AIR PIRATES"What's going on here?" gasped Sarah Stickney White as she came down the stairs into the Monkey Bar late one afternoon.

Corky, sitting at the foot of the stairs with half a glass of beer in his hands and watching intently, thought it was pretty obvious, but decided he might as well tell her anyway. "There's a fight going on," he explained, suddenly wincing in sympathy as a particularly heavy punch landed. "The big black-haired guy who's wearing a leather jacket just like Jake's...that's Shanghai Pete, an old buddy of ours from when we were in China. The guy who's face he's doing his best to rearrange...that's Jake!"

"But shouldn't we try to stop them," protested Sarah, gasping as she saw Jake Cutter hurtle through the air a few feet in front of her and crash heavily on one of the card tables, smashing it.

"A table," remarked Bon Chance Louie, turning towards Gushie as his chair-bound assistant made hurried notes. "That brings it up to three hundred and fifty francs..."

"Stop them?" asked Corky, turning to glance up at Sarah. "Nah, they're having fun. I never stop them before they get to five hundred francs worth of damage..."

Unable to think of a suitable reply, Sarah sat down beside Corky and watched as Jake staggered across the bar, bleeding from the lip and with a nasty bruise on one cheek, and swung a flailing roundhouse punch at Shanghai Pete. Missing the target, he went sprawling onto another table.

"A bottle of bourbon and three glasses," remarked Louie dryly to Gushie, even as the shattered glassware was still falling to the ground.

"You should've seen 'em back in China a couple of years ago," remarked Corky. "Spent more time fighting each other than fighting the Japs."

"Why?" asked Sarah, as another chair splintered somewhere nearby.

"I dunno," Corky shrugged. "I think they just like each other! Jake could always fly rings around Pete...and Pete could always wipe the floor with Jake..."

And at that very moment, Jake landed in a sprawling heap at Corky's feet.

"Five hundred and ten francs," called Louie loudly, standing by the bar, and Corky reached out to slap a hand on Jake's shoulder.

"What?" began Jake, then paused as he heard the damages called again.

"Oh, sure...okay, Corky," he continued, struggling to his feet. "Hello, Sarah..."

And with that, Jake lurched over to Shanghai Pete, threw an arm around his shoulder, and led him off to the bar. "Hi, Pete," he slurred through puffy lips. "What the devil are you doing in Boragora?"

"You mean they didn't even say hello before they started brawling?" asked Sarah in astonishment.

"They never do," Corky told her, getting up and about to follow Jake over to the bar. "Just start fighting as soon as they see each other. Gets it out of their systems, I suppose..."

Sarah guessed they'd be wanting to spend a while talking about the old days, and went over to check with Louie that Jake really had done that much damage.

"How'd you get here, Pete?" asked Jake, rubbing his aching jaw, after they'd downed a couple of beers and started to relax.

"Come on outside and I'll show you," replied Pete mysteriously, putting down his glass and starting toward the door. "I've been wanting a private word with you and Corky, anyway..."

Jake swung around on his bar stool, about to follow, and then saw Jack looking up at him mournfully. "You don't think I ought to go, do you?" asked Jake, and Jack barked once. "No, you don't. And I suppose you want to tell me I'll wind up in trouble?" Jack barked twice. "Hmm," said Jake, following Pete out of the bar anyway. "You're probably right..."

"There..." said Pete once they were outside, pointing to a small silver seaplane tied up at the end of the jetty next to the Goose. Riding gently on its floats, the single-seater looked sleek and fast, and somewhere inside Jake began to ache to fly her.

"Not bad, eh?" commented Pete, leading the way down the jetty. "Now I've got two of these beauties, Jake, and only me to fly them. My other pilot's gone down sick..."

Jack growled warningly, and Jake looked down at him and shrugged before he made his reply. "Nice idea, Pete, but I've got my own little business here with the Goose...carry a few passengers, run a little freight, you know..."

"Sure," acknowledged Pete. "But I only need your help for one day, Jake...big job tomorrow! Think, it'll be like old times in Shanghai. You, me, Corky..."

He could see that Jake was still hesitating, so he made one last try. "Look, at least come out and see my set-up...let me show you the plane going through her paces..."

"Okay, Pete," agreed Jake at last, and Corky was far too busy staring at the beautifully crafted seaplane to disagree. "Where do we go?"

"Follow me!" chuckled Pete, leaping onto the wing of his plane and pulling open the cockpit cover. "If you're fast enough!"

Jake shrugged and grinned at Corky, and they turned toward the Goose, with Jack in close attendance. A few minutes later they were airborne, with Pete's plane roaring away into the lead.

"Strange," remarked Jake, as he watched Pete start to put the seaplane through a series of rolls and turns, showing off its maneuverability as he led them along. "I always thought ol' Pete was so far gone into fighting the Japanese that he'd never give it up. Then he suddenly shows his face here...and obviously with money too by the looks of his plane..."

"Right," agreed Corky. "And she really is a beauty, Jake! Must do three hundred an hour at least..."

Jake smiled, realizing that Corky would only have eyes for the planes, no matter what else was going on. The sun was sinking fast, coloring the sea golden as they approached their destination, and Pete put his seaplane down in the sheltered lee of a small uninhabited island. Not far away, a battered freighter lay at anchor, and as Jake followed his old friend down, he could see the seaplane maneuvering toward the ship. Jake came down as close as he dared and started to taxi in the same direction. Pete was already on board when they came on deck.

"My partner, Mister Lee," said Pete, introducing a middle-aged Chinese businessman standing nearby. Lee nodded to them, looking strangely at Jack, and went on his way, obviously speaking no English. A number of other Chinese sailors were running out a crane and preparing to hoist the seaplane out of the water.

"A neat little set-up, hey?" remarked Pete, waving a hand at all around him. "Our very own aircraft carrier. We just cruise along with the planes on hoists until we need them...and then we're ready to go into instant action..."

"Yeah, but this sort of thing costs money, Pete," responded Jake, "and when we were back in Shanghai you could never even raise enough for a beer..!"

"Ah, I had a change of heart, you see!" Pete laughed. "I realized that fighting the Jap Air Force head on was never going to get us anywhere. So Lee and I came up with a new idea...steal their war supplies instead! Still hurts their fighting ability...but enables us to make an enormous profit on the side, as well! Call it privateering if you like, but it's given us enough to get this going..."

"Pete," interrupted Corky, suddenly, looking up at the wing of one of the hoisted seaplanes. "These babies have got wing-mounted machine guns, right? What do you use them for?"

"Ah, well, that was what I wanted to talk to you about, Jake," said Pete throwing an arm around his friend's shoulder and starting to lead him away toward his cabin below deck, with Corky following. "Never actually had to shoot anyone with them, but in my line of work it helps if you can make a lot of threatening noises every now and then. You know, machine gun noises! And you can never tell when you're likely to run into a couple of rogue Zekes, now can you?"

"But just what are you after, Pete?" asked Jake, as they reached the cabin.

"A hundred thousand in Jap gold!" Pete explained. "Being flown in on the Clipper first thing in the morning, with some Princess Koji woman. Now, if I've got you as my wing man, we can force the plane down onto the sea long before it reaches Boragora. That'd hit them, wouldn't it, Jake?"

"But it's a civilian airliner!" protested Jake. "They'll be a lot of innocent passengers on board...Americans as well as Japanese...and if you're going to start shooting the thing out of the sky..."

"Won't be necessary," Pete assured him. "Like I said, we just make a few noises and down she goes. For the war effort, isn't it...profitable too..."

"No chance, Pete," Jake told him, starting toward the door. "It's piracy, plain and simple..."

Jake never got to finish his sentence. Pete took him by surprise and smashed his fist against Jake's already aching jaw, and the lights went out with startling suddenness.

"Sorry, Jake," said Pete, heading for the door and locking them in.

By the time Jake woke up, someone had been back to tie their hands, and he and Corky sat there miserably on the cabin bed.

"At least we've got some air," remarked Corky, looking up at an open porthole, nine inches across, just above their heads. Jake glanced at it too, and was astonished to see that night had now fallen. Jake grunted, moving his jaw tentatively.

"Don't worry, Jake," Corky told him. "Pete came back and said he was really disappointed in you, but he couldn't do anything bad to an old buddy. So he's going after the Clipper himself in the morning...and then when he's had a few days to get out of the area, he'll let us go..." Corky paused and looked around. "So the only thing that's worrying me now is what's happened to Jack. That Lee guy was looking at him kinda funny..."

It was the first time that Jake realized that Jack hadn't come down to the cabin with them, but he thought the dog would probably be wandering about somewhere on deck. That thought made Jake stand up and look out the porthole.

Outside, the porthole was only a few inches above the decking, and Jake could see Jack huddled under one of the lifeboats nearby. Almost immediately, Jack got to his feet and ran forward, tail wagging, and then stopped by the porthole, giving Jake an accusing one-eyed look.

"Yeah, I know you warned me I was getting into trouble, Jack!" admitted Jake wearily.

"Any chance of you finding a knife, Jack?" asked Corky, more hopeful than serious; but almost as soon as he said it, Jack was off and running. He looked at Jake in surprise and then sat down.

Five minutes later, Jack appeared at the porthole again, dropped something through the window, and then scuttled off back into hiding.

"Terrific," said Corky. "We ask him to bring us a knife, and instead he brings us a bone!"

"Well, he's only a dog!" Jake reminded him, then turned to look toward Jack's offering. "Hold on, Corky...this is a bit of shoulder bone. Got a sharp edge, see?"

Working with his hands behind his back and unable to see what he was doing, it took Jake nearly an hour to saw through Corky's ropes with the bit of bone, but the cords finally snapped, and a couple of minutes later they were both free. But still locked inside the cabin.

"I guess we wait for someone to bring us some breakfast," said Jake, stretching out on the bed and trying to get some sleep.

Daylight came at last, with the sound of running feet on the deck. When Jake got up and looked out the porthole, he could see the sailors hurrying to lower one of the seaplanes into the water, and a few minutes later Pete had the engine revving up and was preparing for take-off. With the roar from his propeller coming from outside, they barely noticed the sound of the key turning in the lock, and they were almost as surprised to see the tray-carrying sailor who entered as he was to see them free. Jake had no time to be polite, and simply hit the man as hard as he could, and then he and Corky were out of the cabin and locking the door behind them.

Lee was standing on deck, looking at a pistol admiringly and glancing occasionally toward the seaplane as it started its take-off run. Unable to think of anything better to do, Jake hit him too, and when he picked up the gun, he found it was his own, taken from him when he was unconscious.

Oblivious of all this, Shanghai Pete lifted the seaplane into the air and went looking for his prey. Jake, meanwhile, had surprised the remaining sailors as they watched their leader depart. Tossing the pistol to Corky and telling him to keep everyone covered, Jake ran forward, waving his arms.

"Get that other plane lowered into the water!" yelled Jake to the crew, knowing there was no way the Goose could match his opponent's speed or maneuverability. But he knew he had to stop Pete whatever happened, and a couple of minutes later he was airborne and in pursuit.

It took him a short while to get used to the controls, but then he found that the seaplane was everything he'd expected it to be, turning at the lightest touch and racing along faster even than the fighters they had used to fly in China. Pete was already out of sight, but Jake knew that the Clipper would be coming from the direction of Tagataya, and set off in a long banking run, hoping to find it first.

He guessed he'd be too late, by the time the Clipper finally came into sight, a huge fat-bodied flying boat glinting silver in the early morning light. Shanghai Pete's seaplane suddenly dropped out of the sky only a few hundred yards ahead of the Clipper's nose, then started to bank around, intending to come up against his target from below and behind. That looked like an attack run to Jake, and he opened the throttle full.

The Clipper was already dropping toward the sea as Jake raced past it, then tucked himself in behind its tail and hurled his machine directly at Pete as he approached. For a few moments the two seaplanes were racing toward each other head on, but at the last second both pilots pulled away in opposite directions. But while Jake climbed and paused to survey the scene, Pete turned immediately into another attack run, small puffs of smoke appearing from his wings. Despite his promises, Pete was hurling hot lead.

Banking, Jake started to dive angrily, and for a moment Shanghai Pete was full in his sights. But Jake knew he just couldn't press the trigger, and pulled the nose up before firing a warning burst in front of the other plane. Pete broke off the attack again, but this time Jake was after him immediately, sitting in the air just above his opponent's tail-plane. Keeping well out of the way of Pete's guns, but constantly threatening him with his own, Jake harried him doggedly, swooping down every time Pete wanted to move toward the Clipper and almost putting his floats through the other's cockpit. And during all this, the flying boat was moving slowly further and further out of range.

Pete finally gave up the attack and broke off suddenly, turning his plane for home and racing away as fast as he could. Surprised by the maneuver, it was a few seconds before Jake was after him again, but then he really put the seaplane through its paces as they headed back toward the ship.

Pete had already landed and was taxiing toward the ship when Jake put his plane down, but the latter wasn't in the mood to play by the rules anymore, and simply let his machine cruise straight up and dump against the side of the boat, bending the propeller. But as Jake threw back the cockpit canopy and started to scramble out, he saw that Pete was only just ahead of him, starting up the rope ladder toward the deck.

"Why, Jake?" protested Pete angrily.

"Just couldn't let you do it, Pete," Jake told him, starting up the ladder after him. Pete reached the deck, looked around, and saw Corky sitting nearby with a gun trained on some neatly tied sailors, with Jack at his side.

"Oh." remarked Pete, turning to face Jake as he came up to join him. "Well, you always could fly rings around me, old buddy," Pete continued, but finished the sentence by sinking his fist sickeningly into Jake's stomach.

Jake was getting rather fed up with this, he decided as he went sprawling, but he tiredly began to pull himself up and raised his fists. In the exchange that followed, Pete got in three punches to Jake's one, and all Pete's punches hurt. Saving the Clipper had been easy compared to this.

Jake fended off a punch and landed one of his own, then staggered back as he received one in return. There was a roaring in Jake's ears now, and one of his eyes was starting to swell and close, but he hurled himself forward for one last effort, smashing into Pete and shoving him off his feet.

As Shanghai Pete ended up sprawling at Corky's feet, the mechanic looked down at the pilot, then casually brought down the barrel of the pistol as hard as he could on the air pirate's head. Then Corky hurriedly turned back to the prisoners, keeping them covered.

"Corky," gasped Jake, lurching toward him and staring at the unconscious man at his feet. "Why didn't you ever used to do that back in Shanghai?"

"Oh, well..." shrugged Corky, handing him the gun. "You guys were never serious back in those days..."

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