Authors: L. Ron Hubbard
Tags: #Education & Reference, #Words; Language & Grammar, #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Sea Adventures, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Hard-Boiled, #Thrillers, #Men's Adventure, #Thriller, #sea adventure
“How long has it been since you saw them?”
“I’ll take care of this,” said Lars. “Do me a favor, Ralph, and don’t say a word to anybody about this.”
“Sure, but . . .”
“Our lives may depend upon your silence.”
This statement sent Ralph back off the bridge, gaping and blinking. It sounded harsh and real, as though something was going to happen very shortly.
But nothing happened for the rest of the watch or during the eight-to-midnight. And then Paco stepped out of his cabin with a swift glance about him.
Far down the moonlit deck, Lars was standing in the shadow of a lifeboat. He had been there for three hours, certain that Paco would come forth sooner or later. And now that Paco had appeared, Lars knew there was something wrong.
Paco walked down the deck, passing from shadow to shadow, away from Lars, continually on the watch.
No one appeared to block Paco’s furtive way. Lars waited until Paco had rounded a bulkhead and then started forward with swift stride to overtake him.
When Lars reached the corner, Paco had vanished into the emptiness of the forward well. But a companionway was open, the only possible place Paco could have gone in so short a space of time.
Lars reached the top and started down, silently and carefully. The blackness of the hold engulfed him. Those coffins were down here.
The place was not large as it was needed only for ship’s stores. But again Paco had vanished.
Lars slid behind a tall pile of
and crouched there, listening. At first he could hear nothing except the ordinary ship sounds, but at last he could sort out the pulsating engines and the waves and the familiar creaks and groans of a moving vessel. There was another sound here in this hemp and tar laden interior. The buzz of whispering voices!
Quickly, Lars crept closer. He could see a yellow aura of light as he approached. A lantern was masked by a barricade of
An inch at a time, Lars crept up the incline of stacked boxes until he could peer over the upper rim and down.
Four coffins, side by side, were open.
Four bearded men and Paco were crouched about the lantern. The rays of the uncertain yellow flame made the faces of those below hollow and wolfish.
Lars studied them intently as he listened.
“You’re armed now,” said Paco in prison French. “Stop being nervous.”
“We’re not nervous,” said a gaunt devil with hypnotic eyes. “We’re restless, that’s all.”
“Play it right,” said Paco, “and we’ll have this ship in our control before dawn. You sure Flaubert will meet us off the Straits?”
“Certainly,” grunted another.
“He’d better have my francs with him,” threatened Paco.
“He’ll have them. But why worry about francs when we’ve got a setup like this?” growled a third. “I don’t see why we can’t pull the trick in Lisbon. . . .”
“And let her get a chance to find out I’m nobody?” scoffed Paco. “No, my friends. I collect my pay for releasing you and then we go partners on what we can get out of this ship.”
“She ought to be worth plenty,” said the man with hypnotic eyes. “The Norton woman, I mean.”
“I’m not worried about what she’ll bring in cash,” said Paco. “I was hoping I could find a way to play this thing through with her but she’d get next to me and they’d trace me. I won’t run that chance.”
“What about Lars?” said a burly, shaggy-haired giant who had not spoken before. “Are you sure of him?”
“You know about him,” said Paco.
“Sure,” said the thin one, “too good for the rest of us. I was hoping we wouldn’t have to trust him. Flaubert is as good as Lars Marlin with a sextant. Look, Paco. Have we got all the guns aboard?”
“Lars has a rack full. I sweet-talked Terry into getting them away.” Paco laughed as silently as he could. “She thinks he’s a pretty desperate character. But he’s stuck so close to the bridge we wouldn’t chance it before. Johnson is supposed to get the guns and deliver them to Terry as soon as he can. He’s got another set of keys.”
“Then when do we act?” said the man with the wild stare. “I’m sick of this damned hold.”
“I’ll give you the signal. We’ll be off the Straits soon enough and we can run her somehow until Flaubert boards us.”
Lars had drawn his .38. He weighed his chances of getting them all and found his chances very bad. Perhaps he could get one, even two, but by that time the others, guns at their sides, would have fired. If he could get to the bridge before they took his guns and if he could arm the crew . . .
He knew these men. Knew them as the hardest-bitten lot of the Colony. Jean Patou was the fellow with the strange eyes—a jewel thief who had amassed a fortune before he was sent down under. Auberville was the wasted one, a man with two French and four Colony murders to his discredit. The big shaggy man was Tallien, a brooding, vicious devil, who could crack a man’s spine with his two hands—and had. The last was obese Renoir, a man of small caste in the Colony but of great importance to France. Renoir had been a politician in his time and his records were many. People wanted to be sure that Renoir’s records were never opened.
Four million francs had been a small price for the release of these from French Guiana!
Lars knew that his debt was to Terry Norton. In spite of the pleasure drilling Paco would have given him, he was forced to forgo it. Of the whole company, Lars was the only man who stood a chance of blocking these men. To have asked them to hold up their hands would have been requesting that they shoot instantly.
The hold could not be blocked against exit.
Lars slid back down the incline of boxes. He had to keep his riot guns and after that . . .
Quickly he made his way out of the hold and up the ladder. He strode across the deck to the bridge and mounted swiftly.
Johnson, on watch, gave him a guilty glance as he passed. Lars, with sinking heart, swung into his cabin.
The racks were blank!
He whirled and entered the bridge again. Johnson was crouched back defensively but Lars wasted no talk on him. He went, instead, to the charting table and snatched up a pencil. With a hard, violent hand he flung a black line straight east of their course. He read the compass.
Back on the bridge, he grabbed the wheel from the startled helmsman. Then, in contrast to his stormy mood, he gently passed the spokes through his capable fingers. So gently did the
swing that only a slight change in the motion of the waves under her gave a clue to the fact that she had been shifted on her course.
Lars stepped back and shoved the helmsman to his post. “Hold on sixty-one until further orders.”
He turned. Johnson, seeing Lars did not blast him, had gained something of courage. “Look here, Captain. I’ve got orders . . .”
got orders,” said Lars. “Look here, mister, as long as I can walk I’m master of this vessel. See that he holds that course or you’ll answer for it at the first port we touch. Have you got that?”
Lars turned on his heel and clattered down the ladder to the main deck. As he had supposed, Aunt Agatha and Terry, Rosey and Alice, Kenneth and Ralph were all to be found in the salon despite the hour.
Lars entered and slammed the door behind him.
Startled by the noise and then his manner, Terry stared at him.
“Miss Norton,” said Lars. “You have had the guns removed from my cabin. You will please tell me immediately where I can find them. I know now why Paco—”
“Captain Lowenskold,” said Terry. “It would seem that your tone is rather harsh for a man in such precarious circumstances.”
“I am not interested in my circumstances. I am only concerned about yours. Miss Norton, unless I have full command of this situation, you will regret it.”
“I do not like your tone,” said Terry, standing. “If I saw fit to remove those weapons from your reach, that is what my judgment demanded.”
“You mean that is what Paco demanded,” said Lars bitterly. “Here and now, Miss Norton, I’ve got to tell you something which I haven’t told you before. I have been thinking of my own—”
“I am afraid I already know what you have to tell me, Captain. His Highness has apologized many times for recommending you but of course he could not have known that your past is not all it is supposed to be. His Highness received a letter which he did not open until we were at sea and then it was too late. He told me over a week ago—”
“He’s lying!” cried Lars. “You’re being made a fool of! Paco Corvino is no more His Highness than I am the Prince of Wales! He’s a murdering devil! He killed—”
“Go on,” purred Paco, behind Lars. “Make a fool of yourself, Lars.”
Lars whirled to meet Paco’s contemptuous smile—and the gun in Paco’s hand.
“I told you,” said Paco to Terry, “that Lars is sometimes unmanageable. I am sorry that this outbreak had to occur, ladies. It grieves me that it was my word which subjected you to this. If Johnson is at all competent to sail the
on into Lisbon, I think we would be safer if we placed poor Lars in a locked cabin and placed a guard over him.”
The others were on their feet, staring blankly at this sudden tableau. Rosey gazed with a sigh upon the bravery of the prince.
“Paco,” said Lars, carefully. “Tell them what you brought aboard in those coffins.”
Paco smiled. “My money, naturally. If Miss Norton would like, I could show her the contents either now or in the morning. I did not think it important.”
“Don’t be foolish,” said Terry. “We trust you, Your Highness.”
“Of course,” said Aunt Agatha with an indignant sniff.
“Tell them you’ve got Auberville and Patou and Renoir and Tallien down there. Tell them you’re about to seize this ship. Tell them you received four million francs for this deal.”
Paco laughed amusedly. He gave Terry a broad, humorous wink. “Of course, Lars. That is just what I have planned. Come now, old fellow, quiet yourself while we place you in safekeeping. This madness will pass, Miss Norton. I am desolated. If I had known—”
Lars made a lunge for Paco’s gun but Paco had read the intention in Lars’ eyes. Paco leaped agilely back and fired.
Lightning seared through Lars’ shoulder. He was turned by the bullet. Falling, he crashed into the bulkhead.
Paco stood with curling smoke about him, still smiling, apologizing to the ladies.
Sailors were coming from the deck. Four men took Lars in custody.
Lars tried to fight them off but they clung hard.
“Miss Norton!” shouted Lars. “You’ve got to believe me! Paco is going to attack before dawn! For God’s sake, arm the crew!”
“Terry,” said Paco, as they hustled Lars away, “if I had known this . . .” Paco was very sad.
To the Attack
brig was dimly lit by the blue bulb outside the bars in the corridor. Lars, sitting hunched on the bunk, was still too big for the place, dwarfing it to the size of a hatbox.
Ralph was nervously giving Lars’ arm medical attention. Ralph had read a great deal about first aid, but it was fortunate for Lars, just the same, that the bullet had passed straight through the flesh of his muscular shoulder. And Lars was watching impassively while Ralph sweated and felt green when he touched the sticky blood.
“You’ve got to do it,” said Lars.
“I . . . I can’t,” whispered Ralph, plastering down the adhesive tape. “Sis would murder me!”
“Paco is going to murder all of us. I’ve told you where you could find your rifles and ammunition and pistols. Why do you think Paco wants those? You’re a sensible fellow, Ralph. You know that I couldn’t do anything to this whole ship all by myself.”
“I don’t dare,” said Ralph.
“You call that a trial?”
“All right. It’s Paco’s word against mine. And it’s your life unless you get this straight here and now. I tell you they’re going to attack. You won’t need any more proof than that.”
“All right. The minute they strike, you be ready. You get those keys and swipe the riot guns up to the bridge. You take my revolver out of Terry’s keeping. And then, when they strike, you hot-foot it down here.”
“But how’ll we get to the bridge?”
“We go forward on this deck to the engine room. We go up through the
. You leave that to me. They won’t try to hit at the bridge because they don’t think anybody there is armed. And another thing. Keep watch by Miss Norton’s door. At dawn, tell her that I’m dying. Tell her anything. But get her down here so she’ll be on her way when Paco and the rest crack down. Understand?”