"Under normal circumstances," said Loyle through clenched teeth, "yes."
McGovern moved to the middle of the courtroom and stood with his hands behind his back. "Did anyone see you enter the hangar on the night in question?"
Loyle frowned. "No, I was careful to avoid letting anyone see me."
"You didn't want anyone to see you because you had been specifically ordered to stay away from the hangar by your wing commander, Major Merriwether-MacKenzie?"
"Yes." "So you have no one to corroborate your story about being knocked unconscious by an unknown assailant, then?"
"No," muttered Loyle.
"Given that you have no one to back up your story and you were found in your own planewhich, by your own admission, you don't let anyone else flythen would you say that the most logical assumption is that you were flying the Madison Dawn on the night in question?"
"Objection!" shouted Palmer. "The prosecution is asking my client to incriminate himself!"
Judge Gruber shook his head. "Overruled, counsel. The prosecution is asking your client about a conclusion that can be drawn given the facts as they are presented. Mr. Crawford, you will answer Mr. McGovern's question."
"I didn't attack the zeppelin!" cried Loyle.
"Mr. Crawford!" snapped Judge Gruber. "You were not asked if you attacked the zeppelin! You were asked if you would say that the most logical assumption that could be drawn from the facts presented was that you were flying your aircraft on the night in question! Now, answer the question or I'll find you in contempt of court right here and now: yes or no?"
"No, your honor," sighed Loyle. "I would have to say it would not be the most logical explanation as it is quite simply false."
McGovern frowned, his attempt to trip Crawford up momentarily thwarted. "Thank you, your honor. No further questions."
Loyle leaned across to Frances Palmer as they watched the twelve men of the jury file back to their seats. "They're coming back very quickly. Is this a good sign?"
Palmer smoothed his hair. "It doesn't look good, Loyle. McGovern played the jury like a fiddle in his closing. He's just riding the wave of public opinion."
"All rise!" declared the bailiff.
Judge Gruber took his seat, and the courtroom fluttered with the sound of people sitting. Loyle remained standing and watched as the bailiff handed the Judge a piece of paper, which he glanced at and handed back.
"Has the jury reached a verdict?" said Gruber.
The jury foreman accepted the paper back from the bailiff. "We have, your honor."
"What say you?"
"In the matter of the Empire State versus Loyle Crawford, on the charge of willful destruction of property, we find the defendant...guilty."
Loyle felt the blood run from his face as a murmur swept through the crowd.
Judge Gruber banged his gavel. "Order!"
"On the charge of murder in the second degree, we find the defendant...guilty."
It felt as if someone had driven a white-hot knife through Loyle's belly.
Behind him, the crowd erupted into cheers and applause.
"Serves you right, Crawford!" someone called. "Ya' had it comin, ya' drunken bum!"
There were the pops of flash bulbs as the assembled members of the press tried in vain to get a good shot of Loyle's face.
Judge Gruber was frantically pounding his gavel on his bench. "Order! Order I say!"
Loyle was only vaguely aware of what was happening around him. "Why is this happening to me?" he muttered to himself.
It was several minutes before Judge Gruber was able to regain control over the pandemonium in the courtroom.
Loyle looked up at the judge, struggling to keep his composure, and largely succeeding. I don't care if they clipped my wings. I'm still a pilot. I'm still a Broadway Bomber, damn it.
"Mr. Crawford," said Judge Gruber, "you will be remanded in custody at Dannemora Penitentiary, pending your sentencing which I am scheduling for 9 a.m. next Monday morning. Members of the jury, I thank you for your assistance. This court is adjourned."
The single bang of the judge's gavel sealed Loyle's fate.
The pilot turned around and looked at the prison guard sitting next to Loyle. "We're going to have to put her down!" he shouted. "This thunderstorm's come in much faster than we had counted on!"
Almost in answer, a deafening crash of thunder split the air, sounding as though it was ready to tear the wing off the plane. The little four-seater Grumman Appaloosa lurched upwards like a cork on a rough sea. Loyle felt his stomach leap up his throat as the plane dropped a dozen feet just as suddenly. Where did you guys get your licenses? Won them in a poker match, maybe?
It was the last straw for the guard. He grabbed a paper bag and emptied his stomach into it. His face was as white, as he wiped the remnants from his chin. He looked up at the pilot and just nodded weakly.
Loyle watched as the pilot and co-pilot scanned the ground ahead looking for a place to land. They seemed to be in a state of near panic. Loyle leaned forward in his seat. "Maybe I should take the stick, boys. I'm not keen on dying because you guys don't know how to fly."
The guard pulled him back. "That's enough Crawford. Just keep your mouth shut."
Up front, the co-pilot pointed at something off the starboard side and the pilot craned his head over the controls to look. He squinted for a second before nodding. "There's a farmhouse down there," he yelled. "We're going to put her down! You'd better buckle up!"
The nose of the plane dropped and Loyle barely made out the shape of the farmhouse through the driving rain. It looked as if a dirt road ran right past the front of the house. This is going to be one hell of a bumpy landing.
Something in the back of Loyle's mind clicked. Of course! He glanced across at the prison guard. The poor man appeared as if he was about to be sick again any second. The buffeting from the storm wasn't making it any easier for him.
Loyle watched carefully as the pilot lined the plane up for the final approach. If I time this just right...
As the Appaloosa's main undercarriage hit the road with a thump, Loyle launched himself sideways. He drove his elbow into the guard's temple with the full weight of his body behind it. The guard's head snapped sideways and slammed into the window frame. The man's eyes rolled back and his head lolled forward. For a horrible moment, Loyle thought that the guard had died. He reached over and heaved a sigh of relief when he found a weak pulse.
Loyle quickly grabbed the keys to his manacles from the guard's belt and unlocked himself. The plane was bouncing over the uneven surface of the road as Loyle pulled the pistol from the guard's holster.
The plane taxied into a lane next to the farmhouse. As soon as it pulled to a stop, the pilot turned to face them. "There you go! I told you we'd" His eyes suddenly went wide as he spotted the pistol pointed at his head.
"I don't want to shoot you," Loyle said quietly. "I want the two of you to take this man and get out of the plane."
"What are you going to do?" stammered the co-pilot. "You won't get anywhere in this storm!"
"Don't worry about it. Just get this man and get the hell out of this plane now!"
The co-pilot opened his cabin door and stepped out into the rain. He pulled the back of his seat forward and accepted the unconscious guard as Loyle passed him through.
The pilot clambered out and ran around to help the co-pilot move the guard away from the plane. Loyle covered them with the pistol until he was sure they were far enough away, then he climbed back into the cabin and locked the doors.
Strapping himself into the pilot's chair, he quickly took stock of the controls. "This bucket had better hold up," he said, as he taxied the plane back out onto the road.
Loyle waved to men he had just stranded and opened the throttle all the way. The Appaloosa's twin engines roared as the plane raced down the bumpy road and leapt into the air. "Not too bad for a civilian bird!"
Loyle made a low pass over the three men, snapping the Appaloosa into a barrel roll as he flashed overhead. He grinned as he imagined what they must have been thinking. "Bye fellas. I've got a traitor to catch."