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Julian Epworth reasoned that his departure from Salt Lake City was a profound secret. The fact that an airship carrying gold was on the way to Los Angeles convoyed by armed airplanes had been kept inside of the office. Because of this Epworth thought that he had an easy job.
“What’s the big idea about all this fancy maneuvering?” Billy Sand inquired curiously as Epworth gave the order to close up a little on the other nine planes flying in a straight line ahead in military formation. “You are acting as if there is a war on, and if we were trying to hatch a machine gun nest.”
“Now that we are up in the air, and there is no chance of a leak I will explain. The twin red and green lights that you see ahead are on one of our airplanes carrying a gold shipment consigned to the mint. Recently a plane similarly loaded disappeared, and our company lost a million dollars. We do not propose that such a steal shall be repeated.”
“A million! And this crate ahead is carrying that much?”
“It is carrying two million. But,” Epworth’s lips twisted determinedly, “I do not think that an air pirate will be able to get away with it—not as long as these ten little babies can shoot.”
Julian Epworth was the head of the secret service of the Atlantic-Pacific Airlines, Inc., and he imagined that his plans had been extremely well laid.
Billy glanced up at the clear sky, picked up the signals, and, in obedience to Epworth’s command, closed in on the four planes flying on the left of the large passenger ship in the lead. A ship launched secretly into the air in the dead of night, and picked up on the desert by an escort of ten planes, should certainly be safe from a robber.
“Not a chance in a million that we will be stopped,” he remarked thoughtfully. “Look at the moon and the stars! We could see a plane ten miles away, and get it long before it could get in shooting distance.”
Feeling in a good humor and perfectly safe, Epworth tuned in on the radio—just loud enough to bring the news of the world to them, and not loud enough to give a warning to any other flyer in the sky that might be secretly approaching.
Suddenly Billy leaned toward his companion excitedly, and caught his arm.
“Did you hear that? I am speaking about that noise that is coming over the radio.”
“Of course I heard it.”
The radio was saying:
“This is Clarence Ainslee, astronomical observer at Mount Wilson Observatory. Are you looking at the moon? If not, get a large telescope and look at the extreme western extremity of the Sea of Vapours. You will see something you never saw before. There is a lake or sea forming there. At least that is the judgment of astronomers.”
“What do you think about it?” Billy asked.
Both aviators looked toward the bright shining full moon.
“But,” Epworth remarked, “we could not tell anything with our naked eyes.”
“In addition to the appearance of a new lake,” the radio continued, “vegetation is appearing not far from the eastern border of the water. The mystery of this is now puzzling the scientific world.”
“Let them puzzle,” Epworth muttered as he switched the radio dial. “I should worry.”
“This is the news report from the morning Blade,” they heard the radio say. “Station WGCF. The report has just come in that twenty masked men, all of whom spoke a foreign tongue, have robbed the Swift & Co. laboratory. They lined up the seventy chemists and their assistants, and while the gunmen held them and their helpers the bandits looted the plant. Thousands of dollars in liquid air, saltpeter, and chemicals were carried off in two enormous airplanes, dim shadowy things that stretched out two thousand feet in length.”
“Some little airplane. I’d like to see it!”
“Airplane?” Billy snorted indignantly. “They are using dirigibles of course.”
“What do you suppose they wanted with all that nitrogen and fertilizer?”
“Couldn’t guess in a million years.”
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