FICTION

WINGS OF HAZARD

Climaxing a search that has led over half a continent, two men reach a showdown, on a bleak Arctic shore—for the future happiness of a girl

FRANK BUNCE March 1 1940
FICTION

WINGS OF HAZARD

Climaxing a search that has led over half a continent, two men reach a showdown, on a bleak Arctic shore—for the future happiness of a girl

FRANK BUNCE March 1 1940

CONCLUSION

NO!” MURDOCK said stubbornly. “I won’t go back. Don’t you see? I can’t. I’d be arrested the moment I reached civilization. And I can’t fight now. My defense—my proof—it’s gone. I can’t go back with you.”

It was two days after his announcement of the box being stolen, that Murdock made his blunt refusal. For two days Valerie had argued vainly against his decision to remain in the Arctic.

“But this man Bates,” she said. “Couldn’t we find him? If he’s a trader, as you say, surely there must be some way—”

“I’ll find him!” declared Murdock grimly.

They sat in the hut. Gayle’s head ached. The argument, the discussion, seemed to have gone on interminably. He glanced over at Rothe. He couldn’t understand Rothe. Not once, during all the discussion about Bates, had Rothe ever indicated that he knew the trader. Gayle, following this lead, kept his own counsel. He wondered if Rothe was worried by his silence. What would Murdock say if he revealed the fact that Rothe and Bates had met at Vancouver? He decided to let Rothe make the first move.

“Someone must have seen me hiding that box. But why would Bates have taken it?” muttered Murdock desperately. “If he opened it he would have seen it held nothing but papers. Nothing of value to him.”

Gayle was trying to piece things together. After he had the box. Bates must have hurried out to Bear Lake, flown south to Vancouver right away. But how had the man got in touch with Rothe? And why? Bates couldn’t have brought the box out to civilization, for apparently there was something in the wind between Rothe and the trader—and in the event the box was out in civilization Rothe would never have continued north.

“But after we’ve made this long flight to find you!” Valerie was saying. “We can’t go away and leave you here.”

“I’m afraid that’s what you’ll have to do,” Murdock said, and sighed.

Pikalu, the native, ducked into the hut hastily. He was excited. His eyes shone wide in his round face.

“White man come—trader fella—”

Murdock leaped to his feet.

“Bates!” he shouted incredulously. Pikalu’s head bobbed affirmatively. One of the Eskimos, he said, had just come in. Bates, with a party of Eskimos, was heading toward the village, coming up from the river.

“Of all the luck!” Murdock cried jubilantly. “He came back—came back for that box !” He snatched up his rifle. “Valerie, you stay here. Rothe, you and Gayle get guns and come along—”

And then, when he saw her apprehension, Murdock laughed. “Don’t worry We’re not going to shoot him. Not while the hiding place of that box is locked up inside his head. But with those natives you never can tell—”

He hurried out of the hut. Gayle took one of the guns, dropped some ammunition into his pocket. Rothe did likewise.

“I imagine,’ said Gayle, “that you and Bates will have a lot to talk over.”

"Think so?” returned Rothe coolly, and stepped outside.

THE MEETING with Bates, however, was singularly undramatic. The trader trudged up the slope toward them, followed by a few shabby Eskimos, and when Bates saw the reception committee he waved his hand cheerfully. There was nothing of the conscience-stricken thief about his attitude at any rate.

“Hi, gents!” he sang out. and advanced brazenly. “Hello, Gayle. You get around a lot, don’t you?”

Gayle wondered how the man would act toward Rothe. But there was no sign of recognition. To Murdock, however. Bates said with bland effrontery, “Well, mister, I’ve come back.”

“Where,” said Murdock, in a low, tense voice, “is that box?”

Bates spat, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Just what I came back about, mister.” And then, to Gayle’s unutterable astonishment. Bates turned to Rothe. “Friend of yours, ain’t he? Well, any friend of yours, Mr. Rothe, is a friend of mine. I did a lot of thinking after I met you that time in Vancouver. A lot of thinking—”

“You know Mr. Rothe?” said Murdock.

“Sure. It’s a small world, ain't it?” Bates took a plug of tobacco from his hip pocket and gnawed off a chew. “Met him in Vancouver just a few days ago. Told me he was coming north, looking for a feller by the name of Murdock. I didn’t say nothing then. But I did a lot of thinking. ‘This Murdock can’t be so bad,’ I said to myself, ‘if he’s got friends like Mr. Rothe. Maybe I did wrong in hiding that box. I hadn’t said anything about that box to Mr. Rothe. I wanted time to make up my mind about it. But finally I said to myself: I guess I’d better go back.’ So here I am.”

Gayle didn’t believe a word of it. Neither, he suspected, did Murdock. The trader’s story was too pat altogether.

“Where is the box?” repeated Murdock grimly.

“Now let’s go on up and talk it over,” said Bates in the friendliest fashion. “You’ll get your box, all right. If you hadn’t stayed hid when I was here last month I wouldn’t have taken it. But one of the boys said there was a white man here and that he had gone under cover when I showed up and that he had hid a box in the wall of the old fort. Well, I figured I’d just look into it, play a little joke on him, and serve him right for not coming out when another white man showed up. So I took the box and hid it somewhere else.” He glanced slyly at Murdock as they moved toward the village. “I guess it’ll be worth something to you to lay your hands on that box again?”

“I won’t pay you a cent,” Murdock said flatly. “If this is blackmail—”

Bates spat emphatically. “Maybe if you won’t, there’s them that will. How does that idea strike you?”

“It doesn't strike me very hard. We’ve got guns,” Murdock answered. “I’m calling your bluff, Bates. You came back to get that box and you didn't expect to run into trouble. You’re out of luck. Produce.”

Bates sighed. “Cost a lot of time and money for me to come back here,” he grumbled. “Don’t you think a fellow is entitled to something for his trouble?”

Rothe spoke up. “You’ll be looked after.”

“How much?” demanded Bates eagerly.

“A third. Just over eight thousand.”

Gayle was staggered. What sort of farce was this? Rothe, without a dollar to his name, calmly offering eight thousand dollars for the return of the box? A third. A third of what?

“Not enough,” said Bates. “And don’t think the gun threats scare me. A lot of chance you’ll have of finding the box if I’m gone.”

“How much do you want?” asked Rothe.

"A straight half. And that goes.”

“It's a deal.”

“In cash,” Bates added.

“Do you think I carry around twelve thousand dollars cash in the Arctic?” enquired Rothe. “It’ll be paid by cheque. You’ll have to take my word that it’s good.”

“All right—but you won’t get out of my sight until it’s cashed.” Bates said. “I’ll fly back to Dawson with you. And if the cheque ain’t good—then I start talkin’ to the police.”

“Twelve thousand, five hundred it is, then.”

“And worth every cent of it,” declared Bates cheerfully. He winked at Gayle with the air of one who knows he has driven an outrageously good bargain.

Back at the hut Bates regaled them with a long account of his flight back from Vancouver. He seemed in no hurry to lead them to the box. Gayle was impatient, but Murdock, to whom time had meant little for a long time, waited. He sat to one side and talked to Valerie in a low voice. After a while Rothe and Bates went outside. Gayle followed a moment later. He saw Roth writing a cheque. The pair talked together for a while, Bates nodding energetically.

Gayle felt a reluctant admiration for Rothe. That bluff about the cheque had been clever, for certainly there had been little chance of forcing Bates to reveal the hiding place of the box, even at gun point. Just what was going to happen when they reached Dawson and Bates found he had been swindled. But maybe Bates wouldn’t reach Dawson with them. That, perhaps, would be something he, Gayle, would have to arrange—to escape from this place without the trader.

“All right, gents,” Bates called out. Murdock and Valerie came out of the hut. On seeing Valerie, Bates shook his head.

“You’d better not come, lady. It’s a long walk.”

“Perhaps you’d better stay, dear,” Murdock advised her. Valerie sat down outside the hut as Murdock and Bates moved off. Rothe fell into step beside Gayle.

“And so,” Rothe said, “it looks as if everything is going to work out right after all.” He looked at the rifle Gayle was still carrying. “Why the gun?” he asked.

“Just in case,” Gayle said noncommittally. Somehow, this all seemed too good to be true. Everything was going too smoothly. And yet, on the surface, there was no reason to suspect that there was anything wrong. Bates’ men weren’t likely to put up much of a fight, and surely Bates himself would not try to stand off the three other white men singlehanded. Still, he was distrustful.

THEY REACHED the edge of a plateau. It was cooler now. At their backs the sun was lowest, an hour above the rim of the satin sea. It would stay there for many hours, only sliding imperceptibly across the horizon. The wind in their faces, although warm, had a refreshing tang, a hint of glacier belts and cool forests. For this one month of the Northern year, two extremes of the world’s bulge would seem crumpled together there. Heat and light of tropical intensity would beat upon their heads; and their feet would sink into vegetation of a tropical luxuriance, but the Arctic would never quite relax its hold upon the land. Even now they could see the white fleck of ice floes in the bay and stubborn banners of ice and snow on some of the more distant hills.

On the plateau they turned a little westward. They were out of sight of the village now. Gayle saw Bates stop, gaze around, scratch his head as if in perplexity and then make toward a heap of stones.

Gayle and Rothe came up just as Bates toppled the last stone over and revealed the box lying snugly in a hollow. Murdock swooped on it with a cry of exultation.

It was a very ordinary-looking box, of black steel, obviously heavy with its weight of papers, but not so heavy that it could not be lifted by one man.

“There you are, sir!” declared Bates smugly. “I’m a man of my word. There’s your box back, safe and sound, and no harm done.”

This wasn’t quite accurate. The lock of the box had been forced open. Murdock flung back the lid. But the papers, tied in neat bundles, were apparently undisturbed. Murdock pawed them over. Then he looked up, his face transformed by the most radiant smile Gayle had ever seen.

“Now,” he said. “Now I can go back.”

Rothe regarded the box with a faint smile. “So that is the box that has caused so much trouble!”

“It will cause more before I’m through,” replied Murdock. He hoisted the box onto his shoulder. “Come on. Let’s get back. I want to tell Valerie.”

He started off at a long, vigorous stride. Gayle, who had set the rifle down against a rock, looked around for it. Bates had gone jogging off behind Murdock.

Rothe was just raising the rifle when Gayle saw him. With what purpose, Gayle didn’t know, but the tense expression of Rothe’s face told him the man meant business. Gayle lunged swiftly.

“I’ll take that gun!”

Rothe, too quick for him, stepped back swiftly, in the same instant bringing the rifle up to his shoulder, aiming directly at the back of Murdock not thirty feet away.

Gayle crashed into Rothe as the rifle barked. Gayle grabbed at the barrel, but Rothe went staggering back and whirled the butt of the rifle to smash Gayle full in the face. Half-stunned, grappling with Rothe, Gayle heard a hoarse shout from Bates somewhere in the background. He managed to hook one arm around the rifle barrel as he and Rothe went down. Gayle had one arm free and drove it at Rothe’s face, fighting desperately for possession of the rifle.

And then something descended upon the back of Gayle’s head; there was a wild blaze of flashing light—and blackness.

A score of times, in fitful delirium, Gayle lived that moment over—the lunge for the rifle, the shot, the blow, tumbling in tangled sequence repetitiously through his brain. With the dream was mingled a confused awareness of sounds, of feeling — pain, cold and burning. Only slowly did he localize these sensations. The pain was in his head, the burning in his parched mouth; the chill struck up at him from some patch of dank earth he lay upon.

He opened his eyes, blinked away the pain and dimness, and looked about him. He was in some hut, rather smaller than Murdock’s, and lying half on its dirt floor, half on a pile of skins. In trying to get back onto the skins, he first noticed that his hands were tied behind him.

From near the door came voices. Gayle heard them only vaguely, with a drowsy disinterest that scaled down into a return to sensibility. When he awakened again, he recognized the men. One was Rothe. He came to Gayle as soon as lie saw that he was awake, and helped him to sit up. His attitude of friendly concern was so well simulated that had not Gayle remembered what had happened on the plateau he might have thought it genuine.

He was saying, “Sorry, old man. Your head must be aching frightfully—that was a terrific blow.” He turned to the other man, an Eskimo. “Bring him a drink, Charlie.”

The Eskimo, an oldish man with long matted hair, brought water in a tin pail.

“Feel better?" Rothe asked then. Gayle contemptuously refused to answer, and Rothe said: “I understand your attitude, of course. It is most unfortunate that you had to be struck, though I think you’ll agree it’s better than being shot. I was afraid Bates might drill you.”

“That shouldn’t have concerned you,” said Gayle. “What’s another murder to your kind?”

Rothe arched his eyebrows delicately. “Another? My dear chap! I didn’t kill Murdock. I shot in his direction, yes. But if you hadn’t lunged at me and joggled my arm he wouldn’t have been hurt at all. As it is he has a pretty nasty shoulder wound.”

“Where is he?” said Gayle.

“At the moment, resting easily in the plane, though he’s still unconscious. Valerie is with him, and unharmed, to anticipate another question.” Rothe bared his teeth in a half smile. “Bates and I, as you may have guessed, have made a deal.”

GAYLE’S head ached. He tried to make sense of what Rothe had said.

“You didn't try to shoot Murdock? Why you rat—you tried to kill him. You tried to kill him because Tabor told you Murdock wasn’t to come back alive.”

“Oh, no,” Rothe said calmly. “The idea was that when Murdock heard the shot and turned around and saw us struggling for the rifle, he was to think that you tried to kill him. After all, you were carrying the rifle when he last saw you. Of course, now that he has been shot it’s so much the worse for you, Gayle. Bates backs up the story, of course. Valerie thinks I saved Murdock’s life. You see, I told her you shot him.”

“I?” said Gayle incredulously.

“Sorry, old fellow.” Rothe’s voice was pitched on a note of ironic commiseration. “It was one of us, don’t you see, and you were unfortunately unable to do any talking. Valerie believes that I not only restrained you from murdering him, but that I am now battling heroically for his life. Thus I not only reinstated myself in her affections, but ousted you. The latter was as important as the former,” he ended bluntly. "She was getting too fond of you.”

Gayle fought down the hot folly of his anger and said evenly: “You can’t make her believe that.”

“Think not. Well, she does believe it. She knows you were hired by Tabor to come up here with one of two objects in view—either to get that box or to see that Murdock never returned alive. As long as the box didn’t show up, Murdock’s death was unnecessary. But when the box did show up—and not in your possession—you carried out Tabor’s instructions. Bates says he saw the whole thing. You were carrying the rifle. You aimed it at Murdock's back. I jumped at you and spoiled your aim. But for that, Murdock would have been killed. Neat, eh?”

“Very.”

It was unquestionably clever, Gayle reflected. He had lost Valerie. He was branded now as a treacherous would-be murderer—the sort of man who would shoot an enemy in the back for pay. And he was lost financially—his planes forfeited. For Tabor would certainly clamp down on him now.

"You’ve been working for Tabor from the beginning,” he said.

“I work for myself,” retorted Rothe. “I’ll admit that I did intercept the second half of that letter to Valerie. She never would let me see the first half, but when I knew she had heard from Murdock it was easy enough to bribe a servant to watch the mailbox. And easy enough to interest Tabor. Things became a little complicated, of course, when Tabor hired you, and when Bates showed up with his story. Tabor didn’t trust any of us, you see. He was pitting one against the other.”

"So now what?”

“Well, as I’ve said, Bates and I have made a deal. Bates came to see me on the boat at Vancouver and asked what I thought he should do. I told him that if he reached here first and recovered the box he should wait until I got in touch with him. Then we could squeeze Tabor for more money. And that, my friend, is exactly what we plan to do.”

“Valerie will be interested to learn all this.”

“My dear fellow, she won’t believe a word of it.

Not from you, at any rate.”

Gayle was too sick to argue. He was beaten. That Bates and Rothe would probably come to blows over the spoils in the long run seemed inevitable. But that eventuality was of no help now.

“Valerie will think a lot of you when you turn that box over to Tabor after all,” he said.

But Rothe merely smiled triumphantly. “Oh, that won’t be my work. Bates will be the scoundrel there.”

Gayle said, "And how do you propose to get outside with the box?”

“Fly.”

“If you think I'm going to fly you out—”

“My dear fellow, it’s entirely up to you. I wasn’t being quite accurate when I told Murdock I couldn’t fly that plane. As a matter of fact, I can. Perhaps Valerie and Murdock will be in favor of leaving you here. But I’m not vindictive. You can pilot your own plane if you like. If not, you can stay here and rot. It makes no difference to me.”

Gayle decided that this was a bluff. Perhaps Rothe knew a little about flying, but it was hardly likely that his knowledge included the technique of handling a big plane. Maybe, if the worst came to the worst, Rothe was even prepared to try it.

Gayle said. “How do you expect me to fly with my hands tied?"

“You think you’d rather not remain here, then? I don’t blame you.” A glow of elation flickered momentarily in Rothe’s eyes. “However, don't think for a moment that you’ll have any opportunity of getting away with anything.”

Gayle suddenly made up his mind. He would fly the plane and take his own chance on finding just such an opportunity. Rothe, he felt, must need his services pretty badly to run the risk at all.

He said, "I’ll promise you only one thing, Rothe, that I’ll fly the plane. I promise that only to have the use of my hands. Yes, and I’ll promise one thing more. If I see any chance to do it. I'll beat you as nearly to death as possible. That’s all I promise. If that isn’t good enough, you can finish me off here. You needn’t wait until we get south.”

Rothe stared at him fixedly a moment. “Good enough,” he said slowly. “Perhaps it’s better this way—perhaps it’s best that we understand each other. But just so there’ll be no mistake, let me promise you something. I’m going to cut your hands loose, but I’ll have a gun on you every instant. If you make one suspicious move —if you so much as start a spin or dive, or anything off the routine of flying—or if you say one word that intends to change Valerie’s mind about me—I’m going to kill you.”

He opened a pocketknife, and with his left hand cut away Gayle’s bonds. His right hand clutched the revolver in his coat pocket. He bowed, motioning Gayle on outside.

“You first. Always you before me, my dear fellow,” he said.

OUTSIDE, the morning was almost cold. By the position of the sun, Gayle guessed that it was about five o’clock—the coolest time of the day.

Rothe stopped at the door of Murdock’s hut, spoke imperatively into it. Bates came out, yawning and rubbing his eyes, obviously just awakened from a doze. An untidy man at any time, he was dishevelled and filthy now. His wolfish face was grimed and hairy, he reeked of the trail. Rothe’s delicate nose crinkled.

“You’re an awful lout. Bates!” he said. It was the fastidious side of him that spoke, cursing the imperfect instruments it must employ.

Bates seemed not to mind, only grinning. Rothe went on curtly, “Let’s be off.”

The Eskimos stood about curiously. Those that had come to the fort with Bates stood a little off to one side, silent, blank-faced.

Bates led the way; Gayle came next. Rothe followed them down to the river, where Valerie was sitting. Through the open door of the plane Gayle could see Murdock stretched on a pile of skins on the cabin floor.

“How is he, chérie?” asked Rothe.

“I’ve dressed his shoulder. I think he’s going to be all right. But he’s very weak, and sleeping now,” Valerie said. Her face was pale as she stood. This, for Gayle, was the most difficult moment of all. He knew what Rothe had told her and he knew that Rothe would have told the story skilfully.

Rothe prodded him in the back with the gun. “Well, Gayle,” he said, “if you’ll just step into that plane and take over—”

“Just a minute,” Valerie said. She stepped between them, spoke directly to Gayle.

“Well, Mr. Gayle,” she said in an icy voice. “It seems we made a mistake in trusting you at all.”

Gayle’s eyes met hers. In anger she was more beautiful than ever. He said, dully, “I suppose it doesn’t matter what I say now. You wouldn’t believe it anyway. I didn’t shoot Murdock though. That was Rothe’s work.”

Valerie spoke in a low, tense voice. “After what you’ve done, do you think I’d believe that?”

Gayle shrugged. “I didn’t think you would.”

“Right from the beginning I knew you couldn’t be trusted,” she said then. “I knew that anyone who worked for Tabor—” She broke off. “At Dawson, I thought maybe I’d been wrong—that perhaps there was some decency in you.”

“Listen,” Gayle repeated. “I didn’t shoot Murdock. Get that straight—I didn’t shoot him. That isn’t just my story. It’s the truth.”

“Come on,” grunted Bates with a shade of nervousness. “Let’s get goin’. The box is in the plane, ain’t it? Well, what’s the use of standing around here jawing.”

Rothe, still covering Gayle with the gun, took Valerie by the arm.

“Skip it, chérie,” he said lightly. “I’m afraid any argument with Mr. Gayle is bound to result in a deadlock. I’ve convinced him that he had better fly the plane back. And I imagine—”

“Gelbert!” cried Valerie, “are you crazy? Letting him fly the plane when—!”

“Don’t worry,” Gayle cut in dryly. “You’ll all be safe enough.”

Valerie still hesitated. Rothe spoke up. “That’s right. In the first place, darling, I’m pointing a gun at him, this moment. I intend to keep a gun pointed at him. If he wrecks the plane, he’ll wreck with it, and I imagine he values his neck as much as we value ours. And then there’s your father. We’ve got to get him to a doctor.”

“Of course,” she said quickly. She turned suddenly, facing Gayle: “To shoot a man in the back, that’s your style.” She added slowly, tears brimming her eyes, so that the words stung him like a slap in the face, “At least I’ve learned in time.”

Gayle flinched at the bitterness in her voice. Valerie turned back to Rothe with a sob. “Oh, Gelbert! I’ve been such a fool—”

“There, there, darling,” consoled Rothe, a little uncomfortably. Her arms were around him, her body pressed close to him. And as he patted her shoulder with his free hand he tried to bring up his gun arm so that the revolver should still cover Gayle.

It took Gayle a moment or so to realize his advantage. Trying to disengage himself from Valerie’s tense embrace, Rothe’s arm was pinned to his side. The revolver no longer covered Gayle. And as Rothe tried to wrest the weapon free, Valerie swung herself a little to one side, still sobbing hysterically.

Gayle leaped at the gun.

Rothe realized his danger an instant too late. He flung Valerie violently aside. He yelled: “Bates!” But Gayle’s hand had clamped around his wrist, was twisting his arm back. There they swayed, strength matching strength, almost motionless for a moment—and then there was a wild flurry of action.

Rothe’s body twisted violently as he tried to wrench his arm free. Gayle’s left arm hooked around Rothe’s neck, yanked his head back. The gun went spinning from Rothe’s fingers and clattered on the rocks. Both men went down, arms free, fists driving at each other.

Bates, desperately trying to load shells into the breech of his rifle, cast a frantic glance at the skittering revolver on the rocks. But Valerie was already plunging toward the weapon. She snatched it up. And then, to Bates’ unbounded astonishment, she pointed the gun directly at him.

“Drop your rifle!”

Bates dropped it. Shells and rifle clattered at his feet. Slowly, he raised his arms.

“But—but, look here—” he stammered.

ON THE river bank Gayle and Rothe fought like madmen. Gayle, already handicapped by his head wound, realized the superior strength of the other, found Rothe as swift as a ferret and as elusive. Rothe evaded Gayle’s looping right and countered viciously. Gayle saw it coming too late. Only partly blocked, the blow drove into his mouth. Again they traded blows, but this time it gave Gayle a fierce joy, for he had seen Rothe wince.

He followed up his advantage. The blow was not a hard one, its effect deriving only from its beautiful accuracy. It landed precisely on a nerve centre. Rothe’s knees buckled. Gayle measured him coolly, and drove a short right to the jaw.

Rothe went down. He went down, sprawled flat, face to the ground, and lay there motionless.

GAYLE frowned with surprise when he saw Valerie covering Bates with the revolver; but he didn’t waste time asking questions. Bates backed away nervously as Gayle approached, fists clenched.

“Now listen. Mr. Gayle—it won’t do no good to beat me up,” stammered Bates. “You win. I’ll talk. I’ll—”

“You’re right you’ll talk,” Gayle assured the trader grimly. “But you'll talk in court, where it will do some good. Between your evidence and the contents of that box I think we’ve got Tabor and his crowd just about cold. Sit down.”

Wondering, Bates sat down on the ground. It was a little awkward because he kept his hands high in the air, as he watchfully eyed Valerie and the revolver.

“Take those laces out of your boots,” Gayle ordered.

Bates’ fingers were trembling. After a good deal of fumbling he managed to remove the rawhide laces.

“Stand up.” Bates obeyed. “Hands behind your back.”

Swiftly, Gayle tied the trader’s wrists. He dealt similarly with the still-unconscious Rothe. Then he turned to Valerie.

“Now.” he said, “from all this"—and he gestured toward the revolver—“I gather you’ve had a change of heart. That affecting scene with Rothe had me fooled for a while. I didn’t realize what you were up to. But why?”

Valerie smiled. She gave him the revolver, holding it gingerly by the barrel.

“Arvin,” she breathed—and the way she said his name was music to him—“I was scared to death.”

She came to him, suddenly was in his arms. He spoke lowly. “Am I,” he asked, “the sort of lowdown thug who could shoot a man in the back?”

She looked up at him, lips parted. “I knew you weren’t,” she whispered. “When—when Gelbert—” she said the name with difficulty—“when Gelbert said Bates was coming with us, I knew things weren’t right. But how I was going to do anything about it I didn't know. I had to play up, pretend to believe the story. Oh, Arvin, I—I—”

“Forget it.” he said quickly. He tilted her chin up and kissed her.

After a while she said: “How about your planes? You said you would lose them.”

“Probably.” Gayle said. “But it didn't seem to matter so much. It matters even less now. I’ve got to find twenty thousand dollars somewhere inside eighty days.”

“You wouldn't settle for twenty-five, I suppose?”

Gayle stared at her. “Twenty-five? Twenty-five thousand dollars? Where would I get that much money?”

“From Tabor.” Valerie said quietly.

“Tabor? But darling, don't you understand. That box is going to send Tabor to penitentiary. It's going to clear Edmund Murdock. My deal with Tabor is off. Tabor is going to get little enough satisfaction out of this, but if he can ruin me you can depend on it he won’t pass up the chance.”

“Tabor,” said Valerie, “offered a reward of twenty-five thousand dollars for the capture and return to the United States of a fugitive named Edmund Murdock. He posted the reward several months ago. A bluff, but it was never withdrawn. That’s what Gelbert and Bates were after. Naturally, Tabor never told you, when he thought he was getting you for less.”

Gayle stared. “Darling!” he shouted. “Why didn’t you tell me this? Tabor will get his fugitive all right. He’ll get him, but he won’t want him.” He kissed her again. “Why it’s all perfect—”

“Maybe it is,” growled Bates in a surly voice, “but have I got to stay here all day watching it?”

“No.” Gayle told him, “you can get into the plane. You’re going for a flight, Bates. You and Rothe both. And we’re getting Murdock to a doctor as fast as wings can carry us.”

Rothe, groaning, had regained consciousness. Handicapped by bound wrists he was trying to struggle to his feet. Gayle helped him.

“Into the plane, Rothe!” he snapped. “We’re going home.”

By the time the plane left the water Murdock was feeling better. Although his wounded shoulder was very painful and he was still suffering from shock, he was able to sit up. Valerie had dressed the wound.

“The—the box?” he faltered, just before the motors broke into their triumphant roar.

“It's safe,” Valerie told him. “It’s in the plane.”

The big ship headed out into the wind with Gayle at the controls. It roared out over the water, picked up speed, got on the step, and then the water fell away beneath. It rose victoriously into the freedom of the air.

Rothe and Bates, sitting aft with bound wrists, gazed sullenly ahead. The ship rose higher and higher, then banked and levelled off. Gayle could see the jagged coast of a peninsula thrust like a thumb northward into the Arctic sea. No life was visible anywhere on it except, below the right wing tip, a cluster of dots that might have been the shadows of caribou frightened by the drumming motors. Under the other wing was Franklin Bay, ice-flecked, even lightly rimmed with ice along some of its steeper shore, though its waters steamed in the hot sun of morning.

Valerie slipped into the seat at Gayle’s side. He reached out, drew her toward him. She looked up and smiled as his arm tightened around her shoulders, and her lips were sweet against his own.

The great plane raced, roaring, through the Arctic sky.

The End