Ruthe Wheeler.

Jane, Stewardess of the Air Lines

Jane was still on the Coast to Coast, the crack run of the line, and summer had slipped over into August. A burning wind swept down out of the mountains and it was hot that morning when the eastbound Coast to Coast drifted in.

Mattie had been assigned to a westbound plane for the day, and was in the commissary while Jane checked over her supplies. As usual, Mattie made as many caustic remarks as possible, but Jane refused to answer.

Jane finished preparing the supplies to place aboard the plane and went out to call a field boy to help her carry the large hamper. When she returned with the boy, Mattie was still in the commissary and Jane looked at her sharply. Mattie flushed, but Jane thought nothing more of the incident.

The Coast to Coast was loaded and Jane sat on the jump seat at the rear of the plane. It was the usual crowd a second-rate movie actress, several New York traveling men with flashy clothes, an elderly lady called east by a death in the family and the rest business men and women who had taken the plane to save time on their trip east.

Jane made sure that everyone had traveling kits, answered several questions about the weather ahead, and checked over her passenger list to see that everyone was in the proper seat.

The ship rolled out of the hangar and swept away into the east. Jane picked up the magazines and went along the aisle, offering them to passengers who cared to read. Most of them preferred to gaze at the landscape below.

They were east of Grand Island when Jane prepared lunch, serving sandwiches, a cool salad and an iced drink she had brought in a large thermos jug.

It was early afternoon when they cleared Omaha, with a stop scheduled ahead at Des Moines, the last one until Chicago. Council Bluffs had barely dropped out of sight when Jane began to feel ill. Just then a woman called her. She was feeling uneasy and Jane gave her a soda tablet.

She had hardly returned to her seat when everyone appeared stricken at the same moment. Her passengers became deathly ill and Jane herself was so sick she could hardly move. She managed to stagger ahead to the pilots cockpit and told them of what had happened. The big ship was turned about at once, roaring back for Omaha, while the co-pilot sent out a rush call for ambulances and doctors to meet it at the field.

By the time the tri-motor reached the Omaha field, Jane was too ill to move and everyone in the cabin was carried out and taken to the hospital for treatment.

Just before she left the field, Jane spoke to the chief pilot.

Save the lunch, she whispered. It must have been that.

He nodded and hurried away to see what he could find in the pantry.

Somehow the Omaha papers got hold of the story, and printed it on their front pages. As a result Hubert Speidel, the personnel chief, hurried out from Chicago on the first plane to make an investigation, and it was at Janes request that he had the food analyzed.

Shortly after that he ordered an investigation to be held at Cheyenne and Jane, still weak from her sudden illness, wondered what he had learned.

Chapter Eighteen
Sue Plays Detective

Jane, who had been the most seriously ill of those aboard the Coast to Coast Limited, was in the Omaha hospital three days. She was far from well when she boarded a westbound plane for the inquiry at Cheyenne. The incident had brought unfavorable publicity to the line, and the personnel director was determined to get at the bottom of it.

The investigation was held in the administration building of the Cheyenne airport. In addition to Mr. Speidel, Miss Comstock was there, the pilots who had been on the plane, and Sue.

Jane was questioned first.

Did you prepare the food which was placed aboard the plane that day? the personnel chief asked her.

Not all of it, she replied. The salad was supplied by the caterer, but I made the sandwiches and prepared the iced tea.

Did anyone else touch the food?

Not that I know of.

Was anyone else in the commissary while you were working? continued the personnel director.

Jane was about to reply that she was alone when she remembered that Mattie had been there.

Mattie Clark was there, she said, wondering just what Mr. Speidel was attempting to learn from her.

You know what caused the illness aboard the plane? he went on.

It was a strong irritant of some kind, she replied, but I wasnt told at the hospital just what it was.

The personnel director switched to another track.

You wouldnt have had any reason to place anything in the food, would you?

Janes face flushed, and it was a struggle to keep from showing her intense anger, but she finally managed to reply no, in a calm voice.

Do you know anyone who would do it as a grudge against you?

That question is hardly fair, retorted Jane. If I mention any names I might unjustly throw suspicion on someone who is not guilty.

Through her mind, though, raced thoughts of Mattie and her promise of revenge. Mattie had been alone in the commissary long enough to dope the sandwiches or the salad, and she was capable of stooping to such a low trick. No matter what happened, as a result of the investigation, Jane resolved to see Mattie and have a talk with her.

What do you know about this, Miss Comstock? asked the personnel director, turning to the chief of the stewardess service.

Very little, but I am sure that Miss Cameron is being treated very unfairly if anyone thinks she deliberately planned such a distressing incident as the one which took place aboard the Coast to Coast the other day.

But isnt it true that Miss Cameron is one of your favorites?

I am no more partial to her than to the other girls. It happens that she is a most efficient and personable stewardess. I only wish that all of the girls were as capable as she.

The pilots also spoke a good word for Jane, but she knew she was in a tight spot. Someone had prejudiced the personnel director against her and she strongly suspected the fine hand of Mattie Clark, working through her uncle.

Then Sue took a hand in the proceedings.

Ive been doing a little investigating on my own account, she said. It may interest you to know that a member of the stewardess staff bought the drug which was used to cause the illness aboard the plane.

What do you know about this? demanded Mr. Speidel.

Enough to clear Jane of any part in it, replied Sue. I have a sworn statement from the druggist who made the sale. He knows the stewardess who made the purchase and named her in the affidavit.

Sue waved the paper and the personnel chief seized it eagerly.

I think this investigation is over, he said as he finished reading the affidavit. I am sorry, Miss Cameron, to have caused you any embarrassment.

Once outside, Jane hugged Sue enthusiastically.

You were a peach to do that piece of sleuthing, she said. For a while it looked like I was in a tight place.

But you havent asked me who bought the drug, said Sue.

I dont need to. It was Mattie. I remembered seeing her in the commissary the other day. Honestly, I hardly thought Mattie would stoop to such a trick. Why, think what would have happened if the pilots had eaten any of that lunch.

I did, replied Sue, which is one reason why I went sneaking around the drug stores in Cheyenne. Mattie was pretty sure of herself for she bought it in the store where we usually go for our sodas. The druggist didnt want to give me an affidavit, but when I threatened to swing all of the stewardess trade to the store across the street he decided to sign.

They were having dinner that night at Mrs. Murphys when Alice, just off a run from the east, came in.

Guess who I saw leaving the field? she said.

Mattie Clark, replied Jane.

Youre a mind-reader. It was Mattie and she was going as a passenger. Whats up?

Sue told Alice briefly what had taken place during the afternoon.

Serves Mattie right, said Alice. Everything will be smoother now that shes gone. But Ive got some news none of you will guess.

Dont keep us waiting too long, smiled Jane.

Roscoe James, the famous film director, came out on the plane from Chicago.

Thats nothing. Frederic March flew east with me the other day and never even looked at me, said Sue.

Yes, but Roscoe James stopped here.

Which means what? asked Jane.

His company, the Mammoth, is going to film an air story with the Cheyenne field for the background.

Chapter Nineteen
Needed One Pilot

Jane and Sue looked at Alice incredulously.

Do you mean to stand there and tell me that Roscoe James and the Mammoth Film Company are going to make a motion picture here at the Cheyenne field? demanded Sue.

Im not going to stand and tell you, sighed Alice, dropping into a chair. Im going to ease my weary legs, but at the same time, Ill repeat that the local field is going to be used for the background of the next Roscoe James feature production.

Maybe well get a chance to work as extras, gasped Sue.

About all we can hope to do is to be on the sidelines looking on, said Alice. Mr. James was talking to the operations manager when I left the field. The company will be here next week to start work on the outdoor scenes, all of which will be filmed here.

What luck for me, put in Jane. Ive only one round trip to Chicago scheduled. That means Ill have most of the week here, where I can watch the company at work.

And if they need a cook, maybe it will be my chance to get in the movies, added Mrs. Murphy as she hurried in from the kitchen. Little of the girls conversation escaped Mrs. Murphy and she had kept an ear finely tuned to their talk about the coming of the film company.

Jane was scheduled east the next morning on the Coast to Coast. Just before the ship came in from Salt Lake City, she saw the famous film director in conference with the operations manager. With them was Charlie Fischer. After a time he ambled over to talk with Jane.

Going to be great doings here, grinned Charlie. Im in the movies already.

What are you going to do?

Theyve got to have some stunt flying and they cant afford to have the leading man risk his neck. Im elected to pilot the ship. Means a lot of fun and quite a few extra shekels.

Try and get me a job as an extra, urged Jane.

Ill do my best, but the star might object.

When Jane returned from Chicago a part of the technical crew had arrived and equipment was being set up at the field. Every girl in the stewardess corps was hopeful that she might be selected for some extra role for all of them secretly cherished the desire to be a film star.

Grace, coming in from the west on a late plane, rushed in and woke them.

Who do you suppose came in with me? she gasped.

Probably Gary Macklin, said Sue, naming the latest Hollywood favorite.

Good guess, said Grace.

Do you mean Gary Macklin is going to have the leading role in the picture here? demanded Alice, now thoroughly awake.

Thats just what I mean, and his leading lady is going to be Claudette Barrett. She came in on the same plane.

My favorite combination, breathed Sue. I think Ill ask for a leave of absence.

Not much chance of your getting that, for business on the line is picking up every day, said Jane.

You should comment, with only one trip scheduled next week. How about trading schedules?

I should say not. Im just as anxious as you are to see how a film is made, smiled Jane.

Does anyone know what the story is about? Alice asked.

I heard Mr. Macklin and Miss Barrett talking about it when we stopped at Rock Springs. Miss Barrett is going to have the role of a stewardess and Mr. Macklin plays the part of the ace pilot of the line.

Charlie Fischer should have that role, put in Sue.

Charlies going to do the stunt flying, said Jane.

If Miss Barretts going to be a stewardess, we ought to see quite a bit of her, Alice said hopefully. If theres anything dangerous to be done, we might even get a chance to double for her.

More members of the cast of The Sky Riders, as the film was tentatively titled, arrived over the week-end and on Monday morning the company was ready to start shooting the scenes.

The Cheyenne airport had been given a thorough cleaning and everything from fences and lights around the border to the wind sock on the beacon tower had been touched up.

Jane, due out on the Coast to Coast, watched the company assembling. Roscoe James, the director, was a giant of a man, well over six feet in height and broad of shoulder.

A taxi rolled up and Claudette Barrett, the leading woman, stepped out. She was a trifle taller than Jane, with brown hair and brown eyes, and Jane was surprised to see the film star wearing the uniform of a Federated Airways stewardess. It was perfectly tailored and Miss Barrett even had the jaunty little beret fitted snugly over her carefully marcelled hair. She had a pleasant smile and spoke to several members of the company.

Another cab arrived and Gary Macklin, tall, dark and strikingly handsome, jumped out. He gave Jane the impression of always being in a hurry and of having an abundance of energy.

A camera crew had its equipment ready and when the Coast to Coast came into view, started grinding away. The big plane landed smoothly and rolled into the hangar.

Jane forced herself to turn to her duties and she went forward to relieve the stewardess who had come in from Salt Lake City, taking over the passenger list and making sure that her own supplies were placed aboard the plane. She was stowing the lunch away in the pantry when someone spoke to her and she turned to face Claudette Barrett.

I hope I wont bother you, said the film star, but since Im supposed to be a stewardess, Ive got to learn something about the business. She had a pleasant smile and Jane felt an instant liking for this attractive girl of the films.

Ill be glad to show you whatever I can. Im Jane Cameron.

Why, Ive read lots about you. You were the stewardess who was with Mrs. Van Verity Vanness when bandits tried to abduct her. I was in New York at the time and read all about it in the Globe. What a thrilling experience that must have been.

I wouldnt want very many of them, confessed Jane.

Go ahead with your work. Ill just watch and ask questions. Jane stowed the contents of the large hamper away in the pantry and looked at her watch.

Weve only three more minutes here. Its time now to get the passengers back into the plane.

Jane led the way outside. Over in front of the commissary Sue, Alice and Grace were watching the proceedings enviously.

My roommates are all anxious to meet you, Jane said, and theyll be glad to give you any assistance possible.

Im going to need it, smiled the film star.

The girls were almost overwhelmed when Jane brought Miss Barrett to meet them, but they found her so natural and interested in their work that they were soon conversing with her freely.

The last Jane saw of them as the Coast to Coast roared away, they were taking Miss Barrett into the stewardess headquarters.

When Jane returned on Wednesday, the film company was in the midst of active shooting. Two of the big tri-motored transports had been chartered for use and were landing and taking off for special shots of the field while camera crews on the ground photographed them.

At dinner that night, the girls told Jane how they had been drafted as extras for a crowd scene in the hangar.

It was thrilling, said Alice. Just think, actually in the movies.

We even got paid just for standing around. Id almost have been willing to pay them, put in Grace.

The worst of it is, mourned Sue, more crowd scenes are scheduled for shooting tomorrow and were all scheduled out.

All except lucky Jane, whos in for the rest of the week, said Grace.

Ill try and skip around in the crowd scenes and take the places of all of you, Jane consoled them.

Mrs. Murphys going to be the Cheyenne star in the picture, chuckled Sue. The director saw her at the field and he drafted her for a comedy role. It was taken this morning and was as funny as could be. They dressed Mrs. Murphy up in an old-fashioned outfit with a bonnet and a parrot in a cage. She was taking her first trip by plane and all she had to do was to look flustered and talk about her fear.

Yes, and Mrs. Murphys never been up, added Grace. When she started toward the plane she forgot all about being in a movie and began to get scared. By the time she reached the steps, she wasnt acting and Miss Barrett and Mr. Macklin had to almost force her into the ship. Mrs. Murphys brogue was so thick you could cut it and the whole film crew laughed until they were just about worn out. Mrs. Murphy got a hundred dollars for the scene and shes tickled to death.

All the girls were scheduled out on early ships the next morning and Jane went to the field with them. Even at that hour, Director James was on hand making plans for the days schedule.

After the early planes had cleared the field, Jane saw him talking to Charlie Fischer, who had been given a leave of absence to do the stunt flying. A few minutes later Charlie came over and joined her.

This is my big day, he said. If I do all of the tricks they want me to, Ill go crazy.

What do you have to do?

Theyre practically re-enacting the scene of the bandit plane attacking us, and Ive got to fly the bandit ship. They had a chap from Denver slated to come up and do that while I flew the army plane which arrived just in time. Now Ill have to fly the bandit plane through a lot of maneuvers and then come down, get another ship which will be painted like an army plane, and do some more stunts all around one of the tri-motors.

But that wont seem like an aerial battle.

The director says they can cut the film in the laboratory so it will look all right. Of course hed like to have both the bandit and the army ships up at the same time, but hes short a pilot and the scene must be filmed this morning. Hiring these big tri-motors is cutting heavily into his expense budget.

Why not let me fly one of the ships? suggested Jane. If you were in the other one, I know Id get along all right.

Charlie looked at her sharply.

Golly, Jane, I never thought of that. Say, my ship is the one thats been painted up as the bandit plane. You could fly that with your eyes shut and I could take the army plane.

I know we could do it, said Jane.

Then here goes. Were on our way to see the director right now.

Chapter Twenty
Down in Flames

Director James was giving orders to the camera crew which was to go aloft in one of the tri-motors. He appeared tired and worried and his greeting to Charlie Fischer was short.

Im not looking for any more extras, he growled as he saw Jane with the flyer.

Sure, sure, agreed Charlie, who had a soothing and persuasive way, but you do need an extra pilot and you need one in a hurry. This girl can handle one of the planes. I know, I trained her to fly.

The director stared at Charlie.

Tell me another one, he snorted.

Listen, said Charlie, Im not kidding. This is straight from the shoulder. You let this girl go up in my plane and shell do all of the tricks your cameras can catch and a few more thrown in. Shes a natural flyer, knows the feel of a plane, becomes a part of it from the second she gets into the cockpit.

Director James looked thoughtful. We do need another pilot, he admitted, but I hate to think of a girl trying all of those stunts.

Jane decided it was time to say a word.

If I fly Charlies plane, I know I can handle the assignment, she said eagerly. With Charlie in the other ship therell be little chance of anything going wrong. Id like to have the opportunity to try it.

The director looked at his watch.

We start shooting in half an hour, he decided. Well take a chance.

Come on, Jane. Weve got to work fast, said Charlie, seizing her arm and almost pulling her after him. Get into boots and breeches. Youre going to wear a chute. If anything should happen youll be ready for it.

But, Charlie, Ive never used a chute, protested Jane.

Theres always a first time, said Charlie darkly. Now mind what I tell you.

Jane hurried into the stewardess quarters where she kept her flying clothes in a locker. Miss Comstock came in while she was changing.

Whats this I hear about you piloting one of the planes for the movie people? she asked.

Im going to be a bold, bad bandit, smiled Jane. Theyre short a flyer and cant wait for another man to come up from Denver.

But dont you think its rather dangerous? I dont want to lose my star stewardess.

Nothing will happen, promised Jane. Ill be flying Charlies ship and I could do that blindfolded.

She pulled her boots on and tied a scarlet scarf around her bobbed hair. In brown boots, white breeches, a soft white silk shirt open at the neck and the flaming scarf around her hair, Jane was a striking picture.

Look out, cautioned Miss Comstock, or the film people will be offering you a contract.

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