Episode 374: The Big Sheep: Conclusion
If you've never been attacked by a flock of rabid sheep, I don't recommend
it. These ones were more rabid than most. They were foaming at the mouth
like some science experiment gone wrong and their eyes were so bloodshot
they almost glowed in the dark. Things didn't look good for my favorite
PI. I hefted my sap and was preparing to make a stand when the door behind
us swung open. A familiar voice shouted, "Duck!"
I pushed Murdock down and hit the floor next to him as a Tommy gun
hammered over our shoulders. When I looked up, the sheep were history.
I got to my feet, brushed off my fedora, and turned to face our rescuer.
She was short, spunky, and looked like an angel would look if angels
"Thanks, Sami," I told her. "Where'd you get the piece?"
"I took it off one of the guards," she said with a smirk. "Serves him
right for letting me knock him out."
"How'd you know where to find us?" I asked.
"I knew you'd get into trouble, so I followed when you left your office
and..." she started to reply. Then she spotted Murdock and her face lit up
like a neon sign. "Who's your friend?' she asked.
"This is Lieutenant Murdock of the Royal Navy Airship Service," I told
her, "Murdock, this is..."
"Hi," she interrupted, "my name's Sami Ho! I live right here in Pago Pago!
How long are you visiting? I'll be happy to show you around!"
Murdock didn't seem ready for this. Neither was I. With the climb up the
cliff and Sami making eyes at him, it was a while before the kid got a
chance to tell his tale. Seems he'd been heading back to the harbor with
Captain Everett and Jenkins when two dames showed up to warn him that some
Germans were about to attack. By the time he got this story straight, the
other two Brits had vanished around a corner. He went looking for them,
but then another bunch of goons tried to grab his new companions. When
Murdock stepped up to give the ladies a chance to escape, the goons
grabbed him instead
"Do you have any idea why they brought you here?" I asked him.
Murdock shook his head. "I asked the chap who seemed to be in charge
what this was all about, but he just replied with a sinister laugh,
accompanied by observations to the effect that 'I'd find out soon
enough', so I abandoned the queries as unprofitable."
"You learn to expect that sort of thing in American Samoa," I told him.
"We'll stop by my office to get my spare piece, then go looking for your
When we got back to my office, we found an unpleasant surprise. Captain
Willard, chief of Pago Pago's finest, was sitting with his feet on my desk,
working his way through a pack of Luckies. He stubbed out his butt as we
"It's about time you showed up, Straight," he snapped. "Where've you
I was glad Sami had sense to ditch the heater. That would have been tough
to explain. "Out for a walk on the beach," I snapped back. "What brings
you to this dump?"
"Your friend with the gunshot wound has vanished from the hospital," he
told me. "When the nurse looked in this afternoon, he was gone. You know
anything about this?"
I could recognize a leading question when I heard one. I figured I'd better
come up with an alibi, in case this one led in the wrong direction. "No," I
said "Sami and I were busy finding a missing person. Captain Willard, meet
Lieutenant Murdock, Royal Navy Airship Service."
That caught Willard by surprise. He looked Murdock up and down and scowled
as if he suspected a trick. "You expect me to believe this?" he asked.
"Sure," I said. "Why else would we be walking around with a British airship
officer? What's going on, Willard?"
The captain decided it was time to lay his cards on the table. "I'll tell
you," he said. "We've been trying to shut down a sulfur smuggling operation.
It hasn't been easy, `cos these guys are sharp operators who know how to
cover their tracks. A few days ago, we got a lead from someone using the
name `Madison' that Ted Doubleton was behind it. This Madison offered to
send us evidence so we'd know he was on the level.
"His go-between was the guy who showed up at your office. It's mighty
curious he got plugged right after you took a job from Doubleton. I'd
almost say it looks suspicious. Care to tell me what you were hired for?"
This seemed like a good time to show my cards as well. "Doubleton
didn't say anything about sulfur," I told Willard. "He claimed someone
was trying to blackmail his daughter and he wanted me to track the man
down. I believed him at the time, but now I wonder if he was hoping I'd
stumble across this Madison character. Any idea who the guy is?"
"It could be some old business partner with a grudge," said Willard.
"Unfortunately, that doesn't narrow it down. I've looked into Doubleton's
history, and he seems to think that stiffing his investors is part of the
I nodded. That matched what I'd heard about Doubleton's character.
"I'll keep my eyes open," I told him. "Now give me back my chair."
After Willard left, I opened the wall safe to get my spare piece.
Inside, I found a message from Jenkins. I was impressed -- he must have
been a darn good operator to crack that lock. It said that he and Everett
were heading to Aunu'u to `pursue their inquiries', whatever those were.
"What is it, Mister Straight?" asked Murdock.
I touched a match to the note and dropped it in the ashtray. "Looks like
we're going on a boat ride," I told him.
Aunu'u was a conveniently-located islet, a few miles south of Tutuila,
where the Volstead Act wasn't taken as seriously as it was in the rest of
American Samoa. A regular ferry service ran there from Pago Pago for people
who wanted something stronger than they could find in the local bars.
Three more customers were just a drop in the bucket, and no one paid any
attention to Sami, Murdock, and yours truly as we rode across the bay.
"We'll split up to look for our Brits," I announced when we stepped ashore.
"Sami, you search the harbor for their launch while Murdock and I check the
Sami didn't seem happy with this plan. "Why can't I take Murdock to the
station while you search the harbor?" she asked.
I wanted to say it was so she wouldn't make a spectacle of herself, but I
caught myself in time. "You'd attract too much attention," I told her. She
was still glaring when Murdock and I headed into town.
Aunu'u's air station was busy as always. It gets mighty thirsty here in
the islands. The visiting ships ranged from small island blimps to a cruise
liner whose passengers must have wanted a bit more excitement than they
could get on Tutuila. At the hydrogen plant, we found Captain Everett and
Jenkins leafing through some records, trying to make sense of the names.
"Good day, Mister Straight," the captain said when he saw me. "I see you
found our missing lieutenant."
"Yeah," I grumbled. "But that's all I found, if you don't count that
business with the radio operator."
The two Brits looked at each other like I'd just found their missing keys
underneath a sofa cushion. "A radio operator," Jenkins said in a flat
"An acquaintance of mine," I explained. "Some frail slipped him a mickey
so she could make a copy of his codebook. You learn to expect that sort
of thing in American Samoa."
"Do you have any idea who this lady was working for?" asked Everett.
"No," I told him. "Was that important?"
Everett sighed. "We just spent two days trying to discover who leaked the
American naval codes, with singular lack of success. All we found was a
blackmail plot involving some heiress."
"An heiress," I muttered.
"Yes," said the captain. "Her name was Maybelle Doubleton, and it appears
she had an affair with a commercial airship captain who used to be her
Now it was my turn to sigh. It looked like we'd solved each other's cases
by accident. I hate it when that happens.
"We need to talk," I said.
We retired to a joint I knew -- Sunken Riley's Bar And Grill -- to
compare stories. This took some time, because the waitresses kept
interrupting us to offer Murdock drinks, but we kept at it until we were
"Let us review what we've discovered," Jenkins said when we finished.
"After the Doubletons moved to American Samoa, Maybelle Doubleton
had an affair with her sister Viola's husband, a White Star captain named
Ralph Pickman. When this became public, Pickman lost his job, and Mister
Doubleton paid him to leave the islands. Pickman used this remittance to
purchase a small commercial airship he named the Black Sheep.
"Sometime later, Mister Doubleton became involved in a sulphur smuggling
operation -- whether he ran it or was merely a customer scarcely matters,
but given the man's reputation, I suspect the former. Someone learned of
his connection and threatened to expose him. One imagines this was the
mysterious Madison. Doubleton hired Mister Straight to track his adversary
down, pretending this was a simple case of blackmail.
"Meanwhile, in an unrelated series of events, a German nationalist leader,
our old adversary the Fat Man, determined to hijack a visiting American air
cruiser. To accomplish this, he needed a copy of the American codes, so he
hired a local woman to drug one of the radio operators and steal them."
"It's a tight picture, " I said, "but it leaves us with some unanswered
questions. Who were the guys who grabbed your lieutenant, and why did they
take him to Shawnie's sheep ranch?"
Jenkins frowned. I could tell this bothered him too. "That does remain a
mystery," he admitted. "Mister Murdock, do you recall anything noteworthy
about your abductors?"
The kid thought the question over. This took him some time. "No," he
said at last. "But I believe that Miss Elana cried out something about
'the Frenchman's goons'."
My ears perked up. "Who was this Elana?" I asked.
"She was one of the woman who accosted me," Murdock replied. "Why do you
ask? Is the name important?"
"That could be the same babe who stole the codes. If she was working for
the Germans, this 'Frenchman' must be their enemy. Does the name ring any
"We're acquainted with the gentleman," Everett said dryly. "He's allied
with a group of Japanese nationalists who just happen to frequent the island
your sulphur comes from."
"It sounds like Doubleton's up to more than just smuggling," I mused. "I
wonder if this has anything to do with this `Ali Troop' Madison's messenger
mumbled about before he passed out. I'm guessing it's some military outfit."
Jenkins rubbed his chin. "Could the man have said 'allotrope'?"
"What's an allotrope?" I asked.
"Allotropes are different physical forms of the same element. These can
have very different properties -- one example is coal, graphite, and diamond,
all of which are allotropes of carbon. Sulphur has more than thirty solid
allotropes. Most are crystalline, but there's also an amorphous form that
resembles crude rubber."
I put two and two together. "The so-called handballs Everett found!" I
exclaimed. "They were made from this amorphous stuff. That's how Doubleton
was smuggling the sulfur in. But wouldn't someone had noticed the smell?"
Everett smiled. "Under ordinary circumstances, this might well have been
the case, but the shipment was stored above open tanks of fertilizer.
Madison's man must have stolen a sample, converted it back to crystalline
form, and been taking this to his employer when he was ambushed. Do we
have any idea who this Madison might be?"
"It must be someone close to the Doubleton family," said Jenkins. "No one
else would have had the necessary information. The most obvious candidate
would be the disgraced Mister Pickman. He would most certainly have a
motive, and he also had the means and opportunity."
"We must get to the bottom of this," said Everett. "You may be in the best
position to make inquiries here on Aunu'u. We'll leave Mister Murdock with
you to serve as a liaison. Meanwhile, Jenkins and I will take to launch
back to Pago Pago and see what we can find there."
"Sounds good," I told him. "My fee's ten bucks a day plus expenses."
After Everett and Jenkins had gone, Murdock and I headed back to the docks
to look for Sami. I was sure she'd want a piece of the action. We met her
coming the other way with someone in tow. She grinned when she saw us.
"Hey, Straight!" she said. "Look who I found!"
I looked her companion over and did a double-take. It was the man from my
office, with his arm in a sling "You!" I cried. "You're working for
Madison. Why'd you come to me?"
"I needed a place to stash the sulfur, and I knew you wouldn't squeal," he
said. "You got a good reputation."
That's the problem with reputations. Doesn't matter if they're good or
bad -- either kind can get you into trouble. "Thanks," I grumbled. "What
are you doing on Aunu'u?"
"I'm here looking for my boss," he said. "She's leaving on some airship
called the Black Sheep."
"`She'?" I said.
"`Black Sheep'?" said Murdock.
"Yes," said the man. "Is there a problem?"
"This 'Madison' wouldn't happen to be a hard-looking woman in her
thirties who acts like she's used to getting her own way."
The man grimaced. "I take it you know the lady."
"Yes," I said. "And she's played us all for saps. Sami, Murdock, we have
to get to that air station, fast!"
We reached the station as one of the ships was preparing to lift. She was
a Parsival semi-rigid, half a million cubic feet, with two Maybach diesels.
The name Black Sheep was painted on the control car. We sprinted
across the field and vaulted aboard just as the handlers released the lines.
Our weight made the ship sink back toward the ground.
Mister Doubleton was sitting in back of the car, next to Maybelle and
someone I guessed was Pickman. He frowned when he saw me. "What are you
doing here?" he demanded.
"Stop her!" I cried, pointing at Viola, who was standing next to the ballast
board. I was too late. Before anyone could move, she'd yanked on a toggle
to drop more ballast. As the ship started climbing again, she reached into
her handbag and pulled out a neat little 32. I glanced at the crew, but just
as I'd feared, they were looking at the lady for orders.
"So," she said smugly. "You figured it out."
"You were the blackmailer," I said. "You knew your father was smuggling
sulfur and planned to spill the beans to Willard. Why? Don't tell me it
was because of your respect for the law."
Her smile was harder than crystalline boron. "Haven't you guessed?" she
replied. "I wanted revenge. My father needed a pilot to get his operation
started -- someone he could control. He ordered my sister to seduce my
husband so he'd lose his job, then offered him this ship to do his dirty
work. Daddy and May ruined my life, and Ralph didn't have the guts to stand
up to them. Now it's payback time."
I glanced at the gun, but the lady held it like she knew how to use it.
Even if she hadn't, the crew were on her side, and outnumbered us three to
one. They started the engines and set a course west, toward the setting
sun. It was a pretty sunset. I wondered if I'd live to see another one.
"What are you going to do with us?" I asked, playing for time.
"I haven't decided yet," said Viola. "We might take you to the Banks
Islands and give you to our Japanese friends, or we might just shoot you
and toss you overboard. Which would you prefer?"
"The Japanese are my business partners!" sputtered Doubleton. "They'd
never let me down."
Viola smiled. "I offered them a better deal." she said sweetly.
"Development rights for all your properties on Tutuila. We're going to
make American Samoa great again."
"We're standing under half a million cubic feet of hydrogen," I warned
her. "If you pull that trigger, the whole ship could go up."
Her smile broadened.
"We'll take our chances," she replied. "You have no chance at all."
I started laughing. I couldn't help myself. The scene was just too
"What are you laughing about?" she snapped.
"Look behind you," I told her.
She scowled. "I'm not falling for that trick," she announced. "You must
think I'm some kind of..."
"Uh... Viola..." said the helmsman. "You might want to do what he says."
She glanced over her shoulder, then sagged in defeat You'd sag too, if you
thought you'd gotten away scot-free, then turned to see a three and half
million cubic foot cruiser with the words, Flying Cloud, R-505, on a
parallel course, less than half a mile away.
"Where'd they come from?" asked Sami.
"Well, Captain Everett did say that he and Jenkins were going to Pago Pago
to see what they could find," I told her. "I guess they found a radio,
called for their ship, and came back to look for us. I'm not about to
"What happens now?" asked Murdock.
"I guess there will be some hearings, and some folks will end up in stir.
I'll let Willard figure that out. As for us..." I did a quick
calculation, then smiled. "... Sami and I just earned forty bucks!"
Next week: Follow the Leader...
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