Judy Bolton Days

Judy Bolton Days
First annual in 1991!

Friday, January 27, 2012


 All chapters through chapter 10 are now available on this alternate site:

THE QUEST OF THE GOLDEN DRAGON https://sites.google.com/site/rickbrantfanfiction/dragon



“I just don’t get it,” Scotty complained as he and Rick hoofed it up Causarina Avenue back out in the heat of the sun and the busy Rabaul traffic.

“That Chinese man was just too informative,” he went on. “We just walked right in there and found out everything we wanted to know. It was way darn heck too easy! It just doesn’t set right with me.”

Rick punched him playfully on the arm. “Relax. We can’t be distrustful of all the Chinese people we run into.”

“Why not?” Scotty wanted to know. “They all act suspiciously, if you ask me. For all we know, that Mr. Wong could be a member of the tong!”

“Come on now,” Rick cajoled him. “They’re not all bad. You know that. Jimmy is part Chinese.”

Scotty glowered at him. “Right. From his grandfather. And he was the leader of the tong!”

“Don’t be so worried,” Rick warned. “As long as we’re on Dad’s trail, that’s all that matters. We’ll handle any complications as they come.”

Scotty snorted and forced a grin. “Yah, like we always do.”

They turned west on Papua Street and walked down toward the Chinatown area. The attractive government offices and commercial establishments gave way to more utilitarian-looking buildings as they approached the Oriental neighborhood, and the people in the street all but assumed the look of the Chinese.

There were few of the dark-skinned natives here. Most of those milling about were young men dressed fashionably in the white tropical suits, dark hair slicked back and eyes slanted. There were white men, from Europe, Australia, and America, rough-looking characters, unshaven, with holstered guns swagging their hips and brimmed pith helmets and fedoras shading their eyes. They busily moved about the sidewalks in front of the shops whose windows were filled with displays of goods from all over Asia and the islands. Rick couldn’t help but wonder where they were all going, what they were all doing.

“Those fellows must be the gold seekers and adventurers,” Scotty said, as if in answer to Rick’s thoughts. He chuckled. “They probably all come to Chinatown because the food is so good.”

“And the rates cheaper,” Rick added, pointing to a big wood frame hotel on the next corner. “Look, there’s Ho Wah’s Hotel. Big place, huh? I bet rooms there are cheaper than at the European Hotel.”

“And there’s Jimmy,” Scotty jerked his chin ahead. “He’s got a jeep. Sure looks like it’s been through a war.”

Rick began to laugh. “Right. The same one you went through.”

Scotty grunted. “But I don’t look that bad!”

Rick grinned at him. “If you’d had to carry around all the Japs that thing did, you’d look every bit as bad.”

The boys crossed the street in the din of the traffic, voices, clangs and whistles, and above it all the constant beating of the drums from up in the hills. They walked over to Jimmy who was leaning against the beat-up vehicle by the curb in front of the hotel.

“It’s a war relic,” their kanaka friend said, as if they’d had no idea it was. He stepped aside so they could view it better.

The vehicle was painted a drab military green, had no top or front windshield, and the seats were covered with worn upholstery that certainly would not be very comfortable sitting on while driving on bumpy mountain roads.

Jimmy handed Rick some bills and a receipt. He pointed across the street. “I got it at that garage, cheap. Doesn’t look like much but it drives good.  I just took it for a few minutes spin around town. We can drop it off at an associate garage in Storms End.”

“Looks great. Just so it gets us around,” Rick agreed, then went on to tell him what he and Scotty had learned at the European Hotel.

“Wow!” Jimmy’s eyes widened with excitement. “The madman of Coastwatchers Hill? A legendary old Chinese man? This sure sounds mysterious, fellas. I’ve always wanted to see those caves up there and I guess that’s where we’re bound, huh? Do you have any idea why your dad would want to find this crazy man, Rick?”

“Not any more than I knew why he wanted to find your grandmother.” Rick shrugged. “But we found out the reason for that, didn’t we? And I’m supposing we’ll find out the reason behind this, too.”

“It’s part of the mystery,” Scotty said. “Just like your Grandma Sal is, Jimmy. An old American lady on Lateela, now it’s an old Chinese man here at Rabaul. Could be someone she knew back then … when … she …”

Scotty words had faltered, then he clamped his mouth shut as their three sets of eyes locked together with anxious expressions. For a full half-minute they were speechless. Then, his voice strained and heavy, Jimmy blurted:
“No, it can’t be. He’s dead!”

Rick let out an excited breath. “Of course! I hadn’t thought of it. Johnny Fang! Your grandfather. What if it’s him?”

“But it can’t be, Rick,” Scotty interposed before Jimmy could answer. “He died on Palua Pae.”

“Did he?” Rick wondered aloud, his heart suddenly beginning to thump a tattoo in beat to the jungle drums up in the hills. “Jimmy, did Grandma Sal actually see Johnny Fang die?”

Jimmy was standing there with his mouth agape, and Rick and Scotty saw a shudder run through him. He drew in a deep breath. “Man, this is too weird to even think about! Grandma Sal saw him disappear. Like into thin air by the glaring light in the middle of that cavern. Gosh, fellas, do you think …?” 

He looked at Rick and Scotty with an agonizing wonder, adding, “Do you think maybe he didn’t die?”

“And somehow ended up here in those Japanese caves … a madman?” Rick concluded for him. “You bet I do, Jimmy. What other old Chinese man could it be, connected with your grandmother and the mystery of Palua Pae? And isn’t this port the first stop after that lost island?”

Scotty nodded. “Right, Rick. It’s where the boat that picked up Grandma Sal first put in. Could be that Johnny Fang survived and got picked up too and taken here. Then went up to live in the caves, a madman because of what happened to him in that cave of light.”

Jimmy leaned against the jeep, an astounded expression on his face. “I don’t believe it! Man, all these years I thought he was dead. Say it is him, Rick. How would your dad know to look for him? And to look for him here in Rabaul?”

“How did he know to look for your grandmother on Lateela Island?” Rick countered. “My dad and Dr. Warren have information we can only guess at. Somebody else knows what happened on Palua Pae when Shanghai Sal and Johnny Fang were there. And whoever they are, they told the United Nations because they’ve got Dad and Dr. Warren out here tracking it all down.”

Scotty grunted. “And told us they were checking out coconuts!”

Jimmy turned away from them and the boys could see he was deeply moved as he gazed up at the hills beyond Vulcan.

He sighed. “And what the heck is it that they’re tracking down? Man, like the United Nations! Scientists! And right after the biggest war the world has ever known. It’s just got to be so big, so important. I can’t believe that my family is involved in something so big and … international … and mysterious!”

Just then a swelling of the murmur of the crowd rose up around them and a buzz in the sky above caused them to turn their heads and look up.

“Hey, it’s Pocka!” Rick exclaimed, pointing above at the familiar onrushing Dragon which seemed to be bearing down right on Chinatown.

“Oh no!” Scotty blurted. “I thought we left that guy behind us.”

“Ha!” Jimmy laughed. “No way behind us. He’ll be on top of us in a second!”

As the people on the street all stopped to look up at the approaching biplane, its pilot pulled up short and roared straight up into the sky in a twisting spiral directly above Ho Wah’s Hotel. The noise of the crowd swelled and cheers broke out in appreciation of the daredevil stunt.

Rick shot a clenched fist up into the air, shouting, “Go, Pocka! Do your stuff!”

A Chinese woman who had stopped next to the jeep to watch the airplane looked at them with an excited smile.

“You know Pocka Poco?” she asked with a laughing lilt.

“Darn right we do!” Scotty answered. “He flew us here earlier today. We were just on that very airplane.”

“Oh, me never go on it,” the woman said, gaping back up high into the sky. “I afraid! But he always do tricks for Chinatown when he fly away!”

“Sounds like Pocka,” Jimmy grinned, watching the Dragon as it shot up so high it seemed like they wouldn’t been able to see it anymore.

But just in time, while they could still see it, the plane leveled off into a quick rollover and then shot back down straight at them, whirling in a hurricane-speed death spiral right at the center of Chinatown.

“Whoaaa … oaaa, Pocka!” Rick boomed out, as the excited crowd clapped and cheered.

“Yow! He’s gonna crash right into the hotel,” Jimmy groaned. “How can he do these crazy stunts and stay in one piece?”

“He’ll level out right at the psychological moment,” Scotty told them. “You wait. Just when we can’t stand it anymore.”

Some of the crowd were shouting and screaming now, afraid the pilot might not be able to stop, others were pointing and laughing for they’d seen this done before and knew it would come to no harm.

When it seemed that the pilot could go no further in the spinning spiral, he did go farther, and the crowd sucked in a collective “Oooh!” and held its breath. Rick was clenching his fists so hard he could feel his nails biting into his palms.

“Come on, Pocka,” he groaned. “Level off, man. You’ll crash!”

Scotty slapped the hood of the jeep. “Yo, Jack! Stop it! Straighten out! Now!”

And then, with a huge whoosh, when it seemed like there wasn’t a second left and that the Dragon would surely crash right into the hotel, the pilot swooped straight and did a series of zigzags and hops while the crowd applauded and cheered until the plane disappeared into the distance.

“He crazy man!” the Chinese woman said to the boys after letting go a long breath she’d been holding. Then she bowed slightly and, with a smile, walked on.

“Crazy as a mad kangaroo,” Jimmy grunted in agreement. “Remind me never to go on a flight with that guy again!”

Scotty nodded eagerly. “You bet. Once was totally enough for me too!”

Rick watched as the crowd began to move on and the people went back to what they had been doing. “He wouldn’t be able to do that back home in the States,” he said thoughtfully. “There must be little, if any, aviation regulations here.”

“Probably none, not yet,” Jimmy said, leaning back against the jeep. “We’ve only had planes around here in New Guinea on a regular basis since the war.” His mouth set in a firm straight line as his face grew serious. “So what do you guys say? Shall we eat lunch and clean up or should we go right on up to Coastwatchers Hill? We can get food and a shower-bath at Ho Wah’s.”

Rick shrugged his shoulders. “We sure could use a clean-up and food sounds good. But I’m really anxious to get up into those caves.”

“Do you think Dad and Dr. Warren could still be there?” Scotty asked.

“Maybe. How can you even take a guess? We’re so in the dark about all of this. I just think it’s best to follow up this lead as quickly as possible.”

“We can get food to-go at Ho Wah’s,” Jimmy suggested, “and catch up with cleaning up as we go along.”

“Good idea,” Scotty grinned in agreement, adding, “Especially that food to-go!”

The boys swung into action and went into the hotel where they ordered the food and freshened up in the rest room as best they could. They brushed their teeth, took their quinine pills for the day, gazed longingly at the shower-bath room available, but knew they just didn’t have the time. On the way out, after picking up the food order, Jimmy bought a local English language newspaper, and then they went a few doors down the street to an outfitters where they bought a couple lanterns and an extra flashlight to use in the caves.

They stopped next at a filling station on the way out of town for instructions, and Rick got a map and a tourist brochure as Jimmy filled the tank and Scotty pretended to wash the front windshield that wasn’t there.

As Jimmy drove up Tunnel Hill Road, Rick could tell that Scotty was still annoyed. He was suspicious of everything and everybody, and rightly so, Rick figured. He was too. But as long as they were moving ahead on the trail of his dad, he just wasn’t going to worry about it. Not now when maintaining some kind of clarity of mind was so important.

The jungle foliage closed in around them as they drove up switchbacks to the higher elevations. Here and there open areas offered views of nearby Vulcan, smoking away and looking close enough to touch. The volcano was mostly barren, covered with ash and having only patches of the jungle growth. Beyond it were glimpses of the harbor and the other volcanoes, the wide cloudless blue sky, and the sparkling waters of the Bismarck Straits.

Signs in English and the native language pointed the way upward to Coastwatchers Hill. The jeep bounced along the bumpy dirt road. It was uncomfortable riding but the engine purred smoothly as if it was brand new. Scotty couldn’t help wondering about the Japanese soldiers and how many of them might have ridden in the jeep during the war.

Soon they were up to the high ridges and the road ended at a large level area, a ragged field overlooking the massive cone of Vulcan with its gushing plume of smoke and ash.

“Nice view,” Scotty commented, as Jimmy pulled the jeep to a stop next to two big artillery guns near the cliff edge of the clearing.

“This is the coastwatchers lookout,” Rick said, reading from the brochure. “It was the headquarters area for the Japanese military and entranceway into the tunnels.” He pointed ahead out past the harbor. “Those islands out there in the straits are the Duke of York Islands and, on a clear day sometimes, you can see the shores of New Ireland across the way.”

Scotty grimaced, squinting his eyes to look at the islands ahead and search for a distant shore beyond. “That’s another thing about this whole place New Guinea. It’s all a tropical jungle filled with natives, and some of them pretty darn primitive. But all the important place names are European – British and Dutch and German. It’s like some kind of strange oooh-blah-dee land. Nothing jives right. Why aren’t these people here in control of their own lands?”

“It’s ‘empire’, Scotty,” Jimmy said, turning off the engine. “The Germans and Dutch and British came out this way for conquest. The Portuguese, too, and the French in many places, the Spanish up in the Philippines. Heck, it was easy for them to beat down the uncivilized natives and take over.

“But it’s getting better,” he went on, standing up to peer out at the vista and get a better view. The breeze began to ruffle through his curly blond hair. “Someday New Guinea will be free and its people their own masters. Australia will let us go. But the way it is now, we still need her. Papuans have a long way to go yet before they can control their own destiny.”

“And maybe you’ll be president one day,” Rick suggested with a chuckle. “Scotty and I will come out here twenty years from now and visit you at the presidential mansion.”

Jimmy looked thoughtful as he scrutinized the smoldering cone of Vulcan. “Give me thirty years,” he laughed. “If I decide to go into politics I want to have some fun first!”

Rick climbed out and was inspecting the big guns, glancing back and forth at the brochure in his hand. “This is a pair of Japanese anti-aircraft guns,” he told the others. “Seventy-five millimeter ones. And there’s another.” He pointed down the cliff edge about fifty feet away. “That one there, it’s twenty-five millimeter. And some others … those!” He gestured to the hillside behind where two big guns rested right at the edge of the bush. “Those must be the anti-tank guns. They’re different.”

“There is supposed to be a lot of munitions around here,” Jimmy said, jumping to the ground. “The caves are loaded with all kinds of stuff.”

Scotty swung his legs over the side and joined them on the mud-packed grass. “Good! Maybe we can find some arms to take with us on the way to Storms End.”

He cocked his head to listen to the sound of the drums coming from the hills behind. “This is starting to spook me out, boys. Here we are in New Britain listening to jungle drums, gazing into a volcano while on our way to Japanese caves! It’s totally weirdsville, guys. We need some guns!”

Rick laughed and punched his arm. “What you need is some food, buster. You can really get far out and grumpy when you’re hungry.” He reached into the jeep and pulled out the big paper sack holding the Chinese food from Ho Wah’s. “Here. Eat! You’ll feel better.”

Scotty took the bag from Rick. “Darn right I will! Man, this stuff smells great,” he grinned, sniffing at it. “Good enough to make us all turn Chinese.” He chuckled, glancing quickly at Jimmy. “Cripes, you’re already halfway there!”

Jimmy grinned happily back. “One quarter, Scotty. Not half. I’m half kanaka from my dad. One quarter American from Grandma Sal and one quarter Chinese from Johnny Fang.”

Rick turned to look at the hillside where the entrances to the caves were hidden behind the jungle growth.

“Johnny Fang!” he grunted. “Let’s eat, boys. Then we can go into those caves and see if we can find that mad old Chinaman. He may just be the key to this whole crazy mystery!"

The boys sat down at the edge of the cliff and attacked the containers of food. Their appetites were hardy; they hadn’t eaten since early morning and it was already past lunchtime. They admired the view and discussed all the strange aspects of the case as they devoured eggrolls, fried rice, lemon chicken, pepper steak, and paper cups of tea packed nicely for them in a bottle.

A few minutes into the meal and they were already all three feeling better. The delicious rich and salty food was just what they needed to charge them up from the stress of the long night, the escape from the pirates, and the wild daredevil flight to Rabaul.

Presently Rick noticed a couple native boys watching them from the bush. All he could see was their dark faces and wide eyes, and he suspected they were far more interested in the food they were eating than in them themselves.

He gestured toward the boys. “Jimmy, tell those kids to come over. Maybe we can learn something from them.”

“Yeah, they might know the madman if they hang around up here,” Scotty figured.

Jimmy stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled at the boys across the clearing. Then he gestured for them to come over. They edged out of the foliage into the sunlight and looked over at the boys warily. They were dressed only in ragged short pants, with no shirts and no shoes. One was tall and appeared to be a teenager. The other was short and younger, maybe nine or ten years old.

“Brotha! Brotha!” Jimmy called, gesturing again with his arm. “Cumalong dis place. Dis fellas heah hokay!”

The two boys smiled tentatively after hearing that and began to run across the clearing.

“They seem to understand that jive,” Scotty grinned.

“All the kids know pidgin now,” Jimmy explained. “At least one of the several forms of it. Even kids from the jungle villages. It’s been around for ages now and was especially used a lot in the years between the two great wars.”

The native boys ran up and stopped at the cliff edge near the boys, grinning eagerly as they looked hungrily at the food. They both had mops of curly dark hair and the taller one was skinny, but they both looked well fed enough.

Rick told Jimmy, “Ask them if they’re hungry.”

Jimmy grinned back at the smiling boys. “Brotha! Brotha!” he addressed them again, then rattled off a chain of words in the local kanaka tongue.

The tall one responded and the younger boy looked on eagerly and a conversation ensued with lightning quick dialogue that sounded like a lot of mumbo jumbo to Rick and Scotty.

“Yes, they are very hungry,” Jimmy explained at length. “They live in a village beyond this mountain and often come up to play in the caves. They smelled the food and were spying on us, hungry for some.”

“They can have the rest of it,” Scotty said. “We’ve had our fill. There is plenty left over.”

“Right,” Rick agreed. “Tell them to sit down and eat. We can ask them about the caves. If they play in there, they ought to know a lot about them.”

Jimmy translated and the boys sat down excitedly and assaulted the cartons of food as Rick and Scotty passed them over. They ate with their hands, quickly and neatly as could be expected, and they gulped down the tea that Scotty poured for them in the paper cups.

Rick grinned as he watched them. “Barefoot and hungry,” he laughed. “Ask them what they know about the caves, Jimmy. And the madman, too.”

Jimmy rattled off another barrage of expressive syllables and both boys nodded and laughed in high pitched cackles. Then the older boy pointed back to the hillside and said, “You betch’um! Cuckoo nut Chinaman dem Jap caves belongem!” Then he reverted to kanaka to tell Jimmy even more.

When the boy stopped speaking, Jimmy turned to Rick and Scotty. “They play in the caves all the time and know them well. The madman lives in there. As long as they can remember, he’s been in there, and the old folks say he’s been living here from many years ago before that.

“But,” Jimmy went on, frowning a little, “they haven’t seen him in a few days and were just now in the caves looking around for him. They are brothers and sometimes their mother sends them over with food for the old Chinese man. It appears that the village people kind of look after him.”

Rick’s brows began to furrow. “Ask when the last time they saw him was.”

The question was fielded and Jimmy translated the energetic response. “They saw him five days ago, having brought him a bowl of optaki their mother made. He was very happy to receive the food and as a reward showed the boys a trolley system in the caves with tracks and cables and pushed them for a ride in a car. But since then he has not been in his cave or anywhere in the tunnels. At least, they haven’t seen him.”

Rick looked at Scotty, slowly shaking his head. “He’s been gone since the day Dad and Dr. Warren came up here. What do you make of it?”

Scotty pondered for a minute, tossing a stone over the cliff. Then he shrugged. “Hopefully it means they found the old man and took him along with them wherever they were headed.” He turned to Jimmy, his lips pressed tightly together in thought. “Ask them if they saw two white men around here, Rick’s dad and Dr. Warren.”

Both boys jibber-jabbered in length in answer to the question. Afterward, Jimmy looked at Rick and Scotty with a grim expression. “They were not here that day. But other boys from the village had come up and they saw several vehicles drive into this field and park. Small trucks and a jeep. A bunch of young Chinese men jumped out and ran into the caves, all of them bearing guns. The boys were so frightened that they all ran back home to the village.”

Rick looked at the two dark-skinned boys still happily eating the Chinese food. He groaned. “That sure doesn’t sound good! My dad and Dr. Warren come up here and then follows a band of Chinese … mercenaries?”

“Or maybe pirates or tong members? One and the same,” Scotty huffed. He looked angrily back at the road they had come up on, adding, “Mr. Wong from the European Hotel sent Dad and Dr. Warren up here, and then maybe he called the chink gunmen to go up after them? I didn’t trust that guy from the moment I first saw him! And now he sent us up here! Those slant-eyed eggheads might be on their way up right now to get us!”

He clamped his mouth shut abruptly, looking at Jimmy. “Sorry, bud. Didn’t mean to offend you about the slanted eyes.”

Jimmy looked at him and laughed. “Scotty, you couldn’t offend me if you tried. Because if you did, I’d have to beat you up really bad. And I like you too much to do that!”

Scotty made a sour face and narrowed his eyes. “Don’t push your luck, Jimmy Tomato. I might have to pick you up and throw you over into Vulcan’s cone!”

Rick scrambled to his feet and got between the two of them. “Knock it off, tough guys. We have a whole lot more to worry about than which one of you bozos can do the worst damage.”

He shot a quick glance at Jimmy. “Ask those kids if anything’s been amiss at the old man’s cave since he’s been gone. Anything missing? Maybe signs of a struggle?”

Jimmy questioned the boys and they chatted noisily, shaking their heads in the universal sign of No.

“Everything is the same,” Jimmy explained. “His food supplies and clothes are still there, and his guns and ammunition.”

“Guns? Ammo?” Scotty’s eyes widened at that. “We’d better vamanoose to that cave and arm ourselves before the tong boys come up here after us.”

“Exactly what I’m thinking,” Rick agreed. “The madman will have done us at least some good if we can get his guns.”

Scotty pushed himself to his feet. “What I don’t get,” he was saying, “is why the madman is just a legend down in town. But up here in the hills everyone seems to know him and they even bring him food, as if he was just the old man next door!”

“It’s two different worlds, Scotty,” Jimmy said as he got up. “The people down in Rabaul are far more civilized than the tribal people in these mountains. Naturally they don’t believe a lot of the strange tales they hear from them.”

The kanaka boys had finished up the food and Rick began picking up the cartons and wrappings and placing them in the paper sack Scotty held open for him.

Rick said, “Ask these boys if they’ll show us the way to the old man’s cave.”

After being questioned, the boys readily agreed and got to their feet with happy smiling faces, having partaken in a food feast they’d never known the likes of before. After they had cleaned up the site, Scotty put the refuse in the back of the jeep.

“Should we hide this vehicle in case our tong pirate chums come looking for us?” he asked.

“That’s a good idea. We’d better,” Rick agreed.

The taller native boy started jabbering excitedly, having been watching them closely.

“Smart kid,” Jimmy said. “He understood that. He says there’s a short dead-end cave right up in the bush we can park it in. Come on. Let’s get going!”

“You bet!” Rick jumped into the jeep to drive it across the lookout field as Scotty and Jimmy and the boys hoofed it over to the bush. He followed closely behind them, an eager thrill coursing through him in anticipation of what lay ahead in the caves.

He didn’t expect to find his dad and Dr. Warren there, or the old Chinese man. No, from what they’d heard from the native boys it seemed like they were gone, maybe on their own or more probably captured. But he did hope to find some kind of clue as to what had happened, where they may have gone, or where they may have been taken!

Chapter Eleven coming soon!

Sunday, January 15, 2012


All chapters through chapter 9 are now available on this alternate site:

THE QUEST OF THE GOLDEN DRAGON https://sites.google.com/site/rickbrantfanfiction/dragon


A Rick Brant fan-written adventure from 1959, a sequel to The Phantom Shark.
To get all the chapters, click on 'Golden Dragon' under Labels on side panel.



South of the equator and north of Australia is the land of New Guinea, vaguely known around the world as the land of the headhunter and the missionary, the coconut plantations and steaming jungles, and nearly inaccessible mountain goldfields that attract not only gold seekers but also thieves, cutthroats, and all extreme and fanatical adventurers alike.

Rick Brant knew that before the First World War the islands had belonged to Germany and were known as the Bismarck Archipelago. After Germany’s defeat in that war, the land was given to Australia to govern as a 'mandated territory'.  Rabaul, the capital, had been a pivotal location in the recent Second World War. Occupied early on by the Japanese, tens of thousands of enemy troops and Allied prisoners of war had been present there. Not only was the town a constant destination for seekers of thrills and adventure of all kinds, but it also had proved historically important in the winning of world freedom from the aggressive governments that would have enslaved so many.

Rick tensed now as Pocka banked the Dragon and headed down toward the big bay off which lay the landlocked harbor guarded by the volcanoes and the forbidding background mountain ranges. He could see schooners, freighters, fishing trawlers and luggers, and even native outriggers as they moved through the aquamarine waters to and fro from the wharves and piers on the quay below the town. He suddenly realized that the airplane was heading directly toward the volcano that Jimmy had called Vulcan. The mountain’s monstrous plume of smoke and ash was billowing straight up into the sunny blue sky.

"Whoa ... Pocka!" Rick blurted out. "Don't go flying us into that volcano now!"

"Doncha worry, Jack!" the pilot shouted above the roar of the engine. "Just a little look-see, boys!"

"Wow!" Jimmy exclaimed, leaning over Rick to look out the port side window. "Vulcan is really blowin' his top today!"

The plane raced down toward the mountain as if Pocka were going to attack it. Vulcan's slopes were all of a dull brownish gray, probably leagues deep with ash, Rick figured. Banking even more steeply, the Dragon flew right to the rim of the volcano's pit.

"Yowzuz!" Scotty chuckled uneasily, peering into the very center as the plane wing-hopped the rim. "There's the fires of Hades, right down in there, chums!"

Rick caught a quick glimpse of what looked like 'fire and brimstone' before Vulcan's thundering plume got in the way and Pocka had to level off and fly outward to escape its massive width.

Then the Dragon shot across the harbor entrance and Pocka boomed, "Hey, you blighters! How about a couple rollovers on the way to Tavurver?"

"No way!" Jimmy exploded.

"You said more trick flying!" Rick reminded him.

"Nixit, buster! We've had enough," Scotty said in growling tones, leaning forward.

"Okay, okay," Pocka laughed, acing right straight down now at the smoking Tavurver. “No rollovers. Just a hop, a skip, and a jump!"

Then, before the boys even knew what was happening, the plane seemingly fell straight down with a mighty whoosh, banged hard as if it had hit a rock bottom, bopped back up high with a soaring climb, fell again in the same manner and then banked sharply as the boys all shouted and yelled and Pocka laughed at them.

"Sheez!" Rick couldn't help but start laughing too, even though every joint in his body felt like it had just been jarred loose. "Man, that was like a bucking bronco!"

Jimmy's eyes were wide with disbelief. "I thought the plane was gonna break in half!"

"The pilot is gonna get broke in half!" Scotty jeered, but a twinkling in his eyes belied his tone.

Pocka turned back to look at them with another wolfish grin. "Just a little dip into Tavurver, boys, and then I'll put a freeze on it."

And with that, he turned back to face the looming volcano and shot the plane down at its rim. The boys all pushed back, teeth gritting, hands gripping the arm rests, as the Dragon flew into the volcano, down past the rim and into its monstrous fiery pit.

Rick saw them engulfed by flaming light and shadow as the plane circled the mountain's interior, barely missing the billowing smoke rising from the cauldron below.

"Awesome ...," he heard Jimmy breathe, amazed, thrilled, frightened.

Scotty gaped around at the flickering flaming darkness, for once in his life totally speechless.

Rick's heart was thumping from the brazen danger and terror of flying into an active volcano and, too, from the absolute mind-boggling thrill of it!

"Way to go, Pocka!" he heard himself gush enthusiastically. "This is a total killer diller!"

Pocka kept on chuckling. "I knew I could get you to squeal happy. Whammo!"

And with that, he hugged the Dragon close to the shaft of hot billowing ash and flew circling around it up and out of the cone into the blue sunny daylight. As the plume widened even further, he flew off away from it and over the tops of the other volcanoes that surrounded the harbor.

Rick, Scotty, and Jimmy exchanged glances, grinning at each other.

Scotty shrugged his shoulders. “He's a one-man airshow!"

Jimmy pulled at his restraining safety belt. "With a really captive audience."

Rick felt himself still tingling all all over. "He takes really reckless chances. But I sure have to give him a big tip for that inside-the-volcano dip!"

Pocka's voice clapped out as the Dragon shot downward. "Rabaul town, dead ahead!"

The plane zoomed down so fast it took the little that was left of their breath away, and Pocka tree-topped right over the town seemingly so close they could almost touch the coconut palms. Over the quay and wharves the Dragon flew, out to the waters of the harbor, close enough to see the eyes of the people below. He flew circles around the harbor, swooping and dipping, obviously announcing to the citizens of Rabaul that he had come back.

"Where are you going to land?" Rick asked, now noticing that the plane was headed back toward the smoking Tavurver.

"Lukanai Airport." Pocka pointed straight ahead.

Rick blinked. He could see the small airport just a little on the town side of the volcano where a handful of light aircraft were parked around a small wooden terminal building. He could feel himself tense up again.

"But Pocka! You have floats on this plane!"

"Yeah, man!" Jimmy joined in. "You need to land on water!"

"Right! Not on the land!" Scotty cried, as the Dragon rushed onto the shore and quickly ate up the terrain below on its way to the airport.

Pocka chuckled and guffawed and slapped heartily at his instrument panel. "One last surprise, chaps!"

The boys looked at each other in confused and anxious wonder, not knowing what to think, except that in a minute the plane, fitted with floats, would be landing on what looked like a paved runway!

Rick vaguely remembered hearing that you could land on grass with some floats, but that was pavement of some kind ahead - tarmac, gravel, or stone. It sure as heck wasn't grass!

"Wheels, fellas, wheels!" Pocka chirped out. "These floats are fitted with wheels!"

Then he flipped down a lever and seconds later made the smoothest landing possible on the primitively paved runway, chuckling to himself as the boys slumped back in relief.

"That's right," Rick sighed. "Some floats have wheels in them. Flip the switch and they come out for landing on land."

"Which, of course," Scotty jeered, "'Whammo Man' here doesn't tell us till the last possible second!"

Jimmy grinned. "Heck no. He's intent on giving you your money's worth! That or a nervous breakdown!"

The boys and Pocka were still laughing as he pulled the Dragon to a stop by the small terminal. "Well here you are, eggheads," he said, pointing down a dirt road that led along the shore. "It's about a half mile to town down that track. I don't see any taxis here so you'll have to walk. Then you can begin the old beguine and get on with finding your missing friends."

"A walk will do us good," Scotty remarked as the boys loosened their belts. "We've been riding in boats and planes for two days!"

Rick turned to Jimmy and asked, "How do we get to Storms End from here?"

"We can go around the peninsula by boat or drive up through the mountains. The roads should be dry and graded this time of year."

"Is there somewhere around to rent a car or a jeep?" Rick then asked the pilot.

Engine off, Pocka stood up and turned to face them. "There's a garage by Ho Wah's Hotel in Chinatown. They usually have some to let, left over Japanese war trucks and jeep-like vehicles."

"And what about the European Hotel?" Scotty asked. “That's where Rick's dad and his friend would have checked in."

"Stay right on that shore road," Pocka instructed, "and you'll run right into it. But let me tell you," he paused and frowned a little and scratched his mop of hair. "If you're going to drive up into the hills, you'd better be careful and armed. I know you boys know the score, but there's been lots of trouble up there lately near the goldfields with the Wambutu tribes."

Jimmy nodded. "I've read about it in the papers. They don't like the gold hunters digging up all their land, or what they consider to be their land," he explained to Rick and Scotty. "They're pretty primitive up there, the Wambutu, and they've been raiding the gold camps causing trouble."

“We’ll just stay on the roads and steer clear of them,” Rick said with finality. There would be no reason to linger in the mountains and the bush unless they found a clue of some sorts that would support doing so.

The boys climbed out of the airplane and exchanged farewells with Pocka, Scotty pounding the pilot’s shoulders a few times just for the heck of it. Rick paid the man and gave him a generous tip.

“That’s for all the stunts,” Rick told him. “You scared the heck out of us but it sure was fun and totally worth it.”

Scotty and Jimmy slung the backpacks over their shoulders and the threesome crossed the runway and headed to the shore road in the blazing heat. Rick glanced around at the surrounding hills and smoking volcanoes.

“Yow!” He expounded emphatically. “It’s hotter here than ever! Do these volcanoes add to the temperature, Jimmy?”

Jimmy looked across the harbor to Tavurver and then back ahead to Vulcan. “Probably not, Rick. The smoke and ash go way up into the atmosphere and don’t normally come back down here unless it’s a really super eruption. But we’re several hundred miles closer to the equator here than down on Lateela Island, so it’s probably just that much hotter.”

The hike down the shore road offered pleasant vistas of the busy Simpson Harbour and the ring of volcanoes that surrounded it. A couple old British-make cars passed them by and also a pickup truck, its bed filled with laughing and waving kanaka children whose curly mops of hair were every shade from blond to black.

Jimmy waved at them and shouted, “Yo brotha kiddo! Dis fellas belongem allatogetha Rabaul Town lots much!”

Rick raised his brows with a grin. “You mean we’re official citizens of Rabaul?”

Jimmy laughed happily. “You betcha. For today at least.” He pointed to the town ahead and then up beyond it to the mountains. “See those ridges? The Japs dug out around three hundred miles of tunnels in those hills. They hid out in them during the Allied bomb raids in the war. They had almost one hundred thousand Japanese soldiers and countless prisoners of war holed up in there. There were so many Japanese military here it took two years to evacuate them after the war ended.”

Scotty shuddered. “I was in some island caves in the war during bombing raids and didn’t like it at all. Small caves! Ugh! I’d rather be out in the jungle facing the bombs!”

The rumblings of the volcanoes could be heard along with clangs and horns and bells from boats out on the water. From the hills up behind the town came the steady beating of drums.

“That’s the jungle wireless,” Jimmy said, noticing Rick cock his head to listen. “You don’t hear it on Lateela because the native population is small. But here the numbers are big and they communicate all day long by drum.”

The barren fields soon gave way to lovely tree-lined streets leading up into town from the water. A beautiful white sand beach led along to the quay section of the harbor with its piers and wharves and cargo sheds. European-style bungalows lined the streets shaded by high coconut palms and flowering trees, and exotic hedges of flowering shrubs fenced the perimeters. The perfume of flowers was heavy in the air.

Young colorful natives in lap-laps, sarongs, the Mother Hubbard dresses, or shorts and jerseys milled around, some with colorful flowers behind their ears and their woolly mops died a rainbow of colors. Police boys in white caps and blue shorts directed traffic on street corners and society matrons in the latest fashions from Sydney mingled with planters and businessmen in their white tropical suits.

“What a fine town this is!” exclaimed Rick, looking up the wide Causarina Avenue where they had stopped to get their bearings.

“Sort of looks like a little London,” Scotty suggested, eying the traditional-looking commercial and government buildings.

Jimmy chuckled. “Right. A little London, a little Paris, a little Sydney. And a whole lot New Guinea. That’s Rabaul!”

Flashy modern British and American cars were driving in the wide avenue. Trucks, war vehicles, and carts pulled by horse and oxen were carrying cargo up from the wharves.

“There it is!” Rick pointed out the European Hotel on the next corner. It was a large bungalow affair, shaded by coconut palms and high grotesque Australian pines. Thick flowering hedges surrounded the building giving it a measure of privacy from the busy street.

A police boy at the corner halted the traffic so they could cross and Rick led them over to the hotel. They stopped in front of the establishment and Rick pulled some bills out of his wallet and handed them to Jimmy.

“These are American dollars. They ought to go far here. Go to that garage in Chinatown and see about getting us a vehicle. Scotty and I will check out the hotel.”

Jimmy nodded and pocketed the money. “Aye, aye, suh! Meet me up there when you’re done.” He pointed vaguely to the northwest. “Chinatown is two blocks up and two blocks over. You can’t miss Ho Wah’s Hotel. It’s the center of everything.”

Jimmy took off and Rick and Scotty walked through the break in the hedge down a crushed coral path to the large veranda of the hotel. The front yard was festooned with shrubs and hedges all bearing a cornucopia of lush blooming flowers.

Scotty grunted and twitched his nose. “Sheez! This place smells as awful as the perfume counters at Saks Fifth Avenue!”

Rick chuckled, looking around at all the exotic plants. “These flowers are probably all rare tropical varieties that most Americans would go bananas for.”

Scotty grinned. “Bananas I’m all for. At least you can eat them. But all these flowers here do is … smell!

They climbed the steps to the veranda where guests were relaxing in the shade and a little breeze off the harbor offered pleasant refreshment. The front door was propped open and Rick pushed in the screen door as the boys entered the quiet lobby.

The place was nicely fitted with a blend of South Pacific and traditional European furnishings, and it looked like someone’s home. A young Chinese woman in a fashionable frock was behind the counter across the room and the boys walked over to her. She greeted them formally with a little bow and Rick said hello and then got right down to business.

“I’m looking for my dad, Mr. Hartson Brant,” he told her, “and his companion Dr. Paul Warren. It’s possible they checked in here recently, within the last several days. They were bound here for Rabaul the last time we saw them.”

The woman looked at them with wide eyes for a moment, then did another little bow. “Ah yes, Mr. Brant. He was here with Dr. Warren, I remember.” She stepped back a few paces, adding, “I will go get Mr. Wong. He talked to them on several occasion and can tell you more.”

With that, she turned and walked off into the back office. Rick leaned on the counter and let out a sigh of relief.

“Wow, Scotty,” he breathed. “At least we know they got here safe and sound.”

Scotty’s face was all screwed up and he frowned, looking around. He shuddered. “I just don’t like this, Rick. Nothing is as it seems to be. You gotta be suspicious of everything. You …”

His voice trailed off as an elderly Chinese man walked out from the back, dressed in the obligatory white tropical suit. He bowed politely to the boys and identified himself as Mr. Wong. Rick repeated what he had told the woman.

Mr. Wong nodded. “Yes, your father and his friend were here a few days ago. They spent one night as I recall.” He stepped over to a large registry on the counter and flipped back several pages. “They stayed here one night,” he added, telling Rick the date. “They departed the following morning, early and in quite a hurry.”

“That’d be four days ago,” Rick said to Scotty. “Gosh, I wonder where they went?”

Scotty shrugged, feeling uncomfortable in the stylish lobby, so different from what they’d been used to the last few weeks. Mr. Wong gently cleared his throat, then said:

“Perhaps I can help you, young man. Your father asked about acquiring a vehicle to go up into the mountains. I advised him to visit the garage in Chinatown.”

“The mountains, Scotty!” Rick said breathlessly, glancing pointedly at him. “Perhaps they started out to Storms End, too?”

Rick could feel his heart begin to thud in excitement. He struggled to control himself and was about to thank Mr. Wong when the man said:

“And there is more that I can tell you.”

Rick’s eyes widened. “What is it, sir?”

“The two men asked about Coastwatchers Hill, how to get there. It is up on the first ridges of the hills behind Vulcan. It is where the Japanese caves are, and your father and his friend wanted to go there.”

Rick and Scotty quickly exchanged puzzled expressions.

“What’s up there?” Scotty asked, frowning.

“Miles and miles of caves,” Mr. Wong answered in his sing-song voice. “Some are filled with munitions left over from the war, others are empty.” He lowered his eyes and added, “Still others bear the remains of prisoners of war.”

“P.O.W.’s!” Scotty exclaimed. “And men still missing in action. Maybe that’s what they’re looking for after all, Rick. Some mystery in connection with them.”

Mr. Wong shook his head. “No, they did not mention that. They were looking for something specific. They wanted to find the madman of Coastwatchers Hill.”

Rick swallowed hard, his eyes agog as he looked at Scotty yet again in consternation and they shared baffled expressions. Turning back to Mr. Wong, he repeated, slowly, “the madman of Coastwatchers Hill?”
The elderly Chinese man nodded. “He is a local legendary figure. One is not quite sure to this day if he really exists, although plenty people claim to have seen him over the years. He is an old Chinese man who lives up in the caves on that ridge, from long before the Japanese came. He is said to have survived even their occupation and excavation of the catacombs, so clever he is. Mr. Brant and Dr. Warren wanted to find him.”

Rick huffed out a couple breaths, literally scratching his head in wonder. He turned once again to Scotty as if the boy could possibly offer him an explanation.

“I am totally stumped, buddy,” he said, with a shrug of his shoulders, after Scotty just stared at him blankly. “I thought it was mysterious when Dad and Dr. Warren wanted to find the old American woman Annie Welles on Lateela Island. But this beats that all to pieces! What in the world could they want with an old madman who lives in mountain caves up above a volcano on this God-forsaken jungle island in the very exact middle of nowhere?”

Chapter 10 coming soon!