They called Chane the King of the Zeppelins, but he called no man his master. And when one schemer chose him for an enemy, Chane struck back with copper fists and hot lead!
GONDOLA GIRL by Wray Murill
King “Steel” Chane was sitting in his commodious office dictating a letter to his beautiful blonde secretary, when the first disaster struck.
Chane, whom the newspapers had lately dubbed “The Zeppelin King,” possessed the strong, copper features of an Indian which, combined with his crisp, nickel hair, made his age impossible to judge. Only his eyes, wrinkled in the corners with the permanent squint acquired during long flights in an open-cockpit B.E.2c, seemed to hint that he only wore the face of a younger man. He paused in the dictation of the letter as if mentally groping for the right phrase, when actually he was pausing to appreciate the trim lines and ripe curves of his secretary, Bea Trent.
Bea was a fair girl, which went with her blonde hair. She was young, but not so young-looking as that. This was her first job, working at the Chane Zeppelin Company, but she was working out swell, Chane decided. She was bright, alert—and she wasn’t hard on the eyes either. Most bright girls tended to be old-maidish by the time they were twenty-five. But Bea Trent wasn’t that. No, not at all.
As the silence grew long, she looked up demurely with her large, brown eyes. Her full lips half-parted to reveal the edges of white teeth and the moist tip of her pink tongue when those clear eyes met his frank regard.
Chane smiled at her disarmingly; he rarely smiled at all. His eyes, exactly the color of chilled steel, almost warmed. Bea smiled back. It was not a shy smile either. Bea Trent had an exceptional future ahead of her here at the fledgling Chane Zeppelin Company, its president decided.
His reverie was shattered suddenly when the door burst open. Only one man enjoyed the privilege of barging into Chane’s sanctum at will: Chane’s Number One mechanic, Gus Jensen. The tall gangling grease-monkey stopped short, wiped a dirty rag across his dirtier forehead and pointed an excited finger at the long window behind Chane’s desk.
“My God, Major!” Jensen had been with Chane in France during the War and stubbornly refused to consider his old commander as anything other than Major Chane, though the latter had long since resigned his commission. “Look! Somethin’ terrible’s happened!”
Chane swiveled about instantly. His tall, rangy, powerful body bolted up short at the sight which greeted his cold, merciless eyes.
The low window showcased a panoramic view of Chane’s private airdrome and immense dirigible hangar. In the foreground, three stubby derrick-like masts stood in a row. These were the mooring masts which anchored the small, but impressive, airship fleet of the Chane Zeppelin Company to the ground.
At present, only two of the fleet were on the field; the twin silver dirigibles, the Phoenix and the Salamander. The Salamander tugged gently at her mast only a few hundred feet off the tarmac, but as Chane’s cold eyes swept toward the Phoenix, his copper fists balled up with tension and he rasped a low oath.
For he was seeing the impossible!
The Phoenix, instead of resting on her horizontal keel beside the Salamander, was, even as they watched with horror-struck eyes, slowly lifting, tail-first, to a vertical position!
“My God, Major! I’ve never seen anythin’ like it!”
“Oh, Mr. Chane, it’s awful!” Bea cried. Her pretty face was clouded with concern.
“Come on, Gus!” Chane rapped out. He sprinted to the door and down the stairs. As he plunged for the field, his mind flashed to a similar freak accident that had happened many years ago. It had occurred to the Navy dirigible Los Angeles one warm night when the airship lay attached to the high mooring mast at Lakehurst. A cooling breeze came out of the Southeast and struck the tail. The effect of the cold draught increased stern buoyancy and the Los Angeles’ tail lifted straight up.
But that was during the days of the taller mooring masts, Chane reasoned. Since then, the more practical “stub” masts had replaced them. The Phoenix, attached to a stub mast, should be too low to the ground to be at the mercy of vagrant winds.
“It’s impossible! It can’t have happened!” Gus was moaning as they pelted out onto the field. But impossible or not, they were both sickened by the sight which greeted them out on the field.
The Phoenix, still attached to her mast, was standing on her blunt nose! Even hundreds of yards away, they could hear the bang and clatter of loose equipment as it bounced about within the great airship. Sharp tears appeared in the dirigible’s nose as the contents of the large nets—spare parts and tools—fell down the keel and ripped through the outer envelope to clatter on the tarmac. Chane and Gus piled into a touring car and sped toward the drunk-looking airship.