Judy Bolton Days

Judy Bolton Days
First annual in 1991!

Thursday, November 21, 2013


The Wallace Boys series by Duncan Watt

beginning with a review of
a book often compared to the Rick Brant

This book is the 18th volume in The Wallace Boys mystery and adventure series by Duncan Watt, a resident of Singapore who is a television newsreader. This series, possibly the best post-golden age boys’ series of its type, has enjoyed great success around the globe, especially in British-influenced countries, but it is little known here in the United States.

Published in 1997, this exciting story finds the Wallace brothers Nigel and Bruce, British boys from Zimbabwe, Africa, sailing back to Singapore on the South China Sea in the yacht the Silver Spray which they had recently renovated for their uncle in Scotland. With them are their friends Zainal, a Malay, and Kheng Peng, a Chinese, both citizens of Singapore. The boys had just had the thrilling adventure
The Treasure of the Tiger, in which they had discovered a sunken World War 2 Japanese warship that contained a billion dollar fortune in wartime looted gold. They are now returning the gold to Singapore.

Nigel is the older of the Wallace boys, tall and dark, and Bruce is the younger, stockier and fair. They compare well with the famous Hardy Boys and their adventures are every bit as exciting. The books are loaded with dozens of illustrations, maps, charts, photographs, footnotes, and indexes in back , crammed with information that helps to make the stories all the more interesting and realistic.

Well on its way through the treacherous waters, the Silver Spray is spotted by pirates and chase is given throughout the day and the following night. The boys try several devious methods to escape, including attacking the pirate ship themselves and trying to disable it, but they are ultimately captured. These are Moro pirates from the Southern Philippines, ruthless cutthroats who live on the island of Mindanao and nearby islands of the Sulu Sea. We met up with some of these vicious characters in the Rick Brant book
The Pirates of Shan, so we know just how dastardly they can be. In fact, this book has a lot in common with The Pirates of Shan and should be mandatory reading for any fan of that classic tale.

The pirates search the boat but luckily do not find the well-hidden gold. The boys are kept as prisoners but allowed to stay on the yacht along with a guard as the pirates tow the Silver Spray up to the Sulu Sea. This takes a couple days. The boys, who have escaped many times in the past from situations of dire danger, wrack their brains trying to figure out how to get out of this mess. In sheer desperation, they do the unthinkable when the pirates stop on the beach of an idyllic little island to get a supply of water for the boats. While the pirates are busy working, the boys scuttle the Silver Spray, sink it, making it look like an accident. They don’t want the pirates to have the yacht and the gold and they secretly hope that someday, somehow, they will be able to come back and raise it.

But this hasty plan of theirs backfires in a most extraordinary way. The pirates are angry enough to kill and to the great shock of Nigel and Bruce, and the reader, the boys are forced to stand at attention and watch the execution of their friends on the beach! Zainal and Kheng Peng are mowed down by AK-47s as the Wallace Boys watch in horror. The pirates don’t want them; they are ordinary Asian boys and not worth anything to them. But they know they can get big money for the white British Wallace Boys or perhaps even use them for political purposes. They throw them shackled on the deck of the pirate ship. Here they spend the day in the hot sun as headway is made northeast to the Sulu Sea.

The brothers both experience a sense of desperation and impending doom when they arrive at the pirate hide-out on an island the Moros call Bugsuk Sulu. They had watched their friends die on the sandy shore of the other island, and now they are themselves to be imprisoned at a far away remote stronghold. There seems to be no way out of this dire trap they find themselves in. At the headquarters in the island’s center, surrounded by high mountains, Nigel and Bruce are presented to the pirate leader, Sarangani, who lays a claim to royalty as the Sultan of the Sulu Sea. The boys are told they will be used for ransom or possibly prisoner-exchange for pirate members currently in Philippine jails, and they are quickly incarcerated in a shack on the compound guarded by two of the pirates wielding the AK-47s.

What happens next cannot be told in a book review; it’s too incredible. You have to get a copy of this book and read it for yourself. Duncan Watt uses some serious writing magic and his vast knowledge of ships and seafaring to come up with the most unexpected ‘unexpected twists and turns’ that you’ll probably ever run into in a boys’ mystery-adventure book. How the Wallace Boys escape from Bugsuk Sulu and the Moro pirates is as tense and thrilling and original as anything I’ve ever read, and I’ve read them all – at least sometimes I think so. This is one of the best books in the genre, able to stand alongside all your old favorites, but with a refreshing twist that makes it markedly different and a real joy to read. Even though Rick Brant had a pretty similar adventure with these same pirates, he’d go bonkers reading this book, knowing he’d been there too and just how darn hard it was to get out of there and back to the world where you can take a boat ride and not have to worry about pirates who kidnap for ransom and carry AK-47 machine guns!


Duncan Watt was born in Africa and lived in Zambia and Zimbabwe where growing up was far more exciting than most other boys can even hope to experience. He later lived in London, England, and now resides in Singapore where he is a well-known television newsreader.

His characters Nigel and Bruce Wallace live in Zimbabwe, Africa, and have thrilling adventures there and around the world, based on life experiences of their author. The books are well-written and exciting, fully illustrated with drawings, maps, charts, photographs, and include indexes, copious footnotes, and even related reading lists. They are similar in writing style and quality to the Ken Holt and Rick Brant vintage series books and have a diverse cast of characters.

Published by Tynron Press U.K. in trade-size paperbacks, they are available on the Internet book sites with some diligent searching, and a number of titles have been added in recent years that are available only as Kindle E-books from Amazon. Here they are presented in chronological reading order:

Nigel and Bruce and their friend Jimmy Fowler get involved in an attempted coup to take over the island of St. Helena in the Atlantic off the coast of Africa.

The Wallace Boys and Jimmy hitch a ride on a yacht and search for a cache of diamonds along Nambia’s dangerous Skeleton Coast.

The boys are hijacked on the yacht by a German who is searching for a treasure in art that was stolen by the Nazis in WW2 on a p;ace called Inaccessible Island.

Back home in Zimbabwe, the boys follow clues on their friend Moyunda’s pendant on a treasure hunt in the mysterious gorge downriver from the magnificent Victoria Falls on the Zambezi Rim.

The Wallace Boys and Moyunda take a holiday on Lake Kariba where they fall into the
clutches of terrorists who are out to overthrow the Zimbabwe government and blow up the
mighty Kariba Dam.

A sequel to Killers Against Kariba, the boys once again fight the Zipra Terrorists, this time in the Kafue National Park in Zambia.  

After a hijacked flight in Zambia crashes, the Wallace boys and Moyunda meet up with a
bushman of their own age who leads them to safety out of the dangerous Kalahari Desert.

8 – MISCHIEF IN THE MOUSETRAP 2010 *Kindle Ebook only
In London, the Wallace Boys help Scotland Yard track down a missing boy from the West
End Theater District in a case eerily connected to the long-running Agatha Christie play The Mousetrap.

The boys go to Scotland to get their uncle’s yacht the Silver Spray and meet up with strange events that link a cursed island of death, a royal kidnapping, and IRA terrorists.

10- ASSIGNMENT IN THE ALPS 2010 *Kindle Ebook only
Aiding the Prince of Ruritania, the boys join in a desperate search against time for treasure looted during WW2 high in the Alps. Ice climbing and paragliding are featured in this story based on the classic The Prisoner of Zenda.

11- TRAITORS IN THE TYROL 2010  *Kindle Ebook Only
A sequel to
Assignment in the Alps, this one finds the boys and the Prince on a holiday in
the Tyrol where they get in trouble with a secret American CIA group.

12- THE MONKS OF MONTAFON 2010 *Kindle Ebook Only
Another story with the Crown Prince, this time he's been abducted and the boys' investigation leads to the Montafon Mountains on the Austrian border where an order of monks hold a terrible secret in their monastery dating back to World War 2.

13- REBELS ACROSS THE RED SEA 2000 *Kindle Ebook Only
At Luxor in Egypt, Nigel is mistaken for a Saudi Prince and taken captive into the Arabian desert. Bruce and new-found friend Hanafi, the real prince, follow the trail on camels to the rescue.

14- REBELS ACROSS THE RED SEA ll 2000 *Kindle Ebook Only
“Nemesis of the Nefud” Prince Hanafi and the Wallace Boys again in combat with terrorists who turn out to be Iraquis hiding out in the dreadful Nefud Desert in Saudi Arabia.

15- REBELS ACROSS THE RED SEA lll 2001 *Kindle Ebook Only
“The Terrorists of Tibesti” The boys and Prince Hanafi are finally able to nail the terrorists who have fled to hide out into the arid volcanic Tibesti Mountains in Northern Chad.

16- SOUTH FROM THE SEYCHELLES 2010 *Kindle Ebook Only
Adventure in the South Indian Ocean aboard the yacht the Silver Spray to come to the aid of a friend bound on a trip to the Islands of Desolation, one of the most inhospitable places on Earth.

The Wallace Boys arrive in Singapore on the yacht the Silver Spray. Here they meet up with buds Zainal and Kheng Peng and take off to the South China Sea in search of a Japanese warship believed to have been sunk there during World War 2 containing a billion dollar treasure in lotted gold.

The Silver Spray is captured by a band of vicious Moro pirates led by a fanatical leader who intends to use the Wallace Boys in his bid to claim part of the southern Philippines as his Sultanate. Of special interest to fans of the Rick Brant book The Pirates of Shan.

19- MISSING IN THE MEKONG 2000 *Kindle Ebook Only
Returning from their captivity in the Sulu Sea, the boys chance upon a drifting boat which leads to a desperate adventure in the Mekong River delta, rescuing an American prisoner left over from the Vietnam War.

The Wallace boys make an excursion into the jungles of central Malaysia where the legends of ghosts of an ancient ruined city entice them to solve an age-old mystery while also trying to save a girl rock star from the clutches of cutthroat rebel kidnappers. 



The Rick Brant Spindrift Island website has been allowed to be taken offline by the webmaster for unknown reasons.  But Google has it archived via The Wayback Machine, so it is all accessible and its plethora of knowledge about the Rick Brant series is not lost!

Check it out now by clicking here:


Bookmark this site and visit it often. Let's not allow all this amazing Rick Brant information to become lost to the next generations of Rick Brant fans!

Thursday, October 24, 2013


All chapters through chapter 14 are now available on this alternate site:THE QUEST OF THE GOLDEN DRAGON https://sites.google.com/site/rickbrantfanfiction/dragon

or The South Seas City of Death Mystery


"Rick! No! They're gonna throw us into that crocodile pit!"

Rick turned to look at him but got only a hurried glance at Scotty's wide-eyed terror as he gaped under the witch doctor's hut and saw what was awaiting them. Then the warriors holding the boys pushed and pulled them ahead as the crazed natives surrounded them and moved like a rushing wave around the hut into the village center.

The people were screaming now, the drums beating frantically. Rick struggled to look over at Scotty and Jimmy but his efforts were useless. He was strongarmed ahead with such force that it took his breath away.

He saw that a raised platform stood on the opposite side of the pit, on it a garishly designed chair made of wood, much like a totem with the animal and crocodile heads carved into it, all painted in the bold bright colors. On it was seated an older Wambutu warrior, obviously the chief, Rick figured, by his royal arrogant manner. Garbed in the wild tribal finery, he overlooked the frantic crowd with a detached aloofness. In his right hand he held a long intricately carved golden staff adorned with skins and furs and feathers. The witch doctor ran around the pit shaking his death rattle at everyone and then went to stand at the chief's side on the dais.

The leader of the Wambutu rose to his feet and, as he did, the natives quieted down and the drums stopped beating. The chief pounded his staff upon the floor and the crowd hushed, but Rick could feel the electric-like current of excitement running through them. They were all eager for something to happen, and Rick knew only too well what that something was going to be.

Then the leader shook the staff at Rick and Scotty and Jimmy, who had all been pulled within a few feet of the pit's brim. He spoke out in anger to his people with great force and dramatic gestures, seething with righteousness and hostility. He spoke to the natives in their own language and Rick could not understand any of it, except for the word 'Nigoochee', which the chief uttered several times. Then, when he was finished addressing the crowd, he spoke directly to the boys in surprisingly good Australian-accented English:

'You have offended the great god Nigoochee, young intruders, and now you must die as payback for your transgression. May the good fortune of our people be appeased, as so intended, and may your journey into the depths of the afterlife be filled with suffering and anguish for what you have foolishly brought upon yourselves in defiance of the law."

Rick's lips snarled as he gaped at the writhing crocodiles below, and he drew in a short quick breath. He had no intention, he figured angrily, of taking any journey into any kind of depths, especially via a crocodile pit, and he began to frantically struggle against the warriors, his mind singly focused on the great impossibility of getting free.

When he heard Jimmy cry out in anguish, Rick wondered why. Why wasn't the boy just trying to get away?

"You can't kill them!" the Timateo boy yelled at the chief across the pit. "They are Americans! They meant no harm! They are not aware of your customs. They don't deserve to die! Take me. Just me! I should have known better!" He choked and coughed up in violent spasms, so overwrought was he. "My father told me to respect the customs of our people! I should have listened to him ....."

But the old chief was not listening to the kanaka boy's pathetic plea. He pounded his staff a couple more times and raised it high above him as, with it, the drums began to beat again and the crowd roared and began chanting, "Nigoochee! Nigoochee! Nigoochee!"

And Rick, as he struggled with his captors, heard Scotty, who was only a few feet away now, growl and shout out:

"If I'm going into that pit, so are you big goon warriors!"

And suddenly he was in Rick's range of vision, a snarl on his face and his eyes bugging out as he pulled the three big strong warriors muscling him toward the brim of the pit.

Rick, his blood boiling, began to do the same. Anything for a chance at surviving! The men who were a moment ago pulling him toward the pit were now frantically trying to hold him back as the crowd noise swelled up into a tumult of depraved maniacal insanity and the drums beat on incessantly.
"Rick! Scotty! You guys! I'm sorry! I wish I ...."

It was Jimmy, Rick knew, shouting out as he was held back to witness his and Scotty's demise. But he knew that Jimmy just didn't understand ... that this just really could not happen to him and Scotty. No, not them! They had 'right' on their side. They'd gotten out of tough jams before. And they had to go on and find his dad and Doctors Warren and Hyde-Morton. They just didn't have the darn time to end up at the bottom of that pit as crocodile food!

And then the time warp in Rick's mind snapped and reality whacked him right in the face. He suddenly found himself struggling at the very edge of the pit, same as Scotty right by him, not trying to stay out of the pit, the both of them, but trying to pull the warriors in with them.

He heard Scotty's booming laugh, and then the boy shouted, "See how many you can take with you, Rick! The more bodies down there, the better chance we have to climb out in one piece!"

Suddenly fearless, the most fearless he'd ever been in his life, and he knew it, Rick shouted, "You got it! And those crocs probably like the dark meat better anyway! It's what they're used to!"

And at that same moment, one of the warriors struggling with Scotty was thrust over the edge and tumbled screaming into the pit. The roar of the frenzied natives swelled to new heights.

Rick was being pulled back now, hit, cuffed, clobbered. The native men did not want to go into the pit with him! But he fought with all his might to pull closer, closer, closer to the edge.

Yes! One of his captors was almost there, right on the brink, just a couple more feet now, just a few more inches now, just a ......

How he heard them above the tumult of the chaos surrounding him, Rick would never know. But he did hear them, just then, and he looked up to see two flying missiles, sizzling with sparks, arc overhead and fall into the pit.

His befuddled brain registered; Dynamite!

 ... and a second later a huge double explosion rocked the entire center of the village, smoke and flame and debris roaring up at them out of the pit like the eruption of an angry fiery volcano!

Rick was free! His captors were running away, shouting and yelling in terror. He heard another loud boom and turned to see the witch doctor's hut shoot up into the air in a cloud of fire and smoke. The people were all screaming now, running away from the village center like frantic terrified mice as yet other explosions rocked the area setting fire to the thatched huts and putting a sudden end to the ceaseless beating of the drums.

All hell had broken loose, and seemingly from out of nowhere!

Rick had to fling himself back, away from the edge of the pit into which he was on the verge of toppling. He almost fell but managed to straighten himself up and gain his balance. He ran over to Scotty who was sprawled in the dirt at the very edge of the smoking pit.

He knew he had no time for futile speculation. Something had happened to give them a reprieve, a chance to escape the revenge-crazed Wambutu tribe. He knew they had to get the darn heck out of there pronto and figure it all out later. He grabbed Scotty by the arm and yanked him to his feet, pulling him away from the abyss. Then, like specters in a world of death and destruction, they ran over to Jimmy who had been knocked to his feet by the force of the blast at the witch doctor's hut.

Rick and Scotty swooped down and each grabbed Jimmy by an arm and pulled him up to his feet. Wide-eyed and hearts thumping, they ran around the burning debris of the hut in the wake of the terrified natives.

"Man, what happened?" Jimmy cried out, struggling to stay on his feet and run along with the boys.

"Dynamite!" Scotty blurted. "I saw two sticks of it sizzling overhead."

"But ... who ...?"

"Let's worry about it later," Rick rapped hoarsely as they fled around another hut. "Let's just get the heck out of this creepy place!"

Several more explosions boomed out and the natives, already in a panic, scared as all get out from the blasts, were stampeding in every direction, away from the village and into the jungle. Pigs and chickens and mangy-looking dogs, too, scattered about in fright.

"This way!" Rick commanded, using the crocodile totems as guideposts. He pulled the boys over to his left. "This is the way we came in. The swamp should be right out ahead!"

Like charging linebackers, they surged ahead toward the bush, toward the teasing tempting freedom it could afford if only no one would stop them!
And then, suddenly, out of nowhere:

"Hey! Yo ho ho! Ahoy mateys!"

Into their path jumped a man, armed to the gills with a rifle, holstered guns, ammunition belts, a knife in hand, and sticks of dynamite shoved in the belt of his khaki short pants. He was tall, slim and rangy, had a shock of carrot-red hair and a three-day-old matching growth of beard. His eyes were a strange amber color and he was good-looking in an odd sort of way. And even odder was the ecstatic look of excitement on his face. The man was obviously in the middle of this fray and enjoying the absolute heck out of it!

He turned and started running toward the swamp, rifle at the ready. "Boys! Come with me! We'll get the gahooney heck outta here! Jimmy Timateo, what in the name of the Southern Cross are you doin' way up here in New Britain almost bein' fed to the Wambutu's crocodiles?"

Racing on behind the fellow, Rick and Scotty both looked at Jimmy in amazement.

"You know this guy?" they both chorused.

Jimmy looked like he was about to cry from sheer shock and relief. "Yes! I've known him all my life! Redd! Redd Bluey! Man, where did you come from? What're you doin' here? I haven't seen you for two years, at least. And I've never been so glad to see anybody!"

They reached the bush and crashed into it, arms flailing to ward off branches and vines. The man named Redd Bluey pushed on and quickly found the path, leading the boys onto it.

"My boat's up at Storms End," he tossed back, eyes flashing atop a big grin.  "I had to pick up a gold shipment up in the hills and I'm takin' it to one of the islands out in the Bismarck. Saw your jeep parked out there by the road. You blokes left your wallets and I.D.'s in it. Recognized your name right away, Jimmy. And it was gettin' late. Figured better to check it out, laddies. Something bad might be goin' on. This is dangerous territory!"

Rick pushed around a bend, whacking back a protruding frond with his hand. "You mean you made all that ruckus back in the village by yourself?"

The man laughed heartily. "No way, blimey! My crew are with me, and a chum. Yo ho! Here they are now!"

Three men had run out of the bush to join them on the path. Two were kanakas who looked almost exactly like the Wambutu warriors without all the tribal adornments. The other was a white man, American looking, and all three wore similar casual tropical clothes like Redd and were loaded down with weapons and sticks of dynamite.

"This here's Yank Fulton," Redd shouted out, slapping the back of the white man. "He's from Pennsylvania back in the States, spending a few weeks on my boat, the Balanga. And my crew members, Rondin and Caruso."

Yank Fulton was a big guy, as big as Scotty, and a pleasant looking fellow like you'd expect from Pennsylvania. "Which one of you boys is Rick Brant?" he grunted as they ran around the rim of one of the reed-filled ponds.

"I am," Rick huffed from behind him. "Jeez, thanks to all of you for rescuing us. That was amazing! Totally! It's like a miracle!"

"I saw your dad's identification papers in your wallet," Yank Fulton told Rick. "Hartson Brant! I sure recognized that name, and the Spindrift Laboratories, too. I'm a Physics professor at Penn State. We knew something had to be going wrong for you boys. You wouldn't stay out in the jungle after dark, would you? And the beating of those drums didn't sound good either!"

"Tell me about it!" Scotty growled. "We were just about to be thrown to the crocodiles!"

"And talk about the psychological moment!" Jimmy popped in, grinning at Rick and Scotty. "Yowza, you guys came to rescue us right on the absolute spot!"

"Me no laikim Nigoochee!" one of the kanakas growled.

"That makes two of us, buddy," Rick sighed, as he once again could hear the rush of water from the waterfalls ahead. "I'll probably have nightmares about them for the rest of my life!"

None of the village natives had come this way, perhaps to avoid the dangers of the swamp at night, so the coast was clear for them, at least for the time being. Redd led the way with a flashlight he'd pulled out of a pocket and they soon reached the waterfalls. Rick glanced up at them briefly and shrugged at the irony of it. Such a beautiful place! And it had led them to the very brink of the pit of horror!

Jimmy pointed up as they ran by. "We were bathing in the pool under the falls," he told their rescuers. "The Wambutu caught us at it and they were going to sacrifice us to Nigoochee for payback. The darn pool is sacred. Like, who in the world pays attention to those old beliefs anymore?"

"The natives have been all up to the mustard lately because of the gold prospectors," Redd Bluey gruffed back. "They go bonkers wanting revenge and payback and have been increasingly falling back into the old ways. That's why I figured something was wrong. There's been a lot of trouble with the natives in these parts lately!"

"That's why we took along the dynamite," Yank Fulton added. "It really frightens these savages and stops them like nothing else can."

"It sure did scare the heck out of them," Scotty agreed. "We thought they were gonna kill us and then eat us themselves. But, yow, were we ever surprised when we found out what was really in store for us!"

"But it didn't happen" Jimmy reminded him. "We're still alive and all in one piece. Man, am I ever glad I know you, Redd Bluey!"

Moments later they arrived at the jeep where they had parked it on the road.  In front of it was a bigger, newer model, obviously Redd's.

"Caruso, you ride with the boys," he ordered one of the kanaka men.

He was the bigger of the two and the man jumped into the back of the jeep and planted himself on the back deck, his rifle ready for action.

Redd turned to the boys. "Follow close behind and work your weapons. These jungle roads are filled with thieves and highwaymen and Wambutu warriors at night. Very dangerous, limey boys. You didn't know what you were getting yourselves into out this way! Caruso has dynamite if you need it. But, yonkers, be on the lookout and stay close up behind! It's about a two hour drive to Storms End from here."

"Yonkers?" Scotty chuckled, as they climbed into the jeep and pulled up their weapons for the ready. "Ha! That's a town by New York City!"

"He's an Aussie," Jimmy said, sitting in the back by Caruso. "And a sea captain. You'll hear him speak a lot of whacky slang."

Scotty snorted. "Well, I'm quite a slang slinger myself, but I hope he doesn't keep calling us 'limey boys'!"

"You can be sure he will, matey,' chuckled Jimmy. "You'd better get used to it!"

"He can call us anything he wants," Rick threw in, turning the key and firing up the engine.  "He saved our lives! I knew something would happen. At least I hoped it would! But, jeez, I still can't believe it. You're a good luck charm, Jimmy. You've got New Guinea's good magic in your soul, and we sure needed it!"

They roared away in the wake of the other jeep carrying Redd Bluey, Yank Fulton, and Rondin the kanaka. Redd was driving and Rick had to floor the accelerator to keep up with him. He turned back to Jimmy and plied him with questions about the man.

"His family has a big plantation down on the New Guinea mainland," the boy responded. "But Redd could never stay still long enough to live and work there. He lets his brothers run the place and he hops around the islands on his boat. He stopped by Lateela Town often throughout the years, shipping cargo on his boat to and from the plantation you were staying at. My folks knew him and he'd often come visit us."

Jimmy grinned and went on, "I think my mom and her bank finance his life of adventure. I know they carry the mortgage on his boat. Down at Brisbane when I was at school, he'd come around and take students for weekends on the Balanga as part of our education. You sure couldn't ask for a better friend in these parts. He's seen and done it all and knows everybody and everything!"

"A real adventurer," Rick mused, eyes riveted again on the road ahead. "See, Jimmy. Scotty and I didn't have any local history from the past to come and help us in our moment of need, but you sure did! Why, he's like the Allan Quatermain of the South Seas!"

Jimmy chuckled. "You bet! And if King Solomon had any mines around here to be found, you can bet Redd Bluey would be the man to find them!"

The road north led up and down the hills and around what seemed to be endless hairpin bends. The headlights pierced the darkness and the roar of the jeeps' engines shut out the jungle night sounds. Scotty, Jimmy, and the silent Caruso kept vigilant watch, weapons at the ready, as Rick drove on.

"Hey, Caruso!" Scotty shouted to the kanaka, after a few miles of quiet. "How did you get such a famous name?"

The big man grinned, showing perfect rows of pearly white teeth. "Mi momma laikim much opera fella. She make mi his'n naim. Heer 'im on raido lots much wen I'mee boy!"

"What a great namesake!" Rick commented. "They say he had the greatest voice ever. Say, have they really had a lot of theft on this road out here?"

"You betchum! Gold ship'ments take'm on road to Storms End lots. Boats there take'm uther place. Bad fellas hide in bush ta steel 'em! Wambutu allays watchin' too, no laikim anybodys 'round. Lots much danger!"

He darted his big expressive eyes along the thick jungle on each side of the road, his reflexes taut, just waiting for trouble to appear.

"Do any big animals come out at night?" Scotty asked.

Jimmy answered that, shaking his head. "Nothing that big on these islands except the crocodiles, and they usually stay put at night. No monkeys, lions, tigers, bears - nothing like them. Wild pigs, yes, and those big bats like we saw in the caves." He shuddered, remembering, then added, "But it's the small things you gotta watch out for at night. All the creepy snakes and bugs, and the malarial mosquitoes. They're the ones that'll kill you."

Scotty made a face, jutting his chin out at the bush. "Well I sure don't intend to go back into that jungle for anything. Five makes you ten on that!"

The speeding jeeps wound around another hairpin curve on the bumpy highway road. The jungle encroached upon them, seeming to reach out at them, and the high trees blocked out all but a ribbon of sky directly above them.  This was studded with billions of white gleaming stars. Rick looked up for a moment and caught a haunting glimpse of the lights of the universe above, and it suddenly hit him hard like a jackhammer, the great irony of the situation they were in. Here were he and Scotty and Jimmy, in this strange dangerous part of planet Earth, such an infinitesimal part of creation, running away from one horrible danger after another possibly right into the path of more and even worse!

He looked back to the road, fervently hoping good fortune would continue to be with them!


A loud boom seemed to rock the night and, before he even knew what had happened, the speeding jeep pulled violently to the right and it was all Rick could do to keep control of the swerving vehicle. He was vauguely aware, as he struggled, of a loud shout from Caruso and mad cries from Scotty and Jimmy as the jeep careened along the road.

It was only a half minute or so, but it seemed much longer, when he finally got the lurching vehicle under control. It came to a halt on the dirt and gravel shoulder, almost in the bush, and Rick sat back with a grunt. The jolting wheel had almost pulled his arms out!

"Darn!" he gasped. "A flat!"

"Man alive!" Jimmy followed up with a groan. "We sure don't need this now!"
"Bosh! There's a spare on the back," Scotty said, jumping out to the ground. "We'll change it right up in a flash!"

He gaped around for a moment, then, "Where's Caruso?"

"He fell out when the jeep first swerved," Jimmy told him, looking back down the inky darkness of the road. "Jeez, I hope he didn't get hurt!"

He and Rick climbed out and all three boys searched the shadows for Caruso. They saw him hurrying toward them, rifle in hand, limping slightly as he approached. Rick was just about to greet the man and ask if he was okay when gunshots from up ahead cracked out in the night, throwing them all a nerve-shattering jolt.

"What the ....?" Scotty spun around to look up ahead.

Jimmy pointed, uttering a broken cry. "Lookit! A roadblock ahead! Somebody's got Redd and Yank and Rondin!"

Ahead could be seen four sets of headlights facing them, all at a standstill. In front of them was Redd's jeep, stopped now, and flashlights were beaming all over the place.

"Bad fellas got 'em!" Caruso cried, racing up to them. "We sneek up in jungle and get 'em, huh?"

"You bet we will!" Rick snapped in return.

He reached into the jeep and pulled out a belt with two holstered guns and a separate ammunition belt and rifle. He switched off the headlights and slipped on the belts. "Jimmy, stay here and fix the flat. You'll have to do it in the dark. They may not have noticed us down here yet. Then drive down there when the coast looks clear. You'll have to be ready for a flying getaway! Scotty, get some guns and ammo. Caruso, come with me and Scotty!"
The necessity of haste was apparent and Jimmy jumped to action and was loosening the spare on the deck by the time Scotty had slapped on enough weapons to deal with whatever might lay ahead. Then he and Rick and Caruso slunk into the thick darkness of trunks and vines alongside the road.

"Hah! Guess I'm back in this hot dank jungle again already!" Scotty muttered as they stole along.

The gunfire up ahead had stopped. Rick peered through the foliage with reeling senses. He really hadn't expected more trouble. It seemed that he continually kept underestimating this land New Guinea and how dangerous it could be. He knew that Redd was carrying a gold shipment from one of the mountain range camps, and it was now as clear as could be to Rick, if there had been any doubt before,  that thieves were out and at the ready to steal such shipments along the highway.

The roadblock was about a thousand feet ahead in this section of road that was a long straight-away. Rick and Scotty let Caruso lead them and they crept silently along, hearing snatches of conversation and gruff voices shrill in the night.

"Mastee!" Caruso hissed, angry eyes wide and flashing. "Redd fight wit' bad fellas! Not giv'm gold, not heem. Mebbe dey shoot heem!"

Rick pushed on ahead of him. "Not if we get there in time! Hurry! Give me a stick of that dynamite and one to Scotty!"

Caruso passed around the dynamite as they hastened on. Soon enough they were within a hundred feet of the roadblock. They stopped behind thick trunks heavy with fan-shaped leaves and hanging vines. Rick was vaguely aware of mosquitoes buzzing around his head as he gaped ahead. He hoped they weren't the malarial kind because he was getting plenty of bites.

The scenario out there on the road was jarring to see. It got his heart thumping as he watched it play out like a sinister scene in a movie. Four beat-up pickup trucks were blocking the road, headlights glaring on Redd Bluey's jeep, stopped about twenty feet ahead of the trucks with its engine idling.

Redd and Yank and Rondin were sitting in it still clutching their weapons which were aimed at the men on the road, five of them, harshly profiled in the light, all Oriental and mean as all get-out looking. They too had weapons, aimed at the men in the jeep.

"China fellas," Caruso whispered.

Rick nodded. He had figured as much. They looked every bit as foul and loathsome as the tong pirates on the Mirandu. And they were in a total stalemate with Redd and his chums. No one was moving. No one was speaking. It was weapon against weapon, nerve against nerve.

Rick hardly dared to breath lest he give himself and his companions away!
One of the Chinese stepped forward, causing everyone else out there to flinch. He was tall and well-built, a hard-jawed stern-eyed man, cool and ruthless, undoubtedly dangerous. His brows contracted as he looked at Redd pointedly, his rifle aimed right at him.

"One more time I tell you, buster!" he sneered in a tough voice right out of an American crime movie. "Put down the guns, give us the gold! We know you got it from the Finisterra Camp. Hand it over now or we shoot, doggone you!"

Redd Bluey leaned forward slightly, his own rifle moving an inch closer to the bandits. There was a steely glint in his eyes, but he was smiling. The grimness of his speech sent a shiver up Rick's spine.

"You and who else, limey Jack?" the Aussie threatened. "'Cuz you'll need a few others to shoot us all before we cream you blokes bully full of holes!"
The thug's angry eyes flashed back in the glare. "You no threaten me, crazy white man! You no ..."

But Rick heard no more. Caruso had struck a match and he turned to the big black man. The kanaka lit the stick of dynamite Rick held, then Scotty's, then his own. With a finger to his lips he jutted his sweaty jaw toward the pickup trucks, and Rick and Scotty silently nodded.

Then Caruso hissed, "Now!"

The three sizzling sticks flew out of the foliage and arced high over the road. The men out there, all suddenly startled, looked up to see. But Redd and Yank and Rondin had been expecting it, obviously, hoping for it, for they managed to keep their cool and hunker down for, seconds later, when the three explosions came.

Bam! Bam! Boom!

Rick saw one of the trucks seemingly jump up and flip over as the bright explosions flamed and roared and tossed the five Chinese men to the ground, their weapons flying. The whole night lit up and it looked like a scene out of the fires of hell, as two of the vehicle gas tanks exploded with roaring booms in fiery blasts as tall as the jungle trees. Rick and Scotty and Caruso ran out onto the road.

"Yo ho, mateys!" they heard Redd shout at them, his face and bright hair lit up with the reflection of the flames. "Where's your jeep, boys? Gahooney! You got here just in time ....
Rick couldn't see beyond the brightness of the flames, but Jimmy was already pulling up beside Redd's jeep and Rick and Scotty and the crafty kanaka jumped in as Yank and Rondin fired at the bandits, all struggling to get onto their feet and retrieve their weapons.

Bullets nipped the air as further explosions from the truck gas tanks boomed and echoed.

"Let's get outta here!" Red shouted with a wild laugh. "Yo .. heave ... ho, limeys! Onto the bounding main!"

And he threw the jeep into gear and gunned its engine, taking a wide berth around the burning trucks. Jimmy followed closely and they had to roar over some of the foliage on the jungle's edge to avoid the heat and the flames. Caruso, Scotty, and Rick faced back, shooting at the frantic bandits to keep them away from their guns.

Ping! Ping! Ping!
 Gunfire filled the air!

Rick heard Redd cackling. "You blokes let them have it like rats rushing up a pump!"

Yank Fulton joined in. "They thought they were gonna get the gold! Hah! they got a long walk home now instead!"

And Rondin the kanaka chuckled, "Bad fellas not so much bad now!"

Rick shook his head in wonder and let out a sigh of relief as the fires and shouts fell back behind them and the darkness engulfed them again. His heart was racing, banging, thumping, and he was miserably hot and sweaty from the humid night and the dynamite blasts. He rested his gun on his knee, watching the disaster scene get smaller and smaller as the jeep roared on down the road. And he hoped that the strange chain of events that had caught and ensnared them today was over with for now. He had darn sure had enough.

It had been one heck of a day to remember!

Go back to Main Page for next chapter!


Sunday, September 22, 2013


Read Chapters 1 and 2 here: A JUDY BOLTON DAY MYSTER

                            THE MIDNIGHT PHANTOM

copyright 2003 by Stratomiker Syndicate

A Julie Kane Mystery set in Potter County PA at the annual Judy Bolton Day weekend in early October.

Chapter Three: POTTER COUNTY

Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!

Cowering, Gina Sabreen was all, "Ohmygod! Someone is trying to kill us!"

Another volley of arrows bombarded the wall that the girls were huddled against. It was like a blur, they came so fast. Julie, with her arm around Gina to protect her, dared to look up and search the mountainside above. Two more arrows roared at them, splatting into the stones, but Julie couldn't ascertain exactly where they came from in the mass of brilliant color that blanketed the heights.

Julie's breath hissed as she drew in sharply and pulled at Gina's arm. "We have to make a run for it! I don't think they're trying to hit us, just scare us. We're too easy a target out here for any bow hunter worth his chops to miss us. Come on!"

Gina's voice was thick with fear. "I sure hope you're right!"

They wheeled to their feet as one, reeling back a little as another volley of arrows whooshed past to hit the wall, and then they began to run across the flagged terrace. Julie swooped down her hand and grabbed a couple of the arrows that had bounced afar. She crunched her fist around them and, holding fast to Gina, hastened down the path into the protection of the timber.

The storm of arrows stopped behind them as they raced breathlessly through the woods to the parking area. Only after they had flung themselves into the coupe and slammed the doors shut, locking them and fastening seat belts, were any words spoken.

Gina was trembling. She gasped through gritted teeth, "I totally can't believe that just happened!"

Her face drained of all color, Julie was like, "But it did. It sure did, honey. And I'd freakin' like to know why!"

She had tossed the two arrows on the floor by Gina's feet and now shoved the key into the ignition, firing up the powerful car. After being slammed into gear, it screeched out of the parking lot spitting gravel behind in its wake. The Jaguar roared onto the pavement and raced eastward up the mountain with a growling swoosh.

Gina picked up one of the arrows and held it in her trembling hand. She looked at it in disbelief. The lightweight arrow bore a green-black-brown camouflage pattern with bright green feathers at its tail. The girl's eyes widened as she gazed at the tip.

"Yypers, Julie! This arrow has a razor sharp broadhead point, like the ones my dad uses." She glowered angrily, all, "If we had been hit ... why we'd ... we'd ..."

"We'd be dead," Julie finished for her, adding with a scowl, "Those are carbon arrows, lightweight and deadly. They'll easily kill a buck a whole lot bigger than we are, and bears too!"

Gina shuddered, gazing sourly at the arrow. Then she threw it down to the floor. "And they were coming at us so fast! How can anyone shoot arrows that fast?"

The car had reached the top of the mountain where the sun was beaming through the tree tops with almost blinding brilliance. The road leveled off and Julie floored the accelerator, wanting to put as much distance as possible between them and the attackers.

"There had to be at least two of them," she explained in angry tones as the deep woods flew by. "Most likely, three. Those arrows were coming mighty quick. The latest hunting bows have quivers attached right to them that carry six or seven arrows. It's pretty easy to shoot one and then instantly another and another."

Gina grunted comprehension, but then she was suddenly like, "But why would anyone want to shoot at us?"

Julie looked at her uneasily, then reached over and squeezed the girl's arm to offer comfort. "I'm totally clueless, honey. I don't have the slightest idea why anyone would shoot deadly arrows at us. First of all, this is a National Forest. Hunters can hunt only in designated areas and that overlook terrace sure isn't one of them!

"Secondly," Julie pulled in a gulping breath as she eased her foot up a little bit on the gas pedal, "hunters usually do not make a target of two sight-seers. Someone was trying to scare us, Gina, not kill us. We were too easy to hit for them to miss us by chance."

Gina was cringing back against the seat's head rest, her lips set in a grim frown. Because of the big sunglasses the girl wore, Julie couldn't see the fear in her eyes, but she knew it was there.

The girl insisted, "But who would do something like that? Could it be like a practical joke? Some guys just having some stupid fun at our expense?"

Julie arched her brows thoughtfully, both hands back on the wheel. "No practical joke, kiddo. Hunters are generally too responsible to do that kind of thing. It's not likely they'd be anywhere around the overlook with quivers full of arrows and bows at the ready. Unless ....."

Julie scowled, clamping her mouth shut, thinking, No way! It couldn't possibly be ....

"Unless what?" Gina asked, looking at her fearfully.

Julie groaned. "Unless somebody was laying in wait for us. But of course, that's impossible. Who'd know we were coming this way and that we were going to stop there?"

Gina was silent for a moment, then, "But everybody stops there, Julie. The odds are pretty good. Those are the only porta-johns on this road through the whole forest." Then the girl gasped, totally, "Oh no! What if it's the stalker from Hollywood?"

Julie sideglanced the girl as the car roared around a bend in the highway. "How would he know you're coming through here? That is, if he's even out here in the East?"

Gina shifted in the seat, one hand clutching the seat belt as if for her life. "He sure seemed to know everything I was doing back in Hollywood. He'd show up at the oddest places and I'd be like, 'How'd he know I was gonna be here?'"

"Did he ever do anything violent?" Julie asked. "Like this arrow attack?"

"Only once. Usually he'd just get near me and try to touch me. Jump out from the crowd, like. But one time he posed as a paparazzi, camera and all. We were in Disneyland, me and my mom and dad and Boom Boom. We let the photographers get closer to us than usual because it seemed so safe and tame there. And then the stalker dude went nuts. We hadn't even noticed it was him, it all seemed so totally okay. He was taking pictures one second and then he just jumped right on me the next! I'm suddenly like, 'Ohmygod! Ohmygod! Mom! Dad! Boom Boom! Help!' My mother was screaming and my dad and Boom Boom pulled him off me, and the park police came and took him away."

Gina paused, shrugging her shoulders in consternation. "He's a really nice looking man in his thirties, Julie. Not a freak or a dork like you'd expect a stalker to be. But, of course, he's totally nuts and obsessed with me. You know how some fans can get so majorly obsessed."

"What happened after that?" Julie asked.

"We didn't press charges. He was released. My publicist was all, 'Gina, we don't want the publicity of a trial, not with the new CD and the movie coming out!' And we had to pay a whole chunk of money to buy up all the photos the other paparazzi had taken, so they wouldn't show up online or on the tabloid covers, or Entertainment Tonight!"

Julie grinned. "I'm hip. You had to cover it up. America's Pop Princess Attacked at Disneyland! would definitely not be a cool headline story."

"Right. You're in the business. You know. Sometimes you have to bend over backwards and even pay for a story not to get out there."

"Well, it's not likely that he'd be here out in the Allegheny National Forest packing ammo for bow hunting season," Julie said decisively, "even if he did come out east from California. He might be able to tail you and your dad but he couldn't possibly know your pre-planned route in advance, so he could be there befor
e you."

Gina looked thoughtful for a moment, then her quivering lips formed a little smile. "You're right. We didn't even discuss the route we'd take to Coudy. It's the way we like to come, so it's a natural. Even if we'd been overheard discussing the trip, which isn't likely, no one would've learned the route we were intending to take because it wasn't talked about."

Julie nodded in agreement, glancing in the rear view mirror. The road behind, as far back as she could see, was clear. She'd been checking now and then as they sped along, but she hadn't seen even one vehicle behind them on the road. They were not being followed; that much she knew. She gritted her teeth with a hardened expression. What sense did it make for someone to ambush Gina with a volley of deadly arrows? Julie realized she had a sure-fire mystery on her hands.

They passed through a couple tiny villages, both hardly more than small groupings of buildings, old houses and general stores, along the high country road. The sun continued to gleam down as if in total abandon, sending shafts of light piercing through the high tree tops to dazzle the colorful foliage of the lower growth shrubs and bush. The forest floor was a thick carpet of red, yellow, and orange.

The girls continued to chat, shifting the topic to journalism, music, guys, Judy Bolton and the weekend ahead. They felt safe now, the dangerous episode far enough behind them. But Julie kept watching the rear view mirror. Experiences in her past had taught her never to let her guard down when danger was in the air.

Gina looked out the window on Julie's side at the Bradford airport as they passed it by. There were only a couple small buildings, and the one long runway of the airfield ran down the middle of a huge open meadow literally on the top of the mountain they were on.

The girl chuckled. "This airport cracks me up. Bradford is a few miles north of here, but it's so in the mountains that the flattest spot they could find to land planes is on a mountain top. I love it! Where I live in Erie is totally flat everywhere. Probably the flattest part of all Pennsylvania."

Julie nodded at that. "Yep, P. A. is all about mountains, the heart of Appalachia. It's a theme used in many of the Judy Bolton books. Some written in the 1930s, like The Voice in the Suitcase, give a great historical description of life in Appalachia during the Great Depression."

"That's such an eerie book," Gina enthused, calm and relaxed now. "It was so freakin' mysterious how that suitcase could talk, and weird how Judy had to houseclean for those people, of all things! But she did stay for Thanksgiving, at least. And it was so totally different from The Yellow Phantom, a couple books before it. In that one Judy was living in New York in a penthouse and working as a literary editor!"

"And she was only sixteen at the time," Judy pointed out. "A very young editor, that's for sure. And don't forget the book in between, The Mystic Ball. She exposes that fraudulent Madame Wanda, who was doing that phoney fortune telling scam at the local theater."

Gina was all, "Gosh, I love those books. Judy was just a girl from Pennsylvania, like me. An average girl, but she was really smart and clever. She had great parents, a fab brother in Horace, friends galore, and all those great mysteries to solve. And she was realistic, too. She made mistakes, got angry at her friends, even fought with them."

"And she grew up and got married in the series, too," Julie added. "Something none of the other girl detective characters did back in those days."

Gina smiled fondly, all dreamily, "I love it when Judy and Peter get married in The Rain
bow Riddle. They have that awesome double wedding with Arthur and Lorraine at the Farringdon-Pett mansion, and the bridesmaids wore those rainbow color dresses. It was so romantic! I'd love to have my wedding there."

"And to think, that book came out in 1946," Julie said. "That's fifty-seven years ago. Back in 1996 when it was Judy and Peter's 50th wedding anniversary, the Chamber of Commerce and the Judy Bolton fans reenacted the double wedding on the lawns outside the mansion, complete with those rainbow dresses on the bridesmaids. I sure wish I'd been there to see that!"

Gina was all, "Oh, me too! That's right when I was first reading the Judys and I would have loved to see it. The Chamber of Commerce gave me a tour of the Farringdon-Pett mansion when I was in town last summer. It's really totally amazing in there. What a place!"

Julie had seen the house several times but she had never been inside it. It was an old red brick Victorian mansion with twin towers set back on spacious lawns on route 6 at the eastern edge of Coudersport. Built in the lavish mid-19th century style favored by the lumber barons, the house was one of only a handful like it remaining from that era in the northern tier of the state.

In the Judy Bolton books, the author had used the site as the Farringdon-Pett mansion, the home of Judy's friends Arthur and Lois Farringdon-Pett and their parents, Farringdon's leading family. In real life the house was the home of several generations of the Benton family, wealthy and important Potter County residents. The house's importance in the Judy Bolton books had made it a local tourist landmark, although it was impossible to get into the house unless you knew someone in high places.

"I'd love to see the interior," Julie told Gina. "I know it's been empty a few years now since old Mrs. Benton has been living in the nursing home, but it's still filled with all her treasures, I've heard."

Gina's turned to Julie with excitement, all, "Ohmygod! You should see it, Julie! Fab-ola! The house is so totally awesome and filled, and I mean filled, with tons of Victorian furniture, the real stuff from when the place was first built. It's like stepping back in time. And Mrs. Benton collected angels! They're all over the house, Julie, hundreds and hundreds of them! All sizes and shapes. Huge statues like from a church, others - oh, such dramatic ones, like from cemeteries. And smaller ones too, all over the place, porcelain, glass, china, wood, everything you can imagine. Angels everywhere! I'm sure that's why they're hesitant to let the fans tour the house. What with all the furniture and angels, you have to be very careful not to knock anything over."

Julie's eyes widened at the thought of it. "Sounds so awesome, honey. I'd love to get in there and take some photos for my story. There's a rumor I heard from a couple of the fans that we might get inside this trip."

"That'd be majorly cool. You'll love it, Julie. It's really spooky, too. All those winged statues everywhere really sets a weird atmosphere. And it's supposed to be haunted! Some kind of phantom who comes at midnight. The legend goes back to slavery days when the house was a stop on the Underground Railroad. You know, it's right on the little Allegheny there in town. They'd get the runaway slaves into boats and ferry them out into the woods on their way up to Canada and freedom. One of the young masters of the house is the ghost. He was the son of the owner back then and was helping a group of runaways into a boat when he got shot by raiding government agents. He fell into the river and drowned in the following confusion."

Gina paused and took a deep breath, shuddering at the thought of such an incident. Then, "And to this day he haunts the place, appearing at midnight, the time of the raid, wrapped in the shroud he was buried in. Oooh, isn't it creepy? They call him the Midnight Phantom. Supposedly, that's why old Mrs. Benton went to the nursing home, because the phantom would appear to her and scare the bejeebies out of her. It'd be a scary ball to stay in that house!"

"Maybe that's why she collected the angels?" Julie suggested, turning the wheel to round a bend on the highway. "To ward off the phantom? Could be. Some people believe that religious objects like that have mystical power of their own."

She glanced in the rear view mirror again, and then went on, "There's some kind of mystery about that Benton woman and her family, something in the past. I heard about it but never had the time to look into it. We're always so busy on the Judy Bolton Day weekend. She had a son, a little boy, who died under mysterious circumstances years ago, oh like back in the 1940s. And the angel collection is supposed to have something to do with the matter."

Gina gushed, "We can investigate! You've solved mysteries. You're a detective. Sounds like one of your adventures, like when you saved that movie star in her castle overlooking the lake. And I just loved that latest story of yours when you attended the Nancy Drew convention in New York City and solved that mystery at the old Stratemeyer mansion out in New Jersey. Julie, that was really something. So hu-u-u-u-ge! And the 9/11 connection about the missing girl just floored me!"

"It sure was totally amazing," Julie agreed. "And who would ever think such a deep mystery could be solved from a clue in an old Nancy Drew book?" She chuckled. "Well, at least we know no such excitement can befall us in Potter County!"

Then her eyes saw a car close behind them in the rear view mirror, and her mouth opened slowly in apprehension. She looked at Gina, all like, "Duh! I mean I hope nothing happens. That attack at the overlook has just got to be an isolated incident, don't you think?"

Gina smiled and reached over, squeezing Julie's hand that was resting on the gear shift. "Yes, I think so. But I'm not scared anymore, Julie. We're okay for now and in a little while we'll meet up with Boom Boom, and for sure no one can harm me when he's around."

Julie was relieved that the girl felt confident that things would be okay. She braked as the car began descending a long grade leading from the high country down to the valley that followed the Allegheny River along route 6 into Coudersport, where the river had its headwaters just north of town. As they neared the low country the forest began to thin out and houses began to appear along the road. A sign welcomed them to Smethport, a small industrial town on the Allegheny. Then they were driving through a pristine neighborhood of big old wood frame Victorian lumber baron mansions, all beautifully restored and lining the road like regal ladies happily showing off all their gingerbread.

Gina was like, "I just totally love these houses! Don't they just kill you?"

"They sure do," Julie agreed. "I live in an old Vickie in Jamestown, quite like these lovelies. My mom owns an antique shop and the house is filled with treasures. I have a two-floor suite in the tower, my bedroom and a circular staircase to the library above it. You'll have to come visit sometime. I can take you out to Baldwin Manor, the castle on Chautauqua Lake. It's a real French chateau, and you could meet Anne Baldwin."

Gina smiled happily. "I'd love to, Julie. I adore watching her old movies. Oh, I'm so glad we met! I definitely need a really good friend who is totally hip about the entertainment biz but isn't Hollywood herself. Someone real. who I can totally trust. You are the bomb, Julie Kane!"

Julie chuckled inwardly at the heartfelt compliment. She'd met so many big stars in her work, interviewed them all and, although they were mostly wonderful people with engaging personalities, Gina stood head and shoulders above them all. She hadn't become jaded by success and wealth and fame and the privileges and perks that came with them, nor by their pitfalls and negative repercussions.

Route 59 ended at a curve in the road where it met route 6. The big houses fell back behind them and smaller homes began to line the road as they continued down into Smethport. It was a small town and they quickly dove through the business district and continued along route 6 with the color-splashed mountains up high around them now, glimpses of the river at their side. In no time they had passed through the towns of Allegany and Roulette and then a large wooden sign on the roadside welcomed them to 'God's Country', the local nickname for Potter County.

AS they drove past the sign, Gina shouted, "Yay! We're in Potter County, Julie. Isn't it majorly huge just to be here? This place is just so totally special because it's where Judy Bolton lives!"

Julie just smiled her agreement as the hills of forest flew by. Then the woods gave way to farms as they neared town, century-old farmhouses stately standing on hillocks overlooking meadows and grazing land. Black and white cows, horses, pigs and goats all watched the car speed by, looking as if they were wondering who was in it, where they were going, and why they themselves couldn't go too.

Gina hunched her shoulders and sighed. "Farms! Wouldn't it be wonderful to be a farmer's wife? I mean, he'd have to be a real hunk of a guy, of course. And you could live with him in a place like these and raise a family and lead a wonderful peaceful life."

Julie let out a little hoot, giggling like a child.

Gina frowned questioningly. "What's so funny?"

"You are!" was Julie's reply. "You have the single most fabulous life in the world right now. Like Elvis, or Marilyn Monroe. Madonna. I can see VH1 doing The Fabulous Life of Gina Sabreen. And here you are dreaming about being a farmer!"

Gina tittered along with her. "Oh, you know what I mean. No matter what we may be doing, Julie, it all comes down to being in love, having a happy home, and raising a family. And no place would be more dreamy to do it in than here in Potter County!"

To that, Julie snorted, all. "Maybe you, honey. But not me. No way. I may settle down on a farm one day with the love of my life, but it won't be for a long, long time. I have to go, go, go, girl. All over the world! Before all that!"

The 'Welcome to Coudersport' sign greeted the girls from the side of the road and Julie slowed the car down. Residential homes and businesses like beverage stores, car dealers, government offices and pizza shops began to line the highway. Not a minute later she turned into the parking lot of the Westgate Inn, situated between a produce store and a government farm aid office. Across the street was a car wash and a huge General Motors car dealership.

"Home sweet home," Julie said with a sigh. "Or should I say 'our Potter County home away from home?'"

Gina unbuckled her seat belt. "It's so cool to be back here! This is more exciting than when I arrived in Rome in the spring. Oh," she pointed to a black Cadillac sedan parked in the lot, all, "That's Boom Boom's car. He's already here. Good! Let's not say anything to him about the incident at the overlook, okay? He'll just get all totally chronic over it and try to keep me on a leash."

Julie pulled into a parking space near the big sedan, her brow furrowing. "Okay, for now we won't tell him. But we have to discuss this, Gina. He has a right to know. It's his job to protect you."

"Okay, we'll talk about it later. Maybe we can tell him tomorrow? I'd just really like one evening free from being kept in his pocket!"

The motel was a three-storey modern building looking very much like a Holiday Inn. Coudersport was too small a town to boast a motel belonging to a nationwide chain, and the Westgate was locally owned as were most of the others in the area. It was right on the shore of the Allegheny River, at this point small and narrow, a little wider than a creek. The river's headwaters were located north of town and it wound through Coudersport growing in size as it moved on west through the mountains whose creeks fed it.

"Looks like some of the other Judy Bolton fans are here too," Julie observed as the girls clambered out of the car. There were several other cars parked in the lot and she recognized a couple of them as belonging to her book friends. "Some will arrive today, early birds like us, and others tomorrow on Friday. Let's check in first and then we'll come back later for the luggage."

Gina agreed and the girls entered the lobby. A middle-aged couple was registering at the front desk and there were others sitting on the suites of furniture in the spacious lobby. One group was by a table where Julie knew the continental breakfast was laid out every morning. The big coffee pot was there and a tray of donuts and brownies, and Julie recognized those around it as Judy Bolton fans.

It only took a few seconds for them to spot her and raise their voices in chorus.

"Julie Kane!"

"Hey, Julie Kane is here!"

"Terrific! Now the fun begins!"

Instantly the members of the group were on their feet. They rushed across the room and circled around Julie and Gina.

The Sabreen girl whirled around, eyes wide with amusement. She was all, "This is so entirely cool, Julie! It's you they're making a fuss over, not me. They don't even know who I am. I love it!"

Gina stepped inside, giving the people room to fuss and fawn over Julie. They looked at her curiously but they were busy shaking Julie's hand, smooching her cheek, and patting her back. There were a dozen or so of them, mostly women. and a few men, too. At length, when the buzz died down a little bit, Julie introduced them all to Gina, who knew she'd never remember all the names and was glad they were all wearing name tags, along with pin-back buttons advertising The Vanishing Shadow, the movie.

Then they were totally all over Gina, exclaiming about her Judy Bolton red hair, her singing and acting and her role in the movie. Questions were flung at her like rice at a bride as they wanted to know all about the filming the past summer and what it was like to be the girl picked to portray Judy Bolton on the screen. It took about ten minutes for this new excitement to subside and finally most of the fans drifted away with promises of catching up with them later.

Remaining were Diana Gordon and Parks Boniface, the two fans who had been organizing the Judy Bolton Day weekends since the beginning. Both were middle-aged and a little older than Gina's parents, the girl was thinking. To her, the blonde Diana looked like she could have had a career as an Italian movie queen a couple decades ago and Parks, dressed in jeans, a camouflage sweatshirt, and wearing a hunting cap, very handsome and rugged, could've been one of her dad's hunting buddies. They both assured the girl that her presence among them this weekend was nothing short of totally fabulous.

"I'm bonkers to be here myself," she let them know, all, "And I came here with Julie Kane, girl reporter! Is that cool or what?"

"The epitome of cool, I'd say," laughed Parks, eying both of the girls approvingly. "Two redheads are always better than one, you know, and you look enough alike to be sisters."

"Maybe even twins," Diana agreed, stepping back to look at them better. "And, of course, you both look like Judy Bolton. Hmm ... will the real Judy please raise her hand?"

Laughing, Gina raised hers. She was like, "Yo, that's me. I'm still officially Judy through this weekend. But of course," she turned to Julie, "the fab Miss Kane here can easily take my place if needs be."

"Nothing of the sort," Julie was quick to reply. "We'll have a total dragnet covering you to keep you in check. You'll not escape the watchful eyes of the Judy Bolton fans!"

Parks excused himself and left for the assembly room to make name tags for Julie and Gina and fetch them The Vanishing Shadow buttons. Gina watched him walk away and let out a little sigh. "Hunk-dude! He looks like the stuntmen back at the studio, not a literary group coordinator."

Diana and Julie chuckled. "Oh, he's a real character, Parks is," Julie told the girl. "He helped me solve that mystery at the Nancy Drew convention in New York last summer. We had a ball. And not only that, we faced some pretty serious dangers together."

"I know. I remember the story you wrote about it," Gina said. "I guess it'd be sort of fun to be in serious danger with him, huh?"

Julie snorted and didn't answer, so Diana butted in, "Julie flirts with him shamelessly."

Julie grinned. "Of course I do. I flirt with all the guys. A girl has to use her God-given charms to make her way in the world. Besides, he's old enough to be my dad."

"Which, I suspect, makes the flirting all the more fun?" Gina teased.

"You got it, girl," Julie tossed back. Then, "Diana here is America's number one Judy Bolton fan. She and Parks started the Judy Bolton revival back in 1991 and now fifty, sixty or more fans show up here every year for Judy Bolton Day. The town and the residents all get involved and all 38 of the books in the series are now being reprinted by Applewood Books."

Diana, dressed conservatively in slacks and a sweatshirt decorated with pumpkins and black cats, tried to play down the praise. "Plenty of others helped along the way," she told Gina, "and most of them will be here too this weekend. They'll all be happy to meet you and interested in what you still have to do for the movie."

"They'll be shooting footage at the parade on Saturday for a music video," Gina told her. "The song featured in the movie. That's why my hair is still red."

Diana nodded. "We had heard something about that. In fact, we were discussing the parade when you girls came in." The woman sighed happily. "All this and a parade too. What a terrific time we'll have! Oh, and I have a special bit of news, Julie." she added, lowering her voice. "I received a special invitation from the Chamber of Commerce for three or four of us to spend the night at the Farringdon-Pett mansion tonight, the Benton house. I'm going to stay there, maybe Parks, and you two gals are definitely included to join us. Won't we have fun?"

"I'd love to!" Julie cried. "What an experience that'll be. I doubt I'd get any sleep. And I can photograph the interior for my Lifestyles article about Judy Bolton Day weekend."

But Gina only groaned with disappointment. "Oh, man, I'd love to go too. But I know my bodyguard won't go along with it. He'd want to be there too. He's just such a stickler to the formula when it comes to protecting me."

"Uh - oh," Julie interrupted her, watching as a man approached them coming down one of the hallways leading to the first floor rooms.

He was a tall black man, huge as a brick wall like an NFL linebacker, and he was dressed like a rapper in baggy jeans and tee-shirt with the usual bling jewelry around his neck. His shaved head topped a handsome face of rugged features and Julie thought him to be very attractive in a tough-but-sexy way.

But, unfortunately, the expression on his face wasn't attractive at all. It was plain awful angry. He was staring at Gina and positively glaring. Julie knew that the man had to be Boom Boom, Gina's bodyguard, and that he was apparently very angry at her.

Julie grabbed Gina's shoulder and turned her in the direction of the approaching man.

"Lookit!" she whispered. "Is that Boom Boom?"

Diana turned to look, too, as the Sabreen girl gulped audibly.

"Yipes!" Gina gasped, all, "Ohmygod! Darn it! It's Boom Boom and he's really pissed. He must've talked to my dad and found out I came here with you, Julie. Yobs, girl, we are really gonna get it!"

Chapter Four coming soon!