Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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TREASURE TOM ARGENT
Copyright © 1995
THE EAGLE'S HOARD
Rays of sunlight glanced off the churning Atlantic in harsh, eye-hurting bars as Randolph Sherman swung his White's Surfmaster II along the white sands of Ocean City. The black and yellow metal detector was feather-light in Randolph's right hand as it electronically scoured the beach. Randolph was concentrating on a low tide line that was marked by concentrated jumbles of pebbles and shells. If objects that heavy were dropped there, he was certain that coins and jewelry would likely lay among them.
Occasionally, the Surfmaster would send a musical beeping through Randolph's earphones, and he would reach down with his mesh-bottomed sand scoop to dredge up whatever lay beneath his wide detector coil. His luck so far had been only fair. He had recovered a toy car, a set of keys, an earring, and 69 cents in change. Still, he had that feeling, something that one of his fellow club members called "intuition". His intuition was strong as Randolph carefully waved his detector in a tight pattern, and he was rewarded by a particularly strong signal.
Randolph had waited until after a fierce spring storm to wash away some of the sand pumped onto the beach from offshore to offset erosion, in the hopes that the pumps had thrown up a valuable object. After all, several ships had wrecked off Ocean City all through history, and he was hopeful that what lay beneath his coil was a Spanish 8 reale coin, or better yet, a gold escudo. Carefully, he shoved his scoop into the unblemished sand. He levered up a good amount and checked the hole again. The signal was still present, meaning the target was deeper.
Randolph dug again, and the lip of his scoop made a metallic clang as it hit something in the hole. Wondering what lay beneath, Randolph meticulously scooped around the object until he could trace its outline. It appeared to be a small box, somewhat larger than a brick. Using the lip of his scoop, he slowly pried it loose from the surrounding sand. Brushing off what sand still clung to it, Randolph could now see that the box was metallic and sealed tight. On its cover was engraved a stylized eagle holding a disk bearing a swastika.
Randolph gulped in amazement. The box was an artifact from World War II, bearing the symbol of Nazi Germany. Its contents could be priceless! He collected his thoughts for a moment and remembered that there was a old man from Germany who ran a junk shop off Caroline Street. Collecting up his gear, Randolph ran to his car and dumped the detector unceremoniously in the back. He then got in and drove furiously through the light spring traffic to the little shop on Caroline Street.
The shop was a flea-marketeer's paradise. It was filled with curios and pseudo-antiques. Strange sculptures leered from every corner, and books were piled like ill-formed pillars. Behind a beaten counter was a portly old gentleman in a sweat-stained cotton shirt, sporting blue suspenders to hold up his paint-spattered pants.
"Fritz," greeted Randolph, "what's happening?"
"I make no sales, dot's vat is happening," Fritz wheezed in a low tone. "You vant buy sometink, ja?"
"I found something on the beach," Randolph continued, producing the box. Fritz fished in his breast pocket for a pair of immensely thick glasses and donned them, giving him an owlish look.
"Nazi!" Fritz pronounced. "Must be from some U-boat dot vas sunk during the var. You want I should open it?"
"Sure, but be careful!"
Fritz found a sharp knife and began to work around the sealed edge of the box. Silvery filings began to curlicue away from the joint, and Randolph figured that the box must have been soldered shut to keep out moisture. With a grunting effort, Fritz forced the lid and it popped open. Inside was an oilskin bundle. Carefully, Fritz levered the bundle up and out with the tip of his knife. He picked up the bundle and slowly unrolled it on the chipped counter top.
Randolph's eyes widened as several sheets of yellowed paper were revealed, but even these pages in turn were covering another object. Fritz pressed back the curling edges of the papers and within was a flattened, finger-sized length of metal. Without hesitation, Tom blurted out his opinion.
"Gold!" he exclaimed. "It's a bar of gold!"
"Ja, I would tink so," Fritz agreed. "Look here, a stamp from the Reich Office of Geology, und a number. There must be a record of this somewhere."
Randolph fished in his pockets for a pencil and a notepad, something no self-respecting treasure hunter should be without, and jotted down the number. Putting away the pad, he continued to stare at the little stick of gold. His mind filled with images of black-uniformed troops in coal-scuttle helmets goose-stepping beneath the Eiffel Tower, of rows of clattering Tiger Tanks and wave after wave of screaming Stuka bombers. He thought of a little man with a comic mustache who carried the blood of millions on his hands, a man who had directed the fate of the golden bar on the counter.
A rustle of papers brought Randolph from his reverie. Fritz was going over the papers that had been wrapped around the bar. Randolph saw that there was a tight script arranged in precise rows across each sheet, but the script was in a language that Randolph could not decipher. Fritz, however, could, and did aloud.
"'June 3, 1945,'" he read. "Zat vas over a month after zat monster Hitler shot himself! 'We have been at sea for nearly three months, taking a circuitous route to avoid allied patrols. Luckily, the refueling dump that had been pre-positioned near the Azores still contained enough diesel fuel to supply our trip across the Atlantic. Our destination is the Eagle's Nest, a dagger in the American's breast. Even while the allied armies march into our beloved Fatherland, we will nurture our cause, and we will rise again from the ashes to destroy the Jew-dominated countries that plotted our destruction. Heil Hitler!' The next entry is more revealing. 'June 7, 1945. We have had to crash dive to avoid an allied destroyer. I do not think we were seen, but because of our heavy cargo and our rapid descent, the strain has caused several leaks. My chief engineer has assured me that we are in no danger, but in case the pressures crushes us, I am including one bar of gold along with this log, and a map showing the location of the Eagle's Nest, to be sealed and waterproofed. I will carry the box with me in case we have to abandon ship. Long live the cause of National Socialism! Heil Hitler!' It is signed by a Korvettenkapitan Wilhelm Mezik, of the U-742."
"There must be a fortune then!" Randolph decided. "The pressure must have crushed the sub. It must be loaded with gold bars! This bar alone would be enough to convince backers to finance a treasure expedition. We're rich, Fritz!"
Fritz said nothing, but his eyes widened behind his thick glasses as he stared over Randolph's shoulder. Two forms had risen, seemingly made up of the shadows that blanketed the store's crowded interior. Fritz thought that they must have slipped inside while he and Randolph were talking. Randolph noticed Fritz's agitation and turned around. For his trouble, he was struck across the temple by the barrel of a pistol. That was the last thing he remembered.
Fritz was too old to do much more than continue to stare as the assailant lowered Randolph to the floor. The man's partner stepped forward into the jaundiced radiance of Fritz's overhead lamp. Under his wide-brimmed hat, Fritz was disturbed to see that the man's face was a sickly bleached color, as if every drop of blood had drained from it. Long wisps of colorless hair tumbled from beneath the hat like cornsilk. The man smiled, and his face took on the leering rictus of a flesh-less skull.
"I-I know you!" Fritz stammered. He broke from his lethargy and began to mop his forehead with a large handkerchief. As he did, his arm became exposed below the edge of his shirt sleeve. Revealed there was a series of numbers tattooed in red.
"Indeed you do," hissed the man with a deaths-head face. "You have not forgotten these fifty years, hein? Things were so pleasant back in Auschwitz. Now, things are different. Or perhaps not. A friend of mine overheard your conversation with this gentleman. Fifty years I have searched these sands for the clue that would lead me to the Eagle's Nest. Now, I have that, and now, too, the world can tremble again. Give me the papers."
"No, you swine!" breathed Fritz. "I will call 911! They will deal with you as should have been done in 1945. You butcher! Baby-killer! Monster! Todtkinder!"
"Jew," murmured the pasty-featured man as he pulled out a surprisingly well-kept Luger P-08 and fired twice into Fritz' chest. Fritz collapsed behind the counter in mid-dial. His executioner calmly picked up the papers and the finger of gold, idly smearing a drop of blood that had spilled onto the map.
"Tsk," he muttered as he motioned to his henchman to follow him out the door, "Accursed Jews taint everything with their polluted blood, even the map that will signal the return of the Third Reich. Let's go before somebody investigates the shooting."
* * *
Tom Argent answered his car phone while listening to one of Maynard W. Peaslee's typical diatribes. They were headed down Route 12 toward the little town of Snow Hill, intent on some serious detecting. Maynard was in the backseat expounding the virtues of Garrett metal detectors to Jim Piper, another club member who was weathering Maynard's verbal storm.
"I tell you, sir, that the GTA 1000 has more usable depth than that feeble excuse for a transistor radio they call a Coin Scanner Pro!" Maynard snapped. "That hybrid assemblage of second-rate electronics is no match for the computerized efficiency of the Garrett. It is a canard! A lame duck!"
"But the Gold Scanner Pro certainly has more depth," Jim murmured bravely as the phone chirped.
"You dare cast aspersions on the GTA?" Maynard cast him a fishy eye. "How dare you! Prig! Bluestocking! I shall vilify you at the next club meeting if you continue such a traducement."
Maynard liked to use big words, but they were having little effect. Jim's stocky form began to uncoil menacingly as he began to feel the barbs tossed by the slighter, more awkwardly built Peaslee.
"It does get more depth, and ID's just as sharply, you--" he cast about in his mind for an appropriately intellectual response--"you cankerworm!" Then he clenched and unclenched his sizable fists for effect.
"Ahem," Maynard snorted, but his posture spelled retreat. "Perhaps, due to the ten-turn ground balance on the Gold Scanner, it may have a better chance of superior depth, but I refuse to--"
"Can it, Maynard," Tom interrupted from the Waggoneer's front seat. "Randolph Sherman just called. Somebody knocked him in the head and shot old Fritz, the guy that ran that junk shop on Caroline St. He's called the cops, but he wants us to come down and make sure he gets home ok. He's got a pretty big lump on his head. Oh yeah, he said he found a gold bar with his White's."
"Incredible!" breathed Maynard, eager to get in the first, as well as the last word. "You know Randolph, he probably flashed it all over the city. Gold bar indeed!"
The fourth occupant of the car up until this time had been silent. He sat up front in the passenger's seat, and had been idly munching on mint candies. Hearing Randolph's name, and the fact that he was using a White's brought this individual out of his trance-like state. He was "Lucky" Wilkie Douglas, reputed to have spiritual powers that enabled him to find coins that ordinary mortals failed to locate. Wilkie twitched his mustache a couple of times and gave Maynard a steely glare.
"Randolph doesn't lie," he stated in a low tone. "If he said he found it, then he found it. Besides," he concluded turning back to his sandwich bag filled with white mints, "he was using a White's, the unquestionable leader in discrimination."
"Fah!" spat Maynard. "I assure you, sir, had he been using a Garrett, he would have found two gold bars!" Folding his arms before him, Maynard sat back triumphantly in his corner of the back seat and continued to smile beatifically.
Tom bypassed Snow Hill and headed up Rt. 113 to Ocean City, convinced that it was going to be a long day, with few rewards.
* * *
Tom found Randolph Sherman sitting on a curb in front of Fritz's shop, with a paramedic applying a large bandage to his head. Randolph seemed fine, if disconsolate, and seemed unperturbed by the mass of police and other officials that swirled in and out of the shop. Tom had parked the Waggoneer several blocks away, being unable to get closer because of police barriers, and led his oddly assorted entourage forward.
"You okay, Randolph?" he said, bending over his fellow club member.
"You must be genuinely concerned," muttered Randolph, "since you used my full first name. Yes, I'm fine, but I'll have Excedrin headache number one for several days. These witch doctors want me to go to PGH and get an X-ray, but I didn't want to go anywhere until I talked to you."
"No doubt," Maynard injected. "It is a certitude that you need our valuable insights into this crisis. I am quite sure that when you found that bar of gold, you waved it up and down like a severed finger, and howled like a cut cat."
Randolph took this in stride. After all, everybody knew that Maynard wasn't to be taken seriously about anything but computers and electronics. "No," he replied. "I said nothing to no one. I came straight here, and showed the box to Fritz. He opened it, and inside was some diary entries, wrapped about this little bar of gold. It was about as big as my finger. The last thing I remember was Fritz saying something about the U-boat being full of gold and a secret base somewhere on the coast."
"Well," broke in a strange voice, and everybody looked up to see the towering blue-clad form of Ocean City's Chief of Police, "it looks like whoever shot old Fritz took every bit of evidence with him. The only thing we know is that he was shot at close range, most likely with a pistol. I guess you didn't see who did it?"
"I saw Fritz looking over my shoulder, then I felt like somebody dropped Fort Knox on my head," Randolph admitted. "What else can you tell us?"
"Nothing," the Chief snapped. "This is official business. We have your statement, and if we need you, we'll call you. I guess you're free to go. Be sure to get that knot looked at."
"Come on," Tom offered, holding out his hand to assist Randolph to stand. "I'll drive you to the hospital. Wilkie can drive your car back into Salisbury. You can call your wife from the car. She's probably worried sick about you."
"Thanks," Randolph said as he pulled himself up.
They piled back into the Waggoneer after Randolph gave Wilkie his car keys. After he had called home, he went over the details of his discovery and assault again.
"There's a fortune out there somewhere," Randolph carped disconsolately. "Now, somebody else is going to get it. All the information we had was in that box. We could have even traced the gold. It was stamped and numbered and wait --" He fumbled in his shirt pocket and produced his pad and pencil. Opening the pad, he found where he had jotted down the number of the bar. "You know Tom, you were right about always having pencil and paper handy when you go treasure hunting. I wrote down the serial number on the bar of gold. It was also stamped with the seal of the Reich Office of Geology."
It was by now quite dark, so Tom switched on his lights as he crossed the Rt. 50 bridge to head west for Salisbury. He thought about what Randolph had said, and knew that there was the potential for a vast fortune, if only they could track it down.
"You know, we need to get some more people in on this," Tom murmured as they passed the White Marlin Mall.
"Fomenting a mob means that many more people with which we would have to share," snapped the ever-greedy Maynard. "Stop being such a merry-andrew. We can figure this out by ourselves."
"I don't think so," Tom disagreed. "We need somebody with expertise in the security field, with police connections. We also need somebody who can research the serial number."
"I can do the research," Randolph commented. "As for security and police connections, you can get both in one person -- Bill Curtain."
"Right!" Tom agreed. "He's an ex-cop, and now he works for Bilkins' Security Systems. He's perfect."
"A perfect libertine!" Maynard groused. "He will show up waving several guns and demand a cut of every bit of lucre we would squeeze from this enterprise."
"Shall I send this pencil-necked geek into dreamland?" Jim Piper offered.
"Touch me, and your detecting days will be numbered!" Maynard shrieked. "I shall pursue litigation against you until you will be forced to search for common clad coins in a McDonald's parking lot. Mark me, sir!"
"I'd like to mark you," Jim snarled. "Come on, Tom, let me tap him one time."
"Not now, Jim," Tom replied, smiling. "I'll call Bill, and see if he'll meet us."
As he picked up the phone, Tom was startled to see a car roar out of a side road with a blaze of glaring headlights. For an instant, he caught a glimpse of a pale, death-like mask before it was blotted out by the ragged, chain-lightning stutter of an MP-40 submachine gun.
Bullets ricocheted off the Waggoneer's hood and splattered against the windshield like angry bees, leaving spider-weblike cracks to mark their passage. Both Tom and Randolph flinched, while Maynard began to howl like a tomcat in heat. A second burst caused the windshield to explode in a stinging vortex of glass particles. This was too much for Tom, and he instinctively smashed down on the brakes. The car swerved out of control and rocketed into a roadside ditch. Tom fought the wheel and managed to keep the Waggonneer from overturning, but now they were stuck.
The Waggonneer's engine shrieked like a wounded beast as Tom tried to extricate himself from the muddy ditch, but to no avail. Both he and Randolph were covered with glass fragments, and blood flowed freely from more than a dozen cuts on each man. Tim jammed his stocky frame between the front seats and snatched up Tom's car phone. Hurriedly, he punched in 911.
"Who do I need?" he argued into the phone. "I need 'em all -- police, fire, and ambulance! We're on Rt. 50, a couple miles west of OC, and some nut shot at us, so we need police. Two people in the car are bleeding, so we need an ambulance. And finally, there's a guy in the back seat squalling like a cut cat, whom I am considering setting on fire. Got it?"
By now, several cars had stopped to get a gander at what was transpiring, but the assailants had fled into the darkness. Maynard was discovered to be unhurt, but yelled murder at every opportunity. Besides some bruises from the rough ride, Jim was in good shape as well. Wilkie pulled up and slid down the embankment to help Jim pull Tom and Randolph from the car. Besides the crisscrossing of tiny cuts, they were otherwise unharmed. Tom took off his characteristic boonie hat and shook glass fragments out of it.
"I don't know who did this, but I will find out," he snarled as he slogged his way out of the ditch. "To quote a famous rabbit: 'Of course you realize, this means war'. Observations, gentlemen?"
"Submachine gun," Randolph offered. "An older one, too. The new Uzi's and Ingrams sound like a cross between a giant humming bird and a vaccuum cleaner."
"I got the tag number," Wilkie stated. "Did you see anybody inside."
"Oh, yes," Tom answered. "I got a very good look, and I don't think I'll ever forget it. I saw a face as drawn and pale as Death itself behind the muzzle of that gun. There is more at stake here than a casual treasure hunt. We are up against somebody who will kill to get what he wants. It's imperative that we get some sort of equalizer. We need Bill Curtain, and we need knowledge."
The ambulance and police cars arrived shortly, and everybody made statements. Tom's and Randolph's wounds were indeed found to be superficial, but due to the poor shape of Tom's Jeep, they continued on to PGH in the ambulance, while Wilkie drove Maynard and Jim in Randolph's compact. A tow truck was arranged for the Jeep and the caravan arrived at PGH without further incident. They found Bill Curtain waiting for them.
Bill's broad-shouldered frame was stuffed inside a set of camouflage BDU's, over which he had thrown his Shore Seeker's jacket. Ominous bulges indicated a plethora of weapons concealed underneath. The hilt of a knife projected from one of his Gore-Tex boots, and a machete hung at his right hip, while the chromed barrel of a .44 magnum peeked from his left.
"I told you he'd be armed," Maynard reminded everyone as they alighted from the car. "He's carrying more firepower than an A-10 jet. You've uncorked the genie this time, Tom. Pandora's box has been opened, the sorcerer's apprentice has spoken the fateful incantation --"
Bill snapped off his chrome-lense sunglasses and smiled broadly. "Come on, Maynard, I'm here to help. Let's not argue. How about shaking on it?"
He held out his right hand, and Maynard almost took it, but at the last second, he drew back as if Bill's hand had turned into a viper. What he saw, however, were the two projecting metal poles of a police-type "stun gun", capable of producing 60,000 volts. It would render a person helpless inside of 30 seconds. Bill grinned the more broadly and clipped the hand-weapon onto his belt.
"Save the nasty stuff for the bad guys, Bill," Wilkie admonished in a low tone as he dug about in his pocket for his bag of mints. "Somebody tried to perforate Tom on the way here. Randolph said they used an older submachine gun. You've got to help us find out who was in that car and why they killed old Fritz. I got their tag number. The Ocean City police aren't telling us doodley."
"No problem," Bill remarked. "I'll call Donnie Mahoney. He used to be on the OC force. We'll know before Tom and Randolph get out of intensive care. Meanwhile, I'll call up the rest of the club and organize them into teams to keep a watch on our operations."
"Good," Wilkie agreed. "Let's go check on Tom and Randolph in the meantime."
Tom was given some stinging antiseptic, few band-aids, and a big bill from the emergency room before being released. Randolph's head was X-rayed.
"Should have just held a lightbulb up to one side," Maynard remarked sourly. "There's nothing inside anyway. Ha! What a wit! Jocularity, gentlemen, jocularity!"
"What a nitwit," Jim commented, shaking his head.
Randolph's tests were negative, so he, too was released. By then, all forty-odd members of the Shore Seekers Artifact and Recovery Club had arrived and were boiling mad over the entire incident. Bill got them regulated, so that each member had a part to play in keeping an eye on Tom and Randolph. Afterward, the club retired to Dunkin' Donuts and proceeded to clear out their inventory of consumables as they made plans. Tom, Randolph, Bill, and Maynard shared a booth.
"We need guns, and lots of them," Bill was saying.
"We need more than that," Tom corrected. "We need to know more. This could lead to a fortune. There's a sub out there somewhere, loaded with gold bars. Somebody wants it, and we've got to make sure that we get it first. Gentlemen, the Shore Seekers are officially on a club hunt, with a Nazi hoard as the prize!"
"These grand pronouncements of Nazi hordes and club hunts are all well and good," Maynard Peaslee griped, "but how are we going about such a venture. The sub in question could be miles off shore and hundreds of feet down. We have neither the skills nor the resources to conduct such a search."
"We can do it if we all pool our resources," Tom argued between gulps of coffee. He glanced about. The Dunkin' Donuts waitresses were all red-faced and sweating from delivering up mountains of donuts and rivers of drinkables to the club. "The first thing we need to do is find the sub. Maynard, you're good friends with Todd Shredder, from ShipQuest magazine. I just read an article about some guy from New Zealand who invented a little underwater robot. Could Todd get him to come over and promote it for this hunt?"
"Well, perhaps, but his goodwill will only carry him so far. We need more facts to lure him."
"I'll go to the Library of Congress," Randolph interrupted. "Perhaps if I search the records we captured from the Nazis, something will turn up on that gold bar. That would be fact enough for me."
"Discovery of a common wheat penny would be fact enough for you," snorted Maynard. "However, you are on the right track. Verifying the U-boat and its orders would help as well. Heh! Perhaps Todd could snag us a proton magnetometer in exchange for coverage in the magazine. It has possibilities."
"We have plenty of manpower," Tom pointed out. "Bill Curtain can supply us with lots of firepower. While Randolph is in Washington, we can get some practice learning to Scuba Dive. We also need to rent a ship big enough to hold all this gear. That's where our money comes in." He turned to the club. "Boys, we're going to go look for that sub full of Nazi gold, but we need some cash to rent a ship. How about showing some club spirit and ante up some dough?"
Amid raucous jeers, he was pelted with a hail of half-eaten donuts.
* * *
Two weeks later, Tom Argent stood on a dock in West Ocean City, eying a sleek ship the size of a small frigate. Bill Curtain, Jim Piper, and Maynard Peaslee were with him. They all smiled appreciatively at the ship's classic lines. The rental agent approached with a jaunty air, rubbing his hands briskly in anticipation of a sale.
"Gentlemen, gentlemen," he greeted, while Jim and Bill looked behind them to see who the salesman was addressing. "What can I do for you?"
"We'd like to rent that ship for an indefinite period," Tom began, pointing at the gleaming craft.
"An excellent choice," the salesman stated, his grin widening, and dollar signs beginning to form in his eyes. "That ship will do 30 knots and hold over fifty tons of cargo. However, we do need a small deposit."
"Well," Tom reached into his vest pocket an produced a wad of well thumbed greenbacks, "I'll give you what we have and you tell us how long it will last us. My club has scraped together $300."
The salesman snorted in derision, and used every bit of his training to keep from laughing. "Sir, You couldn't walk around the deck of that ship for $300."
"Well, do you have a suggestion?" Tom asked, in awe of how much the club might have to actually shell out.
"Go down to the end of the pier and see old Jake," the man threw over his shoulder in disgust as he turned on his heel.
Tom turned to Bill. "You know when I was a kid, $300 was $300. Now you can't even walk around on a boat for it."
"Maybe you shoulda let me talk to him," Bill said, patting his shoulder and pulling back his jacket to reveal a Glock 9mm automatic.
"We're the good guys, remember? Let's go talk to this Jake fellow."
They walked to the end of the pier, which seemed littered with old crates and other debris. Blotting out the morning sun was a squat hulk, its slab sides red where paint peeled in foot-wide strips. Tom stopped at the bottom of a weathered gangplank and called out: "Anybody home?"
A hunched form emerged from the shadow's of the old tub's interior. "Well, what's a-goin' on now?"
Into the morning light stepped a man as seamed and weathered as the ship about him. His face and hands were so gnarled he looked like an animated piece of driftwood in an old black pea-coat. He gave Tom's party a dubious, squinty look.
"Are you Jake?" Tom asked politely, doffing his boonie hat.
"Cap'n Jake, to you, son," the old man snarled. "You ain't a bill collector are you?" As he asked the question, Jake sidled next to a barrel, from which the hilt of a marlinspike protruded.
"No, actually, we're here to see about renting your--er--vessel," Tom explained. "We only have $300 now, but if we're successful, we can pay a lot more."
"What's your hokey-pokey?"
"What are you after? Drug running?"
Tom got closer and spoke in a low tone. "We're looking for a sub loaded with gold bars."
"Eh?" Jake demanded, cupping his ear.
"A sub full of gold," Tom said, louder.
"A sub full of gold, you old coot!" Jim Piper yelled in exasperation. Maynard looked at him in disgust and flapped his hands against his sides.
"Fine, why don't you run an article in the Times?" he griped.
"Gold?" Jake barked. "Why didn't ye say so? When do we haul anchor?"
"One of our associates is flying back from Washington with a fellow from New Zealand that will have some of our equipment," Tom explained. "He'll be in tonight."
"Then," Jake decided, "we'll sail with the tide."
The group were all smiles as they broke up, and their happy mood blinded them to the dark figure that had concealed himself in the pile of debris near Jake's ship. After Tom departed, the figure slipped off the dock and was lost amid bubbles and a flash of swim fins.
* * *
Randolph Sherman was uncertain as he looked over Tom's rental purchase in the gray light of dawn. With him was a quick little fellow with bright blue eyes who was nearly bald except for a fringe of gingery hair that grew just over his ears. Tom noticed Randolph from the deck of Jake's ship and rushed down the gangplank past the line of boarding Shore Seekers. He shook hands with Randolph as soon as he reached him.
"This is Mr. Shinplaster," Randolph introduced. "He's the fellow from New Zealand. We've got his equipment on a truck at the other end of the pier."
"A pleasure," Tom greeted, shaking Mr. Shinplaster's hand. "I'll get Wilkie and Sonny-boy to take care of stowing your stuff. Well, Randolph, what did you learn?"
"The National Archives are a dull place," Randolph replied gravely. "They are full of dusty rolls of microfilm and ugly librarians. However, this did not impede me from discovering what we needed to know. That sub was full of gold. I found a secret document from the Reich Special Operations Department detailing a fantastic plot."
"After the invasion of Sicily, many of the top Nazis were convinced that the war could not be won. The battle of Kursk further drove home that point. Beset on both fronts, they convinced Martin Bormann, Hitler's number two man in Berlin, to siphon off funds from civil construction projects and prepare an escape route for the Nazi bigwigs when the end came. This plan was so secret that Himmler and Goring knew nothing about it."
"Bormann's personal papers were discovered in a briefcase where he discarded them during his own escape from Berlin. They fill in the details of the plot. It seems that slave labor was shipped to the Americas in special transport submarines called "milch cows", whose original purpose was to refuel U-boats. Materials were purchased from the Peron government in Argentina with gold and a secret base with an underwater entrance was constructed, but not in South America, or in Antarctica, like a lot of people thought."
"The Nazis planned to hide where nobody would look for them -- off the coast of the United States. They picked an area with a lot of beach and good agriculture, knowing how difficult it would be for patrolling ships to completely seal of the coast. From this secret base, they hoped to continue working on the advanced weapons that were nearing development, and someday come out and take over the world."
"Evidently, they failed," Tom commented.
"More or less," Randolph continued. "The structure was built, and it was stocked, but allied anti-submarine patrols became so tough, that the final submarines carrying the top Nazis had to divert to South America. Borman and other top Nazis never knew the exact location of the Eagle's Nest, as it was called. Only one man knew, and that was the scientist in charge of the facility. He was known as Professor Lothar von Hinglestein, notorious for his experiments in human genetics. He was a child prodigy, a genius at fifteen, who would operate on death-camp prisoners without anesthetic. Because of his youthful features, he was known to the inmates as 'Todtkinder', the Death Child."
"What happened to him?" Tom demanded, after directing "Lord Calvert" to assist Wilkie and Sonny-boy.
"Nobody knows," Randolph admitted. "Bormann's records say that he entrusted the code to open the underwater entrance of the Eagle's Nest to the U-boat captain, Von Mezick, and well, we know what happened to him."
"It must be this Nazi doctor who killed Fritz," Tom realized. "He tried to kill us, too. He must be after that code, as well as the gold. With that loot, he could buy an army of mercenaries, and base them right under our noses. If we don't stop him, the Fourth Reich may replace the Third. We've got to get going."
The rest of the equipment was loaded aboard the old freighter and Cap'n Jake fired up the ancient boilers. The anchor was raised, and with a deep groan of tortured metal, the ship left the pier and made way out of West Ocean City and toward open sea. Tom held a council of the principal club members after duty assignments had been made.
"Boys," he began, "this is a big step for all of us, and I want to make some things clear. This isn't one of your usual jaunts in the field where your worst enemy is a mean dog or poison ivy. Randolph has just given me the whole story, and I think you all deserve to know it."
Randolph then recounted his tale before Tom continued. "That's what we're up against. If any of you want to go back, I could certainly understand."
Nobody did. They all knew the stakes, and the prize was too big to be put off now. Randolph again took the floor. "Now that the bad news is out of the way, I'd like to introduce Mr. Shinplaster from New Zealand, who has contributed his expertise and his amazing device."
Mr Shinplaster came forward with a few sheets of paper. On them were pictures and diagrams, which he passed around. "The device you see there is going to help find this sub. I call it 'Flooey'. It's a remotely piloted vehicle no larger than steamer trunk, and will sniff out any unusual items we find. I was only too happy to come along. My father fought the Nazis in Africa, and I'd hate to see his sacrifice in vain."
Though he had not been called out, Maynard was quick to stand up. "Ahem. Well, fellow-members, in order to have something for Flooey to--er--sniff at, my publisher, Todd Shredder, contacted the top magnetometer manufacturers in the country and managed to get us one of the latest models. Naturally, I will have to review it for ShipQuest Magazine. The magnetometer will be dragged behind the ship and will give us clear readings of any large metal objects on the sea floor. I also contacted Dick SeaCook, a local diver and shipwreck expert, who gave me some tips about how to backtrack the box that Randolph found on the beach. With his help, we should be able to narrow the search area considerably."
Maynard continued in his usual hyperbolic manner, and even the watch-crew listened in, which may excuse them for missing the silent group of men who slithered over the railing of Jake's ship and were soon vanishing below decks.
* * *
Treasure Tom and Randolph Sherman looked on as Wilkie released the catch that freed their proton magnetometer to slide down its ramp and deploy behind the ship. It's black cigar shape was soon lost in the ship's wake and the group retired to the control room. There, they found Mr. Shinplaster and Maynard looking over the magnetometer screens, their faces painted an eerie green by the glare.
Cap'n Jake was piloting a course based on Dick Seacook's extrapolations, and soon, the coast was out of sight. Jake kept the ship in a tight grid pattern, hoping to find that one anomaly which would signal success. Several times during the day they located targets. The ship would be halted, and then Mr. Shinplaster would send the canary-yellow 'Flooey' into the depths. 'Flooey's' camera brought back surprisingly sharp images that were caught in the glare of its searchlight, including dozens of surprised fish that Jim Piper remarked resembled Maynard. However, they usually turned out to be mundane things like sunken bouys, aircraft, or once, even a Cadillac.
About mid-afternoon, there was a particularly large object that seemed about right to Maynard's thinking. 'Flooey' parted the waters and shot downward. Tension crackled in the control room as pictures began to return.
"Look, Maynard, it's your brother," remarked Jim as a grouper lumbered by.
"That eel's bilious cast seems to resemble your own," Maynard retorted. "Certainly it could be no slimier! Heh! Heh! Heh!"
"Say, Randolph," Jim queried in an aside, "how do you put a twinkle in Maynard's eye?"
"Dunno," Randolph muttered as he watched the screen.
"Put a lighted match in through his ear."
"Now, that, sir, is an insult, the sort of acrimony best relegated to the taproom. Porcus ex gregari diabolus! Swine from the devil's herd! And, further more --"
His word's died away to a whisper as the cloud of fish obscuring 'Flooey's' camera suddenly parted to reveal the sharply angled bow of a submarine projecting from the sea-bottom. As if twisted by King Neptune himself, the hulk was bent almost double, and a cascade of debris littered the middle section where the hull had been shattered.
"That's her!" Tom exclaimed. "It's got to be!"
"Gold!" Randolph shouted.
"Gold!" roared the others present, and soon the entire ship was agog with the news. Jake anchored his vessel, and Tom got his team suited up to dive. Randolph and Jim Piper were going down, with Sonny-boy and "Lord Calvert". Afterward, Bill Curtain would take Maynard, Wilkie, and Ted Loco in a second shift. Tom directed his team to carry down massive waterproof searchlights on cables, as well as setting up the lift that would carry artifacts back to the ship. Tom and Randolph manned the latest Pulse Induction detectors. The used suction hoses powered by the ship's engines to remove sand from around items they discovered, and it was Tom who first discovered a gold bar.
There it lay, gleaming like new in its bed of sand. Stamped deep into the yellow surface was the angular eagle of the Third Reich, bearing a disk containing the hated swastika in its claws. Tom picked it up carefully, since it weighed over twenty pounds, and carried it to the lift. They soon made up a relay, some working the hoses, while others carried bars. Gold began to pile up, as hundreds of bars were revealed. Tom reasoned that the weight of the gold, coupled with the depth charges, had caused the sub's hull to split where it did. Randolph told him by hand signs how many bars were aboard, and, as the number dwindled, he and Randolph took hand lights and swam into the battered hulk of the U-boat. Tom was hoping to find the location of the secret base in the captain's cabin, but a search revealed nothing except some interesting Nazi memorabilia.
The door to the torpedo room was locked and sealed. Tom remembered from Von Mezick's last notes that he was going forward to fire the box containing the map to the secret base out with a torpedo, so it was reasonable that Von Mezick could be there. The wheel on the bulkhead door was coated with rust, but the two of them gave it a violent wrench. It moved, slowly at first, until finally it spun loose. With a heave, they reared back on the handle, and the heavy door swung outward.
Almost falling into their laps as the door opened was a skeleton, followed by a rush of bubbles as the torpedo room's fifty-year old air was replaced with sea-water. Randolph recognized the disintegrating uniform on the skeleton as that of Korvettenkapitan Von Mezick, himself. As the corpse collapsed in a heap, Tom noticed a sterling locket around the crumbling neck and snatched at it before it was lost. Securing the talisman in a belt pouch, he motioned a horrified Randolph away. Their air being nearly up, Tom ordered the team to the surface and they rose amid the cheers of their fellows as they appeared.
Bill Curtain sent his team in, and the parade of valuables continued, including a trove of military artifacts. As sunset darkened the choppy waters of the Atlantic, Tom and his fellow Shore Seekers were confident that they had recovered the bulk of the treasure, which was secured below. Tom set up watches, and his exhausted divers went to bed, except for Bill Curtain, who went below to make a last check on security.
In his hand was a chromed .357 magnum. Bill had heard a disturbing rumor that Compass detectors had gone out of business, and was contemplating using the revolver on himself. After all, he reasoned, no man should have to bear such news and live. His reverie, however, was disturbed by a scrape behind him. He whirled to find a man dressed in black approaching him with a spear gun. Before Bill could bring up his revolver to fire, the spear gun hissed. Luckily, his assailant's aim was poor, and the bolt glanced from Bill's skull, sending him into dreamland.
Tom first became aware that something was amiss when the door to his cabin burst open and two men in field gray uniforms bearing submachine guns piled in. Being at a disadvantage, Tom did nothing. Through the open door strode a tall, willowy man in a dark trenchcoat and an almost shapeless slouch hat. Colorless wisps of hair flowed from beneath its brim, framing a face that was mockery of the skull that Tom had encountered when he had opened the torpedo room door. The almost lipless mouth twisted in a leering rictus as its owner regarded Tom.
"So, Treasure Tom Argent," spoke the apparition in a sibilant whisper, "we meet at last. I am Lothar Von Hinglestein. You have rendered me a great service by locating the U-boat and recovering its treasure. Now, you will perform another service. You will take this ship to the Eagle's Nest. If you cooperate, you and your men will be allowed to live. Perhaps you will even be honored someday, as being instrumental in the founding of the Fourth Reich. For now, though, you will obey my every command, or you will all feed the fishes. Tonight, the Fourth Reich is born! Heil Hitler!"
* * *
"You have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams," Von Hinglestein chortled, as he sat down in a canvas chair by the door to Treasure Tom Argent's cabin door. His angular frame threw a long, twisted shadow on the floor. "You found Von Mezik's U-boat, and recovered its gold. My men and I followed along discretely, so that when the time came, we would take over your operation. After all, the Eagle's Nest is only half of the solution. We needed the gold, as well. Now we have the gold, the map, a ship, and a load of slaves well able to do hard labor. Search the room, Schmidt; see if the Amerikaner Schweinhund has anything to drink. We should toast our success."
"This ship will not get far," Tom gritted as Schmidt ransacked his room. The other Nazi motioned Tom to sit down on his bunk. Schmidt found Tom's bottle of Jack and poured a plastic tumbler for Von Hinglestein.
"It does not have to get far," The "Todtkinder" leered. "That is the beauty of Herr Bormann's plan. Most believe that there was a secret Nazi base in Antarctica, or even South America, but that is what we wanted you to believe. The Eagle's Nest is near here, not fifty miles from this spot, beneath one of the barrier islands on Virginia's coast. Yes, that's right, you gaping fool. All along, we were building beneath your arsenal of democracy, waiting for the day when it would be undermined. I propose a toast, to the Fourth Reich, and its new Fuhrer--Lothar Von Hinglestein!"
He raised the tumbler and emptied it, his Adam's apple bobbing erratically along his pipestem neck.
"Not bad, but soon the Reich's brewmeisters will improve it."
There was a tapping at the door. Schmidt opened it to find a black-shirted trooper with a forage cap standing there. He gave a stiff-armed salute.
"The control room is secured, Herr Doktor," the man reported.
"Excellent, Sepp. I can always depend on the SS to do the difficult tasks. Well, Herr Argent, I must see that we are on the proper course. You will excuse me. There will be guards posted in the hall. Please do not try anything foolish. I would hate to have to feed the fish with you or any of your men. Good evening."
Von Hinglestein rose and exited the cabin. His guards followed him, and the door shut with a heavy thud. Tom remained seated on his bunk, staring at the cabin door.
"We'll see who feeds the fishes, Nazi," he murmured, then he lay back in his bunk and slept.
It was nearing evening the next day when the old steamer wheezed to a stop off the Virginia coast. The Nazis swarmed around the ship, donning scuba gear and leaping overboard. Von Hinglestein called Tom to the rail and there, under the menacing barrels of two submachine guns, he indicated the low spine of a barrier island.
"Here is where the Fourth Reich has been incubating," Von Hinglestein explained, mad glints flashing in his cadaverous eyes. "My divers have gone down to unlock the secret entrance, and soon, we shall descend to the Eagle's Nest."
"That's just a lump of sand out there," Tom observed. "I don't see how there could be any secret base on it."
"Not on it, my Yankee friend, but beneath it! Ah, the chamber rises!"
A bony finger pointed westward, and a cascade of bubbles suddenly erupted from the depths. The bubbles gave way to a muddy churning, then the waters stilled. Von Hinglestein ordered the ship forward. The divers clambered back aboard. Once over the spot where the violent action had occurred, Tom could see a ring of metal beneath the surface, entirely surrounding the ship. The hulk stopped, and the metal rose until it formed a sleeve separating the ship from the surrounding ocean. As if on an elevator, the ship began to descend. For once, Tom was nervous. Maybe, he thought, the Shore Seekers had dug one hole too many--their own graves!
* * *
Cap'n Jake's old steamer continued to descend until an opening appeared in the metal side of the chamber. When enough was revealed for the ship to pass through, Von Hingelstein ordered it forward. Beyond the tube was an artificial lake. Ahead was a dock. Tom was in awe. It seemed as if they were in a monstrous amphitheater, all manmade. Glistening steel rose in a giant dome, some hundred or so feet above his head.
The steamer docked, and Von Hinglestein, escorted by a pair of SS guards, debarked. He looked around at the wide dock, which terminated in a set of double doors, then called down to have Treasure Tom accompany him.
"After all, you are to be citizens of the new Reich," he sneered as Tom descended. "Let us see the lay of the land. If I remember correctly, the Jewish slave labor used to build this facility were liquidated, so the only inhabitants, if they still live, would be a group of scientists. Totally isolated, they were set up with a fully equipped lab to work on new wonder weapons until they were needed. Unfortunately, it has been nearly five decades."
Von Hingelstein produced a ring of keys and unlocked the double doors. They swung open to reveal a dark corridor.
"This is one of only two full sets of keys to this facility," Von Hingelstein explained. "The only other set belonged to Reichsleiter Bormann, but he hasn't been heard from lately. According to the plans for this base, here was the frozen food locker. There was enough food stored here to feed a hundred men for fifty years."
Finding a light switch, the Nazi doctor flipped it on, and the corridor was illuminated by dim neon lights. In the half-light, Von Hinglestein threw open a steel door to the frozen food locker with a proud flourish. In shock, he recoiled.
Inside the locker, hanging from the ceiling on cruel meat hooks, were the bodies of five men.
"Gott in Himmel!" Von Hingelstein swore. "Something is amiss here."
"Welcome to Hades, Herr Doktor," came a raspy voice from the darkness farther down the corridor.
With an unnerving drag-shuffle noise, a figure emerged from the gloom. It was stooped and bent, and dressed in the golden brown uniform of a Nazi of high rank. The sunken, jowls denoted once plump features, crowned by a wisps of white hair. Dark, recessed eyes rolled constantly as they surveyed the party.
"What is the meaning of this?" Von Hinglestein demanded. "What has happened here."
"Time has happened here, Death-Child," whispered the withered figure. In one claw-like hand was a Luger. "You shut up this place like a tomb, and it has become a tomb."
"There was a power loss. The food spoiled. You had too many scientists, and too little food. The scientists had done their work, and so they were superfluous. The leadership decided to eliminate them."
"Myself. Now, Von Hingelstein, come and see what you have wrought. See the Culmination of the Fourth Reich."
The old man waved his pistol to motion the party forward. Tom could have easily given them the slip, but his curiosity got the better of him. The old man switched on lights as he went and a vast complex was revealed. It was a maze of corridors, complete with barracks, kitchens, practice ranges and classrooms. Full laboratories and machine shops, stocked with fifty-year old equipment that stood silent. Then, the old man opened a door to a particular room.
"When the power failed, the scientists had just completed a controlled nuclear reaction. They managed to construct a crude reactor to keep things running. Then, they manipulated the very elements to devise the ultimate weapon."
In the room was a huge, gun-like device, looking like something out of a science fiction movie. It was twenty feet long, and ended in a large, glistening ball. Power cables snaked along the floor to control panels and conduits that ran along the walls.
"A matter de-stabilizer," the old man wheezed. "Whatever it is fired at will literally fall apart into its component atoms. Fleets of aircraft would be disintegrated. It will penetrate the thickest battleship armor. This would have been our dream weapon."
"It still is," Von Hinglestein breathed. "We can take it to the surface and devastate Washington DC. We can rule the world!"
"No," the old man murmured. "You took too long. Any longer, and those frozen scientists would have supplemented what I could grow in the hydroponic gardens."
Tom realized that the old man was madder, if possible, than von Hingelstein.
"I am here now to lead you to glory!" Von Hingelstein protested.
"I am the leader here," the old man argued. "You left me to die with the Fuhrer, but I escaped the bunker. I had to abandon my briefcase, but I had memorized the location. I fled to Italy, and then to South America. I had papers forged, and I came here and opened the passageway on the other side of the island to get here."
"Impossible! Only one other man had a set of keys, and he couldn't have escaped the Russian invaders."
Digging into his pants pockets, the old man produced a ring of keys identical to Von Hingelstein's.
"Bormann!" shrieked the Nazi doctor.
* * *
In the steamer, Bill Curtain came to. He had fallen behind a pile of equipment, and evidently, the Nazis had forgotten to retrieve him after he had been knocked unconscious. Bill gingerly felt the lump on his head, which still hurt. Otherwise, he was fine. His pistol lay nearby, and he scooped it up. Quietly ascending the stairs from the hold, he saw a Nazi guard outside the door. Not wishing to start a gunfight, Curtain grabbed a bar of gold and hefted it for balance. Silently opening the hold door, he smashed the Nazi in the head with the bar, making a large dent in it. The Nazi dropped without a cry and Bill appropriated his submachine gun.
Stealing to the bunks, Bill found another guard and dispatched him with his pistol butt. Going to his quarters, Bill collected all his armaments and went to unlock his companions. Distributing his not inconsiderable store of mayhem-makers, he led the Shore Seekers topside.
There, they found a dozen Nazis watching for von Hingelstein's return. Switching the sub machine gun to full auto, Bill let them have it. Ragged chain-lightening flashes lit the gloom, and Nazis went down. The Shore Seekers opened up and soon all the Nazis were out of action without having fired a shot.
"Come on!" Bill called. "We've got to find Tom."
"I shall be there presently," mentioned a rather pale Maynard. "This violence is a bit unsettling. I must use the facilities."
Bill nodded and charged down the gangplank, with a blood-mad horde of Shore Seekers in hot pursuit.
* * *
"Yes," said the old man, straightening, "I am Martin Bormann. You left me to die, and I shall have my revenge."
He lifted the Luger. Von Hingelstein's men looked confused. Here was a Nazi of legendary fame, and they didn't know whether to shoot him or not. Von Hingelstein had no hesitation. He produced his own Luger and cut down Bormann without compunction. Gasping, he fell to the floor.
"Just like you killed old Fritz," Tom gritted.
"Fritz was a Jew, and Bormann had outlived his usefulness," Von Hingelstein spat.
From beyond came the sound of gunfire. All the Nazis turned to look, and Tom used the distraction to act. He spun on one foot and gave one guard a vicious kick under the chin that snapped the Nazi's head back. Without stopping, he grabbed the other guard by the shoulder with his left hand and twisted him around. With his right, Tom smashed the Nazi over the bridge of his nose, sending him to the floor. He turned to face Von Hingelstein, who covered him with his Luger.
"I don't think you can dodge a bullet," the doctor snorted. Voices calling Tom's name were filtering down the corridor. "Your friends are very resourceful. Too bad. I must make my escape. First, however, I will dispatch you. Goodbye, Treasure Tom."
The doctor's finger tightened on the trigger, but the shot that rang out did not come from his Luger. Instead, Lothar Von Hingelstein clutched his chest and sank to the steel floor. Behind him, Luger slipping from dying fingers, lay Bormann, who with his final breaths, had rid the world of an evil canker. Tom heard footsteps and turned to find Bill Curtain and Randolph Sherman. They were both carrying submachine guns.
"You okay?" Bill asked.
"Fine," Tom replied. "How about the boys?"
"Not a scratch. What now?"
"We find a phone and get the Coast Guard. This place is a treasure trove for the government."
"That you will never do," came a bubbling wheeze.
Wheeling, Tom saw that the Nazi doctor was not dead, but had dragged himself to the control panel of the disintegrator beam.
"If I die, the Fourth Reich shall die with me, just as the last Reich died with the Fuhrer. This time, though, I shall take my enemies with me. Heil Hitler!"
With that, he threw a switch and the ball on the end of the weapon began to coruscate with strange lights. A beam shot out, livid white, and began to eat at the ceiling.
"We've got to get out of here!" Tom yelled. "The roof will collapse and we'll all be trapped."
"Where will we go?" Bill wondered. "We don't know where the secret exit is!"
"Back to the boat!" Randolph exclaimed. "I'll explain later!"
Running at top speed, the trio ran for the steamer, bowling over Maynard and Jim Piper, who were laboriously dragging along an anti-tank rifle. Catching them up, they fled up the gangplank, calling to the rest to follow. Soon they were aboard the steamer, as a deep roar shook the tubular chamber.
"The beam will open a hole in the roof, and water will pour in," Randolph explained. "The facility will fill, and we should be sent right back up the tube as the level rises."
"Prepare to die!" Maynard warned. "He's never been right about the laws of dynamics."
Through the open part of the tube, they all watched in horror as a cascade of water rolled down the corridor toward them. Jake had backed the steamer into the center of the tube and the rising water soon filled the opening. It surged them upwards at express train speed.
"We'll be shot out of this tube like a cannonball!" Maynard screamed. "We'll be smashed like flies."
"Aw, dry up," Jim Piper complained. "The thing like a fly here is your brain."
Maynard was partially right, however, and the steamer did fly forth out of the opening like toothpaste from a tube. It smashed against the shore of the cape and people were flung everywhere. Aside from a few bruises and scrapes, however, everybody came through in one piece. Tom looked toward the cape and saw the whitish beam blasting through the sand skyward. As if in a funnel, sand and mud collapsed downward and the entire island began to submerge beneath the turgid water. The beam suddenly cut off, and the ship was left half-buried in the remains of the island.
"Well, at least we've got the gold," Bill commented as he tried to raise the Coast Guard on his portable radio.
"Which we'll have to share with Virginia, since we're within her limits," Tom reminded him.
"Too bad we'll never get back to that facility. It must be totally submerged. If only we knew where the secret entrance was."
"Perhaps we do," Tom replied. From a pocket he produced the silver medallion he had taken from the U-boat commander's skeleton. With a twist, he opened it to reveal a hidden compartment. Inside was a roll of micro-film.
"I wouldn't be surprised if this contained a full set of plans for the facility. That U-boat commander was pretty crafty. On the back of the medallion is engraved a map of the site. Von Mezick planned to be in on the Fourth Reich, too. Well," he concluded, turning to the bedraggled Shore Seekers, "this has been a successful club hunt. However, I think this is a good time to declare it over."
"Who gets find of the month?" Maynard demanded.
"I suppose we can give that prize to Lothar Von Hingelstein, who found a whole Nazi facility. Unfortunately, we must award it posthumously. What a shame."
With that, the entire club snapped their fingers in mock sympathy for the fallen villain and then sat back to await the Coast Guard.
NECKLACE OF STARS
Hoo-Boy Dize and Larry East were having so much fun, they didn't notice that darkness was stealing fast upon them. Sweating in the chest waders necessary to keep away the stinging feelers of jellyfish, they toiled away uncovering treasures from the sandy bottom of the Choptank River not far from Cambridge. Heavy gauge steel scoops chopped into the river bottom in response to each favorable beep of their detectors. Hoo-boy swung a mean Surfmaster, while Larry used a Fisher 1280-X.
The day's take had been good. Their hunt spot was a secluded cove once used for swimming before automobiles made it simpler to go to Ocean City. Rumors had it that pirates also had docked there, including Teach himself, the infamous Blackbeard. So far, the boys had turned up several rings and a handful of coins, including several silvers from the turn of the century.
Both fellows imagined the faces of their fellow Shore Seekers members when they unloaded their trove at the next meeting. Things had been pretty dull since Tom Argent had led them in pursuit of Nazi gold lying off Ocean City. The last they heard, the gold was still being held until the admiralty laws were settled.
Hoo-boy examined his goody bag. Inside were three silver rings and two gold wedding bands, as well as six silver dimes, two Barber quarters, and a silver St. Christopher medal. In all a great day, and it wasn't over. The wafer-thin donut coil of the Surfmaster gave out a loud beep as he swung it one last time.
"Come on, Hoo-boy, it's getting dark," Harry called, shouldering his scoop.
"Gosh, five more minutes, five more minutes," Hoo-boy urged. "Lemme dig this signal."
He slashed into the sand with his scoop, then shook the scoopful so that the sand would fall out of its grated sides. Something clinked around inside as he did so, so he stopped and pulled it out. Straining, Hoo-boy peered at the object through his glasses, then looked over the tops of his lenses.
"Good Goomah!" he whispered.
Suddenly, there was a twinkling in the purpling sky above them. A shaft of light burst down, white hot and blazing. It seemed to press on them with a solid force, and then, the two remembered nothing. . .
. . . until they were driving back in Larry's Beretta. The road was dark, and there was no moon. Larry looked at his dashboard clock. It registered 9 pm.
"I didn't realize we had been out so late," he remarked to Hoo-boy, who sat kind of dazedly in the passenger's bucket seat.
"Good gosh," Hoo-boy murmured. "I guess we got carried away."
"Do you remember a light?" Larry asked, his mind still trying to make sense of the gap in his memory.
"Must have been the moon," Hoo-boy decided.
"There was no moon," Larry said.
"Good Goomah," Hoo-boy spat. "Must have been a plane."
"Yeah, I guess."
* * *Bill Curtain was looking at his Glock 17 pistol. Treasure Tom Argent was looking at Bill Curtain. The club meeting had been going on for twenty minutes, and Bill had stared fixedly at his pistol most of the time. Tom was unsure if Bill was still upset over Compass' collapse or not, but he seemed like he wanted to shoot somebody. Tom breathed a sigh of relief when Bill put away the gun after the treasurer's report.
Bill wasn't the only one that Tom worried about. Hoo-boy and Larry had been awfully quiet, as well. The rest of the meeting passed uneventfully, and then came the time for finds of the month. Hoo-boy seemed to be looking for something in the trucker's wallet that he carried chained to his belt. That was usually where he kept his best finds. He seemed to become agitated when he couldn't find what he was looking for.
"They stole it, Larry," he barked.
"They said you couldn't have it," Larry replied, slowly, as if he was having trouble speaking.
"What are you two talking about?" Maynard W. Peaslee demanded. "I think your excessive hunting has addled your brains. You are both non compos mentis."
"They stole it!" Hoo-boy repeated, louder now.
"Who stole what?" Tom asked softly. "What's wrong?"
"I found something last week on the Choptank," Hoo-boy explained.
"What was it?" Tom prodded.
"It was-it was--I can't remember what it was, but they stole it," Hoo-boy stammered.
"Who?" Tom continued.
"The gray men in the moon."
* * *
Tom got Randolph Sherman, Maynard, Jim Piper, and Bill together after the meeting, and they interviewed Larry and Hoo-boy. The two fellows were still agitated, and Larry was getting angry as well.
"Evidently, there was more to your trip that finding some coins and rings," Tom began in a calm voice. "What can you remember?"
"I remember Larry telling me it was time to go," Hoo-boy recalled. "I found that object, and then the moon came up."
"Except there weren't no moon!" Larry snarled. "Then we was back in my car driving down Rt. 50. It's like somebody turned us off and turned us back on two hours later."
"It was the gray men from the moon," Hoo-boy insisted.
"There weren't no moon!" Larry repeated.
"Okay, there was no moon," Randolph cut in. "There were gray men, though?"
"They took my find of the month," Hoo-boy continued.
"Where did they come from?" Jim asked.
Hoo-boy looked sheepishly at Larry before answering. "The moon."
Larry got out of his chair and began to stomp around and wave his arms. "I don't give a hoot in hades where they came from, but if I find them, they're gonna pay for this."
"Okay, boys," Tom said soothingly. "We're just going in circles here. Why don't the two of you go home and get some sleep. If we come up with anything, we'll let you know. If you remember anything else, call us."
With that, Larry and Hoo-boy departed the club house.
"Suggestions?" Tom asked.
"Cisco or Mad Dog 20-20," Maynard snorted. "Obviously a case of delirium tremens."
"I don't think so," Jim disagreed. He liked to disagree with Maynard, just on principle if nothing else. "Those two don't drink and detect."
"That we know," Maynard parried, warming to the challenge. "Who knows what that pair does while they run the roads. Perhaps the secret of the ability to hunt long hours is to be found at the bottom of a bottle of Boone's Farm."
"This doesn't add up," Randolph stated. "It doesn't sound like the DT's. Somehow, two hours of those boys' lives were erased."
"Or perhaps painted over," Tom added. "And somebody missed a few spots, like the gray men from the moon. Maynard, don't you know a hypnotist?"
"Of course," Maynard answered, preening himself. "Hop Buddkins is one of the most renowned hypnotherapists in the state. He and I are just like that." He held up two fingers crossed for emphasis."
"I think they were Greeks together," Jim whispered to Tom behind his hand. Maynard's hearing was sharp however.
"My fraternity days are none of your concern," he snapped.
"Like the time you were nearly expelled for putting a Volkswagen Beetle in a classroom," Jim chortled.
"Okay, fun's over," Tom admonished. "Maynard, see if your friend has any ideas about memory recovery through hypnosis. The rest of you, keep your eyes and ears open. I smell treasure."
* * *
Shadows danced all around Hoo-boy's yard after Larry dropped him off at home. Hoo-boy was still troubled by his spotty memory and he wasn't aware of other presences until they rose in from of him, blocking his path to his front door."
"Good Goomah!" Hoo-boy exclaimed. "Who are you?"
The two individuals were both nearly seven feet tall, and were dressed all in black from their low-brimmed slouch hats to their shiny patent leather shoes. Heavy trenchcoats made them look very bulky, and their features were hidden behind wide mirrored sunglasses.
"Mr. Dize?" one of them rasped in a thick, almost metallic voice.
"Yeah?" Hoo-boy took a step back.
"We understand you had an unusual experience," the other said in a flat, unemotional tone. "You saw something."
Hoo-boy thought about his answer for a second, noticing for the first time that a long black Cadillac sedan was parked in his driveway under a tree. "I'm not sure what I saw. Maybe the moon."
"We don't want you to discuss what you've seen with anybody," the first man in black requested. "This is a matter of national security."
"But I already told Tom Argent, and Randolph, and Maynard, and Jim."
The first looked at the second, before the second said: "Treasure Tom Argent?"
"You must not talk about what you've seen again. Remember, your country is counting on you." With that, the two got into their car and drove off. Hoo-boy noticed that on the side of the car was a yellow circle with a triangle in it. Inside the triangle was an unwinking eye.
* * *
Larry East noticed the black Cadillac parked down the block almost immediately. Nobody had a car like that around Pittsville. He tensed as he saw two figures emerge from it, but got out of his Beretta and made toward his house. The two men cut him off so fast, they almost seemed to glide across the ground. They were dressed in black: Hats, coats, pants, socks, and shoes. Streetlights glinted off their mirrored sunglasses. How can they see in the dark? Larry wondered as they approached.
"Larry East, we wish to talk to you," said one.
"It's past my bedtime, fellows," Larry explained.
"We understand you had an unusual experience," said the second.
"How do you know about that?" Larry demanded.
"We ask that you do not discuss your experience with anybody, because of national security," said the first.
"You're too late. Now, let me by before I decide to give you an experience."
"You must explain that you did not have any unusual experiences, that you made up what you told earlier," the second urged.
"That I lied? Forget it! Now, move or be moved."
With that, he tried to brush by the two. When he made contact with the first, a violent electric shock went through him and he was thrown ten feet, landing in a heap by his car. He was barely aware of the two men in black standing over him.
"Remember, say nothing, or the consequences will be very grave," reminded the first. With that, the two got in their car and drove off.
* * *
"What do you mean, you made it up?" Treasure Tom demanded, his nose almost touching Hoo-boy's. Hoo-boy was seated in an armchair at Maynard's office, and Randolph Sherman, looking over Tom's shoulder, could see two angry reflections of Tom mirrored in Hoo-boy's thick glasses. "Do you know that Maynard has got one of the best swamis in Maryland down here to put the whammy on you, and you're saying that you fibbed to us?"
"Uh, Gosh, er, well," Hoo-boy stammered as Tom indicated a slender man in his late forties with whitish-gray hair and horn-rimmed glasses. Maynard had introduced the man earlier as Hop Buddkins, who was a hypno-therapist, and also becoming indignant at Tom's description.
"I am not a swami!" he blurted hotly. "I perform hypnotic regression, not whammies. I am a licensed practicioner in this state."
"Considering the leadership at the top, I'm not surprised," Tom returned, more mad at Hoo-boy than anybody else. At that moment, Larry stormed in.
"Where's the hoo-doo expert?" he snapped, slamming the door. Buddkins purpled further. "I'm ready to get to the bottom of this. Turn me into a chicken, or whatever it is you do."
Buddkins got up a head of steam for a retort, but Hoo-boy cut him off. "You gotta tell 'em you made it up," he said. "It was just a fib."
"I'll be dipped in skunk oil it was!" Larry growled. "Let me guess. You got a visit from two men in black."
"Yes, I mean, no, I mean--well, Good Goomah!" Hoo-boy wailed. "They said it was national security!"
"Who did?" Tom demanded, spinning Hoo-boy back around to face him.
"The men in black!" Larry whispered. "Two guys in black coats and hats. They said for me not to tell what happened, or else. When I tried to knock one over, I got zapped like lightning hit me."
"That true?" Randolph, demanded, spinning Hoo-boy around to face him.
"Good Gosh, you're making me dizzy," complained Hoo-boy. "Yeah, yeah, they said the same thing to me."
"It's a conspiracy," Maynard concluded. "Hoo-boy and Larry must have stumbled onto something big. Didn't they say what part of the government they were with? Did they show any ID?"
"No, but their big black Cadillac had a yellow circle with a triangle inside it. Inside the triangle was an eye."
"Sounds like the back of a dollar bill," Randolph stated.
"I knew I smelled treasure," Tom observed. "Okay, Dr. Buddkins, do your stuff. Which one do you want to hex first?"
"I don't hex anybody; this is not magic," Buddkins complained. "I'll use Hoo-boy here first. He seems suggestible. Larry is a bit too agitated to be relaxed. I need all of you to leave the room except Maynard."
"Don't worry, Hoo-boy," Randolph offered, as the rest departed, "we'll be right outside."
"Maynard will man the tape recorder," Buddkins explained. "I want you to relax, Hoo-boy. Have you ever been hypnotized before."
"Gosh, no, but a lot of people think I'm dazed," Hoo-boy answered.
"I see. Well, just sit back and put your hands in your lap. Close your eyes and listen only to the sound of my voice. We are going to go back now, back to when you and Larry were treasure hunting. Do you remember?"
"Yes," Hoo-boy replied, his voice sounding slow and labored. Evidently he was a quick victim.
"You are no longer in Maynard's office. You are with Larry in Dorchester County, hunting for treasure at an old swimming beach. Do you see it?"
Hoo-boy's eyelids fluttered as his eyeballs raced around underneath. "Yes, I see it."
"Most marvelous! Astounding!" Maynard murmured, the tape recorder across his lap.
"Quiet, he may hear you," Buddkins admonished. "Now, Hoo-boy, you are hunting for treasure in the water. It's getting dark. What is happening?"
"I got a signal. I'm digging it out with the scoop and I'm swishing the scoop around to get the sand out of it. There's something in the scoop. I'm trying to get a good look and--"
"And what?" Buddkins asked. "What's happening?"
"There's something shiny in the scoop. It's not a coin. It looks like jewelry. No, it's not jewelry, it's something else. Good Goomah!"
"What is it? What have you found?"
"There's a big spotlight on me! It's come out of nowhere!"
"What is in your scoop?"
"The light's coming from above! I'm looking up! Good Gosh!"
"What do you see?"
"A flying saucer!"
Buddkins goggled. "A flying saucer?"
"A big round circle, with a light underneath," Hoo-boy continued. "I can't hardly look at it. Larry's hollering to run, but I can't! I feel dizzy."
Hoo-boy seemed to deflate and his eyelids ceased their hidden gyrations.
"What's wrong, what's happening now?" Buddkins demanded. Maynard was at his shoulder, and they hovered over Hoo-boy like a pair of vultures.
"I'm in a room. It's dark, but there's another big light right above me. I can't see much for it. It's hot and white, just like the other."
"I can't see him. I'm lying down on some kind of table. There's buzzing noises all around. I can't move, I'm strapped in somehow. Good Gosh Goomah!"
"What? What's going on?" Buddkins snapped, sweat now on his forehead. Maynard's hands clenched the recorder in a death grip.
"There's a little man next to my table," Hoo-boy said. "He's about four feet tall, and he's buck nekked. He's got a big round head and two big black eyes."
"How do you know he's naked?"
"I don't, maybe he's got some sort of suit on, but I don't see no buttons or sleeves. He's talking to somebody, but I can't understand what he's saying. He says to me that I couldn't keep what I found. I tell them that I found it fair and square and that I'm gonna turn it in for find of the month. He tells me that its not possible. He's got a gun! No, its some kind of other thing, and he's shining a light in my eyes. I feel sleepy, and . . ."
"Yes, Yes! And what?"
I'm riding along in Larry's car, and there goes the flying saucer. Something in my head says to forget I saw it, though, so I do, and we go home."
"AGGH!" Maynard snarled. "That's all the big boob remembers!" He threw up his hands and nearly upset the tape recorder. "Porcus ex grege diabolus! Swine from the devil's herd!"
At that sound, Tom and Randolph rushed in, followed by Larry. "What's wrong?" Tom asked. "Did the bad man zap somebody?"
"Hoo-boy was there, but his mind was out to lunch!" Maynard seethed. "He says he got picked up by a flying saucer and the aliens on board took his find."
"Aliens?" Tom and Randolph exchanged puzzled glances. "You mean little green men?"
"Gray men," Maynard corrected. "Little gray men who run around in their birthday suits."
"Wonderful," Randolph snorted. "This leaves us exactly nowhere. We have no clue as to what happened to Hoo-boy."
"We've got to go to the hunt site," Tom decided. "Maybe we can find something there. How about it, Hoo-boy?"
"I guess," Hoo-boy agreed dubiously.
"Then, it's settled," Tom finished. "I'll call Bill Curtain and we'll ride over there with you. Want to come alond Buddkins."
"I think my work here is done," the hypnotist stated. "Maynard, you must call me for one of these forays when the situation is not so bizarre. Perhaps the next time you go to Rehoboth Beach. I understand they have a nice Greek restaurant there."
"Sure," Maynard replied.
"And as for you, Hoo-boy, there is only one thing I can say about your mental capacity. Stercorem pro cerebro habes."
"Will I live."
"Why not? Our governor suffers from a similar malady and it doesn't affect his performance," Buddkins offered, going out the door.
* * *
The old beach was deserted, its sandy shore pristine except for the footprints made by Hoo-boy, Larry, Randolph Sherman, Maynard, Treasure Tom, and Bill Curtain. The latter was toting a Franchi SPAS 12 with the stock folded.
"Was such a weapon necessary?" Maynard demanded, pointing at the assault shotgun. "If we are dealing with aliens, they could reduce us to ash with one of their disintegrator rays."
"They either come in peace, or go in pieces," Curtain advised, sheathing the gun in a long pocket of his coat. Maynard noticed a Ruger Blackhawk slung at Curtain's other hip, as well as a plethora of other devices hanging at his belt.
"So this is where it happened," Tom interrupted, indicating the beach.
"Yes," Larry confirmed. "We were right out there."
Tom scanned the placid waters. Looking up and down the adjacent shoreline, he noted a jutting headland upon which rested a large manor house. Around the house was high shrubbery and a chain-link fence.
"What's that place?" Tom asked the group.
"Don't know," Larry answered. "I never noticed it before."
"Maybe they saw something," Randolph offered. "Why don't we go and see who's home?"
The rest assented to this proposal and they piled into Tom's Land Rover. Up the road, Tom found a paved lane disappearing into the woods. Around it was more of the high fencing, topped with barbed wire. A weathered sign announced the presence of "Sprockety Farm." There was no gate at this point, so Tom turned in the lane. The fencing flanked them, backed up by tall pine trees and thick bushes. He immediately noticed No Tresspassing signs, No Hunting Signs, Keep Out signs, and Government Property signs.
"I get the impression they don't encourage visitors," Bill noted with sarcasm.
Tom drove on, anyway. After all, he had legitimate business, not just idle vandalism. About a quarter mile down the lane, he came to a fence, also festooned with warning signs. His sharp eyes noted electric insulators on this part of the fence, and he picked out cameras peeking at them from the brush. Without turning off the car, he got out and stood by the fence. Sure enough, he saw more devices. He called to Bill Curtain, who got out and looked where Tom indicated.
"Motion detectors," Bill informed him. "Looks pretty high-tech. Probably microphones, too. This must be some government setup, maybe a secret lab."
"Well, if they've got mikes and cameras, then they have guards, and so they must know we're standing out here."
As if in answer, the crack of a rifle resounded, and a bullet whipped Tom's hat from his head.
"That's far enough," boomed a voice, seemingly from nowhere. Tom thought about pointing out that they couldn't go any farther anyway, because of the fence, but decided against it. "State your business or be perforated."
"My name's Tom Argent, and these are my friends," Tom replied. "I'm here to see the man in charge."
From around a bush came a large fellow, nearly as tall as Hoo-boy, which meant six and a half feet. He was dressed in a dark olive jumpsuit that was studded with pockets. A number of devices rivalling Bill's blossomed from various belts and straps, but attention was mostly drawn to the Steyr-Aug SSG assault rifle the man was toting. The weapon had a telescopic sight that appeared to be fitted with a night-vision device, as well as a laser target designator. Tom glanced at Bill, who was staring at the rifle with a sort of glazed expression.
The man's face was like a series of jutting bluffs, topped by tufts of grey-black hair at his ridged eyebrows. The summit of his impressive scalp was bald and shiny tan, which ran to a darker bronze down the man's acquiline features. The hand which gripped the Steyr was large and scarred, and his forearm looked like a bunch of piano wire lacquered in bronze. All in all, this appeared to be a tough customer.
"Well," snapped the man in a deep voice. "You've seen him. Anything else before you leave?"
"Exactly what do you do here?" Maynard demanded. "This is a pretty out of the way place for a government installation."
"We do research here, and that's all you're going to get about that," the man answered. "Your time diminishes with my patience. Anything else?"
"We are wondering if you or any of your staff has seen anything unusual?" Randolph attempted. "By the way, we didn't catch your name?"
"That's cause I didn't throw it. I'm Col. George Godfrey Little. What do you mean by unusual?"
"Didja see a Flying Saucer?" Hoo-boy asked.
"What did you say?" Little's eyes bulged and his bronze features became mottled with purple.
"A Flying Saucer, a UFO," Larry repeated.
"You guys came up here, risk getting shot, to ask about little green men?"
"Not green, gray," Hoo-boy corrected.
"Green, gray, or shocking pink, there's no UFOs here!" Little bellowed. "No you get the blazes out of here before I decide to use a really big gun on you."
"Sorry to have wasted your time," Tom muttered as he turned for the Jeep. "Come on guys."
They piled back into the Jeep and Tom expertly backed it down the lane to the road. Once there, he turned the Jeep back toward Cambridge.
"That was certainly a waste of time," Maynard complained noisily from the back seat.
"Well, we're no better off than when we started this thing," Randolph agreed. "What now?"
"We ought to go back and get the rest of the boys," Bill Curtain suggested. "We could go back there and find out what that guy really knows. I bet he's hiding something. We'll see how tough he is with a coulpe of .44 slugs in him."
"Violence is not the answer," Tom admonished. "You can't solve everything at end of a gun. I agree, though, that G. Godfrey Little knows more than he's telling. Well, maybe we'll think of something while we drive. I just wish Hoo-boy knew what he had found that these guys wanted so badly."
"So do I!" Hoo-boy wailed. "Good Goomah! It must have been some treasure."
"Must have been," Tom was saying, "Well, it--what's this!"
Sideways in the rural road ahead was a large black Cadillac sedan. On its front door was the by-now infamous triangle with the unwinking eye in it. Standing beside the car were two of the sinister men in black. Tom had no choice but to stop the Jeep. Everybody got out, but stayed close to the jeep. The left man in black approached Tom.
"You are Treasure Tom Argent?" he demanded in his raspy voice.
"You win a cigar, handsome," Tom remarked. "Why are you blocking our road?"
"You are going to be in big trouble if you pursue this business of alien abductions," the man warned.
"Who said anything about alien abductions?" Tom snapped. "We're treasure hunters, looking for treasure. Do you have any leads?"
"Why were you at Sprockety Farm?" the man ignored Tom's question.
"Trying to get permission for a club hunt. Can we go now?"
"You must not come back to this area."
"This is a free country!" Hoo-boy hollered. "You can't tell me where to go. I want my find back, so I can get find of the month!"
The other man spoke up. "They will not be dissuaded. They represent a danger to security."
The first held out his hand to Tom. "You will come with us."
"Sorry, cuddles, you ain't my type," quipped Tom as he edged closer to the open door of the Jeep.
"Watch out!" Larry warned. "His touch packs a wallop."
The man grabbed at Tom, but he sidestepped and reached into his Jeep for his wooden handled digging trowel. Grasping the eighteen inch tool, Tom swung the flat of the blade against his assailant's head. There was a brief flash of sparks, and the man crumpled. A loud explosion made Tom turn. Bill had whipped out his Spas and had fired a round full into the other man's chest. The man was flung back over the hood of his car. The other staggered to his knees and leaped inside the Caddy.
To Tom's surprise, the other man got up and jumped into the driver's seat. With a roar, the car started. Bill fired two more rounds at the car's windows, but they merely produced fist sized star patterns in the glass as the large black machine turned away and sped off toward Cambridge. Bill look askance at the place where he had shot the man in black.
"No blood!" he marvelled. "Maybe they are aliens!"
"They're getting away!" Tom yelled. "Come on."
They all got back in the Jeep and sped off after the Caddy. Cambridge was still several miles away, and the road was deserted. Suddenly a shadow fell over the Jeep. Hoo-boy looked through the glass of the Jeep's rear gate.
"Good Goomah!" he exclaimed, eyes wide in fear. "The Flying Saucer's right over us!"
"Hang on!" Tom warned. He slammed on the brakes and the Jeep fishtailed to a stop. The disc-shaped craft glided forward and everybody then got a good look at it. It was about fifty feet in diameter and looked like it was made of polished chrome. On top and below the center were circular domes of some smoky translucent material. Red, white, and green lights twinkled around the disc's perimeter. Seeming to ignore gravity, the saucer swung around in a half-circle and came back toward the Jeep in a graceful arc.
Tom stomped on the accelerator and Jeep shot forward beneath the saucer. Then, he veered sideways. The disc began to turn about.
"Out!" Tom commanded. "It can't get us all!" He grabbed his shovel and bailed out the driver's door. Bill Curtain rolled out the other side, flipping his Ruger Blackhawk to Randolph Sherman, who was piling out from the rear. Hoo-boy dived out the rear door and Maynard skulked in a roadside ditch. The operators of the saucer seemed confused by this and hovered over the now silent Jeep. Then, a door in the side of the bottom dome opened and a tube-like device projected out.
Bill Curtain fired his Spas 12, but the lead pellets skipped off the shiny dome. The tube pointed at Maynard and a ghostly light seemed to swirl from it to envelope the hapless Shore Seeker. Immediately, Maynard's features began to slacken and a vacant look seemed to fill his eyes. Saliva drooled down one corner of his unlimbered jaw.
"Goooo . . ." he keened, rocking from one side to the other.
"Must be what they used on Hoo-boy and Larry!" Bill hollered. "Where is Larry?"
Larry had clambered to the top of the Jeep, and now stood only a few feet below the bottom of the saucer. With a leap, he grabbed the end of the ray-tube and swung it down so it no longer struck Maynard. The saucer lifted up, and it shook a bit so that Larry lost his grip and hit the ground rather hard. As he picked himself up, the tube began to point at him. Randolph Sherman got behind the Jeep and fired at the convex surface of the disc. The heavy bullets thudded into the metal skin and passed through. He emptied the revolver and waited while Bill tossed him a Speed-loader. Bill shoved some slugs into his shotgun and the two unloaded another volley at the saucer, which began to lift away.
It didn't get far, though, when it started to wobble slightly and veer groundward. It crashed not five hundred feet from the boys and seemed to crumple like a thing of paper. The Shore Seekers ran over to the crash site, amazed at what they saw.
The saucer apparently was constructed of light metallic struts like aluminum over which was stretched a mylar-type of material. Hoo-boy immediately began to cough when a sulfurous stench filled his nostrils.
"Good goomah!" he hacked. "Fire and brimstone! They're from the devil, not Mars!"
"Gas!" Maynard exclaimed, sloshing over in muddy shoes. "A lot of companies put a sulfur odor in their gases so that it can be detected if there's a leak."
"Now that it's crashed, the whole thing looks like a big saucer-shaped balloon," Tom stated, examining the wreckage. There was no fire, but there was a small engine a fuel tank which had been smashed in the wreckage, amid a vertical compartment tipped by the two domes.
Randolph and Larry found a latch on one of the domes and lifted it up, revealing two chairs occupied by two rather mundane looking humans in gray jumpsuits. Their surroundings seemed to be flight controls of some sort, and Maynard found a series of shafts that led to steering propellors, while other levers worked ducts which helped the ship rise and fall. The motor was specially muffled to deaden noise.
"A trick saucer!" Tom exclaimed. "Larry, are those fellows dead?"
"No, but that can be rectified," he replied, examining the battered occupants.
"Noy yet. Drag them out and tie them up. There's some tow rope in the Jeep. Are they armed?"
"I'll say," confirmed Randolph. "They've got Berettas and they're wire in some way."
The two saucermen were dragged from the craft after it was determined that they suffered no traumatic injuries and were trussed up. Meanwhile, Tom made some calls on his cellular phone while Maynard inspected the wreckage further.
"Apparently these gentlemen used some sort of white noise transmitted down some sort of stroboscopic beam of light to hypnotize their victims," he reported. "It probably would not work on a higher order mind, but was easily able to overcome Hoo-boy,"
"Hey, it got you!" Hoo-boy protested.
"I was caught unawares," Maynard grumbled. "Apparently, they work in concert with out men in black."
"Well, I got hold of Wilkie Douglass and Jim Piper," Tom revealed. "They'll be here with the rest of the club in short order. I've also been in contact with a Major Keyhole of the Air Force who is going to send a couple of A-10's from the Maryland Air National Guard over to keep an eye out for any more of the saucers. Let's see if we can get our friends here to talk."
The two prisoners had awakened and look at Tom with a mixture of anger and pain. They tugged at their bonds but to no avail. Bill held his Spas at them as Tom approached.
"Well, gentlemen," Tom began, "you have tried to intrude onto the wrong people this time. Your ship is in ruins. Who are you?"
"I am Captain Zork Argh of Venus, and my partner is Commander Z from Ummo," said the first.
"Right, and I'm Star Commander Vargas," Tom snapped with impatience. "I don't have all day, fellows. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations is send a team over here by helicopter from Washington. Before they get here, though, I am going to find out who you work for and why you grabbed two of my club members and stole their find."
"Do the biologically impossible," the second snapped. "We'll tell you nothing."
"Let me have 'em," Bill Curtain urged. "I'll make them talk." With a free hand, he withdrew a wicked Brewer Survival Knife and began to wipe the dull black blade against his thigh in anticipation of carving flesh.
"Do your worst," said the first. "We're not afraid."
"Hey, speak for yourself!" protested the second.
"That will not be necessary," piped up Maynard. He had dismantled the strange ray from the crashed saucer and had hooked its power leads to the Jeep's battery. When he discharged the ray, the Jeep immediately began to strain with the effort of powering the device.
Again, the whirling beam flashed out and enveloped the two saucermen. The effect was immediate. Their features immediately took on a vacuous look.
"Maybe we can use it to keep order at the meetings," Randolph suggested.
"Ha," Tom snorted. "Okay, boys, let's take it from the top. Who are you working for?"
"G. Godfrey Little," the first one admitted.
"Little!" Maynard exploded. "That gun-toting nut is probably as crazy as --" he looked at Bill Curtain, then decided to rethink his outburst as he saw Bill's grip tighten around the hilt of the Brewer knife. "Well, as crazy as a loon. We'll need an army to penetrate his compound."
"We've got one," Tom reminded him. "The Shore Seekers. Wilkie's bringing some stuff over from Bill's. Meanwhile, back to these two wiseguys. What did you steal from Hoo-boy?"
"We don't know what it is," claimed the first, still reeling from his exposure to the ray. "Little had been using spectrographic analysis of this part of the river because of something that was lost here. He had pinned the area down and we were sent to watch the area while he was equipping frogmen to dive for whatever it was. When we got there, those two saps where digging around. Little told us to use the ray on them and take whatever they had found. We grabbed them and took 'em back to the farm. There, we rigged up a special room to look like something out of a UFO movie, and wore some rubber suits to make us look like aliens."
"What's Godfrey up to?" Tom demanded.
"G. Godfrey Little is a renegade CIA bureau chief," revealed the other man. "He was considered a loose cannon during the Bush years, and Clinton had him put out to pasture. Little had made a lot of dough during the Contra Wars, and he decided to go into business for himself. He's a total paranoid, and now his enemies are anybody who doesn't go along with his his war against evil. He's been making money from drugs and smuggling to finance his espionage "coups", most of which are worthless. This enterprise had something to do with a plane crash that occurred here in the 1940's."
"That's enough to go on, for now," Tom decided. "When Keyhole shows, we'll turn these goons over to him. Obviously, the Men in Black are his stooges, and that strange sign must be his secret group's logo. What about the wires on these guys?"
Maynard disconnected the ray and bent to examine the wire-covered exo-skeleton that both saucermen were wearing.
"It appears that they are rigged to shock anybody who touches them with a powerful electric charge. Apparently, they had not time to activate there harnesses when they crashed. The rig appears to work like a stun-gun. No doubt the Men in Black used this type of harness to shock Larry."
Not thirty minutes later, the barren area of Dorchester county was suddenly populated. Five carloads of club members showed up, led by Wilkie Douglas. A blue and white helicopter bearing Air Force markings landed, expelling several officers. Finally, two A-10 Thunderbolt II tank-killers soared overhead.
The foremost officer was Major Keyhole, who shook Tom's hand. "We're glad you called," he said. "This saucer business is a touchy subject. Most people think we're being visited by aliens, and this will help us disprove that notion."
"You mean we aren't being visited by aliens?" Hoo-boy demanded. Keyhole gave him a withering look.
Tom interrupted. "These fellows work for a G. Godfrey Little, a renegade spook who's trying to run his own spy network. They said something about a plane crash from the 1940's."
"There was a government C-47 that crashed here about 1948," Keyhole revealed. "It was carrying a fortune in industrial grade diamonds and platinum. It was on its way from Dover to Washington DC to the Naval Research department when it developed engine trouble and went down. The plane exploded when it hit the water and the diamonds and platinum went everywhere. The goverment salvaged what it could, but the methods of detection were more primitive than today's methods."
"That must be what Little's after," Tom decided. "Well, Major, maybe the Shore Seekers can sub-contract to you and recover that missing platinum."
"First we have to deal with Little," Keyhole reminded him. "From your description of the location, Little must have taken over the old government recreation site at Sprockety Farm. It was used in the 1960's for government bigwigs to hunt on. It was abandoned during the Nixon administration, but is still government property. Nobody is supposed to be there."
"Little is, and he's got an arsenal of high-tech weapons and devices," Tom stated. "He's using the government signs to keep away the curious, and he's even pretending to still work for the military. We've got to stop him."
"We will," assured Keyhole. "A company of Air Force security men are being fitted up and should be here in a couple of hours."
"Too long," Wilkie disagreed. "Little might get away. I brought Bill's footlocker, Tom."
Bill Curtain went over to Wilkie's van and found his battered army locker inside. He unlocked it and began passing out various weapons to the club members. Finally, he donned a kevlar vest and helmet, complete with night-vision goggles. Finally, from under a false bottom he emerged with a Heckler and Koch G33 assault rifle complete with laser targeting, which he loaded with ammunition.
Meanwhile, Tom opened a compartment behind his seat and removed a pair of .45 caliber Desert Eagle automatics, snug in their matching armpit holsters. Around his waist, he secured a Milt Sparks "six-pack", containing extra clips.
"We might need some close support, Major," Tom advised, climbing into the Jeep. "Keep your Guard boys nearby."
The club set off for Sprockety farm, and Tom went down the lane full speed. When he got to the gate, he not only found it locked, but a barried of I-beams had been thrown up. Backing up five hundred feet, he called for Major Keyhole. Instantly, one of the A-10's delivered a Hellfire anti-tank missle, sending the barrier up in a gout of flame and smoke. Tom drove inward, slewing the Jeep sideways near the front of the spacious farm building. As the occupants jumped out, and hail of gunfire rang out from the building. The rest of the club alighted from their vehicles and began to answer with Bill's arsenal. The fire from the building died away, and Tom signaled that he was going to rushed the door. Backed up by Bill and Randolph, he sprinted forward, kicking in the door with one heavy boot, an automatic in each hand.
Inside the room where several men, some wearing the black overcoats of the Men in Black, other gray jumpsuits. Shots exploded from all sides, but Little's men were unable to withstand the withering fire from Tom's twin automatics. They threw up their hands in surrender, and Randolph began to disarm them. Tom waved for the rest of the club to close in.
"Where's Little?" he demanded of the prisoners.
"The boathouse," one of them muttered. "You won't get him."
Bill muttered an oath and sprang through the farmhouse, emerging from the rear door in time to see Little disappearing into a boathouse beside the farm's dock. He rushed over, turning on his laser and setting the rifle on full auto.
Inside the narrow boathouse was a sleek launch capable of speeds well over seventy miles an hour. Casting off the lines was G. Godfrey Little, one hand still clutching his Steyr-Aug assault rifle.
"Hold it, Little!" Bill Curtain barked.
"You won't shoot," Little snarled, dropping the line and getting a firm grip on his weapon. Curtain swung the HK G33 and its red laser dot hit Little right in the chest. With a flick, a similar dot appeared on Bill's chest from Little's gun.
"Mexican standoff," Little laughed. "No collar for you, flatfoot. Now you back off and let me go."
"Eat lead, spook," Bill snapped, and his G33 rattled like an explosion in a firecracker factory. Little fired at the same time, and Bill felt the bullets strike his chest. He didn't remember a thing until Tom was shaking him awake.
"What happened?" he demanded.
"You got him," Tom told him.
"I know I got him," Bill said. "The laser was dead on him."
"No, you really got him. You emptied your full clip into him. He's scattered from here to Vienna."
"Shoulda had a vest on," Curtain muttered, trying to get up. "I think he cracked some of my ribs."
Tom helped Bill up and he was greeted by the club members with a ragged cheer. Randolph emerged from the building with something shiny in his hands.
"This is what they took from Hoo-boy," he explained.
In his hand was a lump of platinum with two diamonds encased in it. Arcing away from the lump were two horns of melted platinum, making the object look like a crescent moon with the tips turned in. He gave the object to Hoo-boy.
"The explosion must have melted the platinum around the diamonds. It kinda looks like a necklace--a necklace of stars. I bet there are lumps of platinum all over here. I would say that the soil here has been greatly enriched. Well, I guess we can vote on find of the month now. How many votes for Hoo-boy?"
Every hand went up at this.
"Good goomah," was all Hoo-boy could say, but the grin on his face spoke volumes.
GRAY GHOSTS' GOLD
The sun rolled lower into the golden October skies that reigned over Delmarva's pastoral landscape. On Maryland's Eastern Shore, watermen and farmers worked cheek by jowl in the necks and rivers that wriggled here and there. On one such neck in Somerset County, two member of the Shore Seekers Artifact and Recovery Club were working against the coming night in a field of corn stubble, their detector coils swinging in large arcs as they listened for those sibilant whispers that might mean treasure.
"Sunny-boy" Willis and "Lord" Calvert Sherwood had been working the area all day long. Tucked behind a clump of cedars beyond them was an old mansion, its gables and high brick chimneys now the roost of vultures. Once a booming plantation in its day, the old house was now a forgotten relic of the past, and its owners no longer visited it except to work the fields.
Sunny-boy and Lord Calvert continued their diligent search, occasionally stopping to retrieve a brass button or a musket ball, scowling when their signal turned out to be a shotgun shell casing. As the sun dipped below the pines in the distance, Lord Calvert got a signal that rang through his headphones like the Liberty Bell.
Switching his CZ-6 to pinpoint mode, Lord Calvert outlined his target. It was big, over two feet wide. The quality of tone was crisp, unlike the blaring fuzz of iron.
"Got something big," he told Sunny-boy, who stopped his search to come over.
"Probably a plowblade," Sunny-boy commented, removing his cap to mop his receding hairline.
"Big Ethel will soon tell us," Lord Calvert predicted, putting down his CZ-6 and deploying his shovel. Big Ethel was named for Ethel Merman, who had the biggest mouth Lord Calvert could remember. The narrow spade had a blade like a long tongue, nearly two feet in length. Lord Calvert put the tip to the gray soil and planted his foot on the right side to boost it in. Several scoops later, he struck metal.
"Deeper than the reading," he muttered, expanding the width of his hole. "Something dense."
Sunny-boy put down his Garrett and helped out as best he could with his digging trowel. Soon, yellow metal glinted in the fading light.
"Can't be gold," Sunny-boy griped.
"Why not?" Lord Calvert snorted. "There was a Confederate General that lived in this mansion. They say that the Rebs smuggled gold in and out of here in boats. This was a hotbed of Secessionists, and the Yankees were forever sending troops around to suppress the locals.
Sunny-boy grunted and kept digging. What they discovered was a pile of gold, mostly coins of various nationalities and denominations, plus some small bars. Apparently, they had been buried in a wooden box which had long since rotted away. Lord Calvert picked up a still-shiny double-eagle and stuck it in his pocket. Emotion and fatigue overcame him, and he sat down heavily by the hole.
"We're rich!" he told Sunny-boy. "This much gold must be worth a couple of million. Let's celebrate!"
From his side-bag he pulled out a familiar bottle, the label of which matched his nickname. Sunny-boy sat opposite him, and the two passed the bottle back and forth over the pile of gold. After a few minutes, their state of sobriety was sorely deteriorated, and they began to discuss their find.
"Can't tell a soul," Lord Calvert murmured. "Federal Government want their cut, Sierra Club would bust us for Environmental Terr'rism, and we'd probably get arrested for DWI--detecting while under the influence. Ha!"
"Tha's a good one," Sunny-boy agreed. "D'tecting without infl'ence. Let 'em try! We gotta get this gold back to the truck." Their pickup was a good quarter mile across the field, parked on the winding dirt lane that lead from the paved road.
"Yeah. Maybe we can carry it in our shirts." Lord Calvert capped the bottle and began to rise when a shadow detached itself from the lingering gloom and fell over him.
Startled he wrenched his head around painfully to see a soldier behind him. The most startling part was the fact that the soldier was wearing a soft wool butternut uniform that hadn't been seen for a hundred and thirty years.
"A Reb!" Lord Calvert breathed.
Sunny-boy's eyes bulged and threatened to burst from their sockets as several more Confederate soldiers rose up out of the twilight to surround them. They parted company when an officer in light gray with gold piping and a saber came up, his gloved hand held out.
"I wouldn't mind some of that likker, boys," he rasped is a sibilant whisper. "I haven't had a drink since I was killed at Gettysburg.
With a palsied hand, Lord Calvert passed the officer his bottle. The gray-clad form straightened a tipped the bottle up. Lord Calvert's heart raced as he saw the officer's face silhouetted against the last glow of day. The features were gone, and the amber liquid splashed over lipless gums. Satisfied, the spectral figure held out the bottle, and Lord Calvert could see that his face was set in a perpetual leer.
"That's okay," Lord Calvert said. "You can keep it."
That was the last of the incident he remembered. With a gesture from the officer, the soldiers raised their gunbutts and sent both treasure-hunters into dreamland.
* * *
Randolph Sherman and Bill Curtain lived about equidistant from Peninsula Regional General Hospital in Salisbury, so they got there about the same time. Treasure Tom Argent had called Bill, who called Randolph, and they both flew out the back door upon hanging up and got into their respective cars for the trip over. The almost ended up fighting for the same parking space, but a Mazda RX7 cut them both off. Bill thought about using his Glock on the offending car, but thought better of it.
He and Randolph met Treasure Tom Argent in the waiting area of the emergency room. Tom's six-foot three frame dominated the room, and anger burned in his gray eyes, making them glow against his tanned, handsome face. He was pacing furiously, his combat boots making a rubbery squeak against the tiles. Seated nearby, face buried in her hands, was Lord Calvert's wife Pixie. Since she was as diminutive as her nickname implied, Tom loomed over her as he paced.
"This really jacks my jaws!" he snarled as he noticed Bill and Randolph.
"What happened?" Bill asked.
"A farmer found Sunny-boy and Lord Calvert laid out in a field down in Somerset County," Tom explained. "Somebody had rapped on their skulls until they were as soft as tomatoes." At this, Pixie began to wail uncontrollably into her hands."
"Are they gonna be okay?" Randolph wondered.
"Yeah, just some bruises and mild concussions. Those boys had heads like stone. As soon as they wake up, we've got to find out what happened to them."
So, they waited. After a hour and several cups of coffee, a white-coated doctor came in an asked for Pixie, who by then had stopped crying.
"Your husband is awake, now," the doctor told her. "He's had a very serious trauma to his head, and I can't rule out brain damage."
"New, or old?" Bill quipped.
"Ahem," snorted the doctor, "as I was saying, he is awake, but you can't see him for long. He needs his rest and he can't be excited."
The trio and Pixie went up to Lord Calvert's room, where they found him laying in bed, his unruly locks tightly bound with white bandages. Pixie shot over to his side and the two embraced passionately.
"I thought he wasn't supposed to get excited," Randolph commented to Bill. Bill merely shrugged. After a few moments, Tom went up to the bedside.
"I'm glad you're no worse off than this," he told Lord Calvert. "Can you remember what happened?"
"Sure, but I don't think you'll believe it," Lord Calvert croaked, dry-mouthed. Pixie put a glass of water to his lips.
"Look, we've battled Neo-Nazis and bogus saucermen, so we'll give you a fair hearing," Tom pointed out. Their last episode, where they uncovered a bunch of villainous treasure hunters disguised as aliens, had been turned into a lucrative government contract for the club, who were being paid to find planeload of platinum and diamonds lost since World War II.
"Okay," Lord Calvert muttered. "Sunny-boy and I was pistol-whipped by a bunch of rebel soldiers."
Bill and Randolph looked at Lord Calvert, then at each other, then back and Lord Calvert, and said in unison: "the doctor was right; brain damage."
"It was not!" Lord Calvert protested. "They was lead by an officer in a fancy outfit and drunk some of my liquor. They weren't normal though, they was strange."
"How so?" Tom inquired.
"They was dead and half turned to skeletons," Lord Calvert continued, his voice hushed. "That officer didn't have no lips. I could see the liquor going over his teeth. Then his boys worked us over. It was ghosts, I tell you!"
"Okay, we believe you," Tom said in a soothing voice. "You've got to keep calm, or the doctor will kick us out. Why did these soldiers work you over?"
"Maybe we was on their burial ground," Lord Calvert considered. "Or, maybe we was digging up their gold."
"Gold?" All three men shouted together.
"I stuck a piece in my pocket," Lord Calvert pointed out. "Go see."
Tom went to a nearby closet where Lord Calvert's belongings were stored. Sure enough, inside his right front pocket was a US double eagle, dated 1853. He held it up to catch the light while everybody else caught their breath.
"I'll need the name of that farmer who found you," Tom said.
* * *
"What do you mean, you sold out?" Tom asked of the phone receiver in his hand, a look of disbelief on his face. "Haunted? Who bought the place? Okay, well, thanks." He hung up the phone and turned to face the rest of the room. "Thanks for nothing, that is."
He was in Maynard W. Peaslee's office. The erudite computer expert was peering at Lord Calvert's double eagle through a large lens. Also present were Randolph Sherman and Jim Piper.
"That was Mack King, who farmed the land out where Lord Calvert and Sunny-boy got theirs," Tom explained. "He said that when he found them, there was no gold, just a hole in the ground nearby. He said that after the ambulance left, he went back to farming, and was pulled off his tractor by a bunch of ghosts in reb uniforms."
"Ghosts, indeed!" Maynard snorted, the lens distorting his eye to mammoth proportions as he turned his fishy gaze to Tom. "He probably found Lord Calvert's discarded bottle and fell into the clutches of Demon Rum."
"The ghosts shook him up so much, he went right home and hid under his bed," Tom continued. "The only thing that got him out was a phone call. It was from some guy looking to buy farmland for a development. Mack King was so shook up that he sold the property on the spot. He says he's going to take the money and go someplace safe, like Miami or Los Angeles."
"This smells," Randolph commented.
"No, that's Maynard," Jim mentioned. Maynard drew his skinny frame up to his full height and looked about indignantly with his lens.
"Ah, exuda noxiousus," he concluded, the lens falling upon Jim, who winced as the concentrated heat from the incandescent light behind Maynard began to burn his scalp.
"I'm gonna take that thing and shove it --"
"That's enough," Tom broke in. "Randolph's right. This does smell, and it smells like gold. Mack King did give me the name of the person who is heading up the development company that he sold his property to."
"Anybody we know?" Jim asked.
"He said his name was Liberty Amesworthy."
"Who is Liberty Amesworthy?" Maynard wondered, his gaze back on the coin.
"That," Treasure Tom advised, "remains to be seen."
* * *
"Mr. Amesworthy will see you now," the prim secretary announced to Treasure Tom and Bill Curtain. Tom had decided to pay a call on the developer under the pretense of Bill selling him an alarm system from Bilkem's Electronics. Tom was along as a flunky. He intended to let Bill do the talking while he looked for clues.
The secretary ushered the pair into a spacious office that had a panoramic view of the Wicomico River. Just across the river rose the blunt rectangle of the Salisbury Sheraton, and beyond that was Peninsula Regional Medical Center, where Lord Calvert was still suffering from the ministrations of his ghostly attackers. Silhouetted against this expanse of glass was the high back of a swivel chair. As the door closed behind Tom and Bill, the chair rotated to reveal its occupant.
"What can I do for you gentlemen?" Liberty Amesworthy asked in a pleasant, cultured voice.
If his tone was pleasant, however, his face was otherwise. Liberty Amesworthy's head was a long ovoid, its crown nearly bereft of hair. Deeply socketed amid a spiderweb of wrinkles were two pitiless glacier-blue eyes. Separating them was nose of epic proportions, its curving shadow falling over a thick gray beard that hid any trace of expression.
"My name is Bill Curtain," Bill began. "I represent Bilkem's security systems."
"Yes, I gathered that from your card," Amesworthy cut him off. "Why should I buy your system?"
"It's the best available," Bill continued, undeterred. "This system is great if you have unoccupied property, since it's maintenance free and remotely monitored at our headquarters. Since you have isolated buildings, this would be ideal."
"How do you know I have isolated buildings?" Amesworthy countered, still showing no emotion.
"It's our job to stay on top of things," Tom broke in. "Isn't it true that you just acquired Mack King's property?"
"Elzeywood?" Amesworthy supplied. "You gentlemen are well informed. Yes, I acquired it only yesterday, and by all indications, I have no need of your high-tech security systems."
"Why is that?" Bill wondered.
"According to Mr. King, the house is haunted," Amesworthy exclaimed. "I have always found fear to be a healthy deterrent, so I don't think I'll be needing your gentlemen's product after all. I wish you a very good day."
His tone left no doubt that the interview was over. Bill and Tom turned about and left Liberty Amesworthy to his glittering office and omniscient view. Once they were back in Tom's Wagoneer, the two stared at each other in bewilderment.
"That was the quickest bum's rush I ever got," Bill admitted.
"It was rather fast, almost contrived," Tom mused as they left the parking lot and drove over to the hospital to see Lord Calvert and Sunny-boy. "He's up to something, but we need a little more to go on. This Liberty Amesworthy could be a killer at heart, notwithstanding his velvet glove treatment."
"His nose alone could be considered a deadly weapon," Bill chuckled.
"It was huge," Tom agreed as they pulled into the hospital parking lot.
They were met at the elevator door by a distraught Pixie.
"You guys are just in time!" she exclaimed as she ran to them. "Cal's in big trouble!"
"Lord" Calvert or "Cal" was indeed in big trouble as the two followed Pixie into the hospital room he shared with "Sunny-boy", who was still comatose from his ordeal. The bearded detectorist was sitting upright on his bed screaming at the top of his lungs.
"Cut 'em off, curse you!" he hollered. "We cut 'em off afore they can get back to the road, and they's ours!"
"What's he mean?" Bill asked.
"I don't know," Pixie admitted, confusion masking her tear-stained face. "He started this about five minutes ago. The doctors are on their way."
"Give 'em the bayonet!" Cal roared. "Get me my horse, so's I can lead the boys in a charge! We've got the blue-bellies on the run!"
"Blue-bellies!" Tom exploded. "He's talking like he's in the Civil War, fighting the Yankees."
"Cal, you got to calm down," Pixie was saying, stroking his arm. He threw her off palsiedly, his blue eyes wide open as he looked at some unseen tableau.
"Git off'n me; it's only a flesh wound," he commanded. "Fitz Lee and General Elzey're counting on us, boys! We can't let 'em down. Look at 'em go! They won't stop this side of Harper's Ferry!"
At that juncture, a doctor and two burly orderlies arrived, and it took them all to hold down Cal as the doctor injected him with a sedative. It took hold quickly, and soon Cal had faded into dreamland.
Bill stared at Tom in disbelief.
"What in blue blazes is going on here?" he asked.
"I don't know, but I'm going to find out," Tom promised. "We'd better call Maynard in on this one."
* * *
"You think I can just snap my fingers and make my friend appear?" Maynard snorted. Treasure Tom and Bill Curtain had gone to his office after leaving the hospital.
"We need Hop Buddkins expertise," Tom explained. "He did such a good job hypnotizing Hoo-boy that we think he ought to have a crack at Lord Calvert."
"Cal is probably suffering from delirium tremens," Maynard carped. "Why should I inconvenience my friend over his ravings?"
"There's the possibly of a fortune in gold," Bill allowed.
"Why didn't you say so?" Maynard brightened, the idea of gold warming the cockles of his heart. "Out of my way! I have a phone call to make!"
He picked up the receiver of his phone and quickly punched in a number.
"Yes, hello, this is Maynard W. Peaslee," he said into the handset, "I would like to speak to Dr. Buddkins if he is available. No, I am not a solicitor for the Leather Club! Is Dr. Buddkins available or not? Very well. Hello, Hop? This is Maynard. Maynard W. Peaslee. We went to school together, remember? Yes, yes, with the UFO's. Well that turned out to be a hoax. Listen, I need your help again. I have another club member who is suffering from the delusion that he is back in the Civil War after he was hit on the head. He's at the local hospital. Can you regress him to see what's bugging him? You can! Capital! I will see you this evening, then."
Maynard hung up and rubbed his hands with glee. "It's all settled. Hop Buddkins is driving over from Baltimore right away. He should be here by dinner time. We'll get to the bottom of this mess then."
"We'll meet you at the hospital at seven, then," Tom decided. With that, they parted company.
* * *
Randolph Sherman and Jim Piper had other ideas. They decided to take a close look at the Elzeywood mansion. Randolph took care to park his compact around the bend of the long dirt lane to the mansion. He and Jim observed the mansion from a clump of trees, and seeing no activity, crept forward. No signs had been posted, so Randolph assumed that Liberty Amesworthy had not had time to do any work at his new property.
They walked around the site, not finding the area where Cal and Sunny-boy made their unfortunate discovery. After that, they decided to examine the mansion itself. It was large, made of glazed Flemish bond brick. Crumbling pillars flanked the semicircular portico. Without hesitation, Randolph stepped up and tried the worn brass doorknob. It turned, and with a squeal of unused hinges, the door swung inward.
Darkness greeted them, except for a pool of light from the open doorway. Gingerly, Randolph entered, noting a jumble of footprints in the dust of hall carpet. Ahead was another door, its enameled panels glowing in the dim light. Randolph grasped the cut-glass handle and it turned easily. The door opened into a dim sitting room, lit only by small cracks of light from shuttered windows covered by rotting curtains. There was a smell of corruption in the air, and Randolph's hair began to prickle along his scalp.
"Looking for someone?" came a sepulchral voice from the gloom.
Suddenly a black form seemed to rise up amid the darkness, blocking out the starlike twinkle from the covered windows. Randolph got a glimpse of a pale face and dark lips pulled back to reveal glittering fangs, then he turned and blundered into Jim Piper, who was skulking behind him.
"I'm looking for the door!" Randolph yelled as he disentangled himself and kept moving.
"Uh - I'm with him!" Jim concluded after getting a glimpse of those corpse-like features. The two stumbled back into the daylight and didn't stop running until they had gotten back to the clump of trees that they had hidden in earlier.
"What was that?" Jim demanded, out of breath.
"I don't know, but it looked hungry," Randolph decided, hands on his knees as he tried to get his wind.
"Could be he didn't like trespassers," came a whisper from the trees.
Stepping out of the brush was a man in a Confederate officer's uniform, followed by half a dozen men in Rebel gray. In the officer's hand was a Navy Colt and its business end was pointed at Randolph and Jim.
"Lucky I was out Yankee hunting," the officer whispered, and Randolph could see that the apparition had no nose and no lips. A livid scar peeled back the flesh of his face in a ragged triangle that started between his eyes and ended at his chin, as if someone had torn off the middle of his face.
"We ain't Yankees!" Jim protested. "We're from South of the Mason-Dixon line. We're bubbas!"
"You're gonna be dead," the figure hissed. "This here is my land. You ain't nothin' but a bunch of thievin' carpetbaggers lookin' for my gold. You ain't gonna get it, neither. The Elzey treasure is mine!"
"You're General Elzey?" Randolph demanded.
"That's right, now say your prayers." A pale thumb cocked back the hammer on the Colt.
"I been knocked on the head by Nazis, and I'll be cussed if I let a spook Reb ventilate me!" Randolph snarled. With that, he reached out and grabbed the barrel of the Colt, twisting it down. With a report, it went off, digging a furrow into the ground. Randolph clinched with the apparition, and two struggled while the soldiers looked on in confusion. Randolph wrenched the Colt from the figure and trained it on the ghostly crew.
"Now the shoe's on the other foot!" Randolph snapped. "No funny stuff now. We'll see if the sheriff's got a cell that'll hold haunts."
"Not likely," hissed the officer, and suddenly Jim and Randolph were blinded by a brilliant flare of light. When huge purple spots stopped swimming before their eyes, they found themselves to be alone in the clump of trees.
"Rats!" spat Jim. "We lost 'em."
"Better get back and tell Tom," Randolph decided. "This business gets weirder by the minute."
Down the road at a store, Randolph called in. He quickly slammed down the phone a raced back to his car.
"We've got to get to the hospital!" he told Jim after speeding out of the parking lot. "Hop Buddkins is going to hypnotize Cal!"
* * *
Randolph and Jim lost no time in getting to Cal's room. They spared a quick glance at the unconscious Sunny-boy, who remained comatose, his lips parted in a deep snore, before moving on to the circle of people around Cal's bed. Cal was slightly propped against his headboard, while a yellow circle of light was focussed on him from a portable drafting lamp that Hop Buddkins had brought with him. Hop was seated at his bedside, dangling a crystal pendant in front of Cal's steady gaze.
"We're going to take you back, Cal," Hop was intoning in a soothing voice. "Your present is agitated by something buried deep in your past, and we must uncover it. We are going back now to a time before you were Cal. You will see a door in your mind, and you are to open it and step through, into your past life. Do you see the door?"
"I - see - it," Cal mumbled slowly. "I am going to the door and opening it. I see a battlefield on the other side, men fighting and dying. I am going through the door."
"Good," Hop assured him. "Now, you have unlocked your past life. What is your name?"
"You know good and blamed well what my name is, Private!" snapped Cal, his eyes suddenly electrified. "It's Morgan, Captain Obadiah Morgan, and don't make me repeat it again! Now, you get that message to Genr'l Elzey's headquarters double-quick!"
"He's in deep," Randolph whispered to Jim. "He thinks he's some Reb captain."
"Sergeant! Rally your men and hit that wagon train! We need every stick there. Orderly, get my horse!"
"Where are you, Cal?"
"I told you the name's Morgan, Captain Morgan! We're just below South Mountain, and if we can knock over that wagon train, we'll have Little Mac's supplies, and he won't have nothing!"
"He must mean Union General McClellan," Tom said in an aside to Bill Curtain. "This Captain Morgan person must have been a cavalryman under Robert E Lee's nephew Fitzhugh Lee. He was likely attached to General Elzey's division for support. Apparently, they're advancing as part of the 1862 invasion of Maryland that culminated in the battle of Antietam. There was a lot of confusion during that advance, so they must have stumbled on a misrouted supply train."
"Column by troop!" Cal suddenly ordered. "Bugler, sound the charge! We can't wait for Elzey's infantry to catch up! Let's go boys!"
There were some thrashings as Cal appeared to struggle with unseen foes. "Did you take the train, Captain?" Hop asked.
"Oh, General Elzey, sir!" Cal exclaimed, snapping off a salute. "I didn't hear you ride up. Yes, we took it, sir. A fine catch, too. There's plenty of pork and beans, and some ammo, but best of all, we got an entire corps' worth of payroll! Get out the instruments boys! Play 'Bonny Blue Flag' for the general."
"There's the answer to where the gold came from," Maynard pronounced. "A union payroll chest."
"What happened to the gold, Captain Morgan?" Hop then inquired.
"Don't you remember, General?" Cal muttered. "You and me and some of the boys sneaked across the Chesapeake in a log canoe one moonless night and buried it near your mansion in Somerset County. We took half the gold and buried it in the field and the other half ---"
"Treasure Tom Argent!" came a sharp voice from the doorway. As it boomed out, Hop Buddkins, startled, dropped the crystal pendant and it shattered on the tile floor. The combination of sounds brought Cal out of his trance and he stared around in amazement.
The assemblage turned as one to stare at the intruder. Framed in the doorway was the imposing figure of Liberty Amesworthy, his banana nose and bald head glowing pinkly in the overhead fluorescent lights.
"Your timing is impeccable, Mr. Amesworthy," Tom greeted sarcastically. "What can I do for you?"
"You can tell your grave-robbing scavengers to stay off my property!" Amesworthy snapped. "I had a report from one of my neighbors that two people were skulking around Elzeywood only an hour ago."
"We are respectable treasure hunters, not grave-robbers," Tom clarified, growing impatient with Amesworthy's tone. "Did your neighbors also report the Rebel spooks hanging around, or the fact that they tried to shoot one of my men?"
"That's bosh!" Amesworthy growled. "You and I both know that there are no such things as ghosts."
As he spoke, Maynard noticed a large fly begin to circle Amesworthy. Having a loathing of insects, Maynard found a handy newspaper and rolled it up.
"There's only one way to prove it," Treasure Tom challenged. "Some of my men and I will spend the night in Elzeywood." Here, the Shore Seekers looked at each other in dismay. "Do you agree?"
"Do you promise never to set foot on my property afterward?" Amesworthy retorted, oblivious to the fly about to pitch on his vast nose.
"Fine, whatever you like," Tom agreed and reached out to shake Amesworthy's hand. No sooner had he done so, however, than Maynard waded in and aimed the newspaper at the fly. The fly dodged the paper cudgel, but the force of Maynard's blow drove the improvised cudgel against Liberty Amesworthy's immense proboscis, smashing flat against his face.
"Now you're trying to assault me!" Amesworthy howled in a strangled fashion, his hand against his flattened organ of smell. Without a further word, he fled the room and disappeared around a corner.
"We still have a deal!" Tom called after him. Seeing nobody, Tom fell to studying the floor of the hallway. He then took the newspaper from Maynard's grip and examined it, before returning it to him.
"I was trying to exterminate some vermin," Maynard insisted.
"You had the right idea," Tom said gently. "Well, we've got some preparations to make boys. I intend to face off against whatever spooks, vampires, or whatever is haunting Elzeywood, and I'm going to do it tonight!"
* * *
Gloom swept down on the crumbling walls of Elzeywood as Tom's Jeep bumped its way up the dirt road. Dark Shadows crept closer to the old mansion, little affected by the Jeep's headlights. Inside the vehicle were Tom, Maynard, Bill, Randolph, and Jim Piper. All were armed to the teeth with a wide array of weapons, and Manynard balanced a bulging satchel across his bony knees.
Tom parked the Jeep near the collumned portico and the quintet tumbled out. Snapping on a large Mag-lite, Tom checked the front door. As before, it was unlocked. Using the point of a Sykes-Fairburn Commando knife, Tom pushed the door inward, and it turned on squealing hinges. Once inside, the rest lit battery powered camp lanterns, whose flourescent glow bleached every thing a dead-fish white.
"Let's try that room where you saw the goon," Tom said to Randolph, who gulped and produced an ornate cross that hung from a chain around his neck.
Putting away his knife, Tom unslung a Heckler-Koch MP5 and pulled back the bolt. Snapping the Mag-lite to the sub-machinegun's barrel, he kicked in the door. Silence greeted him. The room, suddenly awash with the yellowish light, seemed vast and cavernous. The group entered, and found the room to be a large study, furnished here and there with crumbling overstuffed armchairs and rotting tables. A huge brick fireplace dominated one wall, and over it hung a cobwebbed portrait of a man in a gray uniform.
"Must be General Elzey," Bill Curtain decided, holding up his lantern. The eyes in the portrait seemed to capture some of the lantern's glow. Jim shuddered and turned away, for it seemed that the eyes were following him!
"This is probably as good a place as any to camp out," Tom decided.
The boys then dusted off easy chairs and began to spread out. They chatted nervously to pass the time, and soon the full moon rose, its silvery light shining through the rotted drapes and streaked windows. The boys ate some snacks, checked their equipment, and waited on. Suddenly, a deep, gonging sound resonated through the house, making them all jump.
"What was that?" Maynard demanded as the sound continued to throb.
"Check your watch," Tom advised, "it's midnight."
"Still a long way to go," Maynard snorted. "What else is in this room?"
Taking up a lantern, he walked about the room's perimeter, stopping when he found a large bookcase against one wall. Inside the bookcase were several rows of mouldering volumes. Bringing his light closer, Maynard began to inspect them.
"Quite a collection," Maynard decided. "Here is a volume of Plato. Perhaps this will pass the time."
Meanwhile, back in Salisbury, at the instant of the tolling bell, Cal suddenly awoke at the hospital and sat upright in his bed. His eyes had taken on the fiery glimmer from his earlier regression. He got out of bed and began to dress. Having done so, he went to Sunny-boy's side and began to shake the comatose Shore Seeker.
"Git up, orderly!" Cal commanded. "We got to get out to Elzeywood. Something's gonna happen to that gold!"
Sunny-boy stirred at last and his eyelids fluttered. "Wuzzat? Hello, I'm the Beverage Kid!"
"Come on!" Cal ordered.
Dazedly, Sunny-boy rose from his berth and Cal propelled him to a nearby closet, where his clothes waited to be donned. Overseeing Sunny-boy, Cal made a quick reconnaissance of the hall. It was empty. Motioning to his companion, they exited the room and found a staff elevator which took them out through the now deserted kitchen and into the streets.
As Maynard grasped the mildewed volume of Plato, it refused to come out of its perch. Instead, he heard a distinct click and then felt himself being shoved sideways as the entire bookcase rotated. With a thump, it returned to its original position, having brushed Maynard into darkness.
"Say!" Jim pointed out. "Where'd Maynard go?"
"He was by the bookcase," Randolph remembered. "He just vanished!"
"We'd better find him," Tom decided. "Let's split up. Jim can go with Randolph and search upstairs. Bill, you and I will search downstairs. No time to waste, boys!"
He drew back the bolt on his MP5 while Bill extended the stock of his Franchi Spas 12-gauge assault shotgun. Randolph produced a Broomhandle Mauser machine pistol, and Jim made do with an Artillery Luger sporting a snail drum full of 9mm ammo.
Mauser in one hand and light in the other, Randolph started up the creaking stairs with Jim watching behind. At the landing, they found a hall studded with doors. Holding up the light, he motioned for Jim to try the first door on the left. Inside, sitting upon four concrete blocks, was an ornate coffin, laquered gleaming ebony in color.
The two stepped into the room. The coffin appeared to be the only furniture in the room. Randolph went to inspect it.
"Think maybe he's in here?" he asked Jim.
"Hard to tell. Why don't you ask?"
"Hey! Anybody home?" Randolph called.
"No!" came a deep voice from within.
"Phew!" said Jim. "That's a load off our minds. Come on."
The two turned to go.
"Wait a minute!" Randolph snapped. "If nobody was in there, who did the talking!"
Hair standing on end, they turned around. With a squeal, the coffin lid lifted, and a black-cloaked figure began to rise.
"Don't go boys," the thing spoke through curved fangs. "Stick around for a bite!" The thing then gestured, and the door slammed shut. Randolph sprang for the knob.
"We're locked in!" he wailed.
"No problem," yelled Jim, eyes wide with fear, "where do you want the new door?"
Launching himself forward, Jim hit the wall , sending plaster and lathing flying. Amid the cloud of plaster dust, Randolph saw that Jim had broken through the wall and was standing in the hallway. Knowing discretion to be the better part of valor, Randolph squeezed through the hole and joined him.
"Quick, down the hall!" Randolph motioned with his forgotten pistol.
They ran to a door at the end of the hall opposite the stairs. Pistols ready, they threw the portal open. Inside were the ghosts of General Elzey and his Confederate soldiers.
"Come in, fellows," the noseless general called. "We've been waiting for you."
* * *
"You know, there must be a trick panel here," Tom said to Bill as Randolph and Jim departed.
"Could be one of those swinging wall type arrangements," Bill agreed. "I saw that in a Three Stooges film once."
Tom examined the bookcase with his Mag-lite.
"The dust around this volume of Plato has been disturbed," he concluded. "Maynard must have tripped a switch. Let's see what happens when I pull on the book."
Returning the Mag-lite to its clip on his MP-5, Tom grasped the classic tome and tugged. A click resulted, and Tom and Bill had to move fast to keep from being swept off their feet as the bookcase rotated around like a revolving door. Bill swept the room with the barrel of his shotgun while Tom stabbed out with the Mag-lite's beam.
They found themselves in a small chamber with a staircase leading down to their left, and up to their right. Tom's light showed that many feet had tramped the dust of the floor.
"Apparently, somebody was behind his panel and grabbed Maynard when he came through," Tom decided. "Now, which way did they go?"
"Let's try down," Bill suggested.
Tom agreed, and they went down the narrow, winding steps until they came to a large basement room filled with items of all sorts: boxes, furniture, rugs, and against one wall was propped a large mummy case, gaudily decorated with gold leaf with the lid sculptured in the shape of an Egyptian pharaoh. Bill Curtain produced a mini Mag-lite and examined the sarcophagus. On it was an inscribed brass plate.
"It says that this contains the mummy of Pharoah Rut-en Tut-en," Bill read. "Apparently the Elzeys collected some strange items."
As he spoke, the mummy case shuddered and the lid sprang open, to reveal a figure wrapped in linen bindings. The two treasure hunters sprang back in alarm as the swaddled inhabitant of the sarcophagus shuffled forward, only to collapse in a heap as his bindings became tangled and caused him to trip. Tom and Bill then bent and unwrapped the figure's face.
It turned out to be Maynard!
"How'd you get in here?" Bill demanded, as they unwound the yards of cloth.
"I was accosted by men in Confederate uniforms!" Maynard declared. "I was swept into a hidden room and then bound in these rags. Then I was stuffed in that box where I nearly suffocated. Can't you unwrap me any faster?"
"No problem," Bill promised.
He stood Maynard up, grabbed a loose end of cloth and yanked as hard as he could. The force of his pull caused Maynard to spin like a top until the cloth was completely unwound, leaving Maynard staggering drunkenly.
"You-you imbecile!" he sputtered. "I may lose my lunch due to your ham-handed incompetence!"
As he spoke, muffled shots sounded from somewhere above them .
"Lose it later!" Tom snapped. "Randolph and Jim might be in trouble. Come on!"
* * *
"Sorry, fellows; wrong room," Randolph told the slightly luminous General Elzey.
"I wouldn't advise leaving," the spectral general rasped, and his men began to bring up their rifles.
"Drill 'em!" Randolph yelled.
Shots exploded into the room as he and Jim Piper unleashed a fusillade from their automatic pistols. Brass cartridges spewed from both guns as blue smoke obscured their view. Not waiting to see the results of their barrage, the two turned and exited the room, running down the hall as fast as possible. As they reached the door where they had encountered the vampire, they found him standing in the hall, cape extended like a pair of bat wings. Unable to stop, the two ran full force into him and became tangled in the volumnious folds of his cloak.
Below, Tom, Maynard and Bill ran full force up the narrow steps. Above the room behind the bookcase, they found a small landing with two holes in one wall. Pausing to peer into them, Maynard made a discovery.
"These holes must look out through General Elzey's eyes in the portrait above the fireplace," he exclaimed. "I can see the whole room from here. They knew when I was about to trip the bookcase, and heard every word that was said."
"Divide and conquer," Tom mused. "Come on!"
They gained another flight of stairs and found their way blocked by a stout panel.
"Stand back!" Bill cautioned, and raised his Franchi Spas. With a deafening roar, the 12-gauge spoke twice, making huge holes in the panel. Amid dust and splinters, the trio shot through the hole and into what appeared to be an ill-lit hallway, only to be slammed to the floor by men in gray weilding heavy gun-butts. Their weapons appropriated, the three were shoved downstairs, where they found Jim and Randolph wrapped up in a large black cloak. Standing over them with a Colt Desert Eagle was a pale-looking man in a black suit.
Now, congregated about them in the large living room were half a dozen men in Rebel uniforms, some fresh, some bandaged and bloody. They all held Civil War era rifles, and were led by an eerie General Elzey, his gray unformed ripped in several places.
"You, Treasure Tom, and your men have caused me enough trouble," hissed the ghostly general.
"I can tell that your haunted horde here aren't insubstantial enough to stop bullets," Tom retorted. "Why don't you give it up -- Liberty Amesworthy!"
"How did you guess?" Elzey, now revealed as Amesworthy, demanded.
"No guess!" Tom assured him. "When Maynard smashed your nose at the hospital, I noted that not one drop of blood came out or hit the floor. I reasoned that your nose was fake. Since everybody who encountered 'General Elzey' mentioned his lack of a probocis, I put two and two together. Your beard was probably fake, too, to conceal your scar. You used your skill at make-up to make your disfigurement look like the rotting of the grave."
"You're too clever for your own good," Amesworthy snarled. "I had been looking for General Elzey's treasure for some time, until your two members stumbled on to it. I had used the ghost angle in case anybody saw us looking around, they would think the place was haunted. It would have worked, too, if you hadn't become involved."
"Where's the treasure now?" Tom wondered.
"In my safe at my office," Amesworthy replied. "That won't be any of your concern. My men and I will make sure you and your buddies are never found. Okay, boys, let's tie 'em up. They've got a date with the fish!"
"Hold on there, general!" came a voice from the hallway.
Standing there was "Lord" Calvert. Behind him was Sunny-boy. Cal had opened Maynard's carpet bag and had produced a Model 1855 Pistol-Carbine.
"You made sure me and my boys didn't tell what happened to the gold!" Cal snarled in his "Captain Morgan" voice. "Shot us all in the back! Well, I ain't like that. Come on, General, you got a pistol in your holster. Slap leather!"
"This is all a mistake!" Amesworthy yelled. "I am not Elzey!"
"Don't lie your way out now, general!" Cal yelled back. "Draw or be shot down! Draw!"
Palsiedly, Amesworthy clawed at his Navy Colt and both antagonists gun barrels went up. There was a roar as the .58 caliber carbine erupted amid a gout of flame and white smoke. Tom and Bill used the distraction to grab their weapons from the startled crooks and covered the room. Randolph lashed out at the fake vampire with one foot and swept him to the ground, where Jim head-butted him to unconciousness before the goon could use his automatic.
When the wreath of smoke parted, Liberty Amesworthy was lying cold on the floor, with blood pouring from a hole in his forehead. The rest of his gang surrendered meekly. Maynard released Jim and Randolph, who appropriated the Desert Eagle from the fake vampire's nerveless grasp.
"Good work, Cal," Tom complimented.
"I told you the name's Morgan," Cal said wearily. "I just wanted to make sure that Elzey got his for what he did to me and my men after hiding that gold. He buried part, and the rest he hid."
"Where'd he hide it?" Randolph asked.
"In a hidden compartment of some mummy case he bought from a travelling circus," Cal revealed. "I don't feel so good."
With that, he collapsed into Sunny-boy's arms. Sunny-boy carried him to a couch and splashed water on him until he woke up.
"What happened?" Cal demanded.
"Don't you remember, Captain Morgan?" Tom asked.
"What'd you call me that for? I don't remember a thing after seeing some guys dressed in Rebel uniforms that whacked me on the head and -- say -- how did I get here?"
"Long story," Jim noted. "Let's check that mummy case."
Securely tying up the criminals, the Shore Seekers went downstairs to find the ancient mummy case. Tom felt about until his probing fingers triggered a hidden latch. Like a slot machine, the case suddenly spewed out US double eagles, making a huge pile at the boys' feet.
"Well, I don't know about every cloud having a silver lining," Tom concluded, "but I'd say this one definitely has a gold tone to it."
"Good goomah!" hollered Hoo-Boy Dize as the boat lurched suddenly. Heavily laden, the spacious Boston Whaler struck a roller and nosed up, coming down hard into the wave trough. Beside him, Maynard W. Peaslee looked rather green as he clutched the railing.
"You okay, Maynard?" Randolph Sherman asked solicitously from his position forward. He was helping Jim Piper make sure that their gear was properly stowed.
Treasure Tom Argent was at the controls, while Bill Curtain, at his left elbow, scanned the horizon with a pair of Bushnell binoculars. They were on their way to a point south of Tangier Island. There had been a sudden nor'easter that went up Chesapeake Bay, and in its wake had occurred an unusually low tide. Word had come over from Tangier Island that the old Spanish wreck was visible again.
Nobody had seen the old wreck for nearly a hundred years, when a hurricane came through and created identical conditions. The Spanish Wreck, as it was called, had entered into local mythology. People from the island claimed you could walk out to it, and many people recovered items from it, including a boarding axe of some sort. Nobody even knew for sure that it was a Spanish ship, but that was what somebody dubbed it, and the name stuck.
"Couldn't we have waited until more favorable weather conditions?" Maynard griped. "These waves will swamp us."
"This is as calm as it gets this far out," Tom explained. "We have to go over now, or the next tide might cover the ship again. Nobody has ever tried to examine it with modern instruments."
"I'm not sure if my delicate condition can take much more of this rollercoaster," Maynard gulped as another wave sent them up and then down.
"Maybe some food will take your mind off things," Jim offered. "How about some split-pea soup?"
Maynard's reply was lost as he turned and bent over the side.
"Look at that ship!" Randolph called, pointing toward Tangier. "What that, Bill?"
Bill Curtain swung the Bushnells in the indicated direction. All could seen a large ship gleaming whitely as it headed south.
"It's a cruise ship," Bill identified. "One of those Bay cruises from Crisfield to Norfolk. Looks like its jammed with tourists."
The ship faded southward into the haze, since it was making better time than the struggling Boston Whaler. In an hour or so, the Shore Seekers were nearing Tangier Island. Bill located a long black smear just past the island.
"That must be the wreck," he decided. "Head over there."
Tom swung the Boston Whaler around the island, and sure enough, the black smear elongated into a long, rotting hulk, black with age and covered with slimy aquatic growths. Shellfish studded the hull, and everybody could see square ports blistering its sides. The tide was so low, you could see the bottom. As Treasure Tom dropped the anchor, Hoo-boy, already dressed in a wet suit, jumped over the side and employed his White's PI underwater detector. The others were getting into hip boots and chest waders as he yelled furiously.
"Look, fellers! Gawrsh!"
He had taken a scoop from the bottom and flung it into a floating screen for the sand and mud to fall through. Sitting in the wire mesh, surrounded by its bouyant PVC rim, was a handful of coins. Some of them were black disks, while others gleamed with the yellow of gold.
"Hoo-boy went for the gold!" Jim yelled.
Hoo-boy's next signal sent him bending over to retrieve the unknown find. "It's too big to fit in my scoop," he explained as he reached into the muddy depths. Then, as he raised up, he became speechless at the sight of what he had uncovered. It was a cross, about two feet high and a foot at its horizontal bar, apparently solid gold and encrusted with emeralds.
Maynard, now recovered somewhat, was about to say something when his words were cut off by a dull booming from the south. Everybody turned and looked. The sky in that direction had turned a strange purplish hue, lit all about with phosphorescent lightnings.
"A storm!" Maynard shrieked. "We'll be killed!"
"That wasn't thunder we heard," Bill observed. "That sounded more like a cannon."
"Look!" Randolph pointed.
Flying before the approaching clouds was the cruise ship they had seen earlier, its decks empty, and its captain frantically swerving left and right. Deck chairs and other detritus tumbled into the bay as he maneuvered. If that sight was not amazing enough, the object that pursued the ship was even more puzzling.
Fully rigged, canvas sails bulging with wind, came a ship that looked like it sprang from an NC Wyeth illustration of Treasure Island. It was the size of a modern frigate, with two main masts and a high fore and aft castle. As the Shore Seekers watched in awe, another cannon sent forth a tongue of flame toward the cruise ship. This time, the shot struck, smashing into the ship below the water line.
The cruise ship shuddered, and its progress slowed as water began to gush into its pierced hull. The strange sailing vessel turned broadside, and its full battery blazed away, splintering decks and causing fire to break out on board the cruise ship. Bill put down his equipment and took up his binoculars.
"It's a pirate ship!" he exclaimed in disbelief.
Through the growing smoke of battle, he could see atop the main mast a flapping black banner, emblazoned with a stark white grinning skull and crossed bones.
"We've got to do something!" Treasure Tom yelled, removing his protective gear. "People are getting killed."
"They've got cannons!" Maynard pointed out. "We don't!"
"Doesn't matter," Tom decided. "Get Hoo-boy into the boat. Come on!"
They quickly re-organized and Tom weighed the anchor. Bill Curtain, never far from a gun, buckled on his Glock 9mm and revealed that one of his detector cases also held a Franchi SPAS 12 gauge shot gun. Tom sprung a latch below his control column and removed a pair of Desert Eagle automatics, while Randolph Sherman rummaged into his equipment bag until he withdrew an artillery Luger with an optional snail drum of ammunition.
As they headed toward the scene, Bill relayed that the pirates seemed to be dressed in flaring, brightly colored garments typical of the period, and were leaping onto the cruise ship as their own vessel pulled along side. He said that the pirates carried cutlasses and that flintlock pistols were stuck into belts and sashes.
As quickly as they struck, the pirates looted the ship and were swarming back to their own vessel before Tom could close the distance. When the Boston Whaler pulled up to the cruise ship, it was listing heavily, its topside blackened by fire. A dazed captain stumbled out as they approached.
"They took her!" he wailed, clutching his head. Crimson leaked from between his fingers and forked down his face.
"Who?" Tom demanded.
"Princess Yasmela of Fredonia!" The captain gasped, and fell to the deck in a swoon.
"We've got to rescue her!" Tom concluded, and swung the Boston Whaler away and toward the rapidly receding pirate ship.
As the ship headed south, the eerie storm seemed to rush to meet it. The winds drove the clouds in a swirling pattern, creating a tunnel-like effect lit by the white flashes of lightning. While the Shore Seekers watched, the pirate ship sailed right into the heart of the storm and vanished from sight.
"This reminds me of the `Final Countdown'," Jim stated. "It's like they disappeared into another dimension. What are we going to do?"
"We're going in after them," Tom told him.
Tom ordered everything stowed or tied down securely and gave the Boston Whaler as much speed as it would take in the heaving waves of the Bay. Maynard held on for dear life as the sturdy craft plunged through the corrugated waters. The monstrous storm belled out in a huge cone of clouds, and their boat seemed to be going down an immense drain.
Another sinking craft caught Bill's eye. It appeared to be a medium-sized cabin cruiser. Apparently, a cannon ball had smashed its nose, and the ship had settled to its railings. The Shore Seekers could see fishing equipment and video cameras in the rear section.
"Looks like somebody was video-taping their fishing trip," Tom assumed.
"Say, that's right!" Jim Piper remembered, snapping his fingers. "It was in the papers that Funk White, the "Sudden" Sportsman, was going to be out here filming a piece for his show. He was supposed to be out here trout fishing with "Scratchy" Tawes, from channel 17."
"The pirates must have got them, too," Bill stated. "The ship is deserted. We better keep moving."
Tom kept up his pursuit, and the storm soon engulfed them. The waves seemed to calm, and the air seemed thick and strangely charged as they cruised further into the tunnel-like break in the clouds. Suddenly, as if a switch had been thrown, daylight streamed down, and the clouds seemed to fall away behind them. Ahead, easily visible against the horizon, was the pirate ship.
"We've got to get some help," Maynard pleaded. "Call the Marine Police, Tom."
Nodding, Tom picked up the mike from his radio and switched to the Marine Police station. After several attempts, he switched to other popular channels and tried to raise anybody. There was no reply, only crashes of static.
"No luck," Tom stated as he replaced the mike. "Looks like nobody's home."
"That's impossible," Maynard pointed out. "We can easily reach both sides of the bay."
"He's right," Randolph Sherman agreed. "How about AM-FM?"
Tom checked that, too, switching it on and rotating the dial on both bands. Nothing. Just static.
"One thing could explain it," Jim offered. "What if, just like in the `Final Countdown', we went back in time."
"Good Goomah!" Hoo-boy erupted. "How would we get back?"
Nobody had an answer. Their pursuit of the pirate ship was leading them to an island that seemed to grow and spread to cover the entire horizon. Pillars of smoke denoted habitation of the island.
"That must be Norfolk," Bill thought. "Maybe we can get the Navy to help."
"What navy?" Maynard snorted. "The British or the Spanish? Or maybe the Dutch or the French. If we did go back to the days of the pirates, we are way before there was any United States."
"Besides," Randolph added, "That's an island. There is no island on this side of the peninsula this far south. Not only have we been displaced in time, but we are also in some other part of the world."
"If all this science fiction is true," Tom broke in, then we need to take some measures to protect ourselves. "This boat, by virtue of the fact it's unique, would be something we could get killed over. After all, a boat that didn't need wind to get it around would be worth a fortune. So, we need to land in some remote spot and hide it. The next part concerns our weapons. We need to keep them hidden. A gun that can fire more than one bullet is unknown at this time. We also are going to need some money from this time period. Hoo-boy, we'll need to clean up those coins of yours. Gold and silver are the only thing they know here."
"So much for winning oldest coin this month," Hoo-boy griped. "Okay."
Bill observed the pirate ship sailing into a harbor town. After noting which dock it pulled into, Tom cruised around the island and found a narrow cove. With some effort, they pulled the Boston Whaler into a narrow defile and covered it with brush, hoping that it would remain undetected. They decided to pack their guns in their equipment bags, and Hoo-boy retained the magnificent cross, in case they needed more barter material. Scared at the prospect of travelling time, yet thrilled at the idea of seeing real pirates, the Shore Seekers left the defile and headed for the harbor town.
* * *
"You think anybody saw us cruising around?" Hoo-boy wondered as the party tramped along the dusty road to town.
"Well, it's possible," Tom conceded, " but I doubt if anybody understood what they were seeing. We probably looked as much like a curling wave as anything else."
"You think we'll attract any attention in our clothes?" Jim asked, pulling at his L. L. Bean shirt.
"People dressed in many styles," Maynard replied. "I doubt we'll attract too much attention. "I suppose the smart thing to do is to check out the local watering hole for information."
"That's sounds good," Randolph said. "My whistle is getting pretty dry. Which island are we on, I wonder?"
"Well, it's so dry, maybe it's the Dry Tortugas," Jim snorted.
They found the outskirts of town to be a rude collection of shacks made from rough-hewn timbers and hand-cut boards. Filthy creatures in rags wandered in and out of the shacks, and the Seekers assumed they were humans. The buildings improved as they moved inward, becoming structures of stone and mud-brick. There was a colonial air about the larger edifices, and inhabitants tended to dress better. The whole crowd looked like refugees from Treasure Island or Peter Pan, right down to the hooks and peglegs some people sported.
Tom accosted one of the more respectably costumed townsfolk.
"Where is the nearest tavern?" he asked.
The individual eyed him warily, stroking one of his heavily waxed mustaches.
"Ye have the look of strangers," the man commented. "Come to Port Royal on business, have ye?"
"We might be," Tom admitted cautiously. "Now, the tavern?"
"Two more streets, and right, toward the docks," the man pointed.
The party moved on, and soon found a sign swinging from a stout beam that proclaimed the Sea-Maiden Tavern. From within they heard boisterous laughter and some off-key music.
"Sounds like the in place here in - er Port Royal the fellow said?" Randolph observed.
"Port Royal is in Jamaica," Maynard explained. "We have come a very long way indeed. This is one of the biggest towns in the Carribbean, center of British power in the region. It was also a convenient port for pirates and privateers who raided the Spanish ships."
As he spoke, a fellow in black knee-length trousers and a loose shirt of unbleached cotton staggered out and fell into the street. Tom bent to turn the fellow face up.
"Is he dead?" Jim asked.
"Dead drunk," Tom answered. "Well, he seems happy, so we'll leave him here and see if he left anything to drink."
Inside, the tavern was wreathed in smoke, as noxious clouds curled upward from a wide assortment of pipes. Jim's eyes widened at a fabulous collection of antiques, worth a fortune in the modern world, but here part of everyday life. Perhaps thirty men occupied the tavern, which was a long room lit by small windows and the occasional candle. Women dressed in loose gowns with low-cut bodices served the tables, occasionally dodging a drunken grope.
The Shore Seekers sidled up to the bar. The tavern-keeper was a large individual with several missing teeth and a scraggly frill of beard.
"What'll ye have, gents?" he rumbled.
"Do you carry Coors Light on draft?" Jim asked, and was immediately elbowed by Maynard.
"Idiot!" he hissed. "There is no such thing as Coors Light, and certainly nothing on draft. Tap, yes. Draft, no." he turned to the bartender, who was studying them with confusion. "Perhaps you have some gin, my good man?" He gave Jim a sly look. "Gin is a universal drink, like rum. I can drink gin like a fish."
"Rum sounds better," Jim said. "I'll have a shot of that."
"Ale, I think, might be safer," Tom decided. "I'll have one of those."
"Sounds good," Hoo-boy, Bill, and Randolph agreed.
The bartender put out two small glasses and four wooden mugs. He drew off the ale from a large barrel behind him, and then found two dark bottles under the bar to fill the two glasses.
"Penny apiece for the lot," the bartender reminded.
"Can't we run a tab?" Jim demanded.
"No credit, if that's your meaning," the man explained. "You might get a sword stuck in you before you pay."
Tom produced one of Hoo-boy's silver pieces and flung it to the bar. The bartender bit it and when he found it good, produced a copper piece from beneath his apron and flipped it at Tom. Tom examined it with interest.
"A Charles II pence," he proclaimed. "In very fine condition. This would fetch a high price at home. Well, we know that we're in the late 1600's."
"The era of Morgan," Maynard pointed out. "Well, let us drink up." He raised his glass and drained it in a flash. Suddenly, a strange look came over his face and his cheeks became cherry red. His eyes looked as if they would start from their sockets and he coughed heavily.
"Gin's your drink, eh?" Jim snickered. "This gin I think is a bit different from that stuff back home." With that, he drank his rum, pausing only to wheeze heavily. "Now, that's a drink. Must be over one hundred proof."
The rest took their time quaffing their ale, which they found warm and bitter, but drinkable. Tom addressed the keeper.
"What news, fellow?" he asked.
"Well, there was a sight this morning, or a strange storm, but it passed off to the east. Then, several people saw a strange white shape in the waves, but most thought it a whale, and not a sea-serpent."
"What about ships arriving?" Tom continued.
"Ah, well," here the keeper bent low in a conspiratorial tone. "There was a ship which made port, and it contained many strange devices. I bought a couple myself. Look at this thing."
From under the bar he produced an egg-timer.
"I twist this knob, and by thunder, it makes this ticking noise," the keeper explained. "When it reaches the top, it rings a chime. Truly, it is a marvel."
"Truly," Bill agreed. "You can make sure an egg never gets too hard."
"Why that's a fine use for it," the bartender barked. "Well, that's just a small item. There was much more booty, and prisoners, including a beautiful foreign woman."
"Who was this pirate?" Tom asked quietly.
"Oh, 'twas "Black" Dick Haynes," the keeper revealed.
"And where might we find this "Black" Dick, so as to buy some of these items?" Tom queried.
"Right behind you, stranger," came a menacing tone from their backs.
* * *
"Well, "Black" Dick, it's nice to meet you," Tom greeted, whirling around to shake the man's hand. His other hand made sure that one of his Desert Eagle .45's was ready to be drawn from its concealment behind his windbreaker.
The individual known as "Black" Dick Haynes was huge, nearly six and one half feet tall, and half as broad. His face was dark and sported a long eagle-beak nose that appeared to have been smashed and badly re-set some time in the past. beneath that jutting probocis were two huge black drooping mustaches, and greasy black hair fell down in shining ringlets from beneath his battered tricorner hat.
His costume was equally bizarre. Huge scarred hands bloomed from the soiled lace cuffs of a long sky-blue coat that was embroidered with gold facings and froggings. Beneath the coat was sweat-stained white shirt with a cascade of ripped lace down its front. Black half-breeches met torn white stockings below the knees, and these disappeared into scuffed black shoes with brass buckles. Shoved into a wide sash around Haynes' considerable waist were two flintlock pistols, a dagger, and a murderous-looking cutlass that was as wide as the span of Jim's hand.
Tom's proffered hand was enveloped in a grip of steel.
"Bah! a landlubber!" Haynes spat, revealing a mouth missing several teeth. "What d'ye want?"
"We might be interested in some of your newly acquired items," Tom allowed.
"How did you hear that I had such items, me bein' an honest sailor and such?" "Black" Dick demanded, hand inching toward one of his pistols.
"The bartender was helpful in that regard," Tom admitted. "Can we talk?"
The burly pirate shot his frilly cuff to reveal a fine Rolex Submariner which he squinted at with beady black eyes. "My time is short. What would ye be interested in? I have some nice clothing, and more of these time pieces. I also might have some nice cooking utensils and leather goods."
"We're more interested in some prisoners you might have taken," Tom stated, his other hand ready to reach for his other pistol. The rest of the Shore Seekers checked to make sure their weapons were handy.
"D'ye mean the two old men?" Haynes queried.
"Them, and the woman, too," Tom said evenly.
"I'd sell ye the two men for a gold escudo apiece, but ye'll not get the woman," he snarled. "She's beautiful and a princess, to boot. I'll either have her or a fat ransom."
"Well, we want all three," Tom countered. "Show him our money, Hoo-boy."
Reluctantly, Hoo-boy produced their silver, which Haynes regarded with disdain.
"Not enough by half," he growled. "Well, you pikers have wasted enough of my time. I owe Princess Yasmela some time. Har! Har! Har!"
"You big bag of wind," Maynard griped, apparently bolstered by his gin. "I'll stand you for your strongest drink. If I stay on my feet, and you don't I get the girl. If we both stand, we get the old men."
"Done!" Haynes roared, slapping his hand on the bar. "Innkeeper, pour us some Old Panther!"
The inkeeper eyed them dubiously, as did the Shore Seekers save for Maynard. "Are ye sure, Dick? `Tis powerful stuff, and these be landlubbers."
"He asked for it, Devil bite him! Pour, curse ye, or I'll break your head!"
The inkeeper went to a cabinet behind him and opened it, bringing out a bottle of dark green glass with a yellowed label that announced the bottle's contents as indeed being Old Panther. When the inkeeper uncorked the bottle, Randolph fancied her could actually hear a panther roar from with in. Using the two glasses already on the bar, the inkeeper filled them with a noxious brown liquid that bubbled and oozed like tar.
Haynes lifted his glass. "Drink up, then, lubber!"
Maynard bravely lifted his glass and the two simultaneously drained them, then tossed the glasses into the fireplace where they exploded in orange balls of fire. Maynard looked at Haynes, and Haynes looked at Maynard. Both of them shook their heads and gripped the bar for support, but by some miracle, they both maintained their feet.
"Well enough," Haynes gasped, drool trickling from one corner of his mouth. "Ye get the old men."
"I want the girl," Maynard snapped, eyes glowing red.
"Go to blazes," Haynes seethed. "She's mine!"
Maynard, to the suprise of the rest, punched "Black" Dick in the jaw. Haynes shook his head.
"Ye'll have to do better than that," he chuckled, and, with a vicious uppercut, lifted Maynard off his feet and over the bar, where he landed in a heap.
"Gooo," was all he could say.
"You can't do that to Maynard!" Hoo-boy yelled. "You will give us the female now, or we'll give you a preview of Mortal Kombat -- the Movie."
"I'll drill ye first," Haynes growled, drawing a flintlock and aiming it at Hoo-boy's chest.
Before he could pull back the hammer, the barmaid, a buxom lass with blue eyes and honey-colored hair, intervened between the two.
"Please don't shoot him!" she implored.
"Eh?" Haynes blinked drunkenly. "Why not?"
"Well, he's -- er -- cute," she admitted.
"Bah!" Dick Haynes snorted, replacing his pistol. "A pox on the lot of ye. I'll send ye the two men here within the hour, and by all that's unholy, I don't want to see any man-jack of ye again, or I'll keelhaul the lot of ye." With that, he staggered out the door.
"What a monster!" Bill Curtain exclaimed, putting his mini-Tanto knife back up his sleeve. "He's warned us off. What do we do?"
"Ignore him," Tom decided.
Treasure Tom looked about the tavern, then picked a corner table. Jim and Randolph gathered up Maynard and propped him up against one wall. He was far removed into dreamland, and Tom hoped that his injuries were not serious. The barmaid immediately sidled up to Hoo-boy's seat.
"Is there anything you gents would like?" she asked, blue eyes staring dreamily at Hoo-boy's. "Anything at all?"
"Good Goomah!" Hoo-boy started. "Er, how about a milkshake?"
"I dinna ken that the bartender knows how to mix that brew," the girl admitted. "Perhaps another mug of ale?"
"Sounds good," Tom agreed. "A round for us all."
As the girl bounced away, Jim kicked Hoo-boy under the table. "You idiot! The girl's got eyes for you."
"Huh?" Hoo-boy blinked.
"She likes you, though I can't figure out why. Play up to her. She's cute."
"Not only that," Tom pointed out, "but she may be a valuable source of information. It's obvious she is no friend of "Black" Dick's or she wouldn't have stood up to him. I say, Hoo-boy, that you cultivate her."
"Gawrsh," Hoo-boy gulped. "I don't know much about agriculture."
"Just be nice to her," Randolph offered. "Act like you think she's the greatest thing since Spectrum XLt's."
The girl soon returned with their mugs. As she sat Hoo-boy's before him, she made sure that generous portions of her anatomy came into contact with him.
"Would you gents be having any food?" she inquired. "If so, I must hurry, for I get off soon." With that, she inclined her head toward Hoo-boy and smiled.
"Some food would be fine," Tom decided. "Bread, meat and cheese, if you have it. Perhaps a pail of water for our stupefied friend."
She bustled away to gather those items, returning with a large tray piled high with sliced beef, a wheel of cheese, and a domed loaf of bread. Placing that before them, she went and came back lugging a wooden bucket that sloshed with water. Jim and Randolph dragged Maynard to the street, while Tom carried the pail behind them. Once there, they leaned Maynard against a post and Tom emptied the bucket over his head.
Sputtering, Maynard came awake, water arcing away as he shook his head in shock. His eyes snapped open, red rimmed and bloodshot.
"Who blindsided me?" he snarled, teeth grinding. "I was ambushed! There must have been ten of them."
"Sorry," Jim told him. "It was just one drunk pirate. Now, come back in to dry off and eat some roast beef."
"A hot roast beef sandwich with gravy and fries?" he asked. "My favorite! Are we back at the Nanticoke Inn?"
"Not yet, but I wish we were," Jim admitted. "Let's go."
When they went back in, they were shocked to see the barmaid sitting in Hoo-boy's lap. She was running her fingers through his dark hair and he was beaming.
"Well, it looks like nature took its course," Randolph observed.
"At least he's got something to smile about," Maynard noted.
They resumed their seats and fell upon their food, eating with gusto. The remaining time passed, and soon a shadow fell upon the door of the tavern and in came two gaily dressed pirates, bearing between them two middle-aged men in sporting clothes.
"Here be the two prisoners," said one, who looked like a rat in human form. "They be yours, with "Black" Dick's compliments."
One of their prisoners was an older man with a white crewcut and thick glasses, while the other was a middle-aged gentleman with brown hair and a salt-and-pepper beard. They appeared tired, but otherwise none the worse for wear.
"Why, it's "Scratchy" Tawes and Funk White, the "Sudden" Sportsman," Jim recognized. "Where's your fish, boys?"
The man with the beard spoke up. "We were taping a segment on trout fishing in the bay for my TV show when this pirate ship came up a put a cannonball through my bow. Then, they grabbed up all our fish, my cooler full of beer and bait, and my best fishing rods. They kept us in irons until they unchained us and brought us here."
Tom quickly brought them up to date on events. The two were startled to learn that they were some three hundred years in the past. Tom led them to their table, and they fed like starving men on left over bread and cheese.
"Now, we've got to figure out what to do next," Tom said, after another round of ale. "The handful of us need to rescue a princess from a whole shipful of cutthroat pirates. Anybody got any ideas?"
"How about calling Dial-a-Prayer?" Maynard snorted.
"Be serious," Jim admonished.
"I am serious," Maynard snorted. "We don't have a chance against that bunch."
"What we need is a secret weapon," Randolph stated. "Something that can overcome their numbers."
"Well," murmured the barmaid as she snuggled against Hoo-boy, "maybe I have just the thing ye need."
"Okay," Tom agreed. "What do you have that will render a whole shipfull of pirates harmless?"
"Well, how about a barrel of rum and some tavern wenches?" she suggested.
The boys looked at each other. "Works for me," Jim admitted. "Nothing more useless than a bunch of drunks. With them partying, I guess we can sneak up on them."
"Right," Tom decided. "We'll get the boat and move by night so nobody will see us. We can cut the motor and drift toward the pirate ship. Can you take us to the docks and show us Haynes' pirate ship, Miss, er --"
"Lizzy," revealed the barmaid. "The menfolk call me Big Liz, but I don't know why. I'm barely five feet tall."
"Probably your big - er - smile," Jim considered. "Well, time's a wasting. I'd like to get this over with so we can figure out how to get home. After all, we left a lot of treasure back there."
The all agreed, and accompanied Lizzy down to the docks, where Haynes' pirate lugger was tied up. They all remembered its shape from their encounter earlier.
"Give Lizzy the rest of your money to buy the rum and pay her friends," Tom told Hoo-boy. "Then give her a kiss and we'll get going."
"Awwww," Hoo-boy blushed until his face nearly glowed in the dark. He handed her his remaining silver, then made everybody turn their backs before he kissed Lizzy. Without further incident, the Shore Seekers made their way back to the secluded cove where their boat was hidden. By then, it was well after dark, and it took them nearly an hour to sail around the island to the Port Royal docks.
As soon as they cut their motor, the sound of laughing and singing drifted across the water. A squealing concertina accompanied the boisterous partying, convincing the boys that the pirate crew were fully involved. By the dim moonlight, figures could be made out dancing and cavorting on deck. Using their detectors as paddles, the Seekers urged their boat forward and they dropped anchor under an open gunport. Tom delegated Maynard to watch the boat, and the rest, including Funk White and "Scratchy" Tawes, clambered through the gunport and below decks of Dick Haynes' pirate ship.
Using his mini Mag-lite, Bill Curtain led the way past massive bronze cannon. "Scratchy" Tawes went over to a pile of material and produced a fishing rod.
"They won't get my best Ugly Stik and Mann's Jelly Worm!" he vowed.
Nobody challenged them, so the boys assumed all the pirates were on deck getting bombed out of their skulls. At the rear of the ship was a set of steps leading downward to a barred cabin in the hold. This time, however, a guard was present, but his slumped figure and fluttering lips showed that he was asleep at his post. Still, his position halfway down the steps presented an obstacle.
"He's got a set of keys," Tom pointed to a brass ring at the pirate's hip. "We've got to get them without him making a sound."
"Allow me," offered "Scratchy" Tawes.
With a skill born of years of casting rods, he expertly sent his barbed lure out until its hook snagged the key ring where it sat on the pirate's lap. With another flip, the ring came up and was soon in "Scratchy"'s hand. As a precaution, the boys drew their weapons and quietly stepped over the sleeping pirate. Tom used the keys to unlock the cabin door at the bottom of the steps. As he did so, he whispered: "We've come to free you, Princess."
Then, he threw open the door, and Bill brought up the mini Mag-lite.
Inside was the Princess, her blonde hair disheveled, and her once luxurious dress in tatters. However, also within, was "Black" Dick Haynes, with a huge flintlock pistol in each hand.
"Say hello to Satan fer me, ye cursed swabs!" he snarled.
Then, both pistols discharged like twin thunderclaps!
Bill and Tom dodged aside as soon as they saw the pistols, so the balls passed by them to strike the sleeping pirate at the foot of the stairs. He raised up and gave an agonizing screech, then fell back dead. Bill and Tom wasted no time, and smashed Haynes in the face with two solid rights. Haynes dropped both pistols and slumped to floor stunned. Meanwhile, Jim and Maynard crept back and checked belowdecks. Jim found the bathroom and locked all the stalls.
Tom and Bill dragged the unconscious pirate captain up the stairs and placed him at the foot of the steps leading out of the hold. From above, they could hear that the music had stopped.
"Prop up Haynes!" Tom barked. Funk White and "Scratchy" Tawes ran fishing rods up the back of Haynes' jacket to stiffen him, then along with Jim and Randolph, hefted the beefy pirate aloft and began to shove him toward the hatch. Bill used the business end of his Franchi SPAS shotgun to nudge the hatch open. Tom drew both Desert Eagles and they waited.
"By Gar!" came a drunken voice. "It's `Black' Dick!"
"Avast!" snarled Tom in an imitation of Haynes voice. "Make way. The swabs have surrendered."
The pirates fell back, and the Shore Seekers sent him upward. When they had spilled onto deck, they saw that the pirates had formed a crowd near the gangplank leading to the dock. At a signal from Tom, the boys shoved Haynes into their midst, following the hurtling pirate with a powerful football rush. Since football hadn't been invented, the pirates were at a disadvantage, and the Seekers bowled them over like tenpins.
Fists flew, and any pirate caught off his guard was either knocked out or thrown overboard. A group tried to rally at the forecastle, but a fusillade from Randolph's artillery Luger on full automatic laid them low. Soon, the decks were clear. Even Haynes had been tossed into the drink. Tom surveyed the scene.
"We've got to make sure they don't come after us," he told the boys. "We'll use the Boston Whaler to drag the ship out into the open sea, then we'll sail off with her."
"Sail off where?" Maynard demanded. "We don't belong in this time. Where will we go?"
"This place is full of pirates and rival countries fighting for control of the region," Randolph pointed out, snapping on another drum to his Luger. "Why don't we go to Jamestown and offer our services to the local government. Better yet, we can go home. After all, the Eastern Shore should be settled by now. We can settle down there and probably be pretty well off. After all, we can change history if we want."
"What will happen if we do?" Maynard wondered. "We could alter the circumstances of our births. What if that causes us not to exist?"
"Oh, just shut the heck up!" Jim snapped. "We're stuck here, so why don't we do like Randolph suggests and sail home. The treasure on this ship will be enough to set us up."
"Sounds good," Tom agreed. "Let's do it."
"What about the girls?" Hoo-boy asked. Big Liz had sidled up to him, and she did not look like she wanted be parted from Hoo-boy any time soon.
"Any that want to come along, can," Tom offered. "I'm sure they would be better off in Maryland than in this rat-hole. Besides, we can use the extra help."
So it was, that Tom and Bill used the powerful motor on the Boston Whaler to tow the pirate ship out to open waters while the rest rigged the ship for sailing. Some of the pirates tried to interfere, but a few well-placed shots discouraged them. The trip around Florida was fraught with danger, and many was the time that a sail on the horizon would cause the Seekers to take shelter in a nearby cove, or to rig full sails and escape.
During this time, Tom and the Princess became acquainted, and it appeared that their relationship developed rapidly. After passing up into the Carolinas, the sailing became safer, with less passing ships. It was not long before the Virginia Capes were sighted, and Tom expertly guided the ships past the shoals and islands that would one day contain the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.
All the crew rejoiced, with much hugging and raising of glasses, but there was a shout from Hoo-boy who was in the crows-nest. He pointed south.
"Sail ho!" he called.
Tom raised the Bushnell binoculars to his face and watched as the mystery ship began to overtake them. When he dropped them onto his chest where they hung by their strap, his face was grim.
"She's flying the Jolly Roger," he stated. "Not only that, but I thought one of its crew looked like `Black' Dick Haynes!"
"Well, it's not impossible, since he had a full crew and we didn't," Bill reasoned. "I guess we'd better get ready for a fight."
"We can't fight a whole ship full of pirates," Maynard argued. "They can stay below decks and sink us with cannon shells. We can't maneuver fast enough."
"No," Tom agreed. "We can't. However, we do have something that can. We've got the Whaler."
"What are you going to do, pile in that open boat and shoot it out with Haynes?" Maynard sneered. "We wouldn't stand a chance."
"Not doing it that way," Tom conceded. "We can't out shoot Haynes, but we might be able to out pitch him."
"I don't get it," Jim stated.
"You won't," Tom advised. "Haynes will. Put the Whaler down. Bill, you and Randolph go below and bring up a small keg of powder and a fuse. Hoo-boy, you and Maynard will stay on board with the girls and try to make for Cape Charles. Maybe you can run this ship aground before Haynes catches up with you. That is, if we don't succeed."
The Boston Whaler was lowered into the choppy waters while Bill and Randolph produced a keg of powder and a long fuse. They loaded this on the Whaler, and with Tom and Jim, set off, guns ready. Once away from their ship, Tom opened the Whaler up to full speed. Haynes' ship was beginning to come into range, and it was maneuvering to fire its cannons. Jim became nervous as he saw the wicked snouts of the brass cannons poking from their square ports.
Tom kept the speed up, all the while zigging and zagging as black smoke bloomed from the gun ports. Cannon balls made small geysers of water as they struck, but all the shots went wild. Musket fire crackled like dry sticks burning. This volley fell short, but Tom knew the next would not.
Wrenching the wheel, the came around the pirate ship's stern, and slid the Whaler beneath the row of gun ports. The angle was too steep for the musketeers to fire at them. From his utility vest, Tom produced a Zippo lighter and thumbed it into life.
"Put the fuse in the keg," he told Bill, who complied, stuffing the powder embedded paper into one end of the keg.
This done, Tom lit the fuse, and its acrid smell burned their nostrils as it began to burn.
"Hoist it into a gun port," Tom ordered.
Jim and Randolph hefted the keg up and shoved it into a gun port. Then, Tom yelled for everyone to duck and sent the Whaler away from the pirate ship as fast as he could. Bullets wanged about them as they fled. Suddenly, there was a dull boom. Everyone turned and saw the pirate ship's decks leaped skyward amid an orange ball of fire. Smoke became a black pillar as the ship began to settle into the water.
The boys cheered. Haynes would trouble them no more. Soon, the ship had disappeared from sight. Tom steered the Whaler until he had rendezvoused with Maynard and the girls. Securing the Whaler, they continued their cruise up the Chesapeake. Some hours later, they had sighted Tangier Island.
"This looks like as good a place as any to set up shop," Tom said. "The isolation of the island will allow us to get started before the locals get here. I can't imagine there being too many people living here. We ought to be able to establish ourselves easily without interfering with the course of history."
"I can't believe we're stuck here in the 1600's," Jim griped. "No TV, no computers."
"No taxes," Randolph pointed out. "At least, not yet. It could be worse. At least we have insect repellent, as long as it lasts."
They found a secluded grove on the south end of the island that Randolph told them would become the site of the Tangier Island Camp Meeting Ground, and ferried over the ladies, along with a supply of food and other useful items. Tom planned to use as much material as possible to make cabins for them all. There was a wealth of equipment on board the ship, and nobody would suffer. It was on their final trip that the boys noticed the storm cloud.
"That looks like the same storm that put us here," Bill observed.
Indeed, the swirling tunnel of purple black clouds did look identical. It swept over their abandoned pirate ship, causing it to capsize. Tom quickly decided his course of action. Without hesitation, he guided the Whaler straight into the heart of the storm. Its vast interior swallowed them completely, and soon they had passed through, to be greeted by a sunny scene on the other side. Close by them was the wreckage of "Scratchy" Tawes' yacht.
"We're home!" Maynard cheered. "You did it, Tom!"
"Not only that, but we've got some treasure," Jim added.
Only Hoo-boy appeared to be gloomy. After docking at Tangier to refuel, Tom approached the somber lad.
"Why so glum, chum?" he asked Hoo-boy.
"Well, I miss Liz," the gangling Shore Seeker admitted. "You see, she and I were gonna settle down and raise a family. She told me how she had been raised from poor trash, and how her dad was a crook who changed his name to Argent, after silver."
"Wait a minute!" Tom roared. "That's my name. You know, the family history does say that the first Argent in Maryland was from Tangier island. You mean to say that you, and her, you, uh, and that she is my great-great-great-or so-grandmother?"
"Could be," Hoo-boy stated, his mood brightening at the prospect. "You can just call me great-great-great-or so-grandpappy!"