OVER THE CLIFF

Flash Evans dribbled the basketball down the gymnasium floor, gave it a
final flip through the net, and started for the shower room.

“Not leaving, are you?” his friend, Jerry Hayes, called after him.

“Yes,” Flash answered regretfully, “I’ll be late getting back to work
unless I do. Business before fun, you know.”

“Wait a minute and I’ll walk along to the _Ledger_ office with you.”

“All right, but step on it! My ticker says ten of one.”

For as far back as the two boys could remember they had been close
friends. Both were graduates of Brandale High School, lived on the same
street, and enjoyed the same sports.

During the past nine months Flash had worked as a photographer on the
_Brandale Ledger_ and, of necessity, his pleasures had been somewhat
curtailed. Yet, he still found time to swim at the “Y,” and on this
Saturday had given up his lunch hour to play basketball.

The two friends quickly dressed. As they left the “Y” building together,
Flash strapped a Speed Graphic camera over his shoulder.

“You never go anywhere without that thing, do you?” Jerry remarked.

“Not during working hours. You never know when a big picture may come
your way.”

“Those were dandies you ran in the _Ledger_ a short time ago,” Jerry
recalled. “Cleaned up an arson gang by getting a picture of the head
man, didn’t you?”

“The police did the work,” Flash corrected carelessly, “but my pictures
helped. And on the strength of them, Editor Riley is giving me a month’s
vacation instead of the usual two weeks. I start tomorrow.”

“Where are you going, Flash?”

“Don’t know yet. I may take in the Indianapolis auto races.”

The pair had reached a street corner. As they halted to wait for the
traffic light to change, an automobile rolled leisurely by close to the
curb. Flash stared.

“See that fellow at the wheel!” he exclaimed, grabbing Jerry’s arm.

“Sure. Who is he?”

“Bailey Brooks!”

“And who is he?” Jerry demanded bluntly.

“You haven’t read about Bailey Brooks, the aviator and parachute
jumper?”

“Oh, sure,” Jerry nodded, “the fellow who has been having so much
trouble. I remember now. Government officials refused him permission to
test that new parachute he invented.”

“And for a good reason. Brooks claims his new ’chute will open up at a
very low altitude. But a month ago when it was given the first test, a
jumper was killed.”

The automobile had been held up by a red light. Jerry was staring at the
driver with deep interest when a green-painted sound truck bearing the
sign, _News-Vue Picture Company_, rolled up directly behind the car.

“Say, that sound truck seems to be following Bailey Brooks!” Flash
exclaimed, excitement creeping into his voice. “Something must be in the
wind!”

“Sure looks that way,” agreed Jerry. “The newsreel lads must be after
pictures.”

“Do you know what I think, Jerry? Brooks is slipping off somewhere on
the quiet to make his parachute jump despite government orders! Gosh,
that’s worth a picture! Whether he succeeds or fails, the _Ledger_ will
want it.”

Already the traffic light had changed from red to green. The automobile
and the sound truck started to move slowly ahead. Flash knew that if he
were to learn the destination of Bailey Brooks and the newsreel men, not
a moment must be lost.

“Listen,” he said crisply to his friend. “Telephone the _Ledger_ office
for me, will you? Tell Riley I’m after a hot picture!”

Without waiting for Jerry’s reply, he signaled a taxi, leaping on the
running board as it slowed down.

“Follow that green sound truck!”

The chase led through the business section of Brandale into open
country. There the car and sound truck chose a road which wound along
the ocean. Some twelve miles from the city, they both drew up at the
base of a high cliff overlooking the beach.

“Wait for me,” Flash instructed the driver.

As he stepped from the cab, he saw that his hunch had been right. Bailey
Brooks was unloading parachute equipment from his automobile.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Brooks,” he greeted the aviator. “Are you making a
jump from the cliff?”

“You’ve guessed it,” the man grinned. “What paper do you represent?”

“The _Ledger_. Mind if I take a few pictures?”

“Go ahead,” Bailey Brooks responded cordially. “The publicity ought to
do me some good.”

Flash took a pose of the man beside his car, but decided to save his
remaining films for the actual jump.

He wandered over toward the green sound truck which had maneuvered into
position near the base of the cliff. A sound technician and two helpers
were stringing up their microphone. Two cameramen, on the roof of the
truck, were attaching the tripod of a large turret-front camera to the
metal platform.

The younger man turned slightly and Flash recognized him as a
photographer who, until three months previously, had been employed by
the _Ledger_.

“Joe Wells!”

The cameraman looked around, and climbed quickly down from his perch.

“Well, if it isn’t Flash Evans!” he exclaimed heartily. “What are you
doing out here?”

“Oh, I saw your wagon roll by, and I figured I might get a good picture
if I trailed you.”

“Same old Flash, always playing hunches,” Joe chuckled. “But you figured
right. Brooks may crack up instead of cracking silk.”

“I hope not. Still, that cliff doesn’t look very high.”

“He’s a fool to try it,” Wells declared in a low tone. “But if he’s bent
on committing suicide just to prove his ’chute will work, that’s his
lookout. Ours is to take pictures.”

The sound technician had finished setting up his equipment. Working with
quiet efficiency, he stationed Bailey Brooks in front of the microphone,
and took his own position at the mixing panel.

After the recording had been made, Joe led Flash over to the truck.

“Meet our sound expert,” he said carelessly. “George Doyle.”

The technician, a sullen, serious man of twenty-eight, did not bother to
remove the monitor phones from his ears. He stared at Flash, mumbled a
few words, and turned his back.

To cover up the rudeness, Joe said quickly:

“Why not quit the _Ledger_, Flash, and come in with a real outfit? If
you’ll consider it I’ll ask _News-Vue_ to give you a chance.”

“Thanks, Joe, but I like my work at the _Ledger_. I start my vacation
tomorrow.”

“You’re fitted for newsreel work,” Joe declared persuasively. “You have
steady nerves, good judgment, and you’re cool in an emergency. I know,
because I’ve worked with you. Better think it over.”

Flash smiled and offered no response.

A moment later Bailey Brooks came over to say that he was ready to make
the jump. Leaving George Doyle and the others below, Flash and Joe began
the steep ascent with the aviator. Burdened as they were with heavy
equipment, they took it slowly, proceeding in easy stages.

Presently, pausing to rest, Flash glanced downward. He noticed that a
coupe had drawn up in a clump of bushes not far from the cliff. A man
with field glasses was watching their progress.

“We have an interested watcher,” remarked Flash. “Wonder who he is?”

Both Joe and Bailey Brooks turned to gaze in the direction indicated.

“I can’t tell from this distance,” said the parachute jumper. “It looks
like Albert Povy’s automobile.”

“Povy?” inquired Joe Wells in a startled voice.

“Yes, he’s one of the few persons who has been interested in my new
’chute.”

An odd expression settled over the newsreel man’s face. He said no more.
But, as the climb was resumed, he dropped some distance behind Brooks to
whisper with Flash.

“If that’s really Povy in the car, he must expect something to come of
this test today! I’m telling you, his reputation isn’t very good!”

Flash had no opportunity to learn more about Povy, for Bailey Brooks had
paused. He waited on the trail until the two men caught up with him.

At the summit of the cliff the three flung themselves on a flat rock to
rest. Bailey Brooks seemed nervous. His hand trembled as he lit a
cigarette.

“This jump means a lot to me,” he said. “Since my pal, Benny Fraser, was
killed testing out the ’chute, government authorities have advised me
that my design is unsound. But I know better. I’m willing to risk my
life to prove it.”

“And when you succeed, I imagine the government will suddenly take an
interest,” Flash remarked.

“Sure. They’ve had their experts studying the invention for months. They
claim it has defects which can’t be overcome.”

Brooks arose, tossed aside his cigarette and began to strap on his
harness.

“If I succeed everything will be swell. If I fail, I won’t know it. So
what’s the difference?”

The man spoke with attempted carelessness. Yet, he could not hide his
real feelings from the two observant photographers. He was not so
confident as he would have them believe.

Joe Wells set up his automatic hand camera near the edge of the cliff,
winding the spring motor and loading the film. Flash stationed himself
at a slightly different angle, focusing his Speed Graphic.

“All set?” inquired Brooks.

“Any old time,” said Wells, and signaled the _News-Vue_ men below.

A dizzy, nauseous sensation came over Flash as he gazed downward. If the
’chute failed to open—and the odds were against Brooks—would he have the
courage to keep on taking his pictures? He wondered.

“Good luck, Brooks,” said Wells. “Happy landing.”

“I won’t need luck,” the man answered jerkily. “Not with a ’chute like
this baby.”

He stepped to the edge of the cliff. For a long moment he stood there,
gazing out across the sea, savoring the glint of sunlight upon the
tumbling waves.

“Whatever happens,” he said, “keep grinding.”

Then with lips compressed, face tense, he stepped off into space.

At terrific speed the body of the jumper hurtled toward the earth. The
parachute did not open.

Grim-faced, his horrified eyes focused upon the falling figure, Flash
shot his first picture. His heart was in his throat, but he was able to
keep his hand steady. Swiftly he extracted the holder and made ready to
take a second exposure.

“It’s curtains,” he thought. “The ’chute never can save Brooks now.”

And then, even as he abandoned hope, the silken umbrella cracked open.

Perspiration oozed from Flash’s forehead. Joe Wells laughed aloud, so
great was his relief.

The danger, however, was not entirely over. As Flash took a picture of
the great umbrella drifting downward, he noted that it was falling at a
rapid rate toward the sea. For a time it appeared that Brooks would
strike the water with great force.

But the aviator began to pull on the risers, and succeeded in working
away from the shore. He landed in a plowed field some distance away. The
wind billowed the ’chute, dragging him for a few feet. Brooks then
skilfully pulled on the underside risers and the big umbrella flattened
out.

“He’s safe,” observed Wells, taking a deep breath. “I hope he makes a
fortune. A jump like that is worth it.”

The two photographers began to pack their cameras into carrying cases.

“By the way, what did you start to tell me about Albert Povy?” Flash
inquired curiously.

“He was supposed to have been mixed up in shady espionage business a few
months ago. I understand government operatives have kept a sharp eye on
him.”

“And now he seems to be interested in Brooks’ parachute?”

“It looks that way. If Brooks has any sense he’ll steer clear of the
fellow. Suppose we get down there, Flash.”

Together they began the dangerous descent. By the time they reached the
base of the cliff, Bailey Brooks had walked back from the field, and was
receiving the congratulations of the _News-Vue_ men.

As Flash and Joe added their praise, a tall, dark stranger crossed the
open space to the sound truck.

“A beautiful jump, Mr. Brooks,” he praised. “You remember me, don’t you?
My name is Povy—Albert Povy.”

“Yes, I remember you very well,” the jumper replied dryly. “Did I
demonstrate what my ’chute could do?”

“You certainly did,” the man returned heartily. “It was amazing! I never
would have believed it possible, if I hadn’t witnessed it with my own
eyes. You know, we may be able to do business together, after all.”

A guarded expression came into Bailey Brooks’ steel gray eyes.

“I’m open to propositions,” he said.

“Come over to my car,” invited Albert Povy. “We’ll talk.”

Flash and Joe Wells were closed out of the conversation. Swiftly the
_News-Vue_ men loaded their equipment aboard the truck and prepared to
leave.

“Listen, Flash,” said Joe as he climbed into the sound truck. “When
you’re through at the _Ledger_ this afternoon, drop around at the
_News-Vue_ offices. I want to talk with you.”

He handed over a card bearing the company address, and the truck rolled
away.

Reminded that he had pictures of his own to rush back to Brandale, Flash
stuffed the card into his pocket, and hurried to the waiting taxi. As he
drove off he saw that Brooks had gone with Albert Povy.

“Wonder if he knows the man’s reputation?” he thought. “I suppose he
must.”

Flash dismissed the matter entirely from his mind. He never expected to
see either of the men again. His only concern was the possibility of
future news stories or pictures.

The taxicab made a quick trip back to Brandale. Flash paid the bill and
kept a receipt to show Riley as proof of his expense.

He was hurrying through the news room on his way to the photographic
department when the editor hailed him.

“Hey, Evans, where have you been all afternoon?” The editor gave him a
quizzical glance.

Flash paused. “Didn’t Jerry Hayes telephone you?”

“Some kid called in. He said you were after a big picture.”

“I nailed it, too,” Flash said confidently. “Bailey Brooks just
disregarded orders and tested his parachute out at Eagle Cliff.”

“Killed?”

“No, the test was a success. So far, the _News-Vue_ people are the only
ones to get pictures. Mine ought to be dandies.”

“Good work!” approved Riley. “We can use them, and the story, too. Crack
’em through.”

In a few minutes’ time Flash had developed his pictures and made the
prints from wet films. His work finished, he was loitering in the news
room when Riley motioned for him to come over to the desk.

“You may as well call it a day, Evans,” he said. “Those were fine
pictures you turned in.”

“Thanks, Mr. Riley.”

“You start your vacation tomorrow, I believe?”

“Yes, sir, I do.”

“You’ve earned it,” Riley said with an attempt at geniality. “Where are
you planning to spend your month off?”

“Home mostly. I may visit some friends in Indianapolis and take in the
auto races.”

Riley pounced upon the information with the avidity of a bass after live
bait.

“We could use some good pictures, Flash. How about covering the races
for the _Ledger_?”

“Well—my plans aren’t definite. I may not be able to make it.”

“Buy yourself a ticket to Indianapolis at the _Ledger’s_ expense,” Riley
urged, guessing the reason behind the young man’s indecision. “Why not
hop the special streamliner which leaves here tomorrow morning?”

“I’ll do it!” Flash decided suddenly.

“Good! Take any equipment you may need, and send your pictures back by
plane.”

Flash returned to the photography department for his camera. After
saying good-bye to several friends, he went downstairs where his pay
check awaited him. He was finished with work an hour earlier than usual.
It would seem strange, he thought, being off duty for an entire month.

As Flash reached for bus fare, he pulled the card Joe Wells had given
him from his pocket. The address of the _News-Vue_ Company was only a
few blocks away.

“May as well drop around there and kill a little time,” he reflected.
“But I don’t aim to let Joe talk me into leaving the _Ledger_.”

Flash presently found himself standing before a tall white stone
building located not far from the waterfront. He consulted the room
directory in the lobby and rode the elevator up to the sixth floor.

A receptionist was asking him whom he wished to see when Joe Wells,
hearing a familiar voice, stepped from one of the offices.

“Hello, there, Flash,” he greeted cordially. “Come on in.”

He led the photographer into a small room crowded with desks, waving him
to a chair.

“I’ll be through in a minute. Then I’ll show you around. I want to write
up this dope sheet first.”

“Take your time, Joe.”

The _News-Vue_ man inserted a sheet of printed paper in a typewriter,
rapidly filling in the blanks.

“I’m getting ready to take off for Indianapolis tomorrow,” he remarked
casually. “George Doyle started on ahead with the sound wagon about an
hour ago. I follow by train and meet him there.”

“Maybe I’ll see you,” Flash replied. “I’m covering the races myself. For
the _Ledger_.”

“I never could go back to working on a paper now,” Joe commented. “Too
tame compared with the newsreels. Flash, why don’t you consider—”

“No!” Flash cut in with a laugh. “I’m not listening to any arguments.”

Joe shrugged and said no more. He spent the next half hour showing his
friend the newsreel cameras and explaining their operation.

“We ordinarily use one with a front turret, carrying three or four
lenses,” he instructed. “This particular camera holds four hundred feet
of film in its magazine and can be hand-cranked or driven with either a
110 volt A.C. motor or a 12 D.C.”

“I suppose power is generated from storage batteries?”

“Yes, our trucks are equipped with chargers. Sometimes we are able to
plug into a service line. But why am I telling you all this? You know as
much about it as I do.”

“Hardly,” Flash corrected. “But I have done a little studying.”

After a trip through the laboratories where positives were being made
from “master blues,” Joe led his friend into the projection room.

“We’re in luck,” he said. “They’re showing those Bailey Brooks
pictures.”

In the darkened room several editors, script writers and a commentator,
sat at dimly lighted desks. On the wall before them a strip of film was
being run through. To Flash the moving figures seemed grotesque, for
blacks and whites were in reverse.

“What’s this?” demanded an editor as he watched the spectacular leap
made by Bailey Brooks. “Just another parachute jump?”

Information provided by Joe Wells’ caption sheet was read aloud.

“That’s interesting stuff,” decided the editor. “Run it full. Cut down
that racing shot from Cuba. Now what do we have on the Japanese
earthquake?”

For several minutes Flash watched the work of cutting and assembling the
eight different subjects which would be used in the completed newsreel.
He ended his tour by visiting a studio where the various shots were
synchronized with music and the explanatory speech of a commentator.

“The releases will be shown in Brandale theatres in another hour,” Wells
declared, escorting his friend to the elevator. “In this business speed
means everything.”

Although he would not have admitted it, Flash was strangely impressed.
Riding home in the bus, he reflected that Joe might be right about
newsreel work offering more thrills than fell to the lot of an ordinary
photographer. He would like to try it. But for the present he couldn’t
consider leaving the _Ledger_.

At home a warm supper was waiting. As he shared the well-cooked meal
with his mother and younger sister, Joan, Flash mentioned his assignment
to cover the Indianapolis races.

“Working on your vacation?” Mrs. Evans inquired mildly. “Really, Jimmy,
you need a rest.”

“Shooting a few pictures won’t be work, Mother. I’ll enjoy it. And I’ll
get a free trip.”

It was true. Flash never had considered professional picture-taking as
drudgery. Save for a month when persons had sought to undermine his job,
he had thoroughly enjoyed the time spent on the _Ledger_.

Flash, who seldom answered to his real name of Jimmy, was seventeen, the
son of a former newspaper editor. Since Mr. Evans’ death several years
earlier, the little family of three had been hard pressed to make ends
meet. But Flash’s recent salary increases had made things much easier.
That was one reason why he could not give up a sure job for the more
uncertain calling of newsreel cameraman.

“I see you have set your heart upon the Indianapolis trip,” Mrs. Evans
remarked, “so you may as well pack your bag.”

Early the next morning when Flash reached the railroad terminal he found
it buzzing with activity. He stood in line to buy his ticket, noting
that Indianapolis seemed to be the popular destination. Special rates
had been offered, and only Indiana passengers were allowed on the
streamliner.

Flash swung aboard. Wandering through several cars, he finally came upon
his friend, Joe Wells.

“Hello, there,” the newsreel man greeted him. “Let’s go back to the club
car and grab a seat before they’re all taken.”

The train began to move. Joe led the way through the corridors. So
quietly did the streamliner run that they scarcely were aware of its
gathering speed.

At the entrance to the club car, Joe halted suddenly and Flash bumped
into him.

“See who is here,” he muttered, indicating a man who sat reading a
magazine.

“Albert Povy!” Flash exclaimed in an undertone.

Offering no additional comment, the two photographers entered the car.
They took the only vacant chairs which chanced to be directly across
from the man who held their attention.

Flash scrutinized the passenger with keen interest. There was something
about Povy which fascinated and yet repulsed him. The man was tall,
well-built, with a hollow, almost gaunt face. A faint but jagged scar on
his left cheek evidently had resulted from an old war wound.

Povy glanced up and met Flash’s steady gaze. He stared hard at the young
man for a moment and then glanced away. If he recognized either of the
photographers he gave no further sign.

Joe nudged Flash. Raising a newspaper to shield his face, he called
attention to a middle-aged man of military bearing who was writing a
letter at the desk.

“Major Creighton Hartgrove,” he whispered. “Retired from the army. It’s
rumored, though, that he’s doing secret work for the government.”

As Wells spoke, Hartgrove arose and left the club car. A moment later,
Albert Povy put aside his magazine and followed. Or at least, Flash
gained the impression that the man seemed to be interested in the
Major’s movements.

He ventured such an opinion to Joe, who made light of his observation.

“You’re as imaginative as ever, Flash,” he scoffed. “I shouldn’t have
told you lurid tales about Povy’s reputation.”

Several times during the day as the streamliner raced westward, Flash
caught glimpses of the two men. It struck him as significant that
usually the pair were in the same car. More than ever he became
convinced that Major Hartgrove was being watched and was himself aware
of it.

Joe Wells had scant interest in either of the men, and as the day wore
on, slept much of the time. When a colored steward gave the first call
for dinner, he shook himself awake.

“Let’s amble into the diner before the big rush starts, Flash.”

They walked forward through two cars, and had just entered the third
where Major Hartgrove sat, when the train’s air brakes suddenly were
applied.

“Now what?” gasped Joe, clutching a seat for support.

The next instant he and Flash both were hurled violently from their
feet. There was a deafening crash, and the car crumpled like an
accordion, burying them beneath the debris.