"I don't know yet. McCready says that the gauge is dropping pretty rapidly. I'm going to go out and see what I can do."
"Can't I go, Doctor? I'm a good deal lighter than you are."
"You're not as strong or as agile, Carnes, and you haven't the mechanical ability to make the repair. Hand me that line."
He fastened one end of a coil of manila rope which Carnes handed him to his waist, while the detective fastened the other end to one of the safety belt hooks. With a word of farewell, he climbed out of the cockpit and onto a wing. In the pocket of his flying suit he carried a tool kit and repair material. Carnes shuddered as the doctor's figure disappeared under the plane. He snubbed the rope about a seat bracket and held it taut. For ten minutes the strain continued. It slackened at last, and the figure of the doctor reappeared on the wing. Slowly he climbed into the cockpit.
"I've made a temporary repair, Lieutenant," he called into the speaking tube, "and the leakage has stopped. How much gas have we left?"
"Enough for about an hour of flying, including the emergency tank."
"Thunder! No chance to get back to the Denver. Better head inland and follow the course of the Dwina. If we can locate the place we are looking for we may be able to drop a few eggs on it before we are washed out. In any event, it will be better to come down on land than on water."
McCready headed the plane south and followed the winding ribbon below him which marked the channel of the Dwina. He kept his altitude well over eight thousand feet. For a few minutes the plane roared along. Without warning the motor sputtered once or twice and died.
"Gas finished?" asked Dr. Bird into the speaking tube.
"No, there is plenty of gas for another forty-five minutes. It acted like a short in the wiring. Maybe another fragment got us that we didn't know about. I can glide to a safe landing, Doctor. Which direction shall I go?"
"It doesn't matter," replied Dr. Bird as he looked over the side. "Wait a minute, it does matter. See that long low building down there with the projection like a tower on top? I'll bet a month's pay that that is the very place we're looking for. Glide over it and let's have a look at it. If I am convinced of it, I'll drop a few eggs on it."
McCready glided on a long slope toward the suspected building. Dr. Bird kept his eye glued to the bomb sight.
"It's suspicious enough for me to act," he cried. "Drop one!"
Carnes pulled a lever and a hundred-pound high explosive bomb detached itself from the plane and fell toward the ground.
"Another!" cried the doctor.
A second messenger of death followed the first.
"Bank around and back over while we give them the rest."
The plane swung around in a wide circle.
"Volley!" cried the doctor. Carnes pulled the master lever and the rest of the bombs fell earthward.
"Now glide to the east, McCready, until you are forced down."
McCready banked the plane and started on a long glide toward the east. Carnes and the doctor watched the falling bombs. The doctor's aim had been perfect. The first bomb released struck the building squarely while the other landed only a few feet away. Instead of the puffs of smoke which they had expected, the bombs had no effect. The volley which Carnes had discharged fell full on the building as harmlessly as had the two pilot shots.
"Were these bombs armed, Lieutenant?" demanded the doctor.
"Yes, sir. I inspected them myself before we took off and they were fused and armed. They had always fused and should have gone off, no matter in what position they landed."
"Well, they didn't. That building is our goal all right. Saranoff would naturally expect an air raid and he has perfected some device which renders a bomb impotent before it lands. How far from the building will you land?"
"A couple of miles, Doctor."
"Get as far as you can. If you can make that line of thicket ahead, we'll take to our heels and hope to hide in it."
"I don't think we'll have much luck, Doctor," said Carnes.
Dr. Bird looked back toward the building they had tried to bomb. Across the country, a truck loaded with armed men followed the course of the plane. The plane was gaining slightly on the truck but it was evident that the plane's occupants would have little chance of escaping on foot. Dr. Bird gave a grim laugh.
"We're cornered all right," he said. "If we did elude the men in that truck, we would have a plane after us in no time. You might as well turn back, McCready, and land fairly near the building. We are sure to be captured and our best chance is to have the plane near us. They'll probably patch it up and if we get a chance to escape later, it may be a lifesaver. At any rate, we've lost for the present."
McCready turned the plane again to the west. The truck halted at their new maneuver. As the plane passed over, it turned and again followed them. The ground was approaching rapidly. With a final dip, McCready leveled off and made a landing. The machine rolled to a stop about a mile from the building. The truck was less than three hundred yards away. It came up rapidly and disgorged a dozen men armed with rifles who hurried forward. In the lead was a tall, slight figure who carried no gun. Dr. Bird stepped forward to meet them.
"Do you understand English?" he asked.
An incomprehensible jargon of Russian answered him. The men raised their rifles threateningly. Dr. Bird turned back to his companions.
"Resistance is hopeless," he said. "Surrender gracefully and we'll see what comes of it."
He faced the Russians and held one hand high above his head. The Russian leader stepped forward and confiscated the doctor's pistol. He repeated the process with Carnes and McCready, frisking them thoroughly for concealed weapons. At his command, six of the Russians stepped forward. The Americans took their place in the midst of the guard and were marched to the truck. The balance of the Russians moved over to the American's plane. The truck rolled forward and approached the low building. The projection which Dr. Bird had noticed from the air proved to be a metal tube projection from the roof, fully twenty feet in diameter and fifty feet long.
"A projection tube of some sort," said the doctor, pointing. An excited command came from the Russian in command. A rifle was leveled threateningly at the doctor. He took the hint and maintained silence while they climbed down from the truck and approached the door of the building.
It swung open as they approached. As they entered a strong garlic-like smell was evident. The hum of heavy machinery smote their ears.
They were led down a corridor to a flight of steps. On the floor below they went along another corridor to a heavy iron-studded door. The guide unlocked it with a huge key and swung it open. With a shrug of his shoulders, Dr. Bird led the way into the cell. The door closed behind them and they were left alone. Dr. Bird turned to his companions.
"Be careful what you say," he whispered. "I am not at all convinced that there is no one here who knows English and we are probably spied upon. There is almost sure to be a dictaphone somewhere in this room. We don't want to give them any more information than we have to."
Carnes and McCready nodded. Dr. Bird spoke aloud of inconsequential matters while they explored the cell. It was a room some twenty feet square, fitted with three bunks on one side, built into the wall like the berths on shipboard. The room was lighted by a single electric light overhead. A door opened into a lavatory equipped with running water.
"We're comfortable here, at any rate," said the doctor cheerfully. "They evidently don't mean to make us suffer. I'd like to know why they took the trouble to capture us, anyway. It would seem to be more in line with their usual policy to have shot us on sight. It must be that they want some sort of information from us."
Neither of his companions had a better reason to offer and conversation languished. For an hour they sat almost without speech. A sound at the door brought them to their feet. It opened and a Russian girl pushed in a cart laden with food. She made no reply to the remarks which Dr. Bird addressed to her but quickly and silently put their food on the table. When she had completed her task, she left the room without having spoken a word.
"Beautiful, but dumb," Dr. Bird remarked. "Let's eat."
"Do you suppose that it's safe to eat this food, Doctor?" asked Carnes in a whisper.
"I don't know, and I don't care. If we've got to go out, we might as well be poisoned as shot. If we refuse food, they can poison us through our water. We couldn't refuse that for any length of time. I'm hungry and I'm going to make a good meal. What's this stuff, bortsch?"
They soon received proof that they were under observation. Hardly had they pushed back their chairs at the completion of the meal than the door opened and the Russian girl who had brought their food removed the empty dishes. Silence settled down over the cell. For another hour they waited before the door opened again. A tall bearded Russian entered with a younger man at his heels. The bearded man dropped into a chair while his companion sat at the table and opened a notebook.
"Stand up!" barked the Russian sternly.
Carnes and McCready rose to their feet but Dr. Bird remained stretched out on a bed.
"What for?" he demanded languidly.
The Russian bristled with rage.
"When I speak to you, you shall obey," he said in curiously clipped English, "else it will be the worse for you. Would you rather be questioned while in the strelska than while standing?"
"Not by a long shot," replied Dr. Bird promptly as he rose to his feet. "Fire away, old fellow. I'll talk."
"What are your names?"
"I am Addison Sims of Seattle," replied Dr. Bird gravely, "and my friends are Mr. Earle Liedermann and Mr. Bernarr Macfadden. You may have read of us in the American magazines."
"Their names," said the Russian to his clerk, "are Dr. Bird, of the Bureau of Standards; Operative Carnes, of the United States Secret Service; and Lieutenant McCready, of the United States Navy. Dr. Bird, you will save yourself trouble if you will answer my future questions truthfully."
"Then ask questions to which I am not sure that you know the answer," replied the doctor dryly.
"What vessel brought you here?"
"What is her armament?"
"Consult the Navy list. You will doubtless find a copy in your files. It may be purchased from the Superintendent of Public Documents at Washington."
"What is your errand here?"
"To consult with Ivan Saranoff and learn his future plans. If he means merely to bestow on the northern hemisphere additional sunshine and warmth, it is possible that the United States will not oppose him. We would benefit equally with Russia, you know. Possibly the northern countries could form some sort of an alliance against the southern hemisphere which is already threatening war."
"You chose a peculiar way of showing your peaceable intentions. You shot down our plane without warning and you dropped bombs on us at first sight."
"But they didn't explode."
"No, thanks to our ray operators. Dr. Bird, I have no time to waste. Either you will answer my questions fully and truthfully or I will resort to torture."
"You don't dare. You were merely bluffing when you mentioned the strelska. If you tortured us, you would have to answer to Ivan Saranoff on his return."
"How did you know that he is--" The Russian paused and bit his lip. "Shall I tell him that you refuse to talk?"
"When he returns, you may tell him that I will be glad to talk frankly with him. I came to Russia for that purpose, but I will not talk with one of his underlings. In the meanwhile, we are having lovely weather for this time of year, aren't we?"
With a muttered curse the Russian rose and left the room. Carnes turned to Dr. Bird.
"How did you know that Saranoff was away?" he demanded.
"I didn't," replied Dr. Bird with a chuckle, "it was merely a shrewd guess. We have twisted his tail so often that I figured he could not resist the temptation to come here and gloat a few gloats over us if he were here. I know his ruthless methods in dealing with his subordinates and I knew that they would never dare to resort to torture in his absence. No, old dear, we are safe until he returns. I hope he stays away a long time."
Four days passed monotonously. Three times a day the Russian girl appeared with ample meals. Despite their attempts to engage her in conversation, not a word would she reply or give any indication that she either heard or understood their remarks. The bearded Russian appeared daily and tried to question them, but Dr. Bird laughed at his threats and reaffirmed his intention of talking to no one but Saranoff.
"Your chance will soon come," replied the Russian with an evil leer on the fourth day. "He will be here the day after to-morrow. He will be able to make you talk."
"If he's telling the truth, the jig's about up," said Dr. Bird when the Russian had left. "I don't fancy that Saranoff will show us much mercy when he finds out what we've attempted to do."
"How would it be to overpower our waitress and make a break?" asked McCready in a guarded whisper.
"No good at all," replied the doctor decisively. "We wouldn't have a Chinaman's chance. Our best bet is to talk turkey to Saranoff. He may spare us if I can make him believe that I am willing to work for him. What a man he is! If we could turn his genius into the right channels, he would be a blessing to the world."
He paused as the door swung open and the Russian girl appeared with their food. She placed the cart against the wall and suddenly turned and faced them.
"Dr. Bird," she said in excellent English, "I am Feodrovna Androvitch."
"I'm glad to know you," said Dr. Bird with a bow.
"Do you recognize my name?"
"I'm very sorry, my dear, but it simply doesn't register."
"Do you remember Stefan Androvitch?"
A sudden light came into Dr. Bird's face.
"Yes," he exclaimed, "I do. He used to work for me in the Bureau some time ago. I had to let him go under peculiar circumstances. Is he related to you?"
"He was my twin brother. The peculiar circumstances you refer to were that you caught him stealing platinum. Instead of turning him over to the police, you asked him why he stole. He told you his wife was dying for lack of things that money would buy and he stole for her. You allowed him to quit his position honorably and you gave him money for his immediate needs. For that act of mercy, I am here to reward you."
"Bread cast upon the waters," murmured Carnes. The Russian girl turned on him like a wildcat.
"Unless you wish to deprive yourself and your companions of my help, you will not quote the Bible, that sop thrown by the church to their slaves, to me," she said venomously. "I am a woman of the proletariat!"
"Respect the lady's anti-religious prejudices, Carnesy, old dear," said the doctor with a smile. "How do you propose to aid us, Miss Androvitch?"
"I will give you exactly what you gave my brother, your freedom and money for your immediate needs."