On a number of occasions, Jones stated that he dealt commercially in stamps and that he wrote for stamp magazines in return for advertising space. If indeed he wrote short stories, rather than articles for these magazines, then it would appear that three of these stories were later reprinted in The Fayetteville Bulletin between August of 1929 and January of 1930. That these stories are part, or all of this set of writings is only an assumption on our part, as all we really know about these stories is that they are credited to Neil R. Jones and that they all involve stamps as a part of their plot.

We have taken the liberty of numbering the stories in the order they were printed in The Bulletin, as we have no information as to their original publication order. There does appear to be a steady progression and improvement as an author on Neil’s part in the order the stories appeared in The Bulletin, leading us to believe this numbering is chronologically correct regarding the original creation of the stories.

Bandits of the Sky (Stamp Story #2)

by Neil R. Jones

In what is assumed to be his fourth published story, Jones wrote a tale that is part adventure and part science fiction. The grand city described here is very much in keeping with how the future was envisioned in the 1920-30s; from the soaring towers to the mega-city that stretches from “Atlantic City to Boston.” The use of aircraft, including personal aircraft, is consistent with the proposed future and the inclusion of television as a viable means of communication is consistent as well. The moving sidewalk and trams are not as common in this period, but appear to have been first conceived by H. G. Wells. The “super stamp album,” however, is definitely an original creation of Neil’s.

As mentioned above, exactly when this story was written is not known. The “electric discharge pistols” sound an awful lot like our modern taser and since a similar device was used in one of the Rand Miller stories, it is quite possible that “Bandits of the Sky” was written very near or concurrently with Neil’s preparation of his first submissions for Gernsback.

What makes this story an important part of Jones’ progression as a writer, is that unlike “A Japanese Romance,”—more of a mood piece dependent on stamps as a part of the plot—“Bandits of the Sky,” could have the stamp angle removed, replaced with any valuable item(s), and the story would still work. “Bandits” is the first story of Neil’s that is a vision of the future; that it has an inventive heist story combined with action and airplanes is just the icing on the cake.

This version of “Bandits of the Sky” appeared in the January 2, 1930 edition of The Fayetteville Bulletin, although it may, or may not, have appeared in an unknown stamp magazine prior to this appearance.

Bob Gay
April, 2019
Introduction © 2019 by Bob Gay
Editor’s Note: The reprinting of “Bandits of the Sky” that appeared in The Fayetteville Bulletin was, apparently, not proofread before it went to press and the first three paragraphs were published with sentences, and fragments of sentences, so completely out of order as to make the beginning of the story incomprehensible. We have performed extensive editing to the these paragraphs, in order to approximate what we believe was Jones’ original text. Throughout the story, we also corrected a number of obvious typos and the paragraph breaks are of our own devising.

LEROY Wendell sat in his apartment and arranged several new sets of stamps he had just received by aerial dispatch from Chicago. His suite of rooms was well above the hundredth floor of this great hotel, a typical specimen of the year 2132 A. D., and from his windows he could look out over this vast, endless city which ran continuous along the Atlantic coastline from Atlantic City to Boston. Across the waters, on the shores of Long Island, he could see the great, twenty-second century skyscrapers, towering like huge, massive columnar supports for the blue ceiling overhead, and in all other directions the great city stretched away into the blue distance from the center nucleus of Manhattan.

Looking down into the deep abyss which was the street below, could be seen the minute specks of people going busily to and fro, transferring from the two moving sections of the street, each section flanking a narrow, stationary strip of pavement between them, along which raced vehicles similar in purpose, though not in design, to our modern trolley car, and moving in apposite directions at the rate of fifteen miles an hour. One could stand on them or occupy seats which lined the sides until their destination was reached. Nearer the ground, along the fifty-story level, where the lowest airship landing stages were to be found, a network of narrow bridges connected the skyscrapers, carrying the vast population of the city in and out among the great buildings to and from their work. No surface vehicular traffic was to be seen, being conducted below the upper street level in subway streets.

The air, however, was full of planes, gliders, dirigibles and airships which plied to and fro at various altitudes, according to their speed, license, and business. The huge freighters and international passenger airships used a high altitude far above the city while the local traffic moved with amazing dexterity among the maze of skyscrapers, halting momentarily at the numerous landing stages.

TO all of this glomorous confusion, Leroy paid not the slightest attention, it being the everyday humdrum monotony of the city life whose pulsating action never ceased night or day. Noise and action was ever characteristic of the large city. He was interested in the stamps which lay before him, representing two countries extremely popular among philatelists at that time, Antarctica and the Republic of Tasmania.

In arranging his stamps, he did not use the old-time, ancient album and hinges, but displayed them in the latest device invaluable to stamp collectors of this era. It was a large box-like affair with a square glass front. In one end of the box were two big spools on which was wound a certain fabric chemically treated to hold stamps when placed against it without necessitating sticking them on with an adhesive of any type. These spools were run at any speed the philatelist wished, and could be stopped at any place the collector might choose. The fabricated ribbon was wide enough to hold from 50 to 60 stamps, and its length depended upon size of stamp collection. Leroy Wendell had received his collection from a wealthy lineage of parents, the collection being handed down from generation to generation as far back as the World War, over two hundred years ago. It now numbered nearly two hundred and fifty thousand varieties and was one of the largest and most valuable in the world. It was contained in four of these box-like albums, each box containing over a hundred feet of the thin, ribboned fabric designed to hold the stamps.

A special feature of this super stamp album was a series of lens and lighting effects leading up to [the] glass front so that when the spools turned slowly, the stamps were magnified under a strong light, a special apparatus making it possible for the collector to increase the magnifying power until a single stamp, or a group of stamps occupied the entire glass front. In this day and age, stamps were never sent on approval, but were displayed to the collector by television, thus saving time and money.

THE collector now proceeded to swing back the side door of the stamp display box to place the new sets of Tasmania and Antarctica on a designated section of the ribbon. He failed to notice a dark, speedy airplane which came to rest on a landing stage just outside the windows of his apartment so engrossed was he in his occupation, and he did not see the three men who stealthily entered the room until they confronted him with electric discharge pistols, and commanded him to “stick up his hands.”

Leroy watched breathlessly as he saw two of them carry the cumbersome, yet extremely valuable, stamp display box out to the narrow landing stage and deposit it in the cabin of the aircraft. He felt relieved that this was the only one of the four containers of the great collection to be in his apartment at the time, the other three being stored in commercial vaults. The third highwayman of the air kept him covered with the menacing pistol which was capable of giving a severe shock or even a charge great enough to cause electrocution.

After they had stored the valuable stamp collection in the airplane, the two air bandits came back to receive the commands of their leader who now approached the young collector.

“Before we go, I’ll be sure you don’t squawk too soon," the leader stated to the young philatelist.

From a small phial he drew a hypodermic plunger and jabbed it into the arm of the young collector who winced under the sudden pain of the needle prick. The air raider gave him a shove over on to the lounge, stood watching him for a minute, and then left, saying with a laugh:

“You’ll be all right in five or ten minutes when that dope passes off, and by then we’ll be a long way from here.”

As the black aircraft left the landing stage, Leroy tried to get to his feet and spread the alarm, but the effort produced no results. He felt himself immoveable as a piece of marble, unable to wiggle even as much as a finger. His mind and consciousness were as active as ever, and he could breathe and move his eyes, but that was about all. For fully five minutes he lay in this coma under the influence of the drug, and then as quickly as it had assailed him, his helplessness passed away.

Springing to his feet, he rushed to the broadcaster and notified air police headquarters, giving them the details he had carefully noticed concerning the aircraft and its occupants while they were moving the stamp collection to the plane. He then ran quickly to the high speed elevator which brought him to the roof in a few seconds where his swift little plane was located in one of the hangars. It was one of the latest type, capable of attaining a speed of seven hundred miles per hour, and into this he jumped, speeded along the roof, and off into the air rapidly gaining altitude so that he could follow the upper air lanes at a fast pace which was impossible among the lower and thicker traffic levels of the air. He was off to join the air patrol forces in their search for the thieves who had held him up and taken his valuable collection of stamps. He soon arrived, and in company with the police aircraft was off on the chase. The squad of police planes numbered eight, all on the latest and speediest design.

AT the base, radio messages were flying thick and fast to all points of the giant metropolis to be on the lookout for a black airplane, giving certain details the philatelist had noticed that would distinguish it from other airplanes of the same color. Leroy had now donned his receiving head gear, and from one of the police patrol airplanes came the following message:

“The pirate plane was reported passing over Jersey City a few minutes ago. We will head in that direction and overtake it”.

At the police base in New York, messages continued to come in from various points on the black airplane’s course of travel, announcing the passing of the lawless craft which headed in a southwest direction, and patrol units of other cities were rapidly bearing down on it. The young philatelist and the police planes rushed on at top speed, and from reports they received from time to time it seemed that they would soon catch the craft unless the police of the cities over which it passed did not apprehend it first.

They had passed the precincts of Jersey City and Newark long ago, and were heading for the Pennsylvania border before they come in sight of the black pirate flier. It resembled a tiny black dot off near the horizon, while several planes could be seen in its rear, bearing down on it slowly. They, were patrol units which had taken up the chase from Jersey City, Newark, Hoboken and East Orange on orders from New York. It could be readily seen the outlawed craft would soon be overtaken, so the commanding police craft from New York radioed the New Jersey pursuit planes to flank the craft while they came up in the rear to order a surrender.

As the New Jersey planes took side positions, a startling result took place. The dark craft had now passed the Pennsylvania border, and was heading in a general direction towards Allentown when three figures shot out of the plane earthward, and just before they reached the earth three parachutes ballooned out in the air. The miscreants had waited until the last moment before pulling the rip cords so that their descent would be more rapid. The police planes trained their telescope on each of the three air bandits, and reported to Leroy Wendell that none of the three had the box of stamps with him. Leroy had guessed as much on seeing their descent, for had one of them taken it with him the added weight would have accelerated his descent dangerously. The valuable collection of stamps was still in the plane which, aside from a gradual wobbling, proceeded onward, its control set.

THE young philatelist now grew anxious, for if the plane went into a spin or a loop with no one aboard, it would crash, and to all probabilities burn up. Leroy, to save his valuable collection, would have gone to the risk of boarding the craft had there been someone with him to manage his own craft while he made the perilous transfer, but he was alone. Frantically he radioed the police planes as the deserted ship’s wobbling motion increased slightly.

“I’ll give $10,000 to any man who’ll transfer to that airplane and bring it down safe”!

From one of the accompanying New York planes came a reply:

“I’d board it and stand on my head, for that much. I’m your man”!

One of the police craft swerved in, towards the deserted plane which was wobbling severely now, preparing for its fatal plunge downward. Leroy held his breath as from the cockpit of the police plane a figure crept out slowly upon the wing. When the three air raiders had leaped from the plane, they had diminished the speed of the black plane to a hundred miles an hour, or the police officer would never have been able to attempt the feat he was now trying. When he reached the tip of the wing safely, the pilot at the stick slowly directed the craft toward the riderless plane until the wings nearly touched, and in that bare second the intrepid aerial officer changed planes, clinging to the wing of the abandoned craft.

The hearts of his companions, as well as Leroy’s, stood still for a moment as the deserted plane gave a sickening lurch which luckily turned into a natural bank on the air. The other planes got away from the vicinity just in time to avoid a collision, leaving the air officer hanging on for his life to the pilotless plane whose lurch had nearly sent him spinning off the wing and into the awful depths below him. His peril was in no way decreased yet, as he made his way quickly through the struts of the black aircraft and into the empty cockpit of the pilot’s box at the top of the streamlined cabin. He made the cockpit not a second too soon, for as he swung down into it and grasped the controls, the plane came out of its wide bank and went into a tail spin, falling over and over towards the ground far, below before he gained command of the craft. About a thousand feet from the ground, he smoothed out his rapid spin earthward and once more the black airplane soared along on an even level.

IN the meantime, the officer in command had sent a plane down to apprehend the escaping air raiders, and they were captured with little trouble. Leroy Wendell rewarded the officer handsomely for his brave, hairbreadth act in saving the valuable collection of stamps, and soon the air patrol which had gone out from Manhattan and Brooklyn was heading back across New Jersey accompanied by the police patrol flying units from Newark, East Orange, Jersey City and Hoboken, all of which had joined in the pursuit of the lawless, black airplane with its booty of valuable stamps.

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