Wailing Octopus


5. The Warning

Steve Ames walked into the hotel dining room accompanied by a young Navy lieutenant. He spotted the boys immediately and waved.

Rick breathed a sigh of relief. "There he is."

"We can turn this whole business over to him and then get out of here," Scotty returned.

The events of the night before had culminated in two phone calls, one by the hotel manager to the police, the other by Rick to Steve Ames. However, the duty officer at the UDT base had replied that Ames was not available. Rick had then asked for intelligence, and his query had gotten fast results. Steve Ames didn't show up, but Navy Shore Patrol officers did. The SP's had conferred with the local police, and the affair had ended with the shadow and the stranger, whom Scotty had potted in the shoulder, being carried off by both groups. First, however, the senior Shore Patrol officer had listened to their story, then instructed the boys, "Wait for Steve Ames. Talk to no one else. The police won't ask any questions."

After conferring, the Spindrift group decided to go ahead with their plans. The scientists were anxious to transfer their activities to Clipper Cay, not only to get on with their vacation, but to get the boys away from the mysterious danger that dogged their footsteps in Charlotte Amalie.

The scientists had departed at dawn in the Water Witch, after extracting a promise from Rick and Scotty that they would not stir from the hotel until Steve Ames contacted them, and that they would then fly at once to Clipper Cay.

The wait had been a long one. It was now nearly noon, and the boys, hungry because their breakfast had been at daybreak, were ordering lunch.

Steve Ames sat down and motioned the lieutenant to a seat. "Jimmy, this is Rick Brant and Don Scott. Boys, Lieutenant Kelly. Have you ordered lunch?"

"We were just looking over the menu," Rick replied.

"Fine. We'll join you."

The four consulted menus, then ordered. Steve turned to Kelly. "Jimmy, being the athletic type, you've probably never heard of the Spindrift Scientific Foundation."

The lieutenant, a heavily tanned young man with crisp black hair, shook his head. "Sorry. I never have."

"Well, it's a reputable, highly competent and conservative group of some of the best scientific brains in the country. But somehow, these two got attached to it. They're not very conservative, although they're competent--especially at getting into trouble."

Kelly gave the boys a comradely grin. "If he talks that way, he must like you."

The boys grinned back. The lieutenant was likable.

"All right. Last I saw of you two, Rick was lying across the legs of the guy who had been tailing me. The next thing I heard, two men we've been keeping an eye on were in the hoosegow, one with a slug in his shoulder. And I also heard some wild tales of jumping out of windows. Now fill in the details."

Rick started from the moment they first noticed that a shadow had picked them up. He told the story in careful and accurate detail, knowing that Steve's trained mind might find significance in things that meant nothing to him. Now and then Scotty elaborated on a point.

When Rick concluded the recital, Steve cupped his chin in one hand and stared at them thoughtfully.

Kelly complimented them. "Sounds as if you took care of things like real professionals, both in the water and in the hotel. And I must say, I wish my people would learn to give reports like that."

The boys thanked him, and Scotty added, "I don't suppose you can tell us anything about what you do?"

"Sure I can. I'm not one of Steve's hush-hush crew. I'm a simple Navy lieutenant."

Rick chuckled. "In other words, you can't tell us."

Steve said, "He's executive officer of the UDT group here. And he's group intelligence officer. I might also add that he's brighter than he looks."

"Then what do you make of this business?" Scotty inquired.

"I'm not that bright," Kelly replied. "Seriously, this one has me stumped. First of all, it's easy to understand why a shadow picked you up. After all, it must have been obvious that you knocked Steve's tail off. So they simply picked you up instead, hoping that you'd lead them back to Steve, or that you might be important in some way they couldn't understand."

"It's nice to have someone do my thinking for me," Steve said. "Carry on, Lieutenant."

"Aye, aye, Sir. The tail stuck with you. When your party split in two, he decided to stay with you instead of Zircon and Briotti. There could be two reasons: First, you were the ones who contacted Steve on the street. Second, you stayed at the waterfront while the others went off in a taxi. I like the second reason better because of what happened later. How about you, Steve?"

"I'm with you. Go ahead."

"Well, at this point I get lost. You put on your gear and swam out, not with any particular destination in mind, but looking for a rock or a coral head or something of the kind where you could see fish. The shadow watched you. Suddenly he got excited, grabbed a boat, and tried to run you down."

Steve grinned at the boys. "In fact, he got so excited that he stole a boat right out from under the owner's nose. What do you think of that?"

Rick scratched his head. "We'd about decided he was either desperate or stupid. I guess he was both."

Kelly continued. "The big point is, what made him desperate? It could only have been one thing, as I see it. You were getting close to something, and he was afraid you'd find it. So he lost his head. That's borne out by the remark his pal made last night, that he'd pulled enough stupid stunts for one day."

"But what could we have been getting close to?"

"I don't know. Whatever it was, it isn't there now."

Scotty and Rick sat up straight. Scotty demanded, "How do you know?"

Steve smiled. "Because a team of Navy frogmen went over the entire area inch by inch this morning."

At the boys' surprised looks, Kelly explained, "You told the Shore Patrol enough to get us interested. We put teams in the water at daylight. There's nothing there."

"But there could have been," Scotty pointed out. "If they suspected we knew about it, they could have removed it yesterday afternoon or last night."

"Correct," Steve agreed. "They were worried, too. Otherwise why the call on you last night? And the questions?" Steve paused while the waiter served them. "The conclusion is this: Something they value was in the water near where you swam. You met me yesterday morning, and they had already identified me. Which means that they must have agents in Washington who warned them JANIG was moving in on the case. Since it's no secret that I'm with the outfit, they could peg me easily. When you swam out toward this object, whatever it was, they were convinced that somehow JANIG had learned about it. The tail got desperate and tried to knock you off. Then, last night, they tried to find out what you knew, and how."

"Who are 'they'?" Rick asked.

"If I knew that, I'd wrap the case up and go home. Jimmy has been working on it for a week, but he hasn't any answers yet. I've been here twenty-four hours, and I know even less."

"Could you identify the two men?" Scotty queried.

"Yes. Both small fry, both local. And both are obviously green at this kind of business, otherwise you'd be a pair of real cold turkeys by now."

That was true, Rick knew. Experienced agents wouldn't have given him and Scotty the chances that they'd seized.

"The men must know what was under the water," Scotty said.

"Not necessarily. They just knew it was important, and they may have been ordered to protect it. But your former shadow was on the griddle all night, and told all he knew. It wasn't much. He didn't even know who had hired him. He wasn't stalling, either."

"What's the next step?" Rick wanted to know.

"Jimmy and I will drive you to the plane. Then you take off for Clipper Cay. And stay there until your vacation is over. Have you a short-wave radio, by the way?"

"Yes. Why?" Rick had an all-wave battery portable.

"Monitor the Navy command frequency. Here, I'll write it down for you. Listen every night at six for five minutes. If I want you, I'll send a message. I don't think I will, but it won't do any harm to set up a schedule."

Steve lowered his voice. "Now listen to me. This thing is big. The two you ran up against yesterday were not good samples. We're dealing with some tough professionals. I don't know who they are, but from what I've seen I can tell you they're dangerous. So you two are to stay out of this case. That is an order. Stay on Clipper Cay and have fun."

"I can add a small note to that," Lieutenant Kelly said. "I'm new here. I was ordered down from Norfolk only a week ago. A first-class intelligence officer had my job. He turned up in a hospital in the British Virgins after being missing for two days. He had a fractured skull. He still doesn't know what happened to him, and neither do we."

"Okay," Steve said flatly. "I appreciate the way you handled things yesterday, but that's the end so far as you are concerned. Get out, and stay out! And that's final!"