FICTION

Romance in the Air

The Hammon-Fontanne flight made a great story for the newspapers but here's the story the newspapers didn't tell

LEN ARNOLD September 1 1935
FICTION

Romance in the Air

The Hammon-Fontanne flight made a great story for the newspapers but here's the story the newspapers didn't tell

LEN ARNOLD September 1 1935

Romance in the Air

FICTION

The Hammon-Fontanne flight made a great story for the newspapers but here's the story the newspapers didn't tell

LEN ARNOLD

THE FLOODLIGHTS dimmed, the newspaper men hurried away and Eddie Hammon sought the fraternity of the canteen—private hangout of men like himself; the inner sanctum of the fliers who play the breaks.

And where he couldn’t miss her was Alice Fontanne, who had no right to be there so far as Eddie could see. He sat down to tell her so.

“This place,” he said, “is reserved for fliers.” And then he smiled. When you are close to a beautiful girl, you have to smile or stare.

She answered him: “Well, I dare say you qualify. The newspapers say you’re a flier. Don’t tell me you haven’t heard? All about how Eddie Hammon saves child in mercy dash.”

“The newspapers,” Eddie said, “make their own news. The kid had a pin in her throat and she had to get to a hospital in the quickest way for that bronchoscope business. I happened to be there with a Hammon-Hartley, the fastest speed plane made. Let me tell you about it.”

“No sale, Eddie. But don’t worry—the publicity you grabbed off with this mercy dash will bring you plenty of nice fat orders.”

Eddie nodded. “I hope so. I thought you’d be the first.” “Is that why you’re talking with me? I thought you wanted to finish what you were saying the last time.” “The last time?”

“Ah, you remember. The time the world’s fastest plane clipped a pylon and wasn’t any more. Surely you recall the hospital?”

“Would that be the time Alice Fontanne, society sportswoman, garners new laurels in the air?” -

“The very. And just before you were called out to knock over that pylon, you were telling me what you thought of me in a straightforward manner.”

Alice sat back and watched him light a cigarette. He was handsome, strong, slow moving. You could watch a man like that with pleasure. He was sure of himself.

“Go on and tell me, Eddie. I’m not going to buy a Hammon-Hartley anyway. Or—I tell you what—maybe I’ll buy il you talk right out like a man.”

“All right—but you won’t buy a Hammon-Hartley. I won’t sell you one. I think too much of the ship.”

“That’s a good start. Now go ahead. How have I earned your very thorough contempt?”

“Not that it matters?”

“It does matter. I get on fine with all the other boys, but I seem a pain to you every time you come on the scene.” “That’s it. You’ve practically answered your own question. This getting-on-fine-with-the-boys stuff. That hits it. You—and the newspapers—have built up this sportswoman myth since you won your first kiddie-car race in Newport— or was it Palm Beach? And now you’re the flying sportswoman. Fearless; flies like a man; ready for anything. And above all, a good sport. What a sportswoman! Hooey.”

EDDIE LET the word hang and watched the slow lift of her eyebrows.

“Go on,” she said.

“I was flying a crate when you took your first jump on a hunter—one of the string of Fontanne hunters. And then

you went on to fast cars and speed boats and just naturally to planes. That’s what I make my living at—planes. But you are a sportswoman. Y'ou can afford to be.

“Really, you wouldn’t risk your little finger for a thrill. You’re always safe with millions backing you up. It looks dangerous to outsiders, but you know you never took a real chance in your life. I don’t blame you for that.

“But what I can’t stand is this sportswoman stuff with us. I can’t stand this camaraderie business. Why don’t you stay on your own side of the railroad tracks? Play all you want but don’t bother the men at work.”

Alice nodded and turned her eyes full into his.

“Go on.”

“Well—that’s all.”

“There must be more. It’s not very clear. You don’t express yourself very well, Eddie. All you’ve said is that you wish you had my money.”

“Maybe I did. It isn’t what I meant.”

“That’s your trouble, Eddie—money.”

“Now you’re telling me.”

“I’ll tell you some more. You resent the amateur flier because he can pretty nearly do anything a professional can do. And you resent me more because I’m a girl and that makes it worse.

“You make a racket out of flying. Knocking down publicity and then cashing in by selling some amateur like myself one of those so-called speed planes that you’re supposed to design and the Hartley people knock together.” Eddie flared: “Say—I do design those ships, every inch of them. And they’re not knocked together. I watch every operation on those ships. And they are speed planes. The fastest in the world.”

“Which has to be proved. I’ve yet to see one turn in a real flight. Winning a couple of merry-go-round races—when they can keep clear of the pylons. I don’t call that anything. This fastest in the world stuff sounds like—hooey.”

His chin went up. “Listen,” he said. “How would you like to see a Hammon-Hartley knock off a New Y'ork to London hop in ten hours or better?”

“You must have hit bumpy weather on your mercy flight, Eddie. Or have you got a pin in you some place, too?” “Ten hours or better. And I’m going to make that flight.” “Are you talking for publication.”

“No, I’m not. When I get ready you needn’t worry about the publication.”

“I guess not. But why the delay?”

Eddie leaned back and shrugged.

“Maybe,” she said, rather doubtfully, “the Hartley people aren’t so optimistic?”

“No, they’re not. Not $40,000 worth.”

“Which brings us back to Eddie’s little nemesis—money.” “When did we ever get away from it?”

“We got away from it when you said ’hooey.’ And you’ve done a nice job of salesmanship. You can go ahead with the publication, Eddie—you’ve got the money.”

Eddie leaned toward her. “Meaning—you’ll back me?” “Meaning—we make the flight.”

“Your money and my plane?”

“No—your plane and you and my money—and me.” “Alice, a flight like that is no women’s cross-country derby.”

“I go or else.”

“I think it’s ‘or else.’ ”

She put her hand on his wrist.

“Eddie, you had a lot to say about what kind of a sport I am. I want to show you. I’ve got a reason. We’ll make that flight together and you can’t turn me down.”

He felt her fingers on his hand.

“No,” he said. “I can’t turn you down. We go.”

FRED WRIGLEY had the suspicious mind of an editor, and that’s why he was a good press agent. When Eddie Hammon signed him to handle the publicity on the flight, he agreed that it would make the biggest story in years. “But there are just two angles to this yarn, Eddie, that we might as well have talk on right now.”

“Let’s have it.”

“Eddie, Fontanne is swell copy any day in the week and the boys will go all the way on any of her nice little society sportswoman stunts—but it’ll be hard for them to believe that Alice Fontanne is actually going to get in that ship and head out over the blue with a better than fifty-fifty chance of never being seen again.”

“Maybe the boys don’t really know her,” Eddie said. “The boys know her all right. And so do you. Why should Fontanne take a chance like that? To a flier, it would be worth a million bucks. You’ll be set for life if you make it. But to a dame like Fontanne—”

“I’m telling you, Fred—Fontanne is on the level. She’s not what you think she is. There’s a side to that girl that you’ll never understand.”

Wrigley nodded. “That brings us to the other angle I mentioned. Smack up against it. The romance slant.” “That’s out. There’s nothing to that.”

“I know. Of course. But I’m telling you the boys will pounce on it and I wouldn’t blame them. When a girl like Fontanne even backs a guy like you, it’s there. When she says she’s going to actually go with you—bang !”

“Maybe,” said Eddie, “you as press agent might do a little work and see that they don’t figure that way.”

Wrigley laughed. “You’d better get another press agent, then, because I couldn’t cut that off no matter what. Unless you and Fontanne will stand for it, you’d better keep the whole flight a deep dark secret.”

“I’ll stand for it, then,” Eddie said. “And she’ll have to.” The next morning the conductor of a notorious gossip column had a bold face lead for his column: “What society sportswoman (see the papers tomorrow) will take off very soon for a cross-pond flight with handsome Eddie Hammon? And don’t forget that yours truly also told you first that there’s romance in the air”

The same day, Wrigley broke the story to the papers and told the boys he couldn’t imagine where the gossip column got the tipoff. “Or maybe you guys think I gave it to him,” he said indignantly. The romance stuff was all wet, of course. All they had to do was ask Miss Fontanne and Hammon.

Fred Wrigley did a swell job. The papers went their separate ways on the romance angle, which became something for newspapermen to bet on. And thereafter, the Fontanne-Hammon flight stayed on page one.

There was plenty to report. Eddie lived at the Hartley plant, as his wing alterations and retractable landing gear transformed the Hammon-Hartley speed plane into a supercabin ship with streamlining never attempted before. The ship could take off on land and come down on water. Eddie explained that this would be the first passenger ship which could maintain racing speed in a long-distance hop.

Reporters trailing Alice Fontanne found her studying the Morse code and the simple operation of a one-way radio. She held daily conferences with weather experts and had charge of the navigation maps and meteorological data.

The flight was set for early May, and the flying plans were simple. They’d take off from Floyd Bennett Airport, New York, at about five a.m., and seek a 2,000 feet altitude as their powerful engine conquered the fuel load. Then they’d hit the pace of 300 miles an hour or better, and hold it on the shortest airline to London. Alice would report regularly by the radio on their progress.

THE PLANE was ready in April. It was an early spring and all signs pointed to good flying weather. Eddie wanted to make a final short distance hop to get the feel of the ship under full load. And now there was a breathing spell in which they could get together. Until now, the telephone had borne the greater part of their communication.

Alice called for Eddie at the plant for a “night off” to plan the test flight.

They were being chauffeured in her car, headed for midtown and trying to see each other in the spasmodic light of street lamps sliding past. They tried to talk and the strain of being at ease was too much.

“This is awful,” Alice said. “Let’s get out and walk.” “Thank goodness for the melting pot,” Eddie agreed as they swung into the Broadway crowd, at last really alone.

“This is the fun of being famous,” Alice said. “No one recognizes us in the mob. We could go over there and buy that paper with our faces all over it—by the way, you’re looking thin—and no one would spot us.”

“I’ve often thought just that. Safety’s where the sheep run thickest—if it’s safety you want.”

“Yes,” she said.

They moved and halted with the crowd as traffic let them and they overheard the topic of the day—themselves— discussed in the rapid fire of sidewalk conversation. They laughed with the others when the wisecracking Forty-fifth Street cop slowed a chauffeur with “Take it easy there, Eddie Hammon.”

“And still, we haven’t talked or anything,” Eddie said, tightening his hold on her arm.

“What’s on your mind?”

“I want to tell you about the test flight. I’m figuring on New Brunswick.”

“So am I.”

“Who told you about New Brunswick?”

“No one—I was going to suggest it. Lake Sloogan. I’ve charted a course 200 miles northeast over the sea, then a double back due west and a drop on Sloogan. It’s the spot for a real trial—no one within miles of the lake. I know because I own it.”

Continued on page 48

Romance in the Air

Continued from page 13—Starts on page 12

“Well,” said Eddie, “that’s that.”

“As a matter of fact, there’s something I want to show you up there.”

“In that case—okay. In any case. I’ve got the ship perfect and it doesn’t make any difference where we go. I just want to try her with a full load. As if we were taking off on the real thing.”

She made him look into her face. “Anything you say, Eddie.”

They went to a movie because they knew that nothing more would be said that night.

When they parted after the show, Eddie let her go without answering her whisper: “Do you think there’s really anything to what they say about those fliers?”

FRED MAD the newsmen out en masse for the test take-off. There was the business of a champagne christening, and they named the plane Start.

“The idea is,” Eddie told Miss Fontanne for the newsreels, “that we change the name to Finish when we land at London.”

The take-off was smooth and the worry that a full fuel load might balk the ship’s quick climb to their racing altitude vanished as she nosed up without trouble. Eddie took her up easily and sighed when the altimeter needle touched 2.(XX). He set the wheel on course and locked it in the robot control. Then he went to Alice.

"Sweet,” he said.

“If you’re talking to me, I’m busy.” She was cool as a veteran, busy with the radio bug and checking their time and speed against her charts. Of course, Eddie told himself, this isn’t the real thing and she knows it. But even at that . . .

He went back to the wheel and watched the shore line fade and a grey void take its place through the observation window. They were ploughing through fog. and the water whipped from the wings and flooded against the ports. Eddie called Alice and spread his hands.

“This is the way it’ll be,” he said.

She nodded.

“And if it should get cold and that water turns to ice . .

“Pleasant thoughts you’re having.”

“I just wanted to let you know before we made this thing final.”

“That word has a delightful little ring. Please excuse me for a while.”

She was back at her charts and when she came forward again they agreed on the point for the wheel around to New Brunswick.

“The next time we get out here,” he said, “we keep going.”

He didn’t know if she heard him because she was busy with the radio. He warned her for the bank and brought the ship around steeply for the back trip.

Until they reached the coast, Eddie was part of the intricate machinery he controlled, watching the reactions to his tests. He tried every condition the ship might be called on to meet. Everything was perfect.

They were over the new-green of New Brunswick and Alice was calling out their position. The splinter of silver below them was Lake Sloogan—her calculations were correct to the dot. Eddie nodded his approval when she signalled and they started an easy dive for the lake.

“Well, London won’t look like this, but here’s the way we’ll coast in,” Eddie said.

They glided over the water to settle in a burst of spray. They taxied to a mooring buoy, killed the engine and tied up. Eddie inflated the emergency boat and they paddled ashore and stretched out on the bank.

They closed their eyes to the soft whir of the life of tiny things that made up the silence. The sudden scream of a fish hawk that wheeled in fright from their plane, broke the spell.

“You see, it never does last long,” she said.

“I know what you mean.”

He knew, too, that even before that

minute of utter peace had ended, he had fastened on the thought of her beside him.

She moved to let her head rest on his arm. There was no peace in the silence that held them.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” she said.

His arms went around her and the long moment of their kiss was all the peace they had ever wanted.

“It’s beautiful,” Eddie said.

“Well, Eddie—that’s another start.”

“Yes, and there’s a finish for that in I^ondon, too.”

“London. Since we came here I’d been able to forget it for a while.” She sat up and faced him.

“When we get to London I can ask you when you’ll marry me,” he said.

“I’d forgotten London. I want to forget it. Eddie, more than all the flights in the world —you love me?”

“You know I love you.”

“Then, Eddie—listen. I told you I

wanted to show you something up here. It isn’t only here, it’s everywhere—I know that now and you do, too. Nothing is more important than you and I. There’s a start and finish for us—that’s what counts. Not any stupid flight where finish might mean just that. End. Of you and me. You see what I mean?”

The question came like a prayer.

TO EDDIE, as if he’d been waiting for it, what she said didn’t come as a shock. He seemed to have planned his way of answering.

“Darling—you love me and there’s a reason for that, isn’t there? You love me for the kind of man I am, for everything that’s in me. You know what flying and this flight mean to me. You know it’s part of me and it’s impossible to cut that out of me. Why— you wouldn’t love me if I were any other way.”

“And that’s not so. That’s farthest from the truth. That’s what you don’t know. I don’t love you for what you’ve done and what you plan to do. People don’t love because of the things they foolishly believe are what count. The twist of your mouth, the curl of your hair, your strong arms and the way I see your eyes. I love you for those things that are dearer than anything that flier Eddie Hammon might do. It’s you as you are that I love. And I’m not going to lose you because you think you have to make money and risk your life for it—and my life, too.”

What she says, Eddie told himself, can’t be right. Even if it’s true.

“Now listen to me, Eddie. You said I wasn’t a real person. You may think I want you to give up everything for me and that I’ll give up nothing. You said when it came to taking a real chance I couldn’t do it. Maybe you’re right. I can’t take a chance of losing you and I can’t chance losing happiness for both of us.

“But I can give up everything but you. This flight would mean you could come to me on equal terms. You’d have money same as I have. You want me on an equal basis. And you’re willing to take a worse than fifty-fifty chance on—murdering us both.

“I’ll come on an equal basis without taking that chance. Look, Eddie. How many people have got into planes and gone off on flights and never come back? Never been heard from again? A charred piece of wing, a note in a bottle, a last SOS. Then—it was all over, as far as the world knew.

“Did anyone ever question whether they really were lost at all? That perhaps they were two people like you and me? Who loved each other and had to get away to be together?

“Perhaps they’re living somewhere right now, with no one in the world knowing They came down on a lake like this one— there’s not a living soul in miles of here. They sank the ship, destroyed everything they had with them. And they went off together. Laid low until they were forgotten ; and then just kept on in a new part of the i world as Mr. and Mrs. Somebody Else.

“That’s what we’re going to do. No one will ever know. We walked on Broadway with people carrying papers with our pictures in their hands and they never recognized us. And we’d be far from the world that knew us. I’ll give up my money and everything else that doesn’t matter. And we’ll live on a farm or any other place you say. But we’ll live. That’s the idea. If we go on with this flight, it may mean death. You and I to finish like that. To end ...” When she stopped talking he felt the earth that his fingers had torn up. There were two wounds in the new grass that he had made. Out in the lake, the plane was a cold, white thing of steel. Beside him, close to him, was Alice who spoke of death.

“Don’t you understand?” she said.

He took her in his arms and kissed her, and then she felt that he had given his answer.

rTvHE AIRPORT was grey with the predawn light. There was a low tone from the thousands who lined the field. The engines of the plane droned steadily. The Start poised for the take-off. Two planes

droned overhead, chartered by the photo | and newsreel outfits to escort them to the coastline.

Eddie and Alice were alone for a final j few minutes in the privacy of the dispatch ¡ office.

Alice held out her hand. “I'm as calm as ! if we were just making a jaunt to Boston.” “That’s right.” Eddie said.

“It’s all set. darling. I’ve got our map all ready. The other chart is in the plane—the j one we won’t need.”

“Okay.”

“What's the matter, Eddie?”

“I want to get going—that’s all.”

“I’m ready. And I’m glad. I wouldn’t be like this if we were really going on to London. I know it. And it’s not that I’d be afraid. You know that, don’t you?”

He held her close to him.

“We’ll go on like this, Eddie. Really go on, I mean. That’s the only thing that counts.”

“Yes,” he said, and let her slip away. He heard the crowd cheer as she ran to the plane and tossed a small bag into the cabin.

He went after her and they posed for the picture men. Rimmed about them were the thousands of staring faces. The camera men were insisting.

Continued on page 50

Continued from page k9 “Ah. listen, let’s have just one—you know, with the arms around each other.’’ “Nothing doing,” said Eddie.

“Ah, what do you say, Miss Fontanne?” “Eddie’s the boss,” she said. And then she threw her arms around him and kissed him. They climbed in as the murmur of the crowd churned to a high-pitched roar. Then the cabin shut out the sound.

They started down the runway and hit the speed for a take-off. That breathless moment when the wheels left the concrete came and they were safely up to begin the crucial fight with the fuel load. Alice gripped the chart table as she waited for the climb. It came and Eddie nodded happily as the plane nosed more easily upward. Now the altimeter needle moved steadily. They were off.

Eddie turned around: “Okay on the

radio—if you want.”

"Nice work” she said and started the aerial unreeling. She went to work with the key for their first message.

Then she came forward. “I told them we were off well. Now I’ll give them the speed and altitude.” He waved at the instrument board.

“How do you feel?”

“Swell, darling.” She kissed him.

The news planes closed in on them and Eddie risked a slight dip in salute. The hoys were grinding away.

Then the first curls of ocean fog drifted around them.

Alice went to the radio and reported the coastline below them. Then they tore into the deep fog that would hold them for the next half hour of flying.

“Over the water, now,” she called to Eddie.

“And plenty wet,” he said.

“Thank heaven it won’t be long.”

She brought him their chart, their position checked on it. He put his finger on a circle she had made in the route.

“That’s where I send the SOS,” she said, “and we drop the bottle.”

“Where’s the bottle?”

“Here.” She opened the bag she had stowed in at the last minute. There was a flask with a curl of paper inside it.

“That’s our last message to the world—if it’s ever found.”

Water was splashing steadily on the cabin ports as the clinging fog held on.

“If that were ice . . . ”

“They’re going to think it is. in just five minutes,” Alice said, checking the new position on the chart. “That’s when the plot thickens.”

She went back to the radio. Eddie watched her hunch over the key, her eyes on her wrist-watch.

“Alice. Come here a minute.”

“Hurry up— ”

“There’s plenty of time, Alice.”

“I want to keep this on schedule.” “Forget it.”

“No, Eddie, because I want to—”

“I mean, the whole idea. Forget it!” “Eddie!” Her fingers gripped his arm. He looked up and then drew her close to the wheel.

“I want to tell you, Alice. We’re going on. Not turning back. Get it?”

SHE TWISTED in his hold. “Eddie—” "Take it easy. dear. You can understand this.”

She sagged, falling against him. “I can’t believe ...”

“Alice. I love you.”

“You don’t. You can’t possibly. I don’t care. You can’t do it. You promised me. You promised.”

“You said you loved me, Alice. Then you know why I’m going on.”

“Eddie, please.”

Her face was white over his shoulder. “There’s only one way—straight ahead. And if we make it—”

“If—for heaven’s sake.”

"If we don't, we'll go out quickly. I'm

ready for that.” He touched the pocket of j his jacket.

“You said nothing else counted but you and me. You said that.”

“Nothing else but you and me. That’s right. But the other way—what kind of life do you think that would be? This flight is our only chance. You wouldn’t want me any other way.”

“You’re crazy.” Her voice was trembling with her body.

“Steady now.”

“Eddie, I’m afraid. Please. You’ll turn j back. You will.” She was crying.

Eddie clamped the robot device on the | wheel and slipped her arm around him.

He held her firmly. “I let you think I’d I turn back because I knew it was the only way to get off on this flight. Don’t you sec that I’ve worked years for this chance? It’s the biggest thing that could happen—outside of you.”

“And I thought ...”

“And I thought you wanted to prove to me that you were real. This is your chance. You’ve got to take it. There’s no way out. I’d rather put a bullet in your head if wc crack up than sneak back.”

She pushed him away slowly. He left her standing and went back to the controls. He checked the robot and turned around.

Alice was facing him with a pistol. She had taken it from his pocket.

“Now you’ll turn back.”

She put out her hand that held the gun. “Alice, you know I won’t.”

“I’ll shoot, Eddie. I swear I will.”

“You won’t shoot.”

He stepped toward her to lunge for her hand and in that instant the plane staggered in an air pocket. He twisted to grab the wheel as a metallic snap in the robot gave a warning. The ship sideslipped deeply and he fell. His head dashed into the instrument board. In the whirl of lights he saw Alice | get to the wheel. Then the lights blotted ¡ out into blackness.

I

WHEN HE came to, he was lying m the j back of the cabin, covered with blankets. Alice was at the wheel. His limbs Í felt dead and he thought he was tied up. There was the taste of liquor in his mouth and a flask was near his head. Eddie stirred and saw her turn. He lay still to watch her. There might be a chance yet.

Her eyes were bright and she clutched the wheel with assurance.

It’s over, he thought.

“I guess you’re all right,” she called in a steady voice.

He knew then she’d been watching him. “Come on—get up.”

He came forward, crawling because he was too weak to walk.

His hand hit a crumpled map.

“That’s the one we don’t need,” she said. He spread it on the floor, mechanically. It was the swing-back route to the lake. His eyes went quickly to the compass. They were flying dead east—on his route. The route to London !

“Yes.” she said. “You’ve won.”

He was at her knees.

“I wish you’d take this thing soon. The robot went flooey, you remember, just before you took your tumble. I think everything else is okay.”

He kissed her as she leaned down to smile at him.

“And if you want to know why it’s this way—”

“Why?”

“It was the look on your face when you went down. That’s the only reason. I just couldn’t do anything else.”

THE SUN was making the plane a silver dagger in the sky. The people on the liner below saw that, and when the Start dipped over them, they thought it was making a response to the liner’s frenzied whistle of greeting.

But Alice and Eddie couldn’t hear that. Alice had let go the wheel to put her arms around him.