon on,
buddy, you'll let me take a whirl at it," he suggested, to which the
other simply grinned and nodded his head.

The work went on steadily and Perk eventually had every part of the
amphibian covered with deceptive green stuff, well calculated to
hoodwink any air pilot passing directly over the spot.

This accomplished, he was ready to call it a day and drop down close to
Jack for a resting spell. When they talked it was in low tones, almost
bordering on whispers, for Jack took no chances of some enemy being
within gunshot range of their hideout, whose ears would be likely to
catch the sound of ordinary voices.

Jack, observing what his chum had accomplished, felt compelled to give
the artist his meed of commendation.

"You sure made a fine job of smothering things with all this stuff,
Perk," he told him, which was music in the other's ears, since he would
rather have Jack praise him than any one he knew. "No easy thing to hide
these stretched-out wings and the fuselage, too, as well as the shiny
parts of the crate--motor, propeller, and such, but _you_ fixed it
to beat the band."

"Can that sort o' talk, partner--it was a soft job an' anybody with
sense could a'done it as good as yours truly. Goin' to be a sure enough
long day, 'cordin' to my way o' lookin' at it."

"Oh! nothing like having a little patience," commented Jack calmly, for
he seldom showed signs of being in a hurry. "Men in our line of business
must learn to just hang on and wait for the proper minute to strike the
hook home in the fish's jaw."

"Yeah, an' then hang on some more, after they git the barb well hooked,
with the game fish kickin' up an awful row," chuckled Perk. "Huh! don't
I know how impatience is my besettin' sin and ain't I always a'tryin' to
curb it? That's why I'm crazy to work in double harness with you,
brother, 'cause you hold me in when I feel like spreadin' myself
brashly. Guess I know when I'm well off. Time to take another spin in
dreamland, seems like," with which remark Perk assumed as easy a
position as the crowded cabin of the ship admitted, closed his eyes, and
so far as Jack could tell from his regular breathing was asleep.

It was indeed a long morning for them both.

Came noon and they again proceeded to enjoy a snack, for appetites have
a habit of growing rampant despite any lack of expenditure in the way of
muscular activity.

"I was jest thinkin," Perk remarked as they chewed their dry food, more
as a duty than because they enjoyed it, "that we might be put on short
rations if we're held up on this here job any great length o' time."

Jack refused to be disturbed by such a possibility.

"Oh! I reckon there isn't much chance of _that_ happening," he said
in his usual optimistic manner. "If things get pretty bad we can make a
foray on the pantry of the shack where our friend puts up when over
here. Knowing that he's fond of his grub, with oceans of the long green
to lay in the best of supplies with, I rather think he keeps a
well-stocked larder at all times. I don't figure on either of us being
starved out while there's a flock of eatables close by," and from the
way in which Perk licked his lips on hearing this said, it was plainly
evident he fully agreed with his pal.

After that wonderful sunrise, which even Perk had called glorious, the
sky clouded up around noon and there were even signs to warn them that
rain might come along by nightfall. The visibility, too, became somewhat
poor which possibly was one reason that influenced Jack to make a
certain decision which Perk heard later on with unbounded pleasure.

"It's getting on my nerves a bit, too, I must confess, Perk," was the
way he started to state his case, "and since there would be small chance
of discovery, thanks to this muggy atmosphere, what's to hinder our
taking a little stroll, keeping a wary eye out for stragglers?"

"I get you, partner," was the eager way Perk snapped him up on the
proposition which exactly tallied with what he himself had been wishing.
"I calculate now it means we c'n move around an' get tabs on this here
hideout o' the gent we're so much in love with, eh, what?"

"Wouldn't do any harm to learn the lay of the land," Jack told him,
"especially since we mean to do most of our snooping under cover of
night. So let's step out and take our little saunter. We know right well
in a general way that the shack must lie down the shore, by that point
jutting out a mile away. Let's hope we'll be able to run across some
kind of trail by following which we'll fetch up as close as we want to
go for the first time. Both of us must make a mental map of everything
we see so as to feel sure of our ground when darkness comes."

"That's the ticket, partner, let's go!"

Perk lost no time in picking up the small hand machine-gun, that could
be used much after the fashion of a long barreled German Luger
quick-firing pistol and when Jack looked dubiously at it his chum
hastened to explain his reason for lugging such a weapon along.

"Huh! the weight don't count with such a husky as me, old hoss an' how
do we know what's goin' to happen before we gets back here? These guys,
I take it, are quick on the trigger and if we got to fight we'd have a
better chance to pull out alive if we carried this little pill-box."

"Oh, well! have it your own way, brother," Jack told him, evidently
impressed with Perk's logic; and so they started forth.



CHAPTER XX

DENIZENS OF THE FLORIDA SWAMPS


After all it was perhaps a wise determination on the part of Jack to
thus take time by the forelock and endeavor to learn the lay of the land
while a fitting opportunity lasted. To start out when darkness lay over
everything, with no knowledge whatever concerning the prospect before
them, would have doubled the chances for some grievous calamity
overtaking them even before they were ready to strike their first blow.

Jack had a pretty strong suspicion they were in the neighborhood of some
stretch of swampland--he was backed in this supposition by several
things--the general low lay of the ground bordering the great lake and
also the fact that snowy white egrets, as well as cranes, flew to and
fro during the early morning, as though they must have a roost not far
away and he had been told that as a rule these gathering places were to
be found in the gloomy depths of a swamp.

If they should chance to lose their way in those dark and dismal swamps
and find themselves mired in the mud holes, they would be in a sorry
fix, and they might even be forced to shout for assistance in order to
save their lives, thus revealing themselves to their enemy, for the
tenacious muck had a tendency to act in the same treacherous fashion as
quicksand, clutching the victim and dragging him down, inch after inch
into its unfathomable depths.

Hardly were they started than one pleasing discovery was made. Just as
Jack had hoped might be the case, a dim trail was struck not far back
from the border of the silent lake, that gave promise of leading them in
the course they planned to go.

Jack made certain that there were no signs of this trail having been
used by human beings--at least in recent times; possibly it may have
originally been an Indian trail in those days when Osceola and his
gallant followers dared defy the powers at Washington and declare open
war upon the few white squatters at that time in the southern portions
of the Florida peninsula. Or, what was more probable still, it might be
only the pathway used for ages by innumerable four-footed denizens of
the swamp,--deer, panthers, raccoons, 'possum, foxes, wildcats and the
like.

It was a meandering trail, evidently following the path of least
resistance for on both sides the shrubbery, together with wild
grape-vines and various other climbers, made a solid barrier that even a
weasel might have found difficult to negotiate.

Presently their road skirted the border of the swamp Jack had felt so
certain could not be far away. Here new and wonderful sights greeted
their eyes and Perk in particular stared with all his might, taking in
the flowers that festooned many of the trees--palmetto, live-oaks, wild
plum, gumbo limbo, and queer looking cypress, with their cumbersome
butts rising several feet from the ooze in which they grew. Most of the
trees were festooned with long trailing banners of gray Spanish moss
that gave them a most unusual appearance.

Since it was Perk's first hand knowledge concerning the looks of a
genuine Southern swamp, he felt justified in making frequent halts in
order to gaze and wonder. Particularly was he impressed with the giant
alligator that had been sunning himself on a half-submerged log and had
slid off with a splash at their approach, also the multitude of water
moccasins to be seen on stumps and other objects, looking most vicious
with their checkered backs and dusty bellies.

"You want to take particular notice of those dirty looking boys," Jack
told him in a low tone, pointing to a bunch of the reptiles as he spoke,
"for they are water moccasins, cowardly enough, but always ready to give
you a sly stab and I've been told they are so poisonous that even if a
man didn't die after being struck, his wound would never heal properly
and his life become a burden to him. Give the critters a wide berth
always, partner."

"Huh! you jest better believe I will, Jack--never did care much for
snakes, even the harmless kinds an' I'd jump three feet in the air when
out West, if ever I heard a locust buzz, thinkin' it must be a rattler.
Me an' the crawlin' breed don't mix, that's what."

Hardly three minutes after Perk had given expression to his dislikes,
Jack caught him by the arm and with a trace of excitement that was
really foreign to his nature, pointed to some object close to the trail
they were following.

"Jeru-salem crickets!" gasped Jack, possibly a bit louder than
discretion would warrant but Jack felt there was some measure of excuse
for his outburst.

There a monstrous diamondback rattlesnake, fully five feet long and as
thick through the body as a good-sized man's thigh, had just raised its
enormous flat head and opened its jaws to display its terrible fangs.
Even as the two stood there and stared, the rattle began to whirr its
deadly warning.

"It's all right, Perk," said Jack soothingly, not certain what the
effect of so dangerous a neighbor might have upon his sensitive pal, "we
can pass him by out of reach. A rattler, unless madly in earnest, never
tries to strike further than his length for he has to get back in his
coil in a hurry, being helpless to defend himself unless curled up."

Jack showed that this was true by passing the spot, with the venomous
reptile only increasing his rattle and drawing back his head. Then Perk
shut his teeth hard and followed suit but it might have been noticed
that he kept to the extreme edge of the narrow trail and had his muscles
all set, as if in readiness to make a mighty spring if he thought the
snake was about to launch his coils forward.

"Whew!" hissed Perk, after he had safely negotiated the peril that lay
in the road, "I'm a'thinkin' what risks we got to run tonight when we
come a'snoopin' 'long this way. Nigh makes my hair curl to figure on
that baby comin' slap up against my leg. Wish now I had my old leather
huntin' leggings with me to ward off them terrible fangs, each one an
inch long, seemed like to me."

"Between us, brother, I myself don't seem to hanker traveling along this
trail after dark, and I mean to carry that small flash of mine, turning
the light on every few seconds for I don't believe it would be noticed.
But they tell me these whoppers are rather scarce around these
sections--there may not be another inside of five miles."

"Glory! I should hope not," said the still trembling Perk, "but I just
can't forget we've got even one here to bother us. If only I dared use
my gun, I'd soon knock spots out o' him, bet you a cookey, Jack."

"Nothing doing, so forget that, partner. On the way back, if he's still
holding the fort, we might get a couple of long, stout poles, and try to
knock him on the head if it can be done with little confusion--he won't
make any noise outside of whirling his rattlebox and we could keep our
lips buttoned tight. Yes, that would be the best way to fix things, I
reckon."

Really Jack was saying this so as to comfort his mate; he realized that
Perk had received a severe shock at sight of the diamondback crawler and
it might affect his desire to do any prowling around after nightfall
which would throw the entire burden of so doing on his, Jack's
shoulders. Besides, there was a fair chance that the snake would have
withdrawn from his self-imposed task of guardian of the swamp trail and
taken himself off to other pastures.

They resumed their forward progress, with Perk keeping a watchful eye
out for other lurking perils--how were they to know but that an angry
bobcat, bent on disputing this invasion of his tangled realm, might make
a sudden spring from some limb of a live oak and land upon their backs
to commence using his keen claws, tearing and stripping and snarling
like a devil, such as these beasts always were reckoned in such sections
of the country as he, Perk, had hunted.

Ten minutes, fifteen, passed then Jack again caught his chum's arm and
with a finger pressed on his own lips to betoken the necessity for
silence, pointed to something ahead that must have just caught his
attention. And Perk, looking, saw a sight that afforded him a sense of
satisfaction both deep and profound.



CHAPTER XXI

THE MYSTERIOUS COQUINA SHACK


"Hot Ziggetty! so _this_ is where he dropped down, is it?" Perk was
muttering in subdued excitement as his astonished eyes fell upon a plane
bobbing on its pontoons in a sheltered little cove, "meet that spruce
Lockheed-Vega bus, partner, that clipped past away over our heads, an'
the woozy pilot never dreamin' our crate was within a hundred miles o'
him. Kinder guess the pirate roost must lie around here somewhere."

"That's a dead sure thing, Perk," whispered Jack, "and chances are it's
hid in the midst of that live-oak clump yonder, where I take it the land
lies high and dry."

"I swan but this is gettin' real excitin' an' suits me okay," breathed
the duly thrilled Perk, who felt there was no longer any reason for
calling things tame.

"By changing our base a bit," suggested Jack almost as equally pleased
over their success as his nervous chum, "we might even be able to get a
squint at the shack, let's try, buddy."

He lost no time in creeping inch by inch along toward the right, having
apparently figured out that such a course would give them a better
all-around opportunity to gratify their curiosity.

It proved to be a wise move for presently they managed to glimpse what
seemed to be the corner of a small cottage, built of coquina rock and
altogether attractive in appearance, proving that the Big Boss never
hesitated to spend money when he could secure results.

"Huh!" gurgled Perk, stretching his neck so as to see better through the
narrow opening that served them as a lookout, "some toney, strikes me,
considerin' the desolate country round-about this section. Must be his
high-hat tastes foller him, no matter where he goes--sorter dude, I'd
call him, partner."

"That may be," agreed Jack, "I understood he ran in that groove but just
the same they say this Kearns is a real he-man an' can put up a warm
scrap when necessary--the dude racket is only a thin veneer hiding the
genuine article. I was warned never to let him get a chance to beat me
to the draw--some call him a rattlesnake, only he lacks that reptile's
honesty in always giving warning when about to strike. Don't forget,
Perk, in dealing with this slick article you've got to be on your guard
every minute of the time."

"Glad you told me that, Jack, I might a'been fooled, an' treated him as
a soft guy. Looky thar, will you, boy--two--three fellers jest swarmed
out o' the shack an' gone into a huddle like they had some sorter game
to set up. Wonder now if one o' the bunch could be _him_!"

"I reckon not, Perk," came in a low tone from Jack, whose head was only
a few inches away from the other's, "none of them answer the description
that was given to me. I even saw a snapshot taken of several society
folks in front o' his Miami castle, with him standing in the center. One
of this lot's the flying man connected with that crate--you can see he's
still wearing his greasy dungarees and has his helmet on his head, like
he expected to be hopping-off any minute now; a second chap is short and
thick, not at all like the one we've come so far to buck up against,
while the third, while tall, looks like a roughneck skipper of a
speedboat."

"Guess you hit the nail on the head, Jack," muttered the convinced Perk,
for they were at some little distance away from the consulting trio, and
their whispers could never have been heard with the dead leaves on
nearby palmetto trees keeping up their harsh clashing when whipped by
the gusts of wind.

Both of the spies must have had a host of speculations passing in review
through their active minds as they lay there watching the conspirators
so earnestly talking and gesticulating. From time to time Jack and his
chum would cast further glances in the quarter where the trim aircraft
lay anchored, bobbing up and down like a restive horse eager to be off.

What did they fetch on their voyage through the upper air lanes, coming
from some unknown port--hardly "case stuff," Jack told himself, since
space aboard the Lockheed-Vega crate would be limited--then it must be
either yellow Chinks trying to crash the gates of the country that
banned some of their race as undesirable aliens, or possibly the winged
courier carried a batch of precious stones from far-away Paris,
forwarded in a round-about, surreptitious way and intended to reach a
ready market in the wealthiest country in the world, of course, without
paying the usual heavy customs duty--which saving alone would likely
reach well into six figures.

The trio seemed to have finished their discussion, whatever its nature
might have been, for they sauntered down to the edge of the water where
the man in the dungarees proceeded to embark by means of a small boat
that he could leave secured to the mooring rope of the amphibian when he
took off.

"Making off to pick up another cargo, I reckon," Jack ventured. "And so
this is where our friend has his secret hideout at such times when he so
mysteriously disappears from his big show place near Miami? Mighty
interesting, I'd call it and the chances are he's been keeping up this
double play racket for many months, perhaps even for years, for he came
to Florida not long after the war, fishing for tarpon down around the
Ten Thousand Islands where we lay concealed lately."

"But what's the big idea, partner?" Perk wanted to know--"why under the
sun does he play both ends o' this queer game--what's the sense o' his
havin' this wee shack in the wilderness when he could carry on his
racket just as well on the eastern shore?"

"Just because he fancies the idea of keeping his two personalities as
far apart as possible, Perk. Uncle Sam's Coast Guards, revenue officers
and even Secret Service men fairly swarm around Miami most of the year
so they'd be apt to make it more or less unpleasant for the elegant
Oswald Kearns in his society functions if he had his pals dodging in and
out of his princely palace. He prefers to drop over here in this
desolate place instead when he has a lot of business to transact. He's a
wonder, all right, in his double line, Perk, and not to be underrated,
understand."

"Seems that way, partner," grumbled the other quickly adding, "there
goes the Lockheed-Vega spinnin' out o' the lagoon to the open lake so's
to get up enough speed for the take-off. Must be somethin' mighty
special to coax that pilot to risk bein' seen in open daylight. So he
used to fish in them passages 'tween the mangrove islands years ago, did
he, Jack?"

"Sure did, and they told me his guide some years ago down there used to
be a notorious smuggler and gulf-stream pirate, no other than Jim
Alderman, right now in the jug over at Fort Lauderdale on the eastern
shore and waiting to get a hempen collar for murdering three law
officers in August two years back. Of course, he hadn't started his real
career of crime when he used to be a guide for Roosevelt, Zane Grey, the
writer, and some other famous sportsmen."

"Do tell," murmured Perk, duly thrilled by what his pal was telling him
concerning one of the most turbulent characters known along the Florida
coasts since those days of old when buccaneers like Blackbeard,
Gasparilla and others of their ilk roamed the subtropical waters and
swarmed aboard such unfortunate Spanish galleons as chance threw their
way.

"I wouldn't be surprised," Jack went on to whisper, "if he goes under
quite another name while over in this hideout and even manages to alter
his looks more or less. He's capable of playing many parts if he's half
as good an actor as I suspect. But we'll be apt to know a heap more
before a great while slips by."

"There he goes, Jack, swingin' off toward the east in the bargain, but
then it's just as easy for a flier to strike across the lower end o'
Florida, if the notion strikes him, day or night. Crates are gettin' to
be a common sight these days down here. I read they expected to have a
full hundred at Miami this very winter, takin' part in a big air derby
that's scheduled to be pulled off."

They watched the other two men walk back and enter the coquina bungalow
and a little later Jack was saying:

"Strikes me we'd better pull up stakes and clear out of this, Perk,
don't forget we've got to pass that rattlesnake cove on the way back,
and for one, I'm not so keen about doing it in pitch darkness."

"Don't get me goofy, partner," whimpered Perk with a shudder. "But hold
on a bit--mebbe now somethin's a'goin' to strike up we'll both be sorter
glad to set eyes on--looky there, old hoss, what do you see?"



CHAPTER XXII

THE MAN OF MANY FACES


A man had come out of the odd-looking shack constructed from the coquina
rock found in different parts of Florida, and formed by insects, science
has decided. Neither Jack nor his companion had ever set eyes on him
before, he was an entirely different personage from the short party and
the longer-limbed man they had so lately been watching before the
reckless pilot of the Lockheed-Vega plane departed toward the east.

This individual was also tall and was dressed in well-worn outing
garments that gave him the appearance of a man of leisure taking a day
off.

"Think that's this here Kearns, partner?" whispered Perk, eagerly.

"Just who it must be, Perk," came the cautious reply. "Be careful about
making any sort of little move that might catch his attention, and keep
your eyes fastened on him. Whatever under the sun is he doing, I
wonder?"

"Looks to me he's got some sorter bird there--I c'n see red
feathers--yep, that's what it is for a fact, Jack!"

"Working over a bird with red feathers," said Jack, as if to himself, so
low was his voice. "Now, that makes me remember something I was told
only a short time back--something connected with that wonderful place he
owns over on the East Coast--about birds too--stuffed birds, in fact!"

"Do you mean he's got a collection there, Jack?" breathed the intently
watching assistant in his companion's ear.

"Just that," came the ready reply, "a mighty fine collection too, from
all accounts, of native Florida birds and filling a number of glass
cases. We already know this party is a man of contradictory habits,
being one thing among society people and just the opposite when he gets
in a different atmosphere. Chances are he's a pretty fine amateur
taxidermist--those birds have all been secured by himself and mounted in
the bargain--that when he drops out of sight around Miami it's to come
over here to do some hunting in the swamps and the Everglades, eager to
run across some rare bird that he needs to make his collection
complete."

"Now wouldn't that jar you?" he gasped, vastly astonished at hearing
Jack air his conviction.

"I'm not much of an authority on rare birds," Jack admitted softly as he
continued to use his eyes to advantage, "but I've got a hunch that skin
he's handling right now might be a roseate spoonbill--I'm sure it isn't
a red ibis, for the bill seems different."

"Whee! sounds queer to me, I must say Jack--such a man, such a man--to
play so many different parts! Say, d'ye know I kinder guess he ain't
such a tough guy under all the varnish--must have a heap o' human natur'
under it all to fall for such a decent game as taxidecentry or whatever
you call this pluggin' dead birds an' makin' 'em sit up on boughs like
they might be all to the good!"

"Put it mostly on that war experience he went through, Perk--they say
once a man was gassed pretty badly over there, he'd always prove to be a
queer fish--changeable, nervous and apt to do all manner of strange
things."

"But see here, partner," whispered Perk, uneasily, "that ain't a'goin to
make any perticular difference with our billet, is it--jest 'cause he's
got this funny streak runnin' through his doin's we don't reckon to
throw up our hands an' call it all off, do we?"

Jack chuckled.

"Not any, buddy--we only know that Uncle Sam wants his activities cut
short--it may be exciting sport for him to ferry Chinks across from Cuba
or Honduras, land big cargoes of booze on our shores with his thumb to
his nose insofar as the Government is concerned, and such capers as
that, but it means heaps of trouble for the revenue boys as well as
holding our laws up to contempt. He must be brought to book, and his
game stopped without any more delay than is necessary, no matter how
many other innocent recreations he's engaged in."

"Hot ziggetty! that gives me a warm feelin' again, partner an' I guess
we're the boys to knock the underpinnin' loose so's to make him drop
with a splash." Saying which, Perk relapsed into utter silence.

For some further time they stuck it out, watching every little movement
of the remarkable character proceeding with his labor, not a hundred
feet distant. Jack himself began to grow a bit nervous, for the sun was
just hovering above the western horizon and twilight does not last any
length of time in the South. If they delayed much longer it would mean a
walk in the dark over that dangerous dimly marked trail.

They could have no further doubt concerning the nature of the work that
was giving the suspected man so much genuine pleasure, he had held up
the object of his labor several times so they could plainly identify it
as a birdskin with the most lovely rosy-tinted feathery plumage, long
legs and a spoon-shaped bill.

Then greatly to the relief of the uneasy Perk, the short man came out of
the shack and said something that caused the other to accompany him
back, thus clearing the field.

"Now let's skip out," Jack said softly.

Accordingly both watchers commenced sliding and creeping for all the
world copying the movements of a cat ambushing a feeding sparrow in the
back yard of a suburban place. Although so anxious to get started on
their way back to where they had left their camouflaged ship, neither
Jack nor his comrade would take chances in trying to make haste; they
had long ago learned the folly of one false move when engaged in their
accustomed job of spying upon a suspected law-breaker whom they had
tracked down after an arduous chase.

When finally they reached a point where it was safe to pick up a little
speed, Jack hastened to do so. For a wonder Perk was not saying a
word--the truth was he had his mind so filled with bewilderment in
connection with the queer happenings of the last hour that he could not
think of any further questions to ask his chum.

Then, too, Perk kept on the alert for any peril that might by chance lie
in wait along the trail--there were other dangers besides that solitary
rattlesnake that might suddenly crop up to give them a chill--how about
those nasty looking water moccasins that swarmed in the oozy
swamp?--what of the ferocious bobcats such as were said to crouch on the
lower limb of some tree close beside a woods trail, waiting to drop down
on any moving object that came along?--yes, and other things just as
creepy that his excited mind could readily conjure up?

They were, as Perk judged, about halfway to the spot where they had seen
Mr. Rattler earlier in the day and the dusk was certainly beginning to
make all objects look more or less dim, when Jack suddenly stopped,
giving Perk quite a shock.

"Listen!" Jack was saying huskily.

A far-away and faint buzzing sound came to Perk's ears but instead of
adding to his excitement it really seemed to cool his blood, for surely
this had nothing whatever to do with snakes of any kind.

"Huh! must be a crate partner!" bubbled the relieved Perk.

"No question about that, Perk, and growing clearer right along, showing
it's heading this way."

"Mebbe the Lockheed-Vega comin' back again?" ventured Perk.

"Hardly likely," he was told instantly, "For one thing you'll notice
this motor racket swings up to us from the southwest, while the other
ship struck off toward the east."

"That's straight goods," Perk hastened to admit. "Funny I didn't get on
to that right away. Means our gent has a raft o' ships comin' an' goin'
when he takes a notion to drop over here once in a while."

"Well, we can't stop to listen any longer," said Jack again starting off
with the other trailing close at his heels.

The buzzing grew rapidly in volume, proving that no matter where the
advancing plane came from, its destination must be that secluded little
cove close to the coquina shack sheltering the man of many faces, who
went from fields of excitement to those connected with society
functions, entertaining guests in royal style or following his favorite
pursuit along the enchanting line of adding to his prized collection of
Florida birds. Presently Perk heard a splash and knew the amphibian must
have reached its goal.



CHAPTER XXIII

A PUGNACIOUS RATTLER


In good time they reached the narrow point on the animal trail which
marked the scene of their adventure with the rattlesnake. Perk, wishing
to be prepared for anything that might greet them, had picked up a stout
cudgel with which he believed he could give a good account of himself
should the occasion arise.

But they passed the place and he was beginning to breathe easier when he
was thrilled by a brisk and ominous sound from just ahead. Instinctively
Perk clutched his chum by the arm and dragged him back a pace although
this was really unnecessary, since Jack had stopped walking at the same
instant as Perk.

"Gosh all hemlock!" broke out Perk, "what d'ye think o' that--jest
awaitin' round for us to come along--what a 'commodatin' little pet he
is!"

Jack could see the suggestive bulk of the coiled snake lying on the
path, with scant room on either side for them to pass--oozy depths of
the swamp on one side and an angry rattler on the other.

"Just blocks our game whichever way you choose to look at it," chuckled
Jack with a shrug. "If we were monkeys, we could shin up a tree and
climb over to that other one beyond, but since we're neither simians nor
fox squirrels, we'll have to settle this thing some other way. Drop that
club, brother--it's too short for this business by three feet. To try
and use it on that chap you'd have to step up within range of his spring
and before you could get in your lick it'd all be over."

"Jest as you say, partner," remarked Perk, throwing the stocky club
away. "Wait up for me, Jack, an' don't let him skin out till I get back.
I saw a stick just back a bit that ought to fill the bill okay."

Jack stood on guard and waited but not for long, since Perk speedily
rejoined him, carrying a pole about eight feet in length and stout in
proportion.

"Careful how you work it," advised Jack, who would rather have done the
job himself but knew he would not be allowed by the ambitious one.

As Perk slowly advanced, waving his pole, the coiled serpent displayed
signs of redoubled anger--louder buzzed his rattle while he drew back
his flat head as though in readiness for action.

"Hold it there, buddy!" snapped Jack. "Now get a firm grip on your pole
and draw back for a vicious rap--you've got to get him square in the
middle and follow it up with more whacks in a big hurry. Don't step any
closer whatever you do. Now, give him fits, Perk!"

This the other proceeded to do with might and main. The sprightly buzz
suddenly ceased as the great folds of the monster began to squirm and
writhe--Perk lifted his pole and put in another blow for good measure.

"Huh!--guess now he's got his for keeps," gasped the victor in the
singular duel as he managed to get in a third and deciding stroke that
crushed the flat head of the reptile and forever ended its capacity for
business.

They were soon bending over the still squirming snake, Perk eagerly
measuring its length by footing it off and announcing it to be just one
inch over five feet.

"Gimme just a minute so's to whip off that bully rattle, partner," he
was saying as he produced a big pocketknife and opened its large blade.
"I want it to show if any guy ever questions the truth o' my yarn 'bout
these here Florida rattlers. There you are, an' now I'm ready to move
on. But we got to keep our eyes peeled, 'cause I been told these
critters nearly allers have a mate somewhere near by. An' I'm meanin' to
hang on to this bully pole, since we got to come back this way more'n a
few times, seems like."

Nothing else cropped up to disturb their peace of mind and in due time
the pair arrived at the secluded lagoon where they had left their
aircraft so artfully concealed. Apparently nothing had happened in this
quarter since they started forth on their mission, and yet what strange
things had they not seen inside those few hours.

"Seems like supper'd come in fair good jest new," Perk remarked after
they had climbed carefully aboard and were once more comfortably seated
in their accustomed places, "but sorry to say it's bound to be only a
'pology for real grub--dry fare and never even a drop o' water to wash
it down with." And he emitted a disgusted grunt, as if to display a
proper amount of displeasure over the doleful fact.

"I noticed a well of some sort just back of that shack," remarked Jack
as if he too, shared in this moan over the absence of drinking water.
"When we go back we'll try and snatch a drink apiece so as to take the
rusty feeling out of our throats. Until then we'll have to put up with
it, partner."

Necessity knows no law and so Perk was compelled to grin and bear it.
Just the same, as they were munching their simple fare,--and little of
that in the bargain--Jack could hear him muttering to himself and
chuckling from time to time as though he managed to squeeze more or less
pleasure in simply mulling over a multitude of his favorite dishes until
one would have imagined it was a waiter in a cheap eating joint down on
the Bowery enumerating what the house offered for dinner--_a la_ O.
Henry.

Later on Perk gave signs of being what he called dopey, whereupon Jack
asked whether he felt inclined to start out again or should it be left
to just one of them--meaning himself, of course,--to undertake the
further job of spying.

"Not much you don't monopolize the fun," Perk told him point blank. "I'm
bound to step along with you even if there'd be a legion o' them
rattlebugs lyin' in the trail awaitin' to sting us. When I get started
on anything I gen'rally keeps right on with it, even if I have to wade
through hell-fire. An' that goes, partner, see?"

"I knew you'd say that, brother," Jack assured him, seeing Perk act as
though hurt by the insinuation that anything would tempt him to let his
pal meet the danger alone. "If you feel a bit empty down below, just rub
your tummy briskly, then pull in your belt a notch or two and it'll make
you imagine you're full-up to the brim. I'll be ready to start off
inside another ten minutes."

Jack spent most of this time rummaging around in the locker where he
kept his own personal belongings. Perk knew when he got out that little
but valuable hand flashlight, by means of which they expected to be able
to keep on the winding and narrow trail when heading once more toward
the lonesome coquina shack on the border of the great inland sea.

"But I'm up in the air when it comes to knowin' what else he's stuck in
his pockets," Perk told himself, though somehow he managed to refrain
from asking questions nor did Jack seem anxious to enter into any
explanations.

"We'll leave things here all fixed so as to make a quick take-off," was
what the chief pilot remarked as they prepared to step ashore and while
he did not see fit to offer any explanation with regard to just what he
had in mind, Perk felt thrilled to believe there was already some daring
plan taking form in his comrade's wide-awake brain that might be carried
out if only the conditions seemed favorable, and the weather proved
considerate.

As they walked slowly along Jack kept frequently snapping his light on
and off so that they could take an instantaneous inventory of what lay
just beyond their feet for the night proved exceedingly dark although
all that would be changed after a while, when the late moon climbed into
sight.

Perk, just as he promised himself, had made certain to pick up that
serviceable pole with which he had dispatched the rattlesnake and this
he kept poking out ahead, as if to stir up any lurking reptile that
might be lying coiled in the path.

His nervousness increased as they drew near the spot where the one-sided
fight had taken place. He had apparently been brooding over the matter,
wondering if the mate of his victim could have come upon the scene of
the tragedy and sensing what had happened, was lurking thereabouts, bent
on exacting a terrible revenge in payment for the untimely demise of her
partner.

When he felt certain they had passed this particular narrow part of the
trail, Perk began to breathe easier, but he soon had reason to fear lest
he was crowing too soon for just then he felt Jack buck up against him
and heard him saying in a low but distinct voice:

"Hold up and listen, partner!"



CHAPTER XXIV

ON HANDS AND KNEES


Even while Jack was saying those few words, Perk had recovered from his
sudden alarm, since he already knew the reason for the other's bringing
him to a halt.

"Huh! that crate's startin' off again, seems like," he muttered.

Indeed, it was a foregone certainty for the splash of water told the
story as well as the abrupt explosions of a working motor. Then, too,
these suggestive sounds all came from directly ahead.

Then Perk had another gripping fear which he imagined must have also
seized his companion--that the chief object of their concern might be a
passenger aboard that ship, heading once more across the state to Miami
and that in consequence, all of Jack's carefully laid plans would meet
the same untimely fate as befalls an ambitious soap-bubble when struck
by a stray puff of air.

So they continued to stand there and listen to the telltale sounds with
sinking hearts. Perk in particular seemed to be dreadfully put out by
this fresh upset and was grinding his strong teeth as though desirous of
letting out an explosive but restrained by the fact of Jack being so
close at hand.

"Gee whiz! this here is what I call tough luck, Boss," he grumbled, more
because he hoped Jack might be able to dispel his fit of the blues in
some way or other, having a much clearer vision than he himself
possessed.

"Oh! I don't know, partner," said Jack in a wholesome, optimistic tone.
"It looks a little dark, but just wait a minute or so before you
croak--after all, the thing may not be so bad--it doesn't pay to jump at
conclusions."

"Shucks! that's me all over, old hoss, but I'm sure glad to hear you say
the last chance ain't snuffed out yet," mumbled Perk contritely, but at
least he had gained his point which was to coax Jack to mix a little
good cheer in with the gloom that had descended on his, Perk's soul.

"There, he's off!" declared Jack as a significant change in the clatter
so thoroughly understood by any airman announced the hop-off from the
surface of the lake.

"An' nothin' happened to give him a spill, either," Perk went on to say
and the disconsolate vein in his tone told plainly enough how he had
been secretly hugging to his heart a hope that the motor of the
Lockheed-Vega crate might suddenly develop some fault, compelling the
flight to be abandoned in its inception.

"Even that fact may yet turn out to be the best thing we could wish
for," Jack told him confidently, being built on the order of a fellow
who could see something to rejoice over in nearly every occurrence, no
matter how thick the gloom surrounding it.

"There he swings up an' is off--a slick jump, b'lieve me an' that guy's
some square shooter in the bargain--knows his business okay anyway. But
Jack, tell me, you don't think he's got our man alongside him, do you?"

"Well, one thing seems to tell me that isn't a fact, Perk."

"Yeah, an' what might that be?" demanded the other quickly.

"Notice that he's already banking, so as to lay his course toward Cape
Sable--square in the south--get that, don't you Perk?"

"I swan, but you're right there, Jack--which looks kinder like he didn't
mean to strike out for Miami, don't it?"

"More than likely he's hitting out for Cuba, or if he veers to the west,
it's Mexico or Honduras he means to head for."

Perk heaved a big sigh of relief.

"Hot ziggetty! but that sounds good to me, partner," he observed with
renewed animation as hope again sang a sweet song in his heart. "Then
there's a real chance he ain't got our man alongside."

They stood there and continued to listen as the sounds made by the
flight of the retreating seaplane gradually grew fainter and even for
brief spells died out altogether.

"He's out o' the pictur' anyhow," Perk finally commented when they could
no longer catch the least thud of the working motor--only a more
pleasing sound in the shape of gentle wavelets running up the shore of
the great lake being borne to their ears.

"Yes, and since that's settled we'd better be making a further move
ahead," Jack was saying, in his sensible way.

Accordingly the advance was renewed, nor did they take any less
precaution because of the departure of the flying boat.

As before, Jack continued to frequently make good use of his little
flashlight, which proved its worth just as had been expected. So speedy
were the flashes that it did not seem possible for any one to notice
them unless he chanced to be on the watch for something suspicious and
Jack hardly anticipated such a thing as that.

Apparently the one who had planned the raid believed there was only one
course for them to pursue and that was to keep on as though everything
was just as they had hoped. Even though an adverse Fate chose to cheat
them them of their intended prey on this particular occasion there would
be other days to come,--and had he not promised to trap his man as well
as to procure all needful proof to secure his conviction?

They were soon drawing close to their goal--already Jack had glimpsed a
shred of light gleaming through the intervening brush which proved most
conclusively that the shack could not be wholly deserted.

"Good enough!" Perk whispered when this comforting fact had been brought
to his attention, "we'll get his goat yet, partner."

Their progress was slowed up at this point for Jack no longer believed
it good policy to make use of his flashlight. They had to partly feel
their way along, using both hands and feet to detect the presence of any
obstacle that was apt to cause them trouble.

Still, the night was long and there was no desire to make haste--if they
waited until those in the shack were apt to be sound asleep it would be
much easier to carry out their plan of campaign without any chance of
interruption.

Now they could get faint glimpses of the little cove, which the visiting
planes were wont to use as a hiding place, taxiing thither after
splashing down on the surface of the nearby lake.

Perk made a mental note of the fact that the cove was quite empty, no
hostile crate bobbing up and down on the water--possibly this induced
the dreamer to indulge in a hope that should the occasion warrant such a
thing, they might taxi their own ship around and make use of that snug
harbor safe from any ordinary gale that chanced to strike treacherous
Okeechobee.

Now they could see the light much better and even make out that it came
from a certain window of the coquina shack--up to then Perk acknowledged
to himself that he had not known whether the modest little building
boasted of windows or not, having discovered no evidence of their
presence.

So, too, he now made but a certain dark spot just beyond the shack which
he strongly suspected might be the well shed of which the more observant
Jack had spoken earlier in one of their pow-wows.

Now that he found himself so near the spot where it seemed likely he
could refresh his dry throat with a cup of fresh water, Perk was growing
wild with the eager desire to be doing so. He Wondered whether his
companion could have forgotten his promise and even opened his mouth to
remind him concerning it but thought better of it for already Jack had
changed the line of his advance and was beginning to steer his pal in
the direction of the well.

In order not to take any unnecessary chances it was found that they must
make a little detour in order to get past that shaft of light proceeding
from the window in the rear of the shack. Perk even begrudged the brief
time taken in making this half circuit, though recognizing the wisdom
governing Jack's change of course. He dared not try to whisper now, lest
his hoarseness cause him to make a sound so harsh and loud that it might
be carried to hostile ears and be the cause of their undoing.

Then, after another delay when Jack imagined he had caught a suspicious
little scratching sound, as of something moving, they drew up on hands
and knees alongside what seemed to be a rustic shelter covering an
opening with a real windlass, rope and all, to fill Perk's heart with
joy in the belief that his throat was in a fair way of having its
roughness relieved in short order.



CHAPTER XXV

PERK DEMANDS MORE WATER


It was queer what chanced to be passing through the mind of Jack Ralston
while they were thus creeping toward the little well in the rear of the
lonesome shack on the bank of Okeechobee. He had been reading a novel
that was supposed to cover the famous and successful attempt on the part
of General Fred Funston to penetrate the mighty wilderness in the north
of Luzon, the main island of the Philippine group and effect the capture
of the native rebel chieftain, Aguinaldo who, with some of his
associates, had taken refuge in a lonely cabin at a most inaccessible
point.

So vividly had the author described the manner in which the soldier and
his companions crept up when making ready to seize their prey, that it
was still haunting the mind of the airman and somehow the conditions
just then confronting himself and Perk seemed to be very similar. He
only hoped they would prove to be just as successful in their mission as
Funston was when he carried Aguinaldo back to Manila, and thus broke the
backbone of the native uprising against the authority of Uncle Sam.

Perk was already reaching out toward the bucket he discovered perched on
the rocky border of the well. Jack could hear him give a chuckle of
satisfaction on rinding it half full of water and felt himself a bit
tickled to see the way in which his chum proceeded to greedily fill up
with the precious liquid.

Little Perk cared if the water chanced to be stale--he had no complaint
coming on that score as long as his parched throat and tongue came in
for a good soaking and the choking sensation was immediately relieved.

Perk must have suddenly remembered his lapse of manners, for in the
midst of his drinking spree he stopped short and stepped back as though
to invite his comrade to take his turn.

This Jack showed no hesitation in doing, drinking long and with
considerable ardor though he knew when to stop, which was what Perk did
not for no sooner had the other released his hold on the bucket than
Perk took another turn.

In the end Jack was compelled to almost drag the other away from the
well possibly for fear he burst or else some one come out of the shack
and discover them prowling there, unwelcome intruders on Oswald Kearns'
privacy and a positive threat to his peace of mind.

It was hardly a time and place for doing any talking, no matter how
subdued their voices. Jack kept hold of the other's arm and thus started
to steer him in the direction of the lighted window.

Perk must have guessed what his pal had in mind for he made no
resistance whatever, just allowed himself to be steered as his comrade
wished. Stooping down they crawled past, and then closer until they
could begin to glimpse the interior of the room where the light was
dispelling the darkness.

The first thing that struck Jack was the fact that the place had been
fixed up with an eye to comfort--it looked almost luxurious with its
easy chairs and imported rugs that must have cost a considerable sum.
Evidently Oswald Kearns had been too long accustomed to comfort to deny
himself such luxuries even when seeking seclusion in this out-of-the-way
retreat.

Then Jack found himself looking upon the man who had for years been one
of the greatest mysteries the Treasury Department at Washington had ever
endeavored to trap, He was sitting in a big leather-covered easy-chair,
smoking a cigar and busily engaged with a sheaf of important looking
papers. From time to time he would refer to a volume that had the
appearance of a ledger or account book and to which he seemed to attach
great importance.

How the sight sent a succession of thrills through the whole being of
the Secret Service sleuth--here he found himself within arms length of
the master crook who had laughed to scorn all previous efforts of the
Government to take him with the goods on.

Vainly had every possible attempt been made to catch him off his guard;
he had proved himself to be too crafty for the best revenue officers put
upon his track. And when failure after failure became the rule, the Big
Boss had decided to change the policy they had hitherto followed and put
an air pilot on the job as being able to go swiftly and easily where
others had been so cleverly balked.

Then Jack began to wonder where the other two men might be, for thus far
he had failed to discover either in the room of the lighted window.
Could it be possible both of them had sailed away aboard that
Lockheed-Vega ship, bent on some important mission which the Master had
entrusted to their care?

He could not bring himself to believe this possible--that he against
whom so many hostile hands were raised would be willing to stay all by
himself in such a lonesome place unless it seemed unavoidable. One or
both of those aids must be somewhere around.

Just the same he could see no other room connected with the stone
building--it was always possible, however, that there might be another
shack--perhaps a crude palmetto-leaf hut, such as the poor whites in the
backwoods lived in, somewhere not far away that served them for a
shelter when it rained or a bustling Norther came howling down from the
regions of snow and ice and zero temperatures.

Jack had about reached this conclusion when he discovered a figure,
covered with a fancy Navajo blanket, on a cot in a corner of the
place--yes, there was a head on a sofa pillow such as would be more in
place over at the beautiful Miami estate than here in such a desolate
region.

Somehow he quickly assumed this must be the shorter party--which would
go to prove the other fellow might have accompanied the pilot of the
departed airship.

When he had decided this to his entire satisfaction, Jack was able to
figure on certain matters. It undoubtedly meant that he and Perk would
have just two pitted against them in case things came to a showdown,
making it an even fight with victory perching on the side that was
quickest at the draw.

He seemed to remember every warning he had received in connection with
not under-rating this remarkable man, so greedy for excitement that
wealthy though he was, he would seek all manner of thrilling adventures
just to have the laugh on the Government, especially the Secret Service
men toward whom he was said to entertain a feeling of almost wolfish
hatred.

So too, did Jack take note of every object spread before his searching
gaze in the shack where Oswald Kearns seemed to be busying himself in
the pleasing occupation of making up his secret accounts.

That book, as well as the sheaf of papers rather fascinated the watcher
outside the window--somehow Jack conceived the idea that there before
him was spread all the incriminating evidence needful to bring the
erratic career of this amazing man to an abrupt end--to put a stop to
the mammoth illegal operations he had so long conducted in secret and by
which he had impudently flaunted all the powers in Washington, just as
though he had sent them a message worded, "Well, what are you going to
do about it? Break up this fine game if you can."

If only they were able to get him fast in the net before he could make
any attempt to destroy that book and those papers--Jack felt convinced a
generous Fortune had not allowed him to see such a prize only to snatch
it out of his reach through fire or some similar means of destruction.

But here was Perk pulling at his sleeve as though he had a communication
of the utmost importance to pass along. Accordingly, Jack, who himself
was ready to effect a change of base so that speedy action might be
decided on, moved back from the window.

"What is it, Perk?" he whispered, at which the other began to make
suggestive gestures toward his throat, and nod his head violently.

"I c'n feel it comin' on again, partner--the ticklin' feelin' you know,
an' I'm afraid I'll start acoughin' to beat the band--must have more
drink."

It seemed nothing could be done until Perk's sensitive throat had been
properly attended to, so once more they crept and trailed along until
the vicinity of the well had been reached. Here Perk started to swill,
as though his capacity for holding water had no limit. It was just at
this particular moment, when both of them were hanging over the well
curb that a shaft of light suddenly enveloped them as the back door of
the shack opened and the figure of the short man came in sight with a
new tin or aluminum bucket in his hand as though his purpose was to get
a supply of fresh water.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE FIGHT AT THE WELL.


"Gosh!"

Perk hissed this one word even as he ducked down behind the well curbing
at sight of the figure in the doorway. Jack was not a breath behind him,
both acting through mere intuition or instinct.

Whether they had been seen was the important question flashing through
the mind of each. There was no sudden outcry which seemed a favorable
sign, Jack decided and the short, muscular man was even then emerging
from the interior of the shack, evidently bent on replenishing the
drinking water supply.

Perk thrust his eager hand into the pocket of his leather jacket to grip
his automatic with the idea that he would be needing it before many more
seconds had ticked off. In his mind he entertained a comprehensive view
of what their plan of action would most likely be--to down this husky
chap, either by means of a blow or else a bit of lead delivered where it
would do the most good--then a swift rush into the shack and crushing
the ex-war veteran before he could fully grasp the meaning of it all.

Easy enough to figure it out after this manner, but there must be
considerable chance that matters would not work so smoothly. For one
thing it must be considered that Oswald Kearns was no weakling, but a
more or less athletic figure, accustomed to feats of strength and
agility beyond the measure of an ordinary man. Then, too, he was known
to be irrational, even to the length of being considered dangerous when
thoroughly aroused and it went without saying that he must always be
well armed for in his reckless way of living he must many times be in
close touch with desperate characters, some of whom might conceive it
worth while to plot against his liberty, with a heavy ransom in their
mind's eye.

It was quite too late for either of them to think of slipping off, since
the light from the interior of the shack poured through the open door
and dissipated the friendly darkness in that especial vicinity.

Consequently all they could do was to continue to crouch there in the
shadow of the well curbing, and await whatever was scheduled to come to
pass.

If Perk had been so eagerly praying for something to breeze along that
would give him the thrill he loved so well, his wish seemed well on the
road of being realized since everything was set for a dramatic discovery
with its attendant speedy action.

It was apparent that after all the man could not have glimpsed their
vanishing faces as they ducked so swiftly, for he continued to advance
in the direction of the well and Perk could hear him softly singing,
just as though he might be a "musical cuss," as Perk told himself with
one of his customary chuckles since his first stab of alarm had passed
off under the realization that they had another chance.

Jack, too, was telling himself what a peculiar state of affairs had come
upon the stage--here, with an ambush lying in wait before him, this man
could step blithely along, swinging his aluminum bucket and softly
warbling one of the most recent hits from a comic opera--Jack had
himself heard the song on the boards of a great metropolitan theatre in
New York--had even caught himself whistling the catchy air more than a
few times since.

The man who seemed to be so well pleased with his fortunes while basking
in the favor of the wealthy chief of smugglers had a little surprise
waiting for him at the end of his rainbow--if those lurking shadowy
figures knew their business and managed it as they should, he would be
singing quite a different air before a great while, perhaps interlarding
his humming with a choice variety of expletives concerning the cruelty
of Fate.

A few more steps and he would have reached the well--then what must take
place? Perk was asking himself as he crouched there, his muscles set and
his breath coming in little noiseless gasps--he resembled nothing so
much as a cat ready poised to make a deadly leap upon a fat robin
struggling with a worm that it had pulled halfway out of its hole.

There was not one chance in twenty that the man could actually reach the
well, drop the bucket down, switch it around in order to induce water to
enter and then make use of the windlass so as to draw it to the top,
without discovering the presence of those two huddled forms; so Perk did
not deceive himself in the least with any extravagant hopes of the
affair passing off smoothly and their plans being uninterrupted.

Now the man had set his pail down and was giving the well bucket a
switch as though intending to dislodge any stale water it might contain.
From this little incident Jack understood that undoubtedly the man must
himself have left the water they had used up in the bucket when last at
the well and subconsciously remembered the fact.

He went about the job of lowering the rope with the manner of one quite
familiar with the necessary movements, pulling the rope from the barrel
of the windlass hand over hand. Then there came a splash, a gurgle and
following these symptoms of success the man, with a jerk at the rope,
managed to sink the bucket.

Next he started to turn the handle in order to fetch the bucket to the
top of the well. In order to get a better purchase on the handle, he
took a step to the left, and as luck would have it, struck his knee
against the crouching form of Perk.

Then came a quick look downward, since he was naturally curious to know
what sort of object he had collided with--possibly he may even have had
a sudden suspicion it would turn out to be some native beast from the
neighboring swamp--possibly a panther, since such animals had been known
to frequent the western shore of Okeechobee as a hunting-ground in days
gone by.

Of course he instantly made a startling discovery, since there was
enough light to show him the form of a man doubled up against the rocky
well curbing.

It would have been instinctive for the man to have let out a yell on
making this discovery but he did not have the chance to give tongue, at
least fully, for Perk made a lightning-like spring and had both hands
clasped about his throat effectually throttling the intended shout so
that it emerged only as a queer sound, rather on the order of a bull
alligator's bellowing suddenly cut short.

That was but the beginning of the affair as Perk knew only too well it
must prove to be. He found he had a tough proposition on his hands for
the man struggled desperately, as who would not on finding his wind
suddenly cut entirely off with a pair of iron-like hands pressing his
throat as though it were gripped in a vise?

Jack sprang up, ready to lend his pal any necessary assistance if only
the opportunity showed itself. Just then all he could make out in the
dim light was a whirling set of wildly struggling figures, looking for
all the world like one of those teetotums children delight in
spinning--only on an exaggerated scale.

Then they went down with a crash, first one on top and then the other in
rapid succession. It would have made an excellent picture for the silver
screen, Jack could not help thinking while he drew his automatic and
kept tabs on that open door, more than half expecting to see Oswald
Kearns dash wildly out with some sort of machine-gun in his hands, ready
to take a chance in the game, knowing that the attack must have
everything to do with his own safety.

Perk seemed to be hanging on with the tenacity of a bulldog, for not
another peep did the wolfish man, whose throat he squeezed, give vent to
as the slam-bang fight continued. It was lucky indeed there chanced to
be a raised wall about the well or in their frantic staggering this way
and that the wrestlers might have plunged down into the yawning
aperture, much to their mutual discomfiture--as it was they smashed up
against the curbing several times, to emit grunts at the rough contact.

Finally, Jack, to his relief, saw Perk slam his now weakening adversary
to the ground and immediately follow this up by sending in a number of
furious blows that took every atom of fight out of the unfortunate chap
who collapsed as if wholly done for.

Perk himself was far from fresh--his breath came in gasps and he must
have been trembling in every joint from the tremendous exertion put
forth but as always, victory was sweet in his nostrils and after
assuring himself that nothing further need be feared from the man he had
downed, he struggled to his feet, and ranged himself alongside Jack, as
if to declare his readiness to fight it out along those lines if it took
all night.



CHAPTER XXVII

AT BAY


Jack had been keeping a watchful eye on the nearby shack, not knowing
what moment a raging figure might come dashing forth armed with a
rapid-fire gun and ready to sweep up the earth with the mangled bodies
of himself and Perk.

Somewhat to his surprise, and greatly to his relief as well, nothing of
the kind came to pass. Suddenly he realized that the door of the squatty
little coquina rock building had been closed, for no longer did the
light spread a banner out into the black night.

"Drag him back of the well here, Perk," he said softly, "we've got to
make certain he'll give us no further trouble. Got that piece of stout
rope I gave you?"

"Right here, partner--wrapped around my waist," and as he thus managed
to make himself heard, even while so short of breath, Perk caught hold
of the nearest leg of his late antagonist and without the least ceremony
dragged the senseless man several feet just as he might a bag of
meal--when head-over-heels in a real scrap Perk counted his opponents as
so much junk whose fate it was to be handled without ceremony and yet
after the row was over, no one could be more solicitous about binding up
their hurts than Gabe Perkiser.

"Use the rope to fasten his ankles together," advised Jack, standing
guard meanwhile with his automatic ready for business and his keen eyes
roving around in search of signs along the trouble line, "and knot it
half a dozen times so it would take a knife blade to get free."

"All done up brown and slick, Jack old hoss, now what?" announced Perk a
minute or so later.

"Clap that new pair of bracelets on his wrists," further explained the
head pilot briskly, "and be sure to frisk him for a gat or even a knife.
You see, we're going to have our hands full with the boss and can't fool
around with this chap any longer."

"His name is Mud!" scornfully declared Perk briskly as he completed his
task with the manner of one to whom it had become an old story.

The fellow, it seemed, had recovered his senses for he tried to bite
Perk's hand and received a solid thump on the head for his pains.

"So far, good," Jack was saying, half to himself. "Now let's move along
to the house and make sure our bird hasn't skipped out while we were so
busy at the well here. Got all the drink you want, Perk--we can't be
coming back every little while just to wet your long neck!"

"It's okay with me, boy, let's go," the other announced with a chuckle.

Leaving their prisoner lying there they started an advance on the shack.
Both eyed it carefully as they crept along and it was Perk who noticed
the first favorable sign.

"Door's shut, partner, but the light's still on--you c'n lamp a streak
down near the sill, think he's on deck yet--ain't cut an' run like a
blue streak?"

"We'll soon find out," Jack assured him. "'Twouldn't be like a guy with
his reputation as a scrapper to clear out so quick. I'm wondering
whether he's fixing up some hot reception for us when we break in."

"Hot ziggetty! that is sure some rummy scrap," Perk muttered as he kept
close tabs on the shack now close by as though he more than half
anticipated seeing it suddenly burst into flames, or go up in fragments
under the influence of an explosion.

Now they had reached the door and Jack made a slight effort to open it,
but with no success.

"No use," he whispered to his kneeling mate, "it's got the bar down in
place. Listen and see if you can catch a sound from inside."

A minute passed with both straining their hearing to the utmost--Perk
even laid his head against the closed door so as to better catch any
suspicious sound from within.

"Huh! guess they ain't nothin' doin', partner," he hissed in a
disappointed tone, "thought I did get a little ruslin' sound, like paper
bein' crumpled up when you're a'makin' a fire, but don't hear it no
longer."

"Paper, you say?" snapped Jack uneasily, "I don't like that any too
much."

"Why not?" asked the other, evidently at a loss to understand why such a
simple little thing like that could annoy any one--what if the man at
bay figured on setting fire to the hidden little retreat he had arranged
here close to the lonely lake where he could slip away whenever he felt
like shunning those society people over at crowded Miami--he surely had
no intention of cremating himself and they could nab him if he started
to make off.

"Paper--don't you know what he was doing when we peeped in--that book
ought to be worth its weight in gold to us as evidence and that stack of
papers that he was looking through--if he's given enough time he may put
a match to the bunch and destroy everything that could be used against
him. We've got to keep him from doing that, brother."

"Yeah--but how?" gasped the other, showing renewed signs of excitement
as he visioned the holocaust with their fine plans going up in fire and
smoke just when they seemed about to corral success.

Jack answered that question by striking the door with his foot, the
result being a loud thump. Then he caught hold of his chum and dragged
him to one side. None too soon was this done, for there came a series of
staccato explosions from inside the shack and tiny gleams of light in
various sections of the door told that bullets had passed through the
wood in a number of places. Only for this prompt action on the part of
the cautious one, either or both might have had leaden pellets lodged
promiscuously about their persons with resultant painful sensations.

"Wow! that was what I'd call a close shave," whispered the kneeling Perk
as he surveyed those suspicious holes in the badly riddled door, all on
a line with any crouching human figure without.

There could no longer be any doubt as to the warlike intentions of the
man they had at bay, his fighting spirit, first fed during those bloody
days and nights in the Argonne, had burst into flame again and he shed
his free and easy character as the lord of that wonderful palace at
Miami to assume the rough and ready type of an adventure-loving smuggler
chief, quick to defy all authority while the red blood rioted in his
veins.

"We've just got to keep him on the jump," Jack was saying, "so's to
occupy his attention and keep him from putting a match to those papers
and that priceless account book with its addresses. Here, find a way to
get in a smash or two on the door, like we meant to break in--I'll slip
around and see what can be done at the window."

"Jack, I 'member there's a log a'lyin' right over there--why couldn't I
use that an' really break through?"

"Too dangerous, buddy--he'd turn that terror of a machine-gun on and
wipe us off the map. Do what I'm telling you, only keep back so he can't
get you when he shoots again."

"Just watch my smoke," grunted Perk, stooping to feel around for some
object that could be made available for the purpose of a door knocker.

"Wait," he heard the other saying as he was starting to move off.
"Here's a little pile of rocks--pick up one and toss it on the roof of
the shack--make him think we're climbing up, meaning to break in that
way--anything to keep him so busy dodging and firing he'll have no time
to start that blaze."

Perk grasped the main idea, which was to fight for time--given even half
a chance, he knew his pal would find some way to accomplish the end he
had in view which was to take Kearns a prisoner with enough positive
evidence of his guilt to convict him when placed on trial in a Federal
court.

Hastily then did Perk scramble for the rocks mentioned by his
companion--it was much too dark for him to see where they lay, but he
used his common sense with such signal success that almost immediately
he found what he sought.

To toss up a good-sized rock with such vim that it came down on the roof
with a loud bang was the work of a few seconds. Hardly had the crash
sounded than Perk had another missile on its way and as long as the pile
held out he meant to keep up a continual fusillade that would have the
man inside guessing.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE COME-BACK


It was more or less fun for Perk to keep up that bombardment as long as
he had any ammunition left--the heavy thumps on the roof continued to
follow each other, like blasts in a quarry or an admiral's salute when
the "old man" took a notion to come aboard.

So, too, would each concussion be followed by a spurt of gunfire from
behind the closed door of the shack showing that Oswald was alive to the
situation and must be enjoying his share in the strange engagement quite
as much as the fun-loving Perk did his part.

If the little rock pile held out and there were enough ammunition belts
for the machine-gun handy, the chances were that the roof of the
bungalow would assume the nature of a sieve and leak when the next heavy
rain storm set in.

Perk was fully aroused now, and awake to his part of the
bombardment--his mind began to figure just what other means lay within
his reach to continue engaging the attention of the rat in the trap
after the last rock had been fired.

Some of them he knew had rolled off the slightly sloping roof after
accomplishing their duty. If only he could lay hands on them they might
be made to serve again but the darkness would make this problematical.
There was that log he had mentioned to Jack--with it he fancied he might
do something to keep up the feverish interest in the game and hold
Oswald's undivided attention.

What added more or less to the thrill he was enjoying was the fact that
at any minute the ready marksman inside might succeed in reaching him
with a bullet fired at some new angle. Jack had told him how Kearns was
said to be quite a wizard at making bullseyes in a flying target either
with a pistol or a rifle.

He was still going heavy although nearing the end of his ammunition,
when something not on the calendar came along, something so unexpected
that Perk was taken quite by surprise. A weighty and metallic object
struck him on the head with such violence that he saw a million stars
all at once, as though a myriad of rockets had exploded simultaneously
high in the air.

He went down like a stone, his senses reeling under that frightful
impact and yet half conscious of the fact that some one must have come
up behind him in the darkness and struck him with a heavy weight.

Now he could feel hands groping about his person as though seeking to
find where to follow up that first blow with another that would
effectually wind up his career for keeps.

Rendered desperate by the nature of his situation Perk threw up both
hands and chancing to come in contact with a human form, closed in with
what might almost be called a death grip--his one object being to thus
hold the unseen enemy close and prevent him giving a second blow that
would be in the nature of a knockout.

He met with fierce resistance, but no matter how desperately the other
struggled and fought he was unable to break Perk's terrible hold, so
like that of a fighting bulldog, once its teeth have closed for keeps.

There the two antagonists rolled to and fro, striving in turn to get on
top, only to be over-turned in rotation. What made it all the more
exciting was the fact that the man in the shack, hearing all those queer
noises, must imagine his enemies were trying to burrow under the door
for he kept up frequent furious bursts of gunfire and at any moment an
unlucky roll was apt to bring the wrestlers within range of the hail of
bullets.

One thing favored Perk--he was by degrees getting over the deadening
sensation following that frightful blow on his head--apparently the
other was weakening in the same proportion that Perk was gaining
strength, showing that he must have been in anything but prime condition
when the tussle started.

It was this potent fact that gave Perk his first inkling as to the
identity of the man with whom he struggled. At first he took it for
granted the fellow was the tall confederate they had noticed with Kearns
during the late afternoon, and who had perhaps been away and returned to
the shack just at this interesting moment to find it in a state of
siege.

He had hardly begun to get an inkling as to the true state of affairs
when one of his hands, in seeking to get a firmer hold, chanced to come
in contact with something cold and hard. Then he understood just why his
antagonist seemed to be so handicapped in the scramble--he could stretch
his hands apart only so far--they were apparently held fast in some
mysterious fashion.

It burst upon Perk like a bomb from a sky chaser--why, after all this
was an old friend of his, one whom he had only recently been hugging
with all his might and main--in fact no other than the short confederate
of Kearns whom they had left beside the well but a brief time
previously.

In some manner, which was a complete mystery to Perk, he had managed to
get his legs free from that binding rope which had been wound around and
around his ankles in many coils and then knotted half a dozen times.
Perk found it hard to realize this puzzling fact, but just the same he
knew it must be the truth.

He proceeded to continue his rolling process with additional vim, partly
because he now knew the other could not get a chance to whack him again
with both hands handcuffed--for that was what had actually occurred and
it proved his first surmise--that hard metal had come in contact with
his cranium.

Presently it came about that Perk was enabled to clutch the throat of
his antagonist and for the second time close his fingers on his larynx,
shutting off his wind completely and causing history to repeat itself.

The fellow gave up immediately, thus hoping Perk would diminish that
paralyzing grip which the other condescended to do. When this had been
carried through Perk made up his mind not to trust to a rope again--in
the first place he had no rope and even if this were not the case he had
for the time being lost all confidence in ropes as restraining agents.

He remembered he had a second pair of steel bracelets in one of his
pockets, having fetched two pair along with the idea they might have to
include some pal of Kearns' before finishing their job.

He quickly had the fellow lying inert and acting as though he did not
have another bit of fight left in him. Managing to pull out the
handcuffs, Perk first tested them for size, and finding he could snap
them shut after circling the ankles of his prisoner he did so with a
vim. This would effectually prevent the man from getting any distance
away, since he could move his feet only a few inches at a time at the
best.

Perk struggled to his feet, feeling more or less dizzy. His first
natural act was to put a hand to his head, and feel it gently, in order
to ascertain the character and extent of his injuries. There was a cruel
lump on his crown and he knew blood was streaking his face but on the
whole he did not believe he was very badly hurt--perhaps after the
double beating the other fellow had received at his hands he was worse
off than Perk--an idea that started the latter chuckling, even if the
act caused him a sudden dart of pain that made him wince.

Then he remembered what was going on, knowledge of which had been
knocked out of his head by the unexpected fight that had taken place.
How about Jack?

He dimly remembered hearing further shots from behind the barrier,
although unable to decide whether the bullets continued to break through
close to the bottom of the door or otherwise. Could this later fire have
been directed at Jack, who had unwisely exposed himself at the side
window?

Perk was strongly tempted to disobey orders and hasten around the corner
in order to learn the worst. If that daredevil inside had hurt his pal
he would be mad enough to find some way of blowing up the shack and the
gas-mad ex-soldier along with it, regardless of consequences. He only
waited long enough to run his swollen hands over the recumbent figure of
the man in irons so as to make sure he could not play the same mean
trick a second time. Finding everything fast, he turned away from the
scene of his recent ruction, and hurried around the corner of the shack,
bent on backing up Jack or, in case his pal had been placed out of the
running, to avenge his injuries without delay.



CHAPTER XXIX

A LAST RESORT


Meanwhile how fared Jack in his share of the attempt to corner the
defiant and persistent law-breaker?

He had crept around the corner after leaving his chum, fully convinced
that some sort of heroic measures must be brought to bear on the ugly
situation if they hoped to succeed.

One thing had already been amply proved--this was the unmistakable fact
that Oswald Kearns must be having one of his occasional brain sprees,
the result of his wartime gassing when he was apt to tip over his
balance and for the time being imagine himself beset by a myriad of
bitter foes whom it was his duty, as well as privilege, to mow down,
regardless of everything. Acting under this delusion he was doubtless
resting under the belief that these were Hun machine-gun squads secreted
in nests in the Argonne and that he was duly recruited by Heaven to
round them up, disseminate their number, and fetch a goodly bunch into
the American lines as prisoners of war.

His readiness to shatter the door of his own lodge was evidence of his
obsession, Jack firmly believed and from which he deduced the opinion
that as long as his equipment held out he was ready to keep up that hot
bombardment under the belief that the enemy were falling like dead
leaves in the frosts of late Fall.

This being the case, Jack understood how exceedingly careful he must be
not to expose even the tip of his nose, since everybody said Oswald was
a most wonderful hand with firearms.

No sooner had he turned the corner of the rock shack than he made a
discovery that gave him some satisfaction. At least the man inside had
not considered it necessary that he extinguish the lamp for there was a
certain amount of light coming from the window--only tiny lances,
showing that some sort of shade had been drawn down as far as it would
come.

So Jack crawled hastily forward, bent on taking a peep if it could be
accomplished without too much risk. Having gained a position directly
under the window, he considered just how he must go about it and so
discovered that a plant of some sort--perhaps a young orange tree, was
growing alongside the shack.

Taking hold of a sprig, he gently moved it across a portion of the
opening and on finding it attracted no attention from within he next
pushed his head up with the bunch of green foliage.

This resulted in giving him a quick survey of the interior--he could see
what had come before his vision on his previous survey but at first he
failed to discover any human presence. The fact gave him a feeling of
chagrin, under the impression that Kearns might in some mysterious way
have been able to quit the rock house without being discovered and that
they had been outwitted.

In that brief period of time Jack seemed to glimpse all manner of
strange tunnels leading from the secret retreat of the smuggler to
certain exits back in the pine woods, craftily constructed for just such
an emergency as had now come to pass.

Then he suddenly changed his mind on realizing how next to impossible it
would have been to construct such underground exits when the near
presence of great Okeechobee would make digging quite out of the
question, since water must of necessity seep into any such passage and
fill it full.

Jack, looking further, had just managed to discover a leg that was
thrust into view when Perk's first rock crashed on the roof, making a
terrific noise. Following this came a burst of gunfire with the acrid
powder-smoke filling the room and making seeing next to impossible.

Jack crouched down to do a little thinking as well as listen to the
exchange of compliments between the warring forces--every loud
detonation as a lump of coquina rock fell on the roof would be followed
by its complement of rapid gunfire, just as though the man at bay was
bound to keep up his side of the battle even if he had to create a
shortage in his ammunition supply.

It was fierce work, yet bordering on the ludicrous, Jack told himself,
meanwhile wondering just how long Perk's heap of missiles would persist,
also what was bound to happen when the rock pile was gone. Doubtless the
near-demented man inside must be working up to a feverish pitch under
the impression that he was specially designed by Providence to
annihilate the whole German army and open a clear path to an Allied
march all the way to Berlin!

Then silence came--a silence that seemed to brood over the scene of
hostilities as might a sea fog drifting in along the coast and baffling
the most skillful of flyers.

Jack had discovered a stick that was some three feet in length and
remembering an old and often tried trick known to frontiersmen away back
in the Kentucky days of Daniel Boone, he meant to try it out in order to
see if the ammunition of the besieged man had run out on him or
not--something that was really essential he should know before
proceeding to extremes and breaking into the fortress that was holding
himself and Perk so persistently at bay.

Removing his leather cap with its dangling earlaps, he perched it on the
point of his stick and proceeded to elevate the contrivance so that it
might be seen by the vigilant eyes within.

The result was all that he could have asked, showing that this venerable
Indian trick was just as workable as in the days of old.

A single shot sounded dully within the shack--there was a tinkling sound
as if a speeding bullet had bored a hole through a pane of glass and
down fell his helmet. Jack picked it up and chuckled to find he could
poke an investigating finger through a hole that had certainly not been
there before. What great luck his head had not been inside that helmet,
he was telling himself on thus learning the wonderful accuracy of the
marksman.

Things were again at a standstill, for as long as the half demented
Kearns was able to make such excellent use of his firearm it would be
suicide for either of them to try and break into the shack.

One thing Jack had managed to discover with that brief peep back of the
friendly bunch of orange leaves--there was a little heap of papers in
the fireplace, also the precious book he yearned to possess--yes, and he
could even make out a smudge as though a match had been used to start a
conflagration but owing to some puff of contrary air the blaze had
fizzled and gone out--an especially providential favor in their behalf
Jack had told himself.

Still, at any moment now the man with the crooked mind was apt to notice
how his purpose had been baffled. Then he would make a second and
possibly more successful attempt to destroy all incriminating evidence
as to his connection with the smuggling of rum, aliens and precious
stones into the country, contrary to the laws of the land.

What could he do should this crisis come upon him, Jack was asking
himself as he crouched there and counted the minutes passing by? There
was only one means for counteracting such a move on the part of the
enemy and Jack had already convinced himself the occasion was fully ripe
for it to be tried out.

On a previous occasion the same thing had handily proved its efficacy,
so why not again? Desperate cases require desperate remedies, he kept
telling himself as he groped in his pocket and extracted some small
object therefrom, holding it tightly clinched while he again moved the
orange leaves across the lower part of the window without extracting a
shot from the guardian of the shack.

Then he nerved himself to take a look and received a shock for he was
just in time to see Kearns down on his knees striking a match which he
hastened to apply to the crumpled papers.

Seeing there was not a second to waste, Jack proceeded to hurl the
tear-bomb he had been holding in his fist straight through the glass, so
as to strike against the stone chimney and be shattered, releasing its
powerful contents that would almost instantly fill the room and blind
the man whose fingers held the burning match.



CHAPTER XXX

FETCHING IN THEIR MAN


There was now no further need for caution.

Jack saw the man inside stagger to his feet, drop his gun and throw both
hands up to his face--he was starting to rub his eyes as though they had
already commenced to feel the terrible effect of the pungent acid that
would start the tears flowing in streams and render him temporarily
blind before he could exercise his brain sufficiently to unbar the door
and rush outside.

But already that tiny blaze on the open hearth was increasing, and would
presently gain such headway as to threaten the utter destruction of the
precious papers that they had come so far and braved all sorts of
dangers to get. Something must be done instantly in order to prevent
this threatening catastrophe.

So Jack, always quick to act, with one smashing blow sent the entire
window sash flying into the room. He did not even stop to learn whether
he had cut himself, but gave an upward spring, gained a precarious
knee-hold on the window-sill and allowed himself to fall inside the room
with its unseen gas contents which would of necessity act upon his eyes
even as it already had done in the case of his intended prey.

Across to the fireplace went Jack--he could never tell just how he made
that trip of a dozen feet with his sight already growing dim and his
senses commencing to reel, but he knew that he started to stamp out
every atom of those greedy flames, working like one possessed.

Then he clutched the reeling man by the arm and dragged him across to
the window and bundled him out with as little ceremony as if he had been
a sack of oats.

Blinded himself by this time and hardly knowing what he was doing, Jack
managed to climb through the opening and drop down on top of the
writhing figure on the ground.

Here Perk found them both as he came full tilt around the corner,
realizing something not down on the bills as far as his knowledge went,
must have taken place.

"Jack--what's happened--are you bad hurt, buddy?" Perk demanded
excitedly as he bent down over his chum.

"All right--only had to use the tear-gas again--be better right
off--don't let Kearns get away on your life!"

"Hot ziggetty! you jest bet I won't old hoss!" whooped the delighted
Perk as he squatted alongside the still writhing Oswald, his automatic
held in readiness only waiting for Jack to recover enough to take things
in charge.

"Look in the room--see if the papers are safe--in the fireplace--he
started to burn the whole batch and beat us to the scratch--had to give
him the whole works to save 'em!"

Thus enlightened, Perk stood up and took a look then burst out in a
joyous shout that would have done credit to any cow-puncher on earth.

"It's all dandy, Jack--papers safe an' we got our man ditto. Mebbe now
I'll soon get a chance to treat my tummy to some decent grub, 'cause my
ribs're stickin' to my backbone, I'm that empty."

Before long Jack's eyes ceased to sting and his vision once more became
almost normal. By then, too, Kearns had come to his senses, with Perk
keeping him subdued by means of prodding a weapon in his ribs.

Jack hunted around and found some rope with which they temporarily bound
the arms and ankles of their prisoner. That accomplished he made haste
to secure all the papers as well as the ledger which Kearns had been so
eager to destroy when realizing that at last his scorn for the minions
of the law had reaped its inevitable result--the pitcher gone once too
often to the well--and that his game was up.

"What next, Boss?" Perk was asking, "mean to kidnap both o' these guys
Jack?"

"It'll make our chances better with one showing a yellow streak and
turning on his employer for State's evidence," was Jack's quick
rejoinder, the idea being quite to Perk's liking as he speedily made
manifest.

"Jumpin' jimcracks! we c'n tote the pair right nifty an' I'm meanin' to
see that other guy gets all that's comin' to him, after that nasty crack
on the coco he gimme with them irons. Say Jack, take a look at my head
an' see if it's sound still--gee whiz! but it felt like the sky'd gone
an' dropped down on me."

Jack speedily reassured him that although there was a lovely lump on the
top of his head, it was nothing very serious. It was understood that
there was not a minute to waste if they were wise. The Lockheed-Vega
might blow in any time and give them trouble.

"We'll get both the prisoners together and Perk, you stand guard over
them while I taxi our boat around here so as to save ourselves the job
of moving them along the trail. Is it all right with you, buddy?"

"Sure is," came the ready reply. "I'll start a little chin with our
honorable guest here an' see how he likes the idee o' sittin' up next
Mr. Philip Ridgeway o' the Treasury Department an' findin' out that this
time he's in the soup for keeps."

Already the prisoner had recovered his customary nerve for on hearing
what Perk was saying he broke out in a laugh.

"Looks a bit serious for me, I own up, boys," he said. "I give you
credit for being ace high above all your class, for you've played a
clever game and beat me by a mile. So that was tear-gas you tossed into
the room, was it?--thought I recognized the smell and I want to tell
you, once that hits a chap's eyes and he doesn't care if a church
steeple topples down on him, he's that paralyzed."

Jack lost no time in starting back to where the ship was hidden and
having negotiated the distance along the perilous trail without running
afoul of anything, he managed to toss the palmetto leaves overboard
since there was no further necessity for camouflage. After coaxing his
charge out of the narrow slip, and once on the open lake, he taxied down
to the cove close to the coquina rock shack.

They managed to lug their prisoners aboard and stowed them away as well
as circumstances permitted. Then Jack gave her the gun and they were
off.

Once they found themselves on their way at a three thousand-foot ceiling
and headed almost due northwest with Tampa as their goal, Perk slapped
his pal on the back and gave vent to his high spirits.

"Oh how joyful it does seem, partner," he was saying, "to be startin' on
the home stretch with our game played to a finish, the ducks bagged an'
nigh ready for the spit. Somethin' to crow about this time, I guess boy.
Mebbe the Big Boss up at Washington ain't goin' to be tickled pink when
he gets the news an' knows we've grabbed Oswald by the heels with
evidence aplenty to send him to Atlanta for a term o' years. This night
flight promises to be the happiest ever for the pair o' us. I know I'm
actin' like a loon, partner, but I jest can't help it--such bully
occasions are too few an' far between in our line. An' now I wonder
where we'll be sent for the next big job we tackle?"

"We'll know all that soon enough Perk," he was told by his comrade. "We
deserve a little rest after this business is cleaned up, then we'll be
ready to start out fresh and dandy, no matter if it takes us to the Wild
West this time."

"Huh! why not?" grunted Perk with the air of one who was utterly
indifferent as to whether he was given a mission that would take him to
the other side of the world, as long as he had at his side the pal whom
he loved so well and the backing of the Government to stand for
expenses.

"We've worked the Mexican border to the limit, have jest cleaned up the
worst smugglin' bunch along the Florida coast an' when the call comes
for us to take a fling over the Colorado canyon, or above the snow
capped mountain ranges, it'll find us ready an' all to the good!"

Although at the time Perk had not the slightest idea that he was posing
as a prophet, it will be seen that such was the case as the title of the
next story in this series will indicate, it being "_Wings Over the
Rockies; or Jack Ralston's New Cloud-Chaser._"

THE END



EVERY BOY'S MYSTERY SERIES

AIR MONSTER

By EDWIN GREEN

"Lines away!"

This is a story of the world's greatest dirigible and of the dangers
in the frozen wastes of the Arctic--a combination sure to provide
thrills for every reader.

The _Goliath_, largest dirigible in the world, is to meet the submarine
_Neptune_ at the North pole. The _Neptune_ encounters one mishap after
another in the drifting ice of the Arctic and Harry Curtis, its radio
operator, sends an S. O. S. to Andy High, assistant commander of the
_Goliath_. The dirigible starts north, Captain Harkins, the commander.
is stricken and Andy takes charge of the rescue attempt.

SECRET FLIGHT

By EDWIN GREEN

Andy High and his companions on the trail of new adventure in the
mighty _Goliath_ ... international intrigue and a world crisis form the
background for this strong and stirring tale for air-minded boys. This
book is a fitting sequel to that splendid book "Air Monster."

EXTRA

By GEORGE MORSE

Baffling mystery, startling disappearances, roaring presses, the
tenseness of the deadline hour on great newspapers--all these and more
are in "Extra."

When the publisher of the _Porter Press_ disappears from an airplane
while it is en route between two cities, Don Durian, young managing
editor of the _Press_, starts out to get the story and solve the
mystery. Thwarted at every turn, Don and his staff are enveloped in an
intrigue that threatens to destroy even their own paper. It's a
mystery within a mystery and the solution is startling.

CIRCUS DAN

By GEORGE MORSE

Call of the calliope.... Clash of cymbals and flash of spangles under
the big top. But back of the glitter is the rivalry of two big
circuses.... A fortune hangs in the balance when young Dan Tierney,
press agent for the Great United, solves the mystery of the accidents
which have threatened the existence of the big show.

VANISHING LINER

By GEORGE MORSE

_The Vanishing Liner_ moves rapidly, abounds in pulse-quickening
action, weaves the threads of half a dozen adventures through the
luxurious cabins of the ATLANTICA, and ends with a stirring climax
of adventure on the high sea.



THE TREASURE HUNT OF THE S-18

By GRAHAM M. DEAN

Graham M. Dean, the author of the Tim Murphy Series, received so many
requests from his hundreds of thousands of readers, to take Tim Murphy
on a "real treasure hunt," that in this book Tim Murphy is given the
assignment by the editor of the "Atkinson News" to accompany a
treasure-hunting expedition headed by a world-famous globe trotter.
This is an action story from start to finish--clean, fast, and
inspiring. It is a different story and is bound to appeal, with all
the resourcefulness of the now famous Tim Murphy tested to the utmost.

THE GOLDSMITH PUBLISHING COMPANY, CHICAGO

VANISHING LINER

By George Morse

High Adventure on the North Atlantic ... a mystery of ships that
vanish in mid-ocean.

The world is alarmed by the disappearance of ships in the North
Atlantic and the Great Northern Transportation Company, which has lost
two vessels, is determined to solve the mystery. The Great Northern
Company has plans to build the two fastest liners afloat and a rival
company is suspected of the mysterious attacks.

In command of the expedition which sets out to solve the mystery is
Prof. Randolph Pearson, eminent scientist. He sets up a complete
laboratory aboard the ATLANTICA, crack liner of the Great Northern.
With him are his assistants, Bob Ellis and Glenn Heath. Their task is
to stay aboard the liner on its transoceanic dashes for they are
confident that an attempt will be made on the ATLANTICA.

_The Vanishing Liner_ moves rapidly, abounds in pulse-quickening
action, weaves the threads of half a dozen adventures through the
luxurious cabins of the ATLANTICA, and ends with a stirring climax of
adventure on the high sea.





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