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Chapter One:
Bourbon and Red Ink

Chapter Two:
A Wing and A Prayer

Chapter Three:
In The Crosshairs

Chapter Four:
Ghosts In The Sand

Chapter Five:
No Graceful Exit

Chapter Six:
The Big Fall

Chapter Seven:
Pointing the Finger

Chapter Eight:
One Way Out

Chapter Nine:
Chasing Shadows

Chapter Ten:
Pirate Try Outs

Chapter Eleven:
Under a Banner of War

Chapter Twelve:
One-Man Invasion

Chapter Thirteen:
The Lady And The Tiger

A Word From The Editor

We all know who Paladin Blake is.

A captain of industry. A tough-as-nails businessman. The successful founder of Blake Aviation Security, the premier aerial protection service operating in North America.

But who was he before he amassed his fortune?

Spicy Air Tales is proud to present official, authorized accounts of Paladin Blake’s early adventures. Each tale is culled from Blake Aviation Security files, eyewitness accounts and even exhaustive interviews with Blake himself! So join us as we explore the colorful past of Paladin Blake, gentleman pirate-fighter and daredevil air ace!

—Nero MacLeon

Senior Editor, Air Action Weekly Press

The Case of the Phantom Prototype

- A Paladin Blake Adventure! -

By Eric Nylund

Chapter One: Bourbon and Red Ink

Paladin Blake took a bottle of bourbon from his desk drawer. He grabbed two glasses from the water cooler, set them on his blotter, then opened the bottle. This was the ritual he performed after every assignment.

No ritual, though, was going to save Blake Aviation Security from bankruptcy.

Sunlight and fresh air streamed through his office window. Paladin watched the sun set behind the Santa Monica pier. The view was costing him a bundle in overhead. He lowered the blinds.

With a steady hand, he poured the twelve-year-old bourbon into the glasses. He set one by the photograph of his father. "Here you go, you old bootlegger."

In the picture, his father sat on the wing of his plane, pistol in one hand, and in the other, he held a bottle identical to the one on Paladin’s desk.

"And here’s to coming home alive."

This last assignment had been a peach. Only one of his planes had been shot down. Pretty good, considering Blake Aviation Security had put five pirates into the drink delivering silver bullion to Hawaii. The payoff had been considerable.

For every success, however, there were two assignments that lost money because of hospital bills, repairs, maintenance for his fleet of a dozen aircraft, and checks sent to his pilots’ widows. Paladin was pouring money into his company by the bucketful.

He pulled out the company ledger and sighed. Red ink tattooed its pages.

Paladin cradled his glass of bourbon, warming it until he could smell the smoky aroma. He clinked the glass to his father’s. "Don’t worry, Dad. No matter what it takes, I’ll get every last of one of them for you. Even if it means doing it by myself."

He poured the two glasses back into the bottle, then put it away. The ritual was over.

For more information see:
The Kingdom of Hawaii

Running Blake Aviation Security hadn’t always been like this. Every day, though, it was getting harder. There were more pirates in the air, and, as improbable as it seemed, they were becoming bolder. From Maine to Hollywood to Alaska—it was like the skies were heating to a boil.

Paladin stared at the bleeding ledger. There had to be a way to squeeze a profit from these numbers.

The intercom buzzed. "Mr. Blake?" his secretary asked. "There’s a Mr. Justin to see you."

"Tell him to make an appointment."

For more information see:
The Maritime Provinces; Hollywood; Alaska

"Mr. Justin?" she repeated. "Representing the Lockheed Corporation?"

Paladin lost his place in the columns and rows. "You said ‘Lockheed’?"


A corporation like Lockheed could mean, for once, a fat profit margin. The boost in prestige couldn’t hurt Blake Aviation Security, either. It could lead to other corporate clients. Real money. Maybe enough to finally get his company off the ground.

But he was getting ahead of himself. He didn’t know what Lockheed wanted. "Send Mr. Justin in."

Paladin quickly slipped on his suspenders, tucked in his shirt, and ran his fingers through his hair. He stood and slammed the ledger shut.

The office door opened. A man paused in the doorway. He was seven feet tall if he was an inch, and he had to turn his wide shoulders just to clear the doorframe. Paladin had never seen a size sixty-four Italian-cut suit before—enough navy blue wool to make a tent. The color of his gray silk tie matched his pointed beard. Bushy brows arched over his blue eyes.

"Paladin Blake?" There was a richness to his voice, a slight Slavic accent. "I am Peter Justin." He extended a hand that engulfed Paladin’s as they shook.

"What can Blake Aviation do for you?" He gestured to a padded chair.

Justin gracefully sat. "Lockheed has business for you, Mr. Blake. Security business."

"Good," Paladin said. "Great." He slowly sank into his chair, then added, "But Lockheed has it’s own security. Why use us?"

"I am well aware of Lockheed’s security resources. I am in charge of them." Justin reached into his coat and removed a sterling cigarette case, opened it, and offered one to Paladin.

"No thanks," Paladin said.

Justin took a cigarette for himself. "Lockheed requires an outsider for this particular assignment, an outsider with an impeccable record and a reputation for discretion. In short: we need you, Mr. Blake."

"I see," Paladin said, not really seeing anything, but managing to sound nonchalant. "Tell me about it."

"A simple matter," Justin replied and rolled his unlit cigarette between his fingers. "Two months ago, parts for a new aircraft disappeared from our Pasadena facility. Last week, the blueprints disappeared from our vault—then reappeared. We are concerned a prototype that has been recently constructed will be next to vanish. So we want you to fly this prototype."

Paladin held up his hand. "I’m no test pilot. I’m a good combat pilot, but you need—"

"There is no testing involved. All we require from you is to deliver the plane to our secure base in the Mojave Desert." He fished into his coat pocket again, this time retrieving a slender notebook and gold fountain pen.

"You see," Justin said, leaning forward, "we cannot afford to trust anyone at Pasadena. The mechanics, engineers, even our test pilots could have been responsible for the previous thefts. This completed prototype will be a tempting target."

"I didn’t know Lockheed had an airfield in the Mojave Desert."

"Few do," Justin replied. "Which is another reason to employ someone with your reputation for discretion." He opened his notebook and scrawled on it. He tore off a sheet and pushed it across the desk. "The first half of our payment to Blake Aviation Security."

Paladin scrutinized the note. It was a Lockheed corporate check drawing on assets from the First Bank of Hollywood. There was a line of zeroes neatly arranged after the first number in the amount box.

After a moment, Justin cleared his throat. "Mr. Blake? I trust the amount is adequate?"

Paladin’s throat was suddenly dry. "Yes. Adequate." He swallowed and got his bearings. "For this kind of money, though, I assume you expect trouble?"

"No. I expect this will buy Lockheed a decided lack of trouble."

Paladin looked again at the number on the check. It was too good to be true—especially for a quick run over the San Bernardino Mountains. Or maybe there was no catch. Maybe this is exactly what he needed: a juicy contract.

Even if there was a catch, Justin was playing his cards close to his vest. If Blake Aviation Security didn’t take the job, Justin could find a dozen other outfits to take his money.

"I assure you, Mr. Justin, Blake Aviation Security can handle any trouble."

"Excellent." Justin stood and smoothed his suit. "I knew we could do business. Meet me at five o’clock on the Pasadena airfield."

"My team and I will be there."

Justin crinkled his bushy eyebrows. "You misunderstood me, Mr. Blake." He set his still-unlit cigarette it the ashtray. "You—and you alone—are required. At the last minute, you will replace our test pilot on tomorrow’s scheduled flight. Additional planes will only draw unwanted attention."

Cloak-and-dagger operations weren’t exactly Paladin’s style. He preferred force to stealth. Preferably the force of a heavily armed squadron of his best fighter pilots.

"Okay," Paladin said. "It’s your show. I’ll be there like you want. Alone."

"I shall make the arrangements." Justin shook Paladin’s hand again, then turned and closed the door behind him so softly that Paladin didn’t hear it click shut.

Paladin's eye fell upon the unlit cigarette Justin had left in the ashtray. It was one of those black European deals, expensive and hard to get.

Big money or not, something didn’t sit right. Lockheed wouldn’t dole out this kind of cash unless they thought they’d get a good return on their investment. And why, if Justin couldn’t trust his people, was he trusting Blake Aviation Security? Paladin knew his outfit was small potatoes.

He picked up the phone and dialed. It rang six times before someone answered.

"Dash? Get out of bed. I know you just got off a deadline. Look, I need a favor, some information. Find Jimmy the Rap and meet me at the Club Gorgeio, say ten o’clock? Good."

Paladin hung up then buzzed his secretary. "Dust off my tuxedo. I’ve got business tonight."

Out of the corner of his eye, Paladin spied the picture of his father. It looked like the old bootlegger was laughing at him.

The Club Gorgeio was packed with wall-to-wall tuxedoes, slinky sequined evening gowns, and waitresses circulating with trays of cocktails. A haze of smoke gave the air a velvet texture. The band played "Hop Off."

Paladin, Dashiell, and Jimmy the Rap sat at a secluded corner table. Paladin told them about his visit this afternoon.

"I dropped by the First Bank of Hollywood," Paladin said. "Got a friend to run the check’s serial numbers. They verified Justin’s signature. It’s legit."

Dashiell tapped out a cigarette and lit up. "I don’t like it, Paladin." He puffed once. "It doesn’t add up."

Dashiell wore a La Blanca tuxedo, the same label as Paladin, only he managed to make it look like a million bucks. It hadn’t a crease or a speck of dust on it. His hair was slicked back, and his pencil thin mustache was perfectly trimmed.

At the opposite end of the fashion spectrum was Jimmy the Rap. Jimmy fidgeted, uncomfortable and out of place in his two-bit tweed suit and crumpled tie. He finished his second drink in a single gulp.

"Doesn’t add up how?" Paladin asked.

Two years ago, Dashiell had been a stringer for Air Action Weekly—a starving writer working under a pseudonym, in desperate need of money until his "serious" projects started to pay off. Paladin put him to work checking the backgrounds of his clients and the competition, since Dashiell had a flair for research…and a nose for treachery. Later, when he hit it big with book deals and movie screenplays, suddenly everyone was his friend, from mobsters to studio executives to starlets. His good fortune, though, was Paladin’s. Just as Dashiell had used Paladin’s real life events for his fiction, Paladin now used Dashiell’s connections and smarts as a writer to solve real mysteries.

"It doesn’t add up," Dashiell said, "because Mr. Peter Justin, a.k.a. Piotr 'Neyasvy' Pushkarev, is an ace pilot."

"I never heard of him," Paladin replied.

For more information see:
Lockheed Corporation

"You wouldn’t have." Dashiell tapped the ashes off his cigarette. "He was a hero of the Russian revolution. That is, a hero, if you were a White Russian. His family emigrated to Alaska, but not before the Reds got some of them. He made a name for himself up there before Lockheed hired him...or so I’ve heard." Dashiell waved his cigarette in a flamboyant gesture. "You’re a pilot, Paladin. Maybe you can tell me why someone like that would give up his prize aircraft?"

"He wouldn’t," Paladin muttered.

Dashiell turned to Jimmy. "What about these stolen parts? What’s the word on the street?"

Jimmy slid out of his chair and took a step toward the exit.

Paladin set a hand on Jimmy the Rap’s shoulder, pushing him back into his seat.

For more information see:

The "Rap" part of Jimmy’s name came from two stints in prison. In both cases, he could have spilled his guts and walked away clean. The fact that he refused to rat out his former associates had earned him the reputation of being a man who kept his mouth shut. It made him a valuable middleman to the shadier businessmen of Hollywood.

Jimmy walked a tightrope, though. One word from Dashiell to Jimmy’s parole officer and he’d be off the streets until his hair was gray. One slip-up with his employers, and he’d be off the streets permanently.

Paladin pressed a twenty into Jimmy sweaty palm. "The parts?"

Jimmy’s gaze darted around the room, then settled on Paladin. "These ain’t no spark plugs that got taken. Were talking engine blocks, a spare fuselage, and some sorta aerobrake."

"So who bought them?" Dashiell asked.

Paladin slid his untouched scotch to Jimmy.

Jimmy downed it. "That’s the strange thing," he said. "The guys with the brains to fence something that big—Icepick Marvin, The Weston Brothers—they’ve all taken vacations...real sudden-like."

"That doesn’t make sense," Paladin said.

"Unfortunately, it does," Dashiell replied. "Someone big engineered these thefts from Lockheed. It stands to reason someone just as big wants to purchase the items. Someone big enough to make Jimmy’s nastier associates think twice about getting involved."

"So what do you suggest?" Paladin asked.

"I’m going up to Santa Barbara for the weekend. You, my dear Paladin, are in way over your head. I suggest you tag along and take a vacation, too."

"I know I'm in over my head," Paladin whispered. "Way over. But if Blake Aviation Security is ever going to be more than a small time operation, I’ve got to get in that deep." He stood.

"Thanks for the information and the advice, Dashiell. You’ll have to excuse me, though. I’ve got to plane to fly in the morning."

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For more information see:
The Nation of Hollywood