Only one man knew the secret of sub-Arctic Never Ever Land —and that secret might prove vital to the safety of North America
Into Bee-Lines Limited head office in Winnipeg, -where FRAN GORDON is front office girl, comes GIL TUCKER, Air Force reject because of color blindness, looking for a pilot's job. She arranges to have him meet the owner-partners, TOD BINGHAM and DAVE BURKE, later learns through them that Tucker has come from Washington with inside information regarding a U.S.-Canada joint defense -plan for the Arctic that will involve big bush flying contracts.
On the strength of this information, Tucker and his colored-boy henchman, SWIPE JOHNSON, are taken on by Bee-Lines, slated to leave the following morning for F lin F Ion to work on a fish-haul. Having dinner together that night at the Stratosphere Club, run by a friend of Bee-Lines, NICK PAPPAS, Fran tells Tucker about her fiance, BRANT INNES, former Bee-Lines pilot now overseas, also tells him a good deal about company flying operations. She mentions a rival company, Sky Trails, and trouble that has developed between the outfits since wealthy PAUL JENNER came from South America to head Sky Trails.
While talking, Fran sees Jenner enter the restaurant and come toward them. Although she knows he will bear watching, she fails to note anything sinister in what seems like a casual encounter.
(Second of Six Parts)
THERE was nothing unusual about Nick Pappas bringing Paul Jenner and his partyback where we were in the Stratosphere Club. That’s what the alcove was for—right people who might like a little champagne or wine with their dinner, who were pilots or base agents from the sticks who wanted to entertain friends and had nowhere to do it but in their hotel room. The idea was all right; no one abused it, including Nick.
It was perfectly natural, too, that Paul Jenner should spot us sitting in our corner and his face light up with recognition. Gil Tucker was wearing the garb of a bush pilot. Jenner knew all our pilots, just as we knew all about who worked for Sky Trails. A strange bush pilot not belonging to any of the four flying outfits in town having dinner with Bee-Lines Limited’s front office gal was a natural to pique his wakeful curiosity.
Anyway he came over. He looked smart in tails, there was no quibble about that. Fair hair was thinning on top, groomed neatly back. If he’d had a lot to drink he didn’t show it. He had a strange male with him, short, dark, with a coat of tan so heavy it was almost indecent. Must have got that south—well south. Certainly he hadn’t picked it up in our country in winter.
The other hung back. Jenner bowed. “Hope I’m not intruding, Miss Gordon,” his voice was suave and pleasant. “We’ve imported a new maintenance man from the States—with me in South America— and I wanted him to meet some of the bush flying crowd. Called your office just after ten but apparently you’d gone. Ah—” he eyed Gil Tucker and hesitated. “Looks like you’ve been acquiring some new blood yourselves.”
I introduced Tucker. Jenner introduced Spike Harris. Meeting other flying men from the south brought Gil Tucker’s eyes wide with sudden interest. The three chatted a minute, exchanged locales in the States, seemed to hit it off just like that. Natural enough. Harris said little, seemed only filled with that sort of bewildered curiosity some Americans still show when finding out for the first time that Canadians are folks pretty much like themselves.
“How about joining our party,” the Sky Trails mogul suggested. “You know some of the crowd, Miss Gordon. Glad to have you.”
I begged off, said I’d had a hard day and was just headed for home. I suggested to Gil Tucker that he join them, but the little guy said no.
“I’ll call a cab and drop you off,” he offered. He shook hands with Jenner, as Plarris merely nodded. “Glad to meet somebody from below the Line, Mr. Jenner,” Tucker said politely. “Just about anywhere down there’s home to me. I’ve ridden most of the big tracks—a good many times.”
I gave them a quick thumbnail recital of Tucker’s past.
Jenner’s eyes opened. “You mean you’re Gilman Tucker, the jockey?” As Gil nodded, Jenner clapped him on the shoulder. “Of course ! I’ve seen you ride. Dammit, Tucker, now you do have to stay and meet the crowd. Better change your mind, Miss Gordon, and join us.”
“No thanks, Mr. Jenner,” I was firm. “But Mr. Tucker’s a free Cree. We were just grabbing a snack and talking a little shop.” I assured the bantam: “Nick will call me a cab and I’ll run along. I’m used to going home alone.” I made it definite. “In fact, most times I really prefer it.”
The little guy took it as I meant it. He called a cab, bowed me in, and I rolled down the window to wish him luck. “I’ll be handling your radio flashes from up north, so make ’em brief,” I told him. “Happy landings for you and old QT.” He cut loose with a bit of appropriate thanks, a salute, a cheery farewell, and that was that.
That’s what I thought. Or, rather, I didn’t even think. Gil Tucker was of age, knew his way around more places and more kinds of people than I’d ever
been or seen. The only feeling I had was that it was nice for him to meet somebody from across the Line who could talk horses.
1 DON’T know how long I’d been in bed, dead, when the phone wakened me. I was pawing around for my slippers when the ringing stopped and I heard Flo answering. The very shrillness and insistence of that telephone bell had spelled something unusual. I lay back, waiting. Flo hurried along the hall leading from our front living room and bent over me.
"I’m awake,” I said. "Who is it?”
"I don’t know.” She switched on the bed lamp and closed her eyes against the glare. Her reddish blond hair was dishevelled—Dick was a great disheveller. "Sounds like our janitor at the office. But it can’t be—”
I knew then; and it was. Nick Pappas, talking close to the phone.
"Frankly, Miss Gordon, I’m worried. You said to phone you day or night when any of your boys would be in a jam—”
He broke off and I heard low voices beside him. "Yes, Nick,” I urged. "Who is it? What’s the matter?”
Before he answered, I knew; and my knees suddenly felt weak.
"The little pilot, Miss Gordon. Goes out two hours ago with Mr. Jenner’s party and comes back in just now higher than a kite. Says he’s flying in four hours. We try to fix him up. All the time he’s talking. Contracts and airports in the north. Defense plan, hush-hush as hell he keeps telling the boys, then suddenly passes out. There’s something wrong, Miss Gordon. The way he acts don’t look to me like just too many drinks.” His voice was lowered. "Frankly, Miss Gordon, I’d say it’s some kind of dope. I thought you should know.” Flo brought my dressing gown and slippers and stood there, forgetting to hand them to me. Dick must have heard the alarm in my voice. He hurried from the front room chesterfield and I felt his hand on my shoulder.
"Something the matter, Fran? Not a cable, girl? —Not Brant?”
"Not Brant,” I managed. I thanked Nick Pappas and hung up. As I slipped into my dressing gown that Flo held I suddenly saw daylight.
Paul Jenner! This was some of his work. If Gil Tucker had talked to him as he was talking to the boys down at Nick’s, I knew what Jenner’s next move would be.
There was a quick way of finding out. I grabbed the phone and dialed T.C.A.’s traffic department at the airport. My stomach felt suddenly cold and hollow.
“Sky Trails speaking. Mr. Lord’s secretary.” It wasn’t hard to make my voice sound like my stomach felt, to fake old Frosty Face Grimes over at the opposition. "I just wanted to check on Mr. Lord’s transportation for Ottawa. All in order?”
"All in order,” was the brisk comeback. "Had to do considerable juggling, but we made it. Mr. Lord’s plane leaves in one hour.”
I hung up without even thanks, which wouldn’t be surprising anyway with Grimes. I called Dave Burke at home. If the Ottawa plane left in an hour he’d be packing about now.
"Somehow Sky Trails have got wise,” was all I told him. "You’ll have company to Ottawa. Frank Lord.”
There was a moment’s awful silence, and the Chief started to swear. He was going into the second stanza of an utterly new brimstone solo with tap dance accompaniment, when I hung up.
I didn’t blame Dave Burke. I was sick. Even my heart was sick. Tucker, the little fool !
Tucker—and he had to fly!
I called Judd Barnes, night chief at the Marlincroft, to get Tucker to the hotel to bed and call Doc Moon.
Beside me Dick wanted to know what he could do. "Nothing,” I told him. "Nothing you can donothing anybody can do.” I wobbled back along the hall and closed the bedroom door.
Then, like always when everything goes wrong, I crept into bed and talked it all over with Brant. A long time. I don’t know for how long.
Daylight in England, nightfightcrs home to roost, your tired dark head against a pillow too. Oh, Brant . . .
The sound of a night ship overhead brought me back with a jolt. It was the same as if I could see it there, a great silver plane winding itself up in the sky and uncoiling its engine whine rapidly eastward.
Ottawa. Something big getting ready to happen in the northland. Big, Dave Burke had said. Hushhush.
Hush-hush. Not any more. In that big plane were two men now who knew. Whatever it was all about, one thing was certain. The battle was on.
THERE’S one thing about the flying game—if something goes wrong and it looks as if a small hunk of the world has come to an end, nobody sits around with their nose in the air howling about it.
Nobody has time. If something goes haywire it means everybody has to pile in and make it up some other way. Like coming in for a fast landing, it doesn’t pay to look back. If you do you’ll probably find that there’s something much more important straight ahead. In this dizzy game the minute you start standing still to think about something that has happened, something worse is liable to slip up from somewhere and bat you another brisk one.
We’ve had ships crash on take-off, wipe out an undercarriage or a wing, with the Bee-Lines outfit so busy we didn’t know which way to turn. In some lines of business such an occasion would call for a half day, everybody standing around talking about how lucky the pilot was he didn’t have a crate of grapefruit draped about his neck. The time it happened to Brant, at Jaunty, because of frosted wings, he had the load in another ship and was on his way within the hour. He had reaction. Sure. But he didn’t have it till he had time to have it, that night.
And not only pilots. There was the classic example of the green subagent at Jaunty who got so flustered trying to discover for an impatient biddy whether or not her husband’s soiled laundry
had arrived in that ship from the mines, that he dropped a $40,000 gold brick in thirty feet of water and ran up a bill for a diver that would have bought clean laundry for half the crowd who stood around, grinning, to watch the operation.
So it was that Gil Tucker’s experience of the night before didn’t stop us, or him, or Dave Burke, or the early morning trip north. Apparently Tucker came out of it clear. Just to be sure, Bing hoisted off with him for another test before he’d let him go, with Doc Moon’s okay already on file.
When Bing came back to town with the mail trip in from Red Lake, Monday, he called me into Dave Burke’s office.
"Well, Smoke,” he invited, "Let’s have it.”
It wasn’t often Bing called me Smoke; only when there was something to discuss that was a bit grim and he took that little way of reminding me that whatever I’d done as an employee, personal relations remained unstrained. It had been Brant who first called me that. Because of my eyes. Smoky blue-grey, Brant had said they were, and since then that had been good enough for me.
"Your eyes are just a couple of bush fires,” he had kidded me. "Smoky and lazy and dreamy until something stirs you up. Then there’s fire, and sparks, and danger.”
Being around together, Bing had acquired Brant’s habit of calling me Smoke. Just sometimes, like now.
I told him all about it; every angle I could
remember, including the Washington stuff. That had always been a rule around Bee-Lines—come clean, pull no punches, pile everything in a heap, then judge it on its merits.
"I was a stupe,” I wound up. "I’ll never be chump enough again to pull punches. I didn’t wise him to Jenner’s tactics simply because they were both Americans. It just seemed plain low to start sniping at the little guy about one of his countrymen the first time we had even cracked a bun together.” I made a confession that hurt a bit. "I muffed the deal in two ways. The second was character misjudgment. I didn’t have Tucker figured for a gent who would spill anything, drunk or sober.”
Bing was gazing at the white spaces high up on the wall map. His eyes swung suddenly back to me. "Why not?”
"Woman’s intuition,” I admitted ruefully. "Mine seems to have gone haywire lately. In the first place, he’d been a famous jockey, been around with big people, big money. My idea of a jockey had always been someone who could nurse a confidence.”
Bing eyed me without moving. "Go on.”
"His other background. When he talked about England, and his grandfather, and what the present war business had suddenly come to mean to him, he was pretty blunt about it, didn’t go into much detail, hut with me it registered. He meant it. And he was sober.”
I hesitated. Maybe I was going kind of overhoard for the little guy; maybe most of the feeling and sentiment that night had been on my side of the table because of how I felt about things over there, because of Brant. Plain wistful thinking. But Bing had asked me what I had thought, then, and all I could do was tell him. Remembering those green eyes and the boyish look that could creep into them as he talked of those intimate things, I felt suddenly sure again.
"I still think the little guy’s square,” I told Bing.
HE GOT up slowly from the big leather chair, and moved over to stare at something on the map far up the west shore of Hudson Bay.
"So do I,” he said shortly. "If I hadn’t, he wouldn’t be wheeling QT around up north right now.” 1
He turned, and his eyes had that half-squint that went with the tightening of his jaw. A halfsquint that meant that somewhere, sometime, somebody would get his.
“Gil Tucker was doped,” he snapped, ánd his mouth was grim. "Doc Moon couldn’t decide what it was.” He summed up quickly: "That’s why we sent him north as planned. It was devilish subtle stuff whatever it was they gave him, and we’re not letting on we know. Don’t worry about
the angle of not wising him to Jenner,” he added shortly. "I’d have done the same. We’ve lived so long in a country that’s on the up and up that we wouldn’t know a threat unless someone put it on paper for us.” He paused. "Dave’s in Ottawa. You know why. If we can swing it we’ll be engaged in flying operations that will make our present setup look like a small-town flying club. It’s all under the hat, of course, but you know the kind of opposition we have now. Lord’s gone east. They’ll both probably land in Washington. Tucker gave the game away, it’s true, but after all it was his game. All we could’ve hoped for was a head start on the deal. Don’t blame yourself, or Tucker.” I thanked him. I don’t mind admitting I was relieved. No one likes to be thought stupid. Something had been bothering me and here looked like the place to settle it.
“I didn’t like to hurt the little guy’s feelings,” I told Bing, “but I couldn’t get it through this woman’s brain of mine how a little bantam rooster like Gil Tucker could dig up a doozer of a proposition at Washington while in this country a dozen flying companies stood around flat-footed. Does it make sense to you?”
Bing looked up. “Simple.” A slow grin started across his face and he suddenly chuckled aloud. “Too simple. That’s the first thing Dave nailed him with.”
Darn men anyway. They’ll get something like that on their tongues, rolling it around and around, and enjoying it so much they forget all about anybody else maybe wanting a taste. That was Bing. He strolled to the window, gazed out a moment, chuckled again and turned.
“He put the bee on his newspaper friends in Washington to use their influence to squeeze him through as a pilot down there. When that didn’t work and he still wanted to fly, he used the last egg in his basket.” He paced a bit just to tantalize me. “When he got the first tip-off on the northern defense deal he came back here to Winnipeg and went to work on it. He dug up facts and figures on our north country and what might be needed for its defense. But he dug up another idea of his own, too. A natural. Then he went back and jolted them.”
I must have goggled. “He didn’t tell me that.”
Bing grinned. “Modesty. But that’s the setup. He sold his newspaper pals on the idea first—the idea that this northern defense plan should be under way for two reasons. He got them het up on it, then they got busy.”
Tod Bingham strolled to the big map on the wall and tapped his finger on the big blue udderlike expanse of Hudson Bay. “A few air-mile figures, and a few air-range figures on some of Germany’s aircraft, can make anybody sit up and listen. There are a lot of big U.S. industrial centres within range of aircraft operating from a boat or flotilla of boats in Hudson Bay. Everybody knew that, but nothing had been done about it.”
“How about our government radio stations up north?” I reminded.
Bing shrugged. “Radio stations can’t see at night,” he came back. “And Hudson Bay is a big stretch of water. Once they were in through the strait undetected, they could plow south in the clear. Any patrol boat that met them wouldn’t have a chance.”
“The Navy. How about the Navy? German ships wouldn’t have a chance to get out of there.”
“Suicide stunt perhaps.” Bing went on pacing, picturing it. “To a country that has scuttled ships in every ocean in the world merely so they wouldn’t be captured, what would the loss of two or three armed tubs add up to? Especially when it would give them a chance to blast some of the biggest industrial plants in America, spots like Niagara Falls with its power plants, with a few tailboards lifted over some of our Canadian cities for good measure.”
I FELT weak. Of all the men in the world, to hear Tod Bingham talking like this!
“That’s one of the things Tucker pounded into the newspaper boys in Washington,” Bing went on grimly. “But he gave them the tip-off on something else that would double the value of such a project. The idea was Tucker’s own. I can’t tell you about it yet, Fran, but it’s big stuff. The boys listened to his tip-off and so did some others. Apparently they’re not going to waste any time now about doing something.” He waved a big hand at the high-up map expanse. “That’s where we come into the picture—I hope.”
I felt my mouth dry, my throat closing up as I realized fully what last night meant. “It’s through my stupidity in not warning Tucker about Jenner that the time advantage we had went up the flue.” I swallowed and wished I were a man so that I might use a couple of the phrases Dave Burke had used two nights before.
Good old Bing. He spotted how I felt and powerdived to the rescue. A big finger tapped me under
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Continued from page 20—Starts on page 18
the chin, brought my head up till I was looking at his easy grin.
“Hi, Smoke, where’s your fire?” he jibed softly. “Who gave Washington the tip-off? Gil Tucker. And when things start to move in Washington who’re they going to remember?— With the help of his newspaper friends, Gil Tucker. And where”— the grin broadened—“is little Gil Tucker?”
I got it. “Working as a pilot on a money-losing fish-haul in the sticks, for Bee-Lines Limited,” I finished it.
“To stack up flying time and experience, and to prove he’s as good a bet with an airplane as I think he is,” Bing came back.
“Breakup in another month,” I reminded. “Then what?” Breakup of the ice in lakes and rivers; holiday time for bush flying crews. Breakup had always seen the finish of the heaviest fish-haul.
“Tucker’s looking after all that.” He was pacing again, planning. “We’ll need Nibs down here on a mail route. If Tucker makes good we’ll give him a bigger ship and put him in charge at Milady. With war demands, there’ll be a bigger summer fish-haul than we’ve ever had. Breakup will finish our old contracts. Any new ones will be on a paying basis. That means the more fish we get to haul, the more young pilots we’ll have a chance to break in, the more revenue we’ll have, and the more I ships we’ll have in that country when the showdown comes on the big deal.”
I began to see light. Like so many i other contracts, our best fish-hauls, from northern Ontario lakes to main line rail points, had been bought up and taken over by Paul Jenner—Sky Trails. Our new hauls, covering country far north and west of Flin Flon, including the rich waters of Reindeer Lake, had been mostly a pioneer proposition, shaky on returns.
In that country, while Sky Trails had a fuel cache spotted here and there for trips, it was Bee-Lines who gave the best coverage. It had been a costly business, carrying out those contracts we’d had to sign to get fishhauls established. The bright spot was knowing that we’d be in line later for most of the exploration business big mining outfits might decide to carry out in the almost unknown regions still farther north, and fanning out to the east or west.
Now, with something a whole lot bigger in the wind, we were established a long way Arctic-ward.
“We’ll plant a base north on Reindeer,” Bing decided aloud. “Fly ; fish and fur south, be on the job if anything breaks north of there.” He stared hard at a white patch north and to the east of the top of Reindeer, lying between a known riverand-lake chain and Hudson Bay. It was a spot that all the light map tracings of rivers and blue patches of lake seemed to want to avoid, a blank spot on the map of Canada, accepted by everyone as a barrenland wilderness, unknown.
By everyone but Bee-Lines. “Too bad Brant couldn’t be here to base
at Brochet or Whisky Bay and knock off the exploration and photography contract in the Never Ever,” Bing said. “It’s bound to come now. One of the early moves necessary. That’s what Dave’s after first in Ottawa. If the Government ever decided to do anything in the Never Ever it was to be Brant’s meat.”
I nodded. For a moment my voice wouldn’t work. I couldn’t ever help it when Brant was mentioned, especially in connection with those glorious days when he’d come in maybe from a three-weeks trip away north, the mystery of far unknown places in his eyes, those silent moods upon him that refused to be thawed until a week of routine flying out of Jaunty had brought him back to normal.
Especially the one trip that had taken him farther into the great mystery land than anyone had ever been.
BRANT had shown excitement after that jaunt, and no wonder. A secret it had been, still was, and would be till big scale mineral exploration by air came back and the knowledge he had gained would be worth something to Bee-Lines in cold cash and flying contracts. A fantastic secret, but with photographs to prove it—a great lake, thirty miles wide by more than one hundred miles long, never before seen by a white man, that appeared on no map.
And its shores wooded. Trees and shrubs and grasses and flowers in what seemed to be a great sub-Arctic valley lost in the centre of the limitless Barrens.
“The Great Unknown.” That was what the vast barren area of rock, water and grey moss had been called by the few exploration pilots who had skirted its uninviting edges. None had crossed it; none had had reason or wanted to, thousands of square miles that so far as man’s knowledge of it went added up to the same as nothing.
The regular routes were used sometimes. North from Reindeer, the bleak Dubawnt river-and-lake chain lying to the west of the Unknown was the highway for float-rigged aircraft north to the junction of the Thelon, then eastward by Baker Lake and Chesterfield Inlet to Eskimo country and lone fur posts on Hudson Bay. The same Arctic objectives could be reached by flights from Reindeer east to Port Churchill, then north up the coastline, with its gales and storms.
Within this great circle was the Unknown. On the map it didn’t look like much, but that 60,000 square miles of wilderness territory could contain almost anything. Lone trappers had explored its edges, odd corners adjacent to main waterways. That had been all. No pilot had landed there, for to be set down in that lone country without trace or landmark for searching planes would mean one thing—-shutters.
No one had landed there, that is, except one. That one had been Brant Innes, and that was what Tod
Continued on page 26
Continued from page 24 Bingham meant now when he said that exploring the area had been something reserved for Brant.
It was Brant who had named the place. After the experience that had brought him back to me with that half-mad light in his eyes, he had tagged the area with what among flying men since had served both as name and a warning.
Never Ever Land.
That all seemed a century ago now. Flying activity farther south, and later the war, had intervened. Now here was Bing calmly talking about photographing the Never Ever so that a map of the Great Unknown would be added to Dominion records. It should be Brant’s job for Brant Innes was the only man who ever had seen that mystery land.
Smoke haze had done it, the northland curse that has snuffed out more pilots than cold, or blizzard, or lightning, or engine failure. An exploration jaunt it had been, away north and west of Reindeer. Brant had set down a party of men, with grub and prospecting supplies to last them three weeks, and had radioed their location to a government Signals station at Yellowknife on Great Slave, to be relayed to our head office, just in case. Routine precaution.
Going back eastward over the Thelon musk ox country to pick up another exploration group dropped in the Barrens two weeks earlier, he had run into it—smoke from a thousand scattered wilderness fires. Almost before he knew it the thin yellow pall had thickened to a washout proposition and left him skystranded in that far-north spot on God’s globe where aircraft radio crackles and dies and the combined influence of mineralization and the north magnetic pole drives a compass mad.
Sticking close to earth for landmark flying, he had lost the sun, and going above the murk to find the sun he had lost the earth. He set a course by sun and a slow wind drift, later learned the wind had freshened and changed. All he could do anyway was to fly, and hope for a break.
In late afternoon the smoke blanket beneath him opened in a gigantic tear to show him a lake with wooded shores. Reindeer Lake. Or was it? He dived down through, found what he thought was the east shore line, flew along it for almost an hour; and in that time he saw nothing that suggested a human being had ever been there. Not a boat, not a canoe, not an Indian fisherman’s campfire in that whole long lakeshore expanse. In that hour he had flown more than a hundred miles, he knew. And the strange shore line remained.
He reached what seemed to be its lower end, at the south, and learned for certain it was a lake unknown to him. And, reaching its end, and realizing that it was neither end of Reindeer, he knew he had to land.
AGAIN the smoke pall was closing - down. He made a split-second decision and banked low for a landing to find himself suddenly over water that was black and white and grey with what seemed like a million great birds. Geese. Nesting geese that filled the
air about him and crashed and thumped and suicided in a blizzard of feathers that almost blinded him for the landing he had to make.
A dead-stick landing at that. For realizing the jam he had blundered into, he cut the single engine to save his prop being shattered in the maze of birds with a quick prayer that his glide would bring him over water and not land him in the trees.
He landed. Landed in a watery expanse of wild rice fields alive with frantically flopping and screaming birds in their thousands. Landed in a place he was sure no man had ever seen before. A six-inch tip was gone from one end of his prop, snapped off by the first grey honker that had crashed into the ship and wised him to his danger.
It took him two days to measure and plot and smooth the prop ends after he had cut off the opposite end to balance. It took him three more hard days’ work to move the plane with a slender paddle through the great rice fields to open water, clearing a path for the floats, foot by foot, as he went. And all the time the great grey and white and black geese kept up a bedlam about him, staunchly defending their nests of eggs and young from this great bird monster that had come to attack them. Smoke haze and geese and loneliness, with only hard work to keep him from going mad. And a camera for later proof.
He had plenty of grub, for on those exploration trips a pilot carries a full kit always. But he knew his gas was low, and he knew that his take-off in open water would provide him with one chance of reaching a known area, and one only.
That’s why he had stayed another six days in that smoke-smothered, muck-reeking, noise-mad lake in the middle of nowhere, while all over the North radio ops sat glued to their sets with the hope of a faint signal coming through to tell his whereabouts. Pilots were grounded, for the thick smoke haze was everywhere, with everything idle and nothing to do but wait—for weather or word.
And the day after a widespread rain over all the wilderness had damped the bush fires and cleared the air of smoke, Brant’s radio peeped through the silence.
He had got off, held a course east by the sun that he hoped would bring him across the north-south Dubawnt route. Instead he rubbed his eyes when, after leaving the wooded area and crossing a maze of barrens, he saw a great lake and smelled salt air.
Brant knew the shore of Hudson Bay from flying mining men upcoast. He swung south for Churchill, and out over the water his radio came to life, that first heaven-sent word that had changed the world from dark to bright for me . . .
Never Ever Land. Brant had called it that, and he hadn’t been fooling. Swamps and lakes and marshes and rice fields he had passed over in leaving that country had been seething with bird life. For an aircraft attempting to land, even one of those big birds in a prop could write a washout. That on top of all the other hazards. Brant hadn’t gone back. No one had. There just hadn’t
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Continued from page 26 been anything to go there for, and Bee-Lines had kept what Brant had learned strictly on ice for the future.
Now the north country was suddenly important to the defense plan of two nations. Hudson Bay was the centre of it all, and that blind spot on Canada’s map bordering the western shore of the Bay would have to be photographed and mapped.
Brant knew more about that country than anyone else. If Ottawa knew that, if Washington knew, wouldn’t it be the logical thing to bring him back to do the job?
Tod Bingham was standing, big hands shoved into his pants top, staring at the map, thinking. He said what I was hoping he’d say.
“They’ll map it,” he decided. “If it’s a joint defense proposition we’ll certainly have to supply maps of our own country. The Air Force can’t spare men or ships to do it. This time it’ll be a commercial job. And,” he added shortly, turning away, “it’s going to be right down our alley.”
I wanted to ask about Brant, and didn’t. I couldn’t mention it yet, even to Bing. Somehow it would look as if my only interest in the future big show that was shaping up was in getting Brant back to help handle it. It would have to wait, that question.
Meanwhile the thought of it was something I could hug close to me. They were sending combat pilots back to Canada, weren’t they? For instructors, and executive spots. Why shouldn’t they send Brant? Who else was there knew the Barrenlands and eastern Arctic country like he did?
THERE was one—darn it. I was out at my switchboard and the wide-eyed little Collins kid who relieved me had gone back to the big office, when it hit me. It not only hit me; it kept pounding.
Paul Jenner. Jenner knew that country; had made it his business to know it, to know all the north country. For the first month after he had joined Sky Trails he was in and out of the Winnipeg office, consulting with Frank Lord and all their traffic, maintenance, and other departments. Then, for almost three months that summer he’d been missing. North.
Once Nibs had run into him at Brochet, near the top of Reindeer. That’s how we learned that Jenner and his crew of three were busy on a Dominion Government photography contract, one that Frank Lord apparently had landed without anyone else even getting a chance to bid on it. That hadn’t exactly staggered us. Some strange things had happened on mail-run contracts, too, but somehow later on we’d always managed to even things up somewhere else in the territory.
When Nibs Tomkin saw Jenner and crew, they had just completed what looked like a long stay in the sticks — Jenner and Boles, his engineer, both with beards. Reece, the radio kid, was without one only because of his youth, and Archie Dewhurst, Sky Trails’ aerial photography expert, had never been known to miss his daily shave or bath whether morning found him in city hotel or Eskimo snowhouse.
They had kidded, and peddled tall
tales as pilots do, but Nibs hadn’t learned anything of where Sky Trails’ photography job was. The big new twin-engined Crowley that Jenner had brought with him from the States had an extra belly tank, built in forward of the camera port, for long range flying. For all Nibs knew they might have come from halfway across the continent.
Concerning that same three-months period, there’d later been rumors of Paul Jenner and his long range Crowley being seen refueling at Yellowknife, Norman, Aklavik,Great Bear, Coronation, Baker Lake and Churchill, not to mention the flips they might have taken farther east in the James Bay country where they could have refueled at their own gas caches.
That hadn’t seemed like anything unusual then. It was a Sky Trails ship and had a right to be where it wanted to be. The two Big B’s had decided in a casual way that whatever kind of a contract Frank Lord had landed, it had allowed the new boss of the Sky Trails outfit to combine business with pleasure and learn plenty about the country he intended to serve while drawing a little revenue from the country’s coffers.
Following Paul Jenner’s semiofficial survey of the Arctic the two B’s had watched to see if Sky Trails would try horning in on the Arctic flying territory north from Edmonton. Frank Lord’s company had fortified themselves with the necessary license earlier, and had made trips enough up there to keep it alive. But with the two big, wellequipped Great Bear Express and Edmonton Airways outfits hoisting mail and freight out of Edmonton and McMurray down the Mackenzie and to Great Bear, Jenner apparently had seen tough opposition there and had decided to pass it up.
Now, as I took a scoot back over the Crowley’s rumored meanderings that summer, Jenner began to show up as a dark horse in this new defense picture. He not only had familiarized himself with the broad sweep of the Arctic and sub-Arctic, but it looked as if he might even hold a slight edge on our outfit by having already handled that government photography contract. With one completed job in his brief case, and proof of Paul Jenner’s knowledge of all the outposts in the North, Frank Lord might put up a pretty interesting show in either Ottawa or Washington—a show that would make Dave Burke hustle.
That angle began to worry me. If Sky Trails should land the job of photographing Never Ever Land it would give them an in on the bigger survey and air-freighting contracts to follow. And what about Brant? I began to wonder if Bing, in his easygoing way with business, realized just what a tough deal we were up against. That Jenner photography angle was important. Dave Burke, in his hurry, mightn’t think of it. It was something that couldn’t wait.
Flash was busy with half an acre of ticket stubs and rebates spread out on his desk. He hollered to high heaven, but anyway he watched the board for me while I ducked back in to see Bing.
Bing looked out of place as he
always did, having to stay in the office when Dave Burke was absent. He moved to puddle around with some papers as I came in, but that didn’t fool anybody. I had seen his gaze snap back from the map on the wall. I handed him what was on my mind about Jenner and the aerial photography show, and waited.
He frowned, then got up and strolled to the window. All he could see through the Venetian blind was a few pairs of feet paddling by from the tavern next door and maybe a car or two from the hotel cab line. But to Bing outside was outside, and the air coming in through the window ventilator was at least a sniff of the fresh outdoors where he belonged.
He swung around suddenly. “Did
Burke take his code book with him?” j He had, in the small lock brief i case that never left his side when he travelled. I told Bing.
“Take a wire,” he snapped, and his eyes donned that half-squint expression that meant there was something he had to be shown.
Back at my desk I coded Bing’s wire to Dave Burke in Ottawa telling him to get details on the Sky Trails photography contract, and phoned it to the telegraph people.
Then I got busy on the stack of messages that had come through on the private wire from Jaunty. At least now I’d done all I could. So had Bing. The rest was up to the littlest of the two Big B’s.
To Be Continued