Judy Bolton Days

Judy Bolton Days
First annual in 1991!

Thursday, January 31, 2013


all current chapters available at this alternate site:

Rick Brant fanfiction adventure

Rick suddenly found himself sprawled out on the cold hard ground several yards from the banged-up coupe, which had stalled and jerked to a standstill near the riverbank. His head was spinning, spots danced in front of his eyes, and he gaped around in bewilderment.  He heard a groan and turned to see Scotty struggling to sit up just a few feet away, a hand to his cheek and a trickle of blood rolling down from his nose.

"Scotty, you okay?"

Scotty opened his mouth to speak but his words were squelched by the slamming of the doors of the big sedan that had been chasing them. It had stopped not ten feet away. Three men jumped out, all of them wearing dark overcoats and wide-brimmed hats pulled down low. One of them, the driver, immediately leveled a gun at the boys.

"Alright, you eggs, stay where you are!" There was venom in his tones and his eyes held a mean glint. "We'd hate to have to hurt you any more than you already are."

Rick scowled, twisting up painfully into a sitting position, and he and Scotty exchanged feverish glances. What had they gotten themselves into now? Scotty nodded slightly, letting Rick know he was okay. Then Rick placed his hands flat on the ground to steady himself. The wind had been knocked out of him and he found himself sucking in huge gulps of air.

"Shake a leg," the gunman grunted to his accomplices. "See what kind of goods are in that coupe."

Rick blinked in confusion a couple times before he could comprehend that he and Scotty were being robbed. He watched as the other two men began to ransack the wrecked car, stiffening when he saw them pull the shopping bags out of the back seat.

"Hey, those are Christmas gifts!" he exploded.

The man with the gun laughed harshly and leered at the boys, showing rows of chipped uneven teeth. "Expensive gifts, too, I'll betcha. Parking your car at the Plaza is a dead giveaway that you got plenty of cash money to spend."

"So you did follow us from the hotel," Scotty spat angrily. "What made you think you'd be able to stop us?"

The thug chuckled in grim conceit. He pointed his gun at the rear end of the rental car. "That was duck soup, chum. Jersey plates, car rental decal on the back window. That spells 'Newark Airport' to me. And there sure are some nice lonely roads out this-a-way."

The other two thieves had opened the trunk of the coupe. Finding nothing of value within, they slammed it shut and carried the shopping bags over to the sedan.

"Guess this is it, boss," one of them said. "There's some nice stuff in these bags. Not a bad haul."

With a low snicker, he and the other man placed the shopping bags into the back seat of the big black car.

Rick clenched his fists in anger, staring in speechless amazement at the robbers. He and Scotty had spent a lot of money on the gifts, especially the bear claw necklace for Barby, which he knew they'd never be able to replace. And they wouldn't have another chance to go Christmas shopping! They were leaving for Canada in the morning.

Scotty had pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket and was dabbing at the blood dripping from his nose. He looked at the men with contempt. "How'd you know we'd been shopping?" he demanded.

The leader of the highway robbers lowered his gun a few inches and spoke with a condescending disdain. "Don't know much about a stake-out, do you? We saw you get out of the taxi and go in the hotel carrying those bags with Fifth Avenue store names on 'em. So we just sat and waited for you to pull out of the garage."

One of the other men snorted, then his voice rang out with humor. "Tell 'em about it! This is our busy time of year, ain't it?. Cripes, we work twelve hours a day or more during the Christmas season!"

He let out a loud guffaw and the other two thugs joined in for a hearty laugh. Then the 'boss' with the gun said, "Get the ropes and tie these boys to the bumpers of that coupe. We don't want 'em running out to the pike and getting the cops on our trail."

Several lengths of rope were retrieved from the sedan's trunk and Rick and Scotty were forced to get up on their feet and walk over to the rental car. Rick's head was reeling and he ached all over, and he knew that Scotty probably didn't feel any better. The last thing they needed now was to be tied up to the car in the cold and the falling snow!

His eyes spat daggers at the three men as he was forced to sit down on the ground next to the coupe's back bumper. "Are you guys crazy? We'll freeze to death out here!"

"We won't gag you," the boss jeered in his hard-as-nails tones. "We'll give you a break. After all, you made this heist easy for us by pulling off the road and driving back here. If you holler loud enough, someone'll hear you, sooner or later."

Rick's wrists were securely bound to the heavy metal bumper with the stout ropes. Scotty was then shoved to the front of the coupe, almost on the water's edge. They pushed him down to the ground and tied his wrists to the front bumper. Rick could see only Scotty's legs because of the opened passenger door.

When the men were done, they turned away and tossed back a couple taunting goodbyes as they strode to the sedan. Then they climbed into the big car and, moments later, its engine roared to life. The car backed up and turned around, then shot forward down the dirt road. Rick and Scotty were left alone in the falling snow, bound to the bumpers of the damaged rental car.

For a minute or two there was complete silence. Then Rick's voice rang out, "Jeez! What do you make of it, Scotty? I've heard of highway robbery, but who'd think crooks would follow you all the way out here from Fifth Avenue?"

"I don't get it," Scotty retorted angrily. "If they watched us get out of the taxi and go into the hotel, how would they know we parked our car in the garage and would be coming back out? We could have been registered guests and staying overnight, for all they'd know."

"Good point." Rick tugged aimlessly at the ropes binding his wrists. "Maybe they saw us pull in earlier? They may just play a waiting game, watching to see who goes in to park, goes shopping, then comes back out in their car."

Scotty grunted. "Could be. It was sure worth their trouble, anyway. We spent several hundred dollars on those gifts. Did you happen to get their license plate number? I didn't even think of looking."

Rick puzzled a moment, then rolled his eyes in chagrin. "I didn't think of it either. Everything happened so fast and my head feels like I got a concussion. Guess I'm not thinking clearly."

"That makes two of us." Rick could hear the slow burn of anger in Scotty's voice. "This is bad news. We wrecked this sharp-looking coupe and lost all our Christmas gifts!"

A sudden thought tugged painfully at Rick. "And the extra bear tracker collar in the shopping bag, too!"

Scotty groaned in response. "Right! I forgot all about it. And now we're both half-knocked out from being thrown from the car, and tied up in this desolate spot where no one will ever find us. We may as well be on the moon!"

"And even if we do get out of here," Rick added, "we won't be able to fly the Cub home. It'd be too late by the time we get to the airport." He looked up at the bleak sky and grimaced. "It'll be dark in a couple hours and we'll never get back on the road by then."

Rick's yellow Piper Cub was not equipped for night flying, nor was he experienced at it. It appeared that they were trapped in this miserable lonely spot with no hope in sight.

Then Scotty suddenly let out a wild hoot. "Wait a minute! The bear tracker! You're wearing the tracker collar on your arm. Barby will know where we are!"

A grin crossed Rick's face and a tide of relief washed over him as he once again became aware of the snug coil of the collar around his arm. He started to laugh. "Man, it totally slipped my mind!"

Then both boys were laughing heartily as relief and hope made the dire situation they were in seem suddenly not so perilous.

Rick breathed out a happy sigh. "Whew! Barby is probably right now wondering why we've stopped along the river."

Scotty hooted again. "Yeah, just a quick stop to do some fishing."

"If it gets any colder," Rick snapped back, "it'll be ice fishing."

"If the river freezes, that's okay," Scotty went on.. "Just so it doesn't rise. A few more feet and I'll be in it!"

"Don't worry. We'll be all right." The flame of hope now sparked in Rick's eyes. "Barby will know that something's wrong. There's no way we'd stop out here. She knows we have to fly home before dark." He flexed the bicep of his arm to feel the snugness of the collar again, feeling like a goose for having forgotten about it. "Barby will tell Dad we've mysteriously stopped. He'll call the police and we'll be rescued...."

"Hopefully before we turn into icicles," Scotty cut in with a grim chuckle.

Rick looked up to the gloomy sky again with its increasingly thickening snowflakes fluttering down. He was grateful that it wasn't particularly windy. That would have made the cold feel much colder and the ordeal of being bound to the car by the riverbank even more threatening.

"Try to move around," he suggested. "Can you stand up? I think I can. I'm not quite so dizzy anymore."

Fortunately, Rick's wrists were tied to the bumper in front of him and not behind his back. Leaning against the bumper and trunk, he pushed himself to his feet. But it cost him some effort. He was breathing hard and felt dizzy again in the stooped-over position.

"Ho!" he gasped, leaning heavily against the back of the car. "I feel like I just took on Notre Dame's entire defensive line."

There was a series of grunts and groans from Scotty. Then, "Confound it! I'm up on my knees but now my head's spinning. This'll drive me batty!"

"I'm on my feet," Rick told him, "but not too steady. Maybe I can cut these ropes on the bumpers' edges if I can get some slack."

"Good idea. And I'm going to shout. I'll put this booming voice of mine to good use."

Rick smiled as Scotty started yelling, "Help! Help! Help!"

"They ought to hear you all the way back home on Spindrift Island," Rick laughed.

"That's the idea. And somebody has got to be around here somewhere. At least I hope so. And I intend to make them hear me!"

Scotty continued his shouting and Rick kept on pulling and tugging at the ropes. He groaned in exasperation, wishing this awful ordeal was over and done with, and that he and Scotty were back home - safe, sound, and warm.

"Hey there, Mr. Scott," he called out. "I guess this is good practice for being outdoors up at Hudson Bay."

"Yah, right," he heard Scotty jeer back. "Only problem is, we're dressed for Christmas shopping on Fifth Avenue, not for polar bear tracking in the subarctic."

"So right you are," Rick agreed, shivering in the leather bomber jacket he wore for flying the Cub. "Brrr! So right you are........"

They would be staying at Fort Churchill up in Manitoba, a Canadian military base near the town of Churchill and the shores of Hudson Bay. Rick knew that the military would outfit them in all the latest cold weather gear worn by the soldiers for their maneuvers. They'd probably be as warm in the subzero northern cold as they would be basking in the sun on a south Florida beach. Certainly much warmer than they were right here and now!

Time passed slowly as the boys struggled with their bonds and tried to warm up by jiggling around the best they could. Rick was just beginning to get a little slack in the rope that bound his left wrist when he realized that Scotty had stopped shouting for help.

"Hey, did you fall asleep?" he asked.

"No, sir! It's too cold to sleep. I'm just resting my voice. There's no one around to hear me anyway. Heck, I may as well sing."

"Please don't," Rick shot back with affected fright. "Lest you forget, I'm here. I'd hear every miserable note of it."

Scotty noisily cleared his throat. "Good. Talk about a captive audience!"

With that, he burst into song, a warbling rendition of The White Cliffs of Dover that rang out over the wetlands like a gorilla's mating call. Rick cringed, but he couldn't help laughing. The lovely ballad that had been a victory call to millions during the war was never intended to be delivered in that manner.

"You sound worse than Bob Hope and Martha Raye, together," he called out.

Scotty ended the verse he'd been warbling. "Humphh! In that case, buster, you'll now have to endure my down-home-hillbilly version of G. I. Jive."

"Oh no," Rick groaned, as Scotty segued into a bouncy country rendition of the popular swing tune about the woes of military camp. But he smiled in satisfaction as he looked around at the desolate riverside landscape. Scotty always had a way of bringing some humor into a stressful and dangerous situation. He hoped, however, that he wouldn't have to listen to all of Scotty's favorite songs that he had learned in the Marines. Somebody had better come to rescue them, and soon!

But time dragged on, and Scotty sang on and on, as the sky began to darken and the snow fell harder. Rick's fingers, even though gloved, were numb from the cold, and he felt completely exhausted and aching all over. He'd given up trying to loosen the ropes after having little luck at it, and was now sitting on the ground again, shivering and listening to Scotty's grating vocals.

It was too late now to fly the Cub home. It was already dark. It seemed like they had been there for hours and hours. Was help never going to arrive?

"Come on, Barby, " Rick muttered to himself. "Come on! You've just got to have  figured out by now that we've stopped!"

Several minutes later as Scotty was just revving up an especially hoarse and boisterous Chattanooga Choo Choo, Rick suddenly heard the wailing of a siren in the distance.

"Yippee!" he cried, pushing himself back up to his feet. "Scotty! It's a siren. Out there on the pike!"

Scotty abruptly stopped singing. The wailing siren was loud and clear. "It's the police! Coming for us! They can throw me in jail, for all I care. Just so the heat is on!"

Both boys began to yell at the top of their lungs as the blaring siren drew closer and closer. The whining wail seemed to hover in a spot, then move on, at times diminishing as it moved further away, but then it would come back in their direction again, growing louder.

"They're searching," Rick said. "Must be other roads along this way that lead into the woods. Hey, it sounds like they made a turn and are coming down the dirt road toward us!"

The siren was indeed closing in on them. Soon they saw the bright beams of headlights twisting and turning through the darkness of the woods. Rick stiffened and his nerves began to tingle. Then he and Scotty were shouting again, their voices hoarse and strained but filled with exultation.

"Over here!"
"This way!"

"Ho! Here we are!"

The car with the blaring siren shot out from the trees and brush and its headlights fixed directly on the damaged coupe with the boys bound to it on either end. Rick blinked and averted his eyes to avoid the sudden bright glare as the vehicle, a Newark police car, pulled up to a skidding halt a few feet away. The front doors flew open and two burly police officers jumped out. For a moment they were stunned and stood there gaping in surprise at the boys. Then they sprang forward, quick concern flashing in their eyes.

"What goes on here?" snapped the officer who had been driving. "What happened to you fellows?"

"Highway robbery," Rick was quick to answer. "We were Christmas shopping in Manhattan. Three crooks trailed us all the way out here in a big sedan. We headed down this road to get away, but it sure was a mistake."

"You bet it was," Scotty broke in. "They followed us and shot out a back tire. It set us into a spin and we side-swiped that tree and were thrown from the car."

"Then they stole our Christmas gifts," Rick added in disgusted tones, "and tied us up to the bumpers. Right out here in the cold and snow."

"No good so-and-so's!" The driver of the patrol car  growled as he pulled out a pocket knife and hurried over to Scotty. "Stealing from shoppers increases every year at holiday time, but it's usually confined to Manhattan and downtown Newark."

"Right," the other policeman agreed, as he too pulled a knife from his belt and approached Rick. "This is a first, out here by the river. You boys could have frozen to death. Good thing we got that call from Whiteside."

"Whiteside?" Rick exclaimed, as the man began cutting the ropes around his wrists.

"Yes indeed, young man. Our station got a call from Captain Douglas at the Whiteside police barracks about twenty minutes ago. Said to look for two boys stalled along the river, right in this very area. Something about a radio tracking experiment gone wrong."

"It sure did go wrong," Scotty growled, as he was helped up to his feet. "We never expected highway robbery to be thrown into the equation."

Rick was cut free and helped up onto his wobbly legs. He had to lean against the car for a few moments before he could take a step forward.

"Better get inside the cruiser, boys," they were urged. "You've been out in this cold far too long."

Walking felt like something they'd have to learn all over again as the policemen helped the boys over to the patrol car and into the back seat.

"Do you need anything from your coupe?" asked one of the men.

Rick leaned back wearily against the cushions. "No. It's a rental car from Newark Airport. The thieves took everything that belonged to us."

"Then just sit back and relax," the driver said, as the doors slammed. "We'll get you to headquarters in a jiffy. Your folks are coming there to meet you. In from some island, I think."

"Spindrift Island," Rick said, as the warmth from the car's heater overwhelmed him. He felt like he could float away into pleasant oblivion.

The other officer turned the heater up a notch. "Isn't that the location of the famous scientific laboratories?"

"Right," Scotty answered, sprawled out on the back seat. "Rick and his family live there. His dad runs the laboratories. I work for them and live there, too." He guffawed loudly and slapped his knee, adding, "Oh, lucky me!"

Rick elbowed him in the ribs as the cruiser sped back to the pike. "Lucky you is right. Look at the adventure you just had. Which you certainly wouldn't have had if you didn't pal around with me!"

Scotty rolled his eyes heavenward. "Oh sure. Chased by crooks, thrown from a car, tied up all afternoon in the winter cold. What a great ball! Next time I pick a friend, I'll make sure he's the son of a librarian, not a famous scientist."

The policemen chuckled at the boys' friendly banter as the patrol car pulled off the dirt road and roared on down the pike toward Newark, which could now be seen twinkling with lights in the distance.

Scotty leaned closer to Rick. "Barby came through," he whispered. "Just like we figured she would. Not only is the tracking system a success, but it already saved our lives!"

Rick grunted in agreement, feeling himself begin to slip away. Scotty was right, the system was a success. Their rescue in the wetlands proved it. But something kept nagging at his mind as the warmth inside the cruiser enveloped him. Something just didn't seem right. But whatever it was, he just couldn't think straight enough to put a finger on it. Then his lids drooped and complete exhaustion overtook him.

"Wake up, Rick. Don't think these Newark police are going to let you sleep the night away. They want a complete report from us about the accident and robbery."

Rick opened his eyes to see Scotty looking down at him. He was standing outside the police car holding out his hand, waiting for Rick to join him.

"And they have a doctor here at the station to check us out. 'Attaboy, rise and shine."

Like in a dream he didn't want to awaken from, Rick reached out to Scotty and let his friend pull him out of the back seat. There was a dull throb in his head and it seemed that every bone and muscle in his body was aching.

He grimaced and forced a laugh. "I hope that doctor has some strong pain pills. I think I'm going to need a few."

Glaring lights lit up the yard in back of the police station and cast weird shadows on the patrol cars and other vehicles parked in the lot. Through the falling snow, the skyscrapers of downtown Newark could be seen looming over the rooftop ahead, their windows bright with light for late office workers and cleaning crews. Rick groaned in dismay as he and Scotty fell into step behind the two policemen who led them to the back entrance.

"What's wrong?" Scotty asked.

"The Cub. We'll have to leave it at the airport for now."

"May as well just keep it there until we get back from Canada," Scotty suggested. "It'll only be a week or so. The mechanics can give it a once over."

"Good idea," Rick agreed. "Dad and Hobart can drive us to the airport in the morning and we'll arrange to store the Cub in a hangar."

Hobart Zircon was a famous scientist who lived with the Brants and worked at the Spindrift Laboratories. He was a big booming man who was afraid of nothing and nobody, and he had accompanied the boys on the expedition to Tibet earlier in the year.

"Don't you wish Hobart was coming with us to Hudson Bay?" Scotty asked, as he and Rick entered the building.

"It'd sure be great to have him join us," Rick agreed. "I know I'd feel better having him along. But we should be okay on our own. What could possibly happen in Canada?"

"There they are!"

"The boys!"



Familiar voices rang out in exclamation from down the corridor, and the boys looked ahead to see Mr. and Mrs. Brant and Barby hurrying toward them. Following close behind were Hobart Zircon and Jerry Webster, their friend who was a reporter for the Whiteside Morning Record.

In a moment the group had reached their side and there was pandemonium for several minutes as shouts and cries of greeting were heaped upon them. Every hug and handshake and slap on the back made both Rick and Scotty wince in pain because of their bruises and sore muscles and bones.

"Hold it, already!" Rick laughed in the confusion, as he hugged Barby happily. "We're okay. Really! Just banged up a little."

"I had a bloody nose, but it's all right now," said Scotty, as Barby pulled away from Rick to hug him in turn. "That was good going, Barby. We knew you'd wonder what was wrong and call the police."

Barby looked up to him with wide round eyes, and then gaped over to Rick. "But what happened? All of a sudden you stopped, and then didn't budge. By the river outside of Newark, of all places. After a while I knew something had to be wrong!"

"Yes, Rick," Mrs. Brant worriedly put in. "Tell us what happened."

"We were stalked all the way from Fifth Avenue and robbed," Rick explained, as the two police officers patiently waited for them. He told the others about the stake-out and resulting attack in the wetlands by the lonely pike.

"My gosh!" Mrs. Brant declared, wringing her hands. "That's awful. Who would think something like that could happen nowadays?"

"I'd sure like to get my hands on those birds," Hobart Zircon growled, raising a big fist. "Shoot at my friends and tie them up in the cold?  No way! They better hope they don't run into me."

Hartson Brant shook his head in dismay, but there was a glimmer of pride in his eyes as he looked at Rick and Scotty. "At least you boys didn't get hurt seriously. You could've broken some bones in that car crash, or worse. But have no fear, the police will round up those second-rate thieves."

"You bet they will," barked Jerry Webster, who was jotting down notes on his ever-present pad. "I'll write this up for the morning paper with full details. Everyone in North Jersey will be wise to those thugs and on the lookout for them. If they have any brains, they'll stay in Manhattan after this!"

Rick suddenly snapped his fingers. "There was an extra bear tracker collar in one of those shopping bags. The thieves might activate it!"

Barby nodded eagerly in understanding, her blonde ponytail bobbing. "I'll keep the receiving unit on day and night in case they do. I'll be able to get their coordinates and send the law right to their doorstep." She stopped to chuckle. "Well, maybe not that precise, but at least to their neighborhood."

"And hopefully get all our Christmas gifts back," Scotty interjected. "We bought some really neat stuff. Expensive, too. And a very special gift for you, Barby - well, it's one-of-a-kind. It can't be replaced."

"Don't you fret," she returned, eyes sparkling. "People are curious. Those men will surely activate the collar. And I'll track them down!"

"And now we had better let the doctor check you boys out, and make a police report about the incident," advised Rick's distinguished-looking and famous dad, nodding in the direction of the waiting policemen. "Then we can return home to Spindrift Island. You are flying to Manitoba tomorrow and still have plenty of preparations to make."

As they walked down the hall to the headquarters main office, Rick asked Barby if she had come across any information about black polar bears while doing her research.

She looked at him oddly. "Funny you should ask that, Rick. Yes, there is the legend of Nanook noir, the spirit bear, or sometimes called the devil bear. It's an old Eskimo legend. The aboriginal people of the far north have all kinds of spooky superstitions. Then add to that the beliefs of the old French fur trappers and voyageurs, the Cree and Chippewayan Indians, and the resulting half-breeds called the Metis - and you have a whole encyclopedia-full of north country scary stories." Barby shuddered. "One I found really fascinating was the legend of La Mort Rouge."

"La Mort Rouge?" repeated Scotty. "What's that?"

"The Red Death." Barby's eyes widened. "That's what they called the smallpox plagues that ravaged Europe and North America in the latter decades of the last century. It brought horrible death to thousands in Canada's far north, and to this day many of the people remain fearful of it and superstitious. They say that off in remote far-flung places you can still see the sign of the Red Death - a red cloth flag hung from the doorway of an old abandoned cabin in which someone had died from the disease."

Scotty looked at her in wonderment for a moment. Then, with a grin, he faked a nervous shudder. He reached over and clapped Rick on the shoulder.

"Wow! We may have to think twice about this trip," he declared. "Black polar bears and the Red Death! What in the world are we getting ourselves into, old chum?"


 a Rick Brant fanfiction adventure

all current chapters available at this alternate site:

New York City, December 1948
Rick Brant and his friend Don Scott walked down bustling Fifth Avenue in New York City. It was a gray overcast  Friday afternoon in mid-December and the boys were on vacation from Whiteside High for the holidays. The jostling crowds of Christmas shoppers, the Salvation Army Santas clanging their bells at the store entrances, and the hawkers of every type offering their wares on the street corners all added to the festive holiday spirit boldly announced by the colorful decorations on storefronts and lampposts.

Rick smiled broadly as he looked around. "There's nothing quite like Fifth Avenue at Christmas time, Scotty," he said, using his friend's nickname. "It sure can get you in the holiday spirit."

Scotty, a husky dark-haired boy who was a year older and a few inches taller than the slimmer brown-haired Rick, nodded in agreement. "We're in the holiday spirit, all right." He looked down at the shopping bags they were carrying, both of them filled with gifts. "All we have to do is buy something for Barby and we'll be finished with our Christmas shopping."

Barby was Rick's sister, a pretty blonde a year younger than him. Scotty had taken a special liking to her since having come to live with the Brant family at their big house on Spindrift Island off the New Jersey coast, not far from New York City.

"We have to get her something special. Something relating to polar bears," Rick said as they walked past Saks Fifth Avenue department store. The boys both craned their necks to look over the heads of the crowd at the elegant holiday window displays.

"I know of a taxidermy shop on 46th Street near Times Square," Scotty told him. "There's a pawn shop next door where I used to pawn things when I needed money before I joined the Marines."

Rick didn't know much about Scotty's life before he had come to live with him and his family after his stint with the Marines in the war was over. Scotty seldom talked about it. "Sounds good," Rick said. "They might have a polar bear tooth, or something like that. Let's go to Rockefeller Center to see the ice skaters and the big Christmas tree, then we'll go over to Times Square."

Scotty agreed and the boys crossed the avenue at 50th Street by St. Patrick's Cathedral, moving along with the teeming crowds. Rick was especially proud of Barby right now. Through her very own ingenuity, he and Scotty were poised on the brink of what promised to be an exciting adventure. Rick tensed the muscles of his upper left arm, and he could feel the snug-fitting band he wore wrapped around it that he and Scotty had dubbed 'The Barby Bear Tracker'. He grinned as a couple of the holiday shoppers jostled him and Scotty.

"Hold onto those bags," Scotty remarked. "We sure don't want to lose our gifts."

"No way," Rick replied. "Especially with the extra tracker collar in this bag I'm carrying. Isn't it great to know that Barby is back home tracking us here in New York City?"

"It's super," Scotty agreed. "We should call her by telephone and see how it's working."

"Great idea! We can call her on the way over to Times Square."

The boys knew that right now Barby was sitting at the desk in Rick's bedroom tracking them on the base station radio unit. The entire bear tracking collar invention had been her idea. Barby had written a paper for school last term about the polar bears up north on Hudson Bay in Canada. While doing her research, she discovered that the Canadian Wildlife Service was trying to put together a tracking collar system for the bears so that the biologists could keep tabs on them to study their lives and habits.

Because of his talent in electronic science, Barby had suggested to Rick that he try to design a bear tracking collar system. He took up the challenge and within several weeks had a working model. With the help of his father, Hartson W. Brant, the world famous scientist, and the other electronic scientists at the Spindrift Laboratories on Spindrift Island, Rick soon had a base unit put together that could track the collars using radio waves and geodetic coordinates.

Then came the really exciting part. Through connections of Rick's dad and the Spindrift labs, Rick was invited by the Canadian Wildlife Service to take his tracking system up to Hudson Bay and try it out on the polar bears. If it worked and the service wanted it, the Spindrift Laboratories would produce the system and Rick would receive a royalty for having conceived and created it.

Of course, Scotty was to accompany Rick to Canada, and the boys were scheduled to leave for the Manitoba coast of Hudson Bay on the following day. The plan, if all went well, was to stay a few days in the Churchill area testing out the system and then return home to arrive the day before Christmas. Chahda , the Hindu boy they had recently met in India while on their way to Tibet, was going to be home from his boarding school in Massachusetts for the holidays, and they were looking forward to seeing him. He had become another adopted member of the family. Even though both Rick and Scotty were excited at the prospect of going to the far North in the dead of winter, they wouldn't dream of missing Christmas on Spindrift Island for anything.

Soon the boys had reached the lower plaza, the world famous open court surrounded by the towering skyscrapers of Rockefeller Center. They wormed their way through the crowds to the ice rink where dozens of skaters were spinning around in carefree abandon beneath the golden statue of Prometheus and the tall beautifully decorated Christmas tree above it.

"That's the tallest Christmas tree in the world," Rick said, gazing up at its heights. "Wow, what a job to decorate it, huh?"

Scotty didn't respond and Rick looked over to see a very pensive and sober look on his friend's face.

Scotty sighed. "I used to come here every Christmas season when I was younger. Usually alone. I'd stroll over here to see the tree and watch the skaters."

Rick looked at him, feeling uncomfortable and not knowing what to say.

Scotty smiled a sheepish grin. "I guess I'll tell you about those days ..... someday."

Rick clapped him on the back and squeezed his shoulder. "Hey, anytime you want to." Knowing it wasn't polite to pry, Rick looked back to the ice rink and added, "This is one of the most popular New York holiday traditions. Lots of people from all over the world come here to see the ice skaters and the Christmas tree."

Scotty looked up to the tops of the powerful skyscrapers surrounding them. "Whew! How did they construct these buildings? Darn if it doesn't make you wonder. Manhattan is one heck of a place. Sure beats that lost city back in Tibet, doesn't it?"

Rick nodded in agreement. Scotty was referring to the adventure they'd had earlier in the year when they discovered THE LOST CITY of the Mongols in the Valley of the Golden Tomb in Tibet, and relayed a radio message from there to Spindrift Island via the moon.

"Good thing Barby gave us those fireworks for the Fourth of July," Rick said. "They sure helped to scare off the Mongols and save the day. We were lucky to get out of there alive."

Scotty smirked. "We'll be lucky to get out of this place alive, too. But if we don't make it, at least Barby will know where we are."

The crush of the crowd had grown to annoying proportions, and they really did need to move on and finish their shopping so they could get home to Spindrift Island in time for supper. The boys had flown to Newark Airport in Rick's yellow Piper Cub airplane. There they had rented a late model coupe and driven into the city. They had parked the car at the Plaza Hotel near Central Park.

"Then let's scram," Rick suggested. "We'll stop and call Barby, then go to the taxidermy shop."

Scotty agreed and they literally had to push their way out of the crowded plaza. Both of them being young and strong and athletic, they had to be careful not to knock anyone down.

"Sort of like holiday-shopping football, isn't it?" Scotty commented with a laugh. "Look at all these people!"

Rick chuckled too. "But I bet I'm the only one here wearing a bear tracking collar!"

"The only one in all of Manhattan," Scotty corrected. "You truly are one-in-a-million, young man!"

The boys walked over to Seventh Avenue and then down to 46th Street in the heart of the theater district. They stopped at a telephone booth on the corner where Broadway intersected, and Rick stepped inside to place a call to Spindrift Island.

Barby let out a squeal when she heard his voice. "Rick! I'm tracking you perfectly! This system is a huge success. Right now the co-ordinates tell me you are smack in midtown Manhattan. Looks like, um, Times Square......?"

"We're right on the uptown edge of it," Rick said, excited at the exactness of the tracking system. "Are you picking up the signal loud and clear?"

"Clear as a bell, Rick."

"That's amazing, considering the crowds and these tall buildings."

Barby chuckled. "The relay antennas Dad got them to put on the Chrysler Building and the lighthouse at Sandy Hook really do the job! And those new-fangled things you scientists call 'transistors' really fire up the transmitters on those collars."

Rick's eyes crinkled with a big grin. "You bet they do. I just knew the Spindrift labs were right on track with dreaming those up. When they become readily available in the near future, why .... they'll revolutionize radio!"

Barby always knew Rick was one hundred percent right. "Wowsville! Just wait till you guys get up to Hudson Bay. You'll be able to track the polar bears all the way to the North Pole."

Scotty leaned into the booth and shouted in the phone. "We're almost done shopping, Barby. Just have to get a gift for you and then we're on our way home."

"We'll get you something really special," Rick added. "The tracking system was your idea, and you deserve something out of the ordinary."

Barby wished them luck. "I'll track you on the way home," she added. "Have a good flight from Newark!"

Rick hung up the phone and he and Scotty crossed Broadway at the intersection famous for being one of the busiest in the world. Lugging the shopping bags, they hurried down West 46th Street.

"That's the pawn shop." Scotty pointed ahead as they approached. "And next door is the taxidermist."

Rick looked at the pawn shop as they passed and he couldn't imagine Scotty having to go there to trade items for cash. He was glad his friend now lived with him, had a good job and school to attend, a family, and a roof over his head.

The taxidermy shop was far more interesting. The sign above the door read MORRY'S WILD ADVENTURE, and the windows on each side were filled with animals of every kind, from small squirrels and chipmunks to the large heads of deer and moose.

"Looks like my kind of place," Rick said as Scotty pulled open the door, setting off a little bell to tinkling.

Entering the store was indeed like walking into a wild adventure. Animals of every size and shape filled the crowded establishment, every one of them frozen forever in a dramatic pose. There were jungle beasts from Africa, India, and South America, predators from the mountains, forests, and deserts of North America, and critters familiar to everyone from their own backyards.

"Wow," Rick breathed, impressed as he looked at antlered heads, skins, and pelts hanging on the walls. "I sure could spend a fortune in this place."

Scotty's eyes darted from one beautiful trophy to the next. "They're all pretty incredible. I guess people actually buy these animals and pelts and display them in their homes."

Rick rolled his eyes and chuckled. "Could you imagine Mom's surprise if we brought her home a tiger?" He pointed to a white one with black stripes that was almost as big as Scotty. It was hunched down and ready to spring at an imaginary victim.

Scotty grinned. "I think she'd throw us out if we brought something like that home. I've heard of white tigers, but I never saw one before."

"They are very rare, indeed," said a voice behind them. "That one is an especially excellent specimen. And a good buy, too, at only five hundred dollars."

The boys swung around to see a short elderly man with graying hair and a close-cropped beard. His sharp-featured face held a friendly expectant smile and his inquisitive eyes darted up and down as he assessed the boys as prospective customers.

"Five hundred!" Scotty exclaimed. "Jeez, who would buy it at a price like that, and what would they do with it?"

The man smiled in amusement, giving the boys a somewhat condescending look. Scotty's remark had let him know they weren't going to be big spenders. "The usual buyer for a trophy of that quality is an uptown executive, and it'd most probably be placed in his library or den where it can readily be admired from a favorite easy chair. It might even find its way out to a Connecticut or Long Island estate."

Rick's brows furrowed. "Well, it's definitely not going out to the New Jersey estate where we live. My mom would bop me one, even if I could afford it. What we're interested in is polar bears. Not a whole one, mind you. Something small. A pelt, a claw, maybe a tooth?"

The man introduced himself as Morry Patterson, the owner of the shop, then crooked his finger. "You're in luck. I recently got a shipment of polar bear items from an associate up north."

Rick and Scotty followed him around to the next aisle where an elephant head competed with a huge gorilla for attention, next to them two striking wolves, one white and one black. Across from the wolves was a polar bear cub on all fours with several fluffy white pelts piled high next to it. Beside them was a massive full-grown male polar bear that looked more than ten feet tall. It was standing on its hind legs, its front paws raking the air with long black claws extended.

"Man, would you look at that beast?" Scotty exclaimed. "Big fellow, isn't he?"

Rick nodded with wide eyes. "I sure wouldn't want to run into him on an ice floe."

"A prize specimen, to be sure," Morry said proudly, patting the big bear affectionately. "But the price on this fellow is one thousand dollars. I don't think you boys are interested in spending that much, eh? What price range are you looking for?"

Rick shrugged. "Around fifty dollars or so, I suppose. We need a Christmas gift for my sister, something for a girl. She has a keen interest in polar bears."

Morry's eyes lit up and he grinned shrewdly. "I might have just the item you seek, although I don't know if I can go that low on it. Come on over to the showcase."

He led the way to a glass showcase in the back of the shop where he had his cash register and other office items. He stepped around behind as the boys looked at the articles within. There were feathers of every color and hue, some made into headdresses, pins, and other decorous items. Snake skins, small birds, and rabbit feet on gold chains were set on the velvet-covered shelves along with an array of jewelry made from the animal hides and parts.

"This is great stuff," Rick said admiringly. "I didn't know taxidermy extended to items like these."

"Its main popularity is with interior decor, but jewelry and accessories are a close second." The shopkeeper pulled a box out of the showcase and placed it on the glass top. The boys' jaws both dropped at the sight of what lay within it. It was a necklace on an ornate silver chain featuring five long gently curved white claws connected an eighth of an inch apart by silver caps and links.

"It's beautiful," Rick said, immediately liking the piece.

"And the perfect gift for Barby," Scotty added, his eyes wide with admiration.

Suddenly Rick's brows knitted in thought. He looked down the aisle at the huge white polar bear, then back to the necklace. "Are these polar bear claws?"

Morry nodded. "You bet they are. And rare ones, too."

"But they're white," Rick said. "Polar bear claws are black, aren't they?"

The older man grinned. "Indeed they are, almost always. But these claws are from a black polar bear. Blacks are extremely rare and almost never seen. Some experts believe they are only the stuff of old Indian and Eskimo legends. They are like a reverse albino specimen, an oddity, and they have white claws."

The boys looked at him dubiously. "Are you serious?" Rick asked. "Black polar bears?"

"Serious as can be." Morry turned and pulled a manilla folder off a shelf behind him. He flopped it on the counter, opened it, and began rifling through a bunch of eight-by-ten hunting photographs.

"Here." He placed one of the photographs on the counter so the boys could see it. It was a winter scene on a frozen treeless tundra. A parka-clad hunter stood on each side of a huge black bear spread out on its stomach to show its enormous size. It looked like a polar bear, but it was black.

"They're probably one-in-a-million," Morry went on. "Or even more rare than that. This is a photo of the only known one ever to be taken whole, several years ago up in Manitoba. The claws on this necklace came from one that had been killed in a fight with another bear. Its carcass had mostly been devoured by scavengers when the hunters found it, but they were able to salvage some of it."

Rick and Scotty exchanged glances. They knew that many animal species were known to produce strange oddities now and then. It would only make sense that the same would apply to polar bears. Rick wondered if Barby had come across this information in her recent study of the polar bears, and he made a mental note to ask her about it.

"This is really a very special item then," he said, looking at the necklace again. "And that's what we want. What's the price?"

"One hundred dollars."

Rick and Scotty both groaned.

"We just can't afford that," Rick said. "Although I'm sure the necklace is worth every penny of it."

Scotty made a fist and pounded it lightly on the showcase top. "But we have to get this for Barby!"

Morry Patterson lifted an eyebrow. "Is it so important to get her a polar bear item? I have plenty of other things appropriate for a young lady."

Rick nodded. He briefly told the man about Barby's idea for the tracking system, how he had actually turned it into a reality, and that he and Scotty would soon be bound for Hudson Bay to test it out. "So you see, we just have to get her something like this," he added.

The shopkeeper stood back and looked the boys over. "That's quite an impressive tale. It just so happens that I get most of my polar bear items from the Churchill area. I'd heard from my contacts up that way that the Canadian Wildlife Service has been testing ways and means of tracking the bears."

"Rick is wearing one of the collars," Scotty told the man. "And we have another in one of these shopping bags. Barby's at home tracking us right now. Show him the collar, Rick."

Rick usually didn't like to flaunt his inventions, but he could see no harm in showing the collar to the man. He withdrew his left arm from its jacket sleeve and showed Morry the brown leather collar coiled tightly around his upper arm. In its center was a round metal casing which held the electronic tracking device.

Morry stroked his beard and looked dubious. "And it really works?"

Scotty nodded eagerly. "It sure does. We called Barby a few minutes ago and she knew exactly where we were. In Times Square. Through connections of Rick's dad, we got test relay antennas put up on the Chrysler Building and the old lighthouse at Sandy Hook, in the state park in New Jersey. They are picking up the signal, amplifying it, and sending it back to the base unit at home perfectly."

"Hmmm." Scratching his chin, the elderly man pressed his lips together and his eyes narrowed. "And you have another in one of those shopping bags?"

Rick nodded, pulling his jacket sleeve back up into place. "It's not activated, but we brought it along as a spare, just in case. They're really pretty simple devices that most anyone with a knowledge of radio electronics could understand."

The shop owner chuckled. "Nothing electronic seems simple to me. But it sure looks like you got a winner there, and your little gal who came up with the idea does indeed deserve this necklace as a reward."

"Can you come down on the price?" Rick asked eagerly.

"Tell you what I'll do. This item is for sale on consignment. In other words, it belongs to another party and I get a commission for selling it. I sell a lot of items in that manner. I can call the owner at his office, and if he's willing to come down to what you can afford, it's yours."

Rick and Scotty exchanged hopeful glances. "We'd really appreciate your doing that, Mr. Patterson," Rick told him.

"Let me go in the back and make the call," said the man. "It might take a few minutes, so just hold on and I'll be back shortly."

He put the lid on the box with the necklace and took it with him, pulling aside a curtain which hung in the doorway leading to another room in the back of the shop. He was soon lost to sight and the boys could hear him dialing a telephone.

"Man, if we can get it for fifty bucks, that'd be half price," Scotty said in a low voice. "A real bargain, huh?"

"He'll probably want seventy-five," Rick said with a grin, expecting that this was just a set-up for bartering. "We'll have to offer sixty in that case. That's the absolute highest we can go."

Scotty nodded sagely and they listened to the murmur of Morry's voice as they awaited his return. Soon enough, they heard the click of the phone being hung up and the curtain was thrust aside. The man walked out smiling.

"You fellows are in luck," he said, placing the box back on the counter. "The owner says you can have it for fifty dollars. He can use the money for some hunting gear. Believe me, you're getting a really good deal."

Rick and Scotty looked at each other with surprised glances, then eagerly sprang for their wallets. They hadn't expected such good news.

"Thanks, Mr. Patterson," Scotty beamed. "You really caught us a break."

They paid him for the necklace and the man removed the box lid so they could see it again. Then he wrapped the box in a heavy protective paper. "Did you boys drive in from New Jersey?" he asked, as he placed the wrapped box in a paper bag.

"We rented a coupe at Newark Airport and drove in from there," Rick told him. "We parked the car uptown at the Plaza Hotel. And we'd better hurry and get going. It's a long drive back to Newark in the afternoon traffic."

The shop owner handed the bag to Rick. "Good luck to both of you on your trip to the far north country. You're sure to see polar bears at Churchill. They often wander right into the town."

Scotty chuckled as they turned to leave. "Who knows, we might even see a black one, if we're lucky."

Rick placed the bag with the necklace into the shopping bag he was carrying, and he and Scotty, after once more thanking the man for his kindness, hurried outside. Light snow was falling and it seemed even colder than before.

"We'd better get a taxi," Rick suggested, not relishing the idea of a walk uptown in the snow.

Scotty agreed, and they hailed a taxi and were soon flying across town and then up Fifth Avenue toward Central Park. The traffic was heavy, but it still seemed like they were caught up in a speed race on the avenue with the other motorists. The boys were laughing when they got out of the taxi in front of the Plaza Hotel.

"Next time we get the notion to go to far-off strange lands for excitement," Scotty jibed, "we can just come to New York and take a taxi ride instead!"

It was almost the same when they retrieved their rented coupe from the hotel garage and Rick began to drive back toward midtown. It was impossible not to get caught up in the rushing flow of the traffic and drive a little faster than normal, but Rick knew he'd never be able to drive in the city with the devil-may-care panache of a New York cabbie.

He drove down through the Lincoln Tunnel across to New Jersey and followed the route through Union City. He and Scotty eagerly discussed their upcoming trip along the way, making last minute plans about gear and equipment. The radio equipment, antennas, and collars had already been sent to Churchill, but they were taking along a complete system with them, just in case. They'd learned from their trip to Tibet that the unforeseen could happen, and often did. Even so, they had no real fear that any kind of trouble could befall them in a country so civilized and cultured as Canada.

Rick had driven to the outskirts of Union City and the coupe now sped down the highway to Newark in the wetlands near the Hackensack River. There wasn't much traffic at all on this stretch, only their coupe and a long black sedan not too far behind. The skies were miserably bleak and snow was falling lightly. Scotty had become unusually quiet since they'd come into the swampy area.

"What's up?" Rick asked, wondering why Scotty had gone quiet.

"That big sedan in back. It's tailing us."

Rick looked in the rearview mirror at the expensive-looking auto. He had noticed it a few minutes ago but had no idea how long it had been behind them.

"It's been behind us since we left the Plaza Hotel," Scotty said when Rick voiced the question. "All the way down to midtown, through the tunnel and Union City, and it's still right behind us now."

"Why didn't you say something?" Rick asked, frowning.

Scotty shrugged his broad shoulders. "I thought maybe I was imagining it, or maybe they're just going the same way. Why would anyone want to tail us?"

Suddenly, as they approached an especially lonely stretch of the remote pike, the big sedan sped up and closed in on them. Rick grunted. "Why would anyone want to tail us, indeed! Who knows? But no doubt they are!"

He slammed the accelerator to the floor and sped up, but the big car followed suit and stayed within a few yards of them. In the mirrors, Rick could see two men in the front seat with hats pulled down low over their foreheads. "Two guys in the front," he told Scotty. "Maybe more in the back. What the heck is going on?"

"Trouble," Scotty quickly returned, his fists clenched. "That's what. Try turning off down this side road."

They were closing in on an unpaved road that led toward the river. Rick made a sudden turn and the flashy coupe careened off the pike and sped down the dirt track. The big sedan followed, almost tipping over as it made the hairpin turn on two wheels.

Then, suddenly, the air was full of the unmistakable ping-ping of gunfire!

"Talk about highway robbery!" Scotty muttered angrily, hunkering down in the seat. "Those guys are shooting at us!"

Rick slammed down the accelerator again, giving the lighter-weight coupe all it had. It roared along the bouncy road, jostling him and Scotty. He gritted his teeth. "Looks like we're not going to get back to Spindrift Island as planned!"

Ping! Ping! Ping!

Just then, a bullet hit one of the coupe's back tires and the resulting blowout threw the car wildly out of control. The steering wheel flailed round and round, back and forth, as the coupe twisted and turned, and Rick could not keep hold of it.

"Watch out!" Scotty yelled as the coupe fishtailed directly at a huge old tree on the verge of the swampy shoreline.

Both boys tried to grab hold of the spinning steering wheel, but it was impossible to get the car back in control. The next moment brought a resounding crash as the coupe side-swiped the tree and seemed to spin around it as both Rick and Scotty were flung mightily out of the popped-open passenger door!


Mike DeBaptiste

Thursday, January 10, 2013



All chapters through chapter 12 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


"No, no ... they probably weren't all Americans," Jimmy said, his voice low and husky, as the boys stood there momentarily in frightened awe, gaping at the hundreds upon hundreds of skeletons. "Many of them were probably other Allied Troops, too - Australians, New Zealanders, British, even some innocent civilians."

"You're right," Rick hissed. "And they all died here, and were left here ... "

"Move on!" Scotty interrupted from behind, grabbing Butubu by the hand and surging forward. There were shouts and gunfire coming from the cavern behind them.

Butubu started crying out and holding back. He didn't want to go on past the all the remains of the dead men, but Scotty pulled him on resolutely. "Come on! We gotta get going! Those guys aren't far behind us!"

Rick jerked into action and grabbed Chtupa, who was frozen with fear, and half carried him forward.

"They won't hurt you," he gruffed, as if the boys could understand. He felt a pang in his breast and he gulped, gesturing toward the skeletons. "They're just dead men who sacrificed their lives so that we can live free. Oh man, God bless them! Tell the boys, Jimmy!"

Jimmy translated while they huddled hurriedly down a narrow path between the rows of hanging skeletons and the piles along the sides. In the lantern glow and with the flashlight beams darting here and there, it was a veritable chamber of horrors. Long leg bones knocked their shoulders as they tried to squeeze in between. The skeletons rattled. A few loosened and fell down, one right on top of Butubu, which caused the boy to scream in terror.

Rick pulled the skeleton off him, wondering who this dead man was, where he had come from, who he had left behind wherever his home may have been. He cast it aside as Scotty pulled the native boy along. Rick listened to the rattle of the skeleton's bones as it fell. His teeth gritted and he shuddered, overcome with emotion.

"A torture chamber!" Scotty rasped out. "Or ... worse!" He raised the lantern so they could see a huge pile of skulls.

Skulls with no bodies!

"Those guys! They beheaded them! "Jimmy huffed as they rushed by.

Rick, his hands full with Chtupa and the rifle and flashlight, nudged Scotty in the side. "I'm so totally glad you made it back home after the war, pal. I'd hate to think of you rotted away in some long lost and forgotten chamber like this on one of these crazy islands."

Scotty ducked to avoid the dangling feet of a skeleton. "And the worst part, Rick, these guys are all the guy next door, the average Joe. Just like me!"

Jimmy let out a strangled laugh at that. "Oho! Scotty, you are the farthest thing in this world from the average Joe. There ain't nobody nowhere who has a guy like you living next door!" He paused momentarily, then, "Except for Rick, that is."

Rick exploded in nervous laughter. "No, Jimmy, not next door. He lives in the same house. Oh, lucky me!"

Scotty had no time to fling out the retort that was on the tip of his tongue. The cave of horrors had come to an end and now led into a smaller narrow one. He caromed right into it pulling Butubu, then thrust the boy ahead to guide with the lantern. They began to run down the flat ash-like surface of the cave with the other boys behind them.

"Whew! That was gruesome!" Rick exhaled forcefully, just now realizing that he'd been holding his breath. He let Chtupa run up ahead with the other native boy to light up the way. "I wonder what's up ahead. We gotta get out of these caves and back to the jeep!"

"You're tellin' me?" Jimmy grunted from behind. "Those tong guys should be running into the skeletons about now. They're right behind us!"

Scotty suddenly let out a shout. "Ho! I think we made it!"

Then he and the native boys vanished around a turn with the lanterns, followed close behind by Rick and Jimmy who quickly saw it was an entrance to another cave, a big one, with a rail track running down its middle. Up ahead they could see an empty utility trolley car. Chtupa and Butubu had instantly started shouting up a verbal storm as they all ran over to the rail car.

"This is where the old Chinese man took them for a ride. Other caves must connect to this one too." Jimmy explained. He paused to take a breath, then, "The trolley goes with a little push and then there's a hill ahead that leads down to an old bunker that goes outside. They rode down the other day in another car."

"Fantastic!" Rick spoke crisply, steel in his voice. "Jimmy, throw those kids into that car and jump in yourself. Scotty and I will push till we get it going."

"Aye, aye, suh!"

They reached the lone car in seconds and Jimmy placed the guns and lights inside it and tossed the native boys in as if they were bags of potatoes. Rick and Scotty kept watch behind as Jimmy climbed in, then they shouldered the back of the car and pushed with all their might.

"Whoa!" Rick cried out, almost falling. The car had moved so easily he lost his balance. "This thing sure goes swell!"

"Jump in, Rick. I'll push," Scotty told him. "This thing is as well-oiled as the roller coaster at Palisades Park! The old madman must have used it regularly."

Rick heaved himself in, crowding the interior, and not a moment too soon. Shouts and gunfire erupted behind them as the men in pursuit of them ran out into the cave.

Scotty pushed the car on like a human bulldozer.

Ping! Ping! Ping!

The gunfire echoed in the cave and Rick pulled his rifle and shot back, aiming high, reminding the enemy that he and his friends were armed and dangerous too.

"Everybody duck!" he commanded. "Scotty, the car is starting to roll down the grade. Get in here!"

Ping! Ping! Ping!

Scotty ran behind the car, pushing with all his might. "Just around that bend up ahead!"

Rick's heart was knocking in his ears as he and Jimmy, too, let go a few more bullets.

"Get in here, man!" he shouted at Scotty. "They'll hit you!"

"Okay! Okay!"

Ping! Ping! Ping!

As the rail car swept around the bend, Scotty heaved himself in and landed with a thump on his head and shoulders, his feet sticking up in the air. The grade quickly grew steeper and the car roared down the tracks, the lanterns lighting up the tunnel in swift moving wavering spotlights along the rugged stone walls. Scotty twisted himself into an upright position and the others all had a good laugh at his expense as the car whizzed through the cave.

"You big klutz!" Jimmy gloated. "So that's how an American jumps into a moving car, eh?"

Scotty threatened him with a flashlight. "Don't start on me, Jimmy Tomato!"

"Tomato, potato, banana-ramma-damma," the New Guinea boy laughed. "You can call me anything you want, Mr. Scott. You just saved the day with that big running heave-ho and now those tong bazookas can't get us!"

They were all slapping Scotty on his back and pounding his shoulders as the car swerved around another bend, then roared down a bumpy straightaway. Butubu squinted his eyes to look forward, then let out a shout and pointed ahead.

The others looked in that direction and saw a square of daylight down the grade at the bunker entrance ahead, which had just come into view. It was the end of the tunnel and the rail car was quickly approaching it. A big concrete block sat there at the tracks' end threatening to greet them.

"The brake!" Rick shouted. "There's gotta be a brake!"

Chtupa jumped over and grabbed an iron bar in the car's front and began slamming himself into it as he cried out excited exclamations, all to no avail as the car did not slow down in the least.

"You'll never do it, pipsqueak!" Jimmy fretted, pushing the youngster aside and slamming his considerable bulk against the braking device.

The wheels began to lock and they screeched like wild jackals. Jimmy had to fight the brake to keep it engaged and working.

"Sure you don't need me to help?" Scotty asked smugly,

Jimmy made a face at him. "I'm sure it was you and you alone, Scotty, who stopped the entire Japanese empire here in the Pacific," he shouted as he struggled. "But I think I can manage to stop this trolley cart on my own!"

But even with all his strength bearing on the brake, the car banged into the concrete pier with a resounding thud, jarring the riders. It wasn't enough to daunt them in the least, however, and they grabbed the rifles and flashlights and lanterns and jumped out. They still had to hustle. The tong members were up the cave behind them a ways and they had no time to lose. They ran toward the daylight, out the bunker entrance into the suffocating heat and humidity and endless tangle of jungle foliage and vines.

Chtupa gesticulated wildly to their right and burst forth with a volley of clucking syllables.

"The cave with the jeep is right down there," Jimmy said, pointing in that same direction. He jerked his chin the other way. "But the boys have to run home in that direction, back around the mountain."

"Scoot! Scoot! Go home!" Rick told the young boys, gesturing with his hands. He gave them a big smile. "Me laikam dis fellas lots much!"

He thrust his hand into his pocket and pulled out some bills, change from the Chinese food purchase earlier, and gave them to the older of the two boys. "Thankee, thankee, kiddos! Lotsa moolah!"

The boys cackled and grinned and, the older one stuffing the bills into his pants pocket, they slapped Rick's hands in gestures of farewell. They did the same to Jimmy and Scotty, then threw a last glance at the bunker entrance and turned and fled into the jungle.

"You gave them almost ten American dollars," Jimmy said, as they began to run through the jungle growth laden down with the equipment. "That's pretty much a real fortune to these native mountain people."

"They deserve it. They really helped us out," Rick told him. "We would have never found our way to the old madman's cell on our own."

"Right," Scotty agreed. "But I bet they'll think twice about going back into those caves after this."

"Nah, probably not." Jimmy dodged some low swinging vines and pushed them aside for Rick. "They're just boys. They'll want to show off. Within a few days they'll be taking all the other village kids into that skeleton cave."

"Yeah, but you can be sure they'll stay out of that flying fox cave," Rick chuckled. "Hey, here we are already!"

They had quickly arrived at the cave in which they'd parked the jeep, and they rushed right into it. Scotty jumped in behind the wheel with Jimmy climbing in next to him in the shotgun seat. Rick climbed in the back, stashing all the equipment in a haphazard pile.

Scotty fired the motor and the jeep jolted out into the undergrowth with a roar and a jump. Rick had squirmed into a shooting position with one of the rifles, and not a moment too soon. As soon as the jeep was out of the cave, shouts and gunfire assailed them from the direction they'd just come.

Ping! Ping! Ping!

Scotty swerved in and out of the trees as Rick fired back at what appeared to be ten or twelve Oriental young men running toward them.

"Man, get us out of here!"

Rick threw the command at Scotty and then twisted back to fire once again. Gunfire rang back and forth and, after yet another exchange, the jungle fell back and the jeep roared out into the clearing on Coastwatchers Hill. Rick kept a wary eye on the edge of the bush and eager fingers on the trigger as the vehicle flew across the field overlooking the volcanoes and harbor.

They passed two old jeep-like vehicles and a beat-up military pickup truck parked near the anti-aircraft guns, obviously the means by which the tong members had come up the hill. A moment later, Scotty shot out onto the dirt road leading back down to Rabaul, just as the tong men rushed out of the jungle shouting and shooting.

Rick didn't bother to fire back. He could no longer see the men clearly. "You'd better make this old war horse fly," he shouted to Scotty. "They'll be in their jeeps and truck in a minute and on our tail!"

"Dis fella flyam jeep like Pocka flyam plane!" Scotty laughed back, expertly guiding the bouncing jeep down the bumpy road.

Jimmy guffawed. "Not bad Pidgin for a New Jersey boy!"

Scotty grunted. "Pretty soon I'm gonna start thinking in it!"

Rick extinguished the lanterns and tried to put some order to the tossed-in equipment as they roared down the hill. Scotty flew around the bends of the switchbacks, at times seemingly on two wheels. Rick held his breath on one such bend and pictured the jeep flipping over and tossing the three of them into Vulcan's smoking pit across the way.

It seemed they would never get down to the main road again! The tong members had to be right behind them, although Rick could see no sign of them. He sat on the edge of the seat, leaning between Scotty and Jimmy, the hot air rushing in their faces.

"This is taking forever!" he burst out.

Jimmy cast a glance behind them. "Just a couple more minutes. We'll make it. They can't catch up. Those vehicles they have didn't look any better than this one!"

He was right. They hadn't seen or heard a peep from the tong members by the time Scotty swerved wildly out onto the Kokopo road and headed west past the volcano, as Jimmy instructed. Here he really let the old jeep loose on the smoother road and gave it all it had as they sped on. They were soon a mile down the road past Vulcan and no one was visible behind them!

Rick turned back front from checking it out and pounded both his friends on the shoulders.

"All right! Looks like we made it, chums. Left those tong gooks in the dust again!"

"Dust is right," Scotty laughed. "I never saw so much of it like what's flying behind!"

"That's the ash from Vulcan's past eruptions," Jimmy told them, glancing back at the smoking mountain and the billowing cloud along their path on the road behind. "The top foot of this road is probably all ash. You know, Vulcan used to be an island, not a mountain. But during one of the eruptions years ago, the island blew its top, so much so that it became a mountain and a live volcano. And it still is!"

Rick regarded the smoking giant behind them with a smirk. Who ever would have thought he and Scotty would have such an intimate adventure with a volcano?

Soon they reached a fork in the road and Jimmy, who had been looking at the map, instructed Scotty to follow the right branch. Scotty slowed down to make the turn and the boys could see a signpost on the corner denoting the mileage to several locations.

"Storms End!" Rick shouted triumphantly, seeing the destination listed. "Eighty-seven miles! That's not bad. We ought to get there in a couple hours."

"If the tong guys don't catch up to us," Scotty muttered cautiously, as he floored the jeep ahead with all the strength in his powerful leg.

Jimmy kept his eye on the road behind as they roared on ahead. "I think we beat them out again. That's really cool. The Ching Tu Tong is a really tough bunch of hoodlums!"

"You're tellin' me?" Rick harrumphed, trying to sit back and enjoy the ride in the open air after the claustrophobic conditions of the caves. "And they may be holding my dad and Dr. Warren prisoner, and that Dr. Hyde-Morton from Australia too! We just gotta find them, fellas!"

And on that sobering thought, the boys settled down for the long ride ahead to Storms End. The road soon began to ascend sharply as the hills rose up into even higher country. Jungle foliage was thick all around them and in many places crowding out onto the road. Giant old trees rose high into the sky, festooned with vines of all sizes and thickness. At times they formed a canopy overhead, almost completely blocking out the hot sun. But the resulting shade didn't make it any cooler. It was sticky hot and humid in the jungle, sweltering, and the odor of damp decay was heavy in the air.

Scotty was continually downshifting into lower gears to climb the steep hills. then doing the same again to slow them on the way back down. Up and down they went on the road that grew continually bumpier and less maintained the farther they got from Rabaul. There was little traffic, just a truck here and there with a smiling native at the wheel and a gang of the same in the back on their way to one of the plantations. At times the jungle fell back on one side or the other as the jeep rode along ridges that offered views of rolling hills of jungle green under the clear blue South Pacific sky.

It was indeed beautiful, but Rick knew it was a deadly country in a myriad of ways. The heat and humidity, the insects and the jungle creatures, and the primitive native peoples all spelled danger to the naive and uninitiated. Not to mention the Ching Tu tong on their trail!

Presently they came to a high ridge that exposed a huge rolling valley surrounded by peaks that rose like fingers touching up to the blue. Scotty had to do some tricky shifting on the way down to keep the jeep from running away.

"This is the Bwantowalla Valley," Jimmy told them, then pointed vaguely at the surrounding peaks. "Those are the Finisterre Mountains. Means 'the end of the world'." He handed Rick the map pointing out the location. "We're getting into the gold country now and may soon be seeing some signs of the mining activity."

Scotty groaned at the mere thought of mining. Wiping his brow with the back of his hand, he said, "Who the heck would want to dig for gold in this country? It's too darn hot!"

Rick was checking out the map. The big valley covered a huge area in the mountains of this northern section of the eastern end of New Britain. Rabaul was to the east of it and not far north was the blue of water, the Bismarck Straits, with the small town of Storms End on the coast almost straight above them. There didn't seem to be any other towns nearby, but Rick knew there had to be native villages. They'd been hearing the sound of beating drums at times, even above the roar of the jeep.

The road flattened out on the valley floor and Rick soon realized they were riding through an absolute primeval paradise. The rocky cliffs of the tall peaks hovered above them with wispy, lacy waterfalls cascading down the heights in thin rushing plumes. The wide reaches now exposed all around them were festooned with swampy ponds and lower growth trees and shrubberies all laden with colorful flowers and blooms of all shapes and sizes. Multitudes of birds fluttered and swarmed from branch to pond and cried out in a cacophony of sound that mingled with the rush of waterfalls and the beating of the drums.

"This is like the Garden of Eden," Rick declared, watching a flock of red and green parrots ascend from a reed-filled pond and fly off in unison. Then he chuckled. "If only it was twenty degrees cooler, it'd be perfect!"

Jimmy rolled his eyes at Rick. "You guys are always complaining about the heat. I love it!"

"You're half kanaka," Rick pointed out. "You were made for this intense heat. Come visit us in New Jersey this coming winter and see how you like the cold and snow."

Scotty guffawed at that. "I don't think he'd like it one bit when it gets down in the teens and single digits!"

Jimmy struck a thoughtful pose. "You know, I can't imagine what it's like. I have never experienced cold. Even down in Australia it's always pretty warm. In this part of the world you have to go up to Korea to find cold weather."

Rick pointed out a rounded cliff high up ahead over which three slim plume-like waterfalls poured far down into the valley below. It looked like they'd meet and meld into one at the bottom, but he couldn't see because of the intervening foliage.

"Look at those," he marveled, standing up and holding onto the back of the front seat to view them better. 'Now talk about a shower-bath! We could sure have a good one under those waterfalls."

"Hey, great idea," Scotty agreed. "It'd sure be nice to clean up a little. Do you think it'd be safe, Jimmy?"

Jimmy looked at the landscape around them. "Should be. There doesn't seem to be anything going on around here." He cocked an ear and listened, then added, "Just those drums. But you hear that all over New Guinea in the tribal areas."

"Then let's do it," Rick decided, and he sat back down and began rummaging through his and Scotty's backpack for towels and soap.

A couple minutes later Scotty pulled off the road onto a gravelly shoulder near a path that led into the jungle. The waterfalls were high up above and the spot they cascaded down into was somewhere ahead beyond the dense jungle growth.

"Is it safe to leave the jeep here?" Rick asked of Jimmy.

"I suppose so. There doesn't seem to be anyone around. Just take the keys, Scotty. It should be okay."

Clutching bars of soap and with towels flung over their shoulders, the boys eagerly made their way down the path which followed a creek through the jungle. Because the valley was so swampy, the growth was not as high and thick and they were able to move along quickly toward the waterfalls. Everything around them was brilliant and dazzling in the relentless sun, but the breathless heat was stifling. Mosquitoes buzzed around them and reeds and high grasses tangled with the bush and vines. They had to be cautious not to step in dangerous mucky spots where they might sink in up to their ankles, or worse. Banks of mangroves grew along the creeks and ponds and Rick found himself searching amongst them with his eyes for any quick movement.

"Any crocodiles here?" he asked Jimmy uneasily.

"I don't know," was Jimmy's reply, along with a shrug of his shoulders. "We're in a valley but it's high up in the hills. The crocs may not come up to this high altitude." He smirked and went on. "But there are other dangers. Big snapping turtles, poisonous snakes, wild pigs, malarial mosquitoes, witch doctors, headhunters, cannibals ..."

"We get the drift!" Scotty interrupted with a grunt. "In other words, we're just plum crazy to be here in the first place?"

"You got it!" Jimmy laughed.

At length the boys reached the area where the three waterfalls cascaded down into an elevated pool that trickled down step-like terraces of rock into the swampy wetlands. It looked to Rick like a scene right out of the story of Adam and Eve, beautiful and primeval, the epitome of paradise. The three plumes of water did indeed meet at the bottom where they splashed into the pool in front of the rocky facade, and a fine spray mist spread out beyond the edges toward them.

"Yowza! Made to order!" Scotty enthused, plopping down on a flat rock to pull his shoes off. "Time to cool off!"

"Don't get your expectations up," Jimmy warned as he pulled off his shirt. "The water is probably warm."

Rick shrugged. "It sure looks inviting anyway, even if it's like a hot springs."

The boys stripped down and left their clothes on the large flat rocks bordering the pool. They climbed the terraced steps and felt the water trickling down underfoot. It was warm, as Jimmy had predicted, but did feel a little cooler than the air temperature. The pool was crystal clear down to its deep rocky bottom and, in a flash, all three boys dove in, the call of the water compelling after the intense heat of the day.

Rick swam down to the bottom and pushed himself back up from the rocky floor. He shot up out of the water right under the deluge of the waterfalls and their resulting spray. Cooler or not, it was exhilarating. He stayed there treading water and listening to the roar above and the splash all around, and he experienced a brief sensation of freedom from all the troubles that had been weighing on his mind since he had received the package from the mysterious schooner two nights ago.

Scotty plopped up beside Rick, letting the torrent pour down upon him as he shook his head vigorously trying to see.

"Ho, Rick! This is just what we needed. I'm lovin' it!"

"No kidding. If we had waterfalls and a pond like this on Spindrift Island, I'd never bathe in the house!"

Scotty guffawed and splashed at him, a useless gesture in the cascade from above.

"You would in the winter, bud," he tossed back at him. "It's a little too cold for doing this in New Jersey in January!"

Jimmy popped up between them and the boys cavorted and horsed around for a while, as boys do the world over in swimming holes, and then they got to work with the bars of soap to wash away the sweat and grime of their recent toil in the equatorial heat. Behind the falls was a wide ledge where they climbed up onto and were able to wash up and let the swirling mists shower the soap away.

Later, relaxed and refreshed,they lay on the big flat rocks in the hot sun to dry off. The tangled greenery of the swampy jungle surrounded them and the triple falls spilled down from above. Crowned pigeons with stately headdresses and colorful parrots fluttered around, dipping down to the pool at times for sips of water. Blue and gold delicate butterflies whirred above them to hover over the sparkling waters.

Rick gazed up to the top of the waterfalls. "How high do you guys think that cliff is?"

"About the length of a football field," Scotty conjectured. "Around three hundred feet or so."

"Some of these pools are sacred," Jimmy informed them. "The primitive natives believe that the water gods abide in them."

Scotty chuckled at that. "We've just been swimming with the gods. That sure is swell!"

"The people have mostly been converted by the missionaries," Jimmy went on. "Granny Sal worked with them for many years. But the old religions are still practiced in some tribal areas, mostly in secret but sometimes blatantly out in the open. And everything has a god or a spirit to it - a tree, a rock, an animal, a man - everything!"

"That's a lot of gods to remember," Rick reflected.

"It sure is," Jimmy agreed. "And they all must be appeased all the time. The witch doctor is always very busy making sure all the gods are happy."

"We could us a good witch doctor," Rick joked. "Maybe he could invoke those gods to come up with a solution to our mystery. What happened to the missing scientists and old Johnny Fang? And what the heck is the terrible secret of Palua Pae?"

The boys dried off quickly in the hot sun and pulled their clothes back on, refreshed and ready to move on. Rick draped a towel over his shoulder and gazed out at the jungle greenery and, suddenly, he stiffened and, with a bang, his heart stood still. He let out a grunt of surprise.

"What ...?" Scotty turned to look at him, but he too saw what had startled Rick, and his jaw dropped open.

Jimmy notched his belt closed and looked at them questioningly, and then his eyes followed theirs out toward the swamp, and he stepped back in shock.

"Oh cripes! The Wambutu!"

Along the edge of the foliage were twenty or so muscular native men wearing ratty short pants or breach cloths, necklaces of shells and small animal skulls, huge birdfeather headdresses on their woolly hair, and sporting painted faces straight from a nightmare. They carried spears, bows and arrows, rifles, and shoulder-slung strings of smoking human skulls and shrunken heads.

Because of the roar of the waterfalls, the boys had not heard them approach from the jungle. The three of them now looked at each other in dismay, not knowing what to expect.

One of the warriors stepped forward, shaking his spear at them. His face was painted white to look like a skull, frightfully effective on his black skin. His hair was woolly red and blue under the outlandish feather headdress. A string of six shrunken heads hanging from his shoulder completed the diabolical costume.

The Wambutu warrior shouted in a bitter voice of rage, "Dis fellas no savvy no swimswim washwash musakolai!"

Jimmy's face blanched and Rick and Scotty could see him struggle to gather his wits. Then he stepped forward boldly to face the man and sent him back a strong rebuke. He spoke crisply in the kanaka tongue, not Pidgin, and there was steel in his voice.

Rick and Scotty watched warily as the warrior stomped his unshod foot angrily in reply and again shook his spear at them. The others behind him moved in closer as the man spewed out another volley of words in the native tongue. Jimmy looked taken aback, and his fists clenched at his sides.

"What's wrong?" Rick hissed. "What's he saying?"

Jimmy kept his gaze on the warrior as he slowly answered. "They're angry because we swam in the pool of the water gods. They were out there watching us! I told them we just wanted to wash up and meant no harm to the gods - the musakolai. But they don't understand that. They never wash themselves. They think we were just playing in a sacred place!"

"And now," Jimmy paused for a moment, as if to nerve himself for the worst. Then, "He says we must go to the village with them to face the shaman, the witch doctor. We have offended the gods and there must be payback."

Rick could feel his skin begin to crawl. He heard Scotty grunt and say, "Huh? Payback? What kind of payback?"

Jimmy turned to look at them. His blue eyes had hardened to look like bits of flint.

"Look at those skulls and heads they carry," he hissed. "They're the real thing, boys. The Wambutu are angry because of the problems the gold seekers have been giving them. They've been on the warpath for a couple years over it. And now we've gone and offended their gods! And when they're angry and warring, the payback they want is ... death!"

Coming soon, Chapter 13 CANNIBALS AND HEADHUNTERS!