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HOME > Classical Novels > Bill Bolton and the Flying Fish > Chapter I THE DERELICT
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 “There’s something wrong over yonder, Osceola.”  
“Where, Bill? What are you talking about?”
The young Seminole chief spoke from the rear cockpit of Bill Bolton’s two-seater amphibian, into the transmitter of his headphone set. Bright August sunshine painted a calm Atlantic brilliant blue two thousand feet below the speeding airplane. Cirrus clouds like fleecy wisps of carded wool flecked a light blue sky which melted into the sea on the unbroken circle of their wide horizon. Since passing Cape Hatteras Light Ship flying north a quarter of an hour before, neither lad had seen a single thing to relieve the monotony of an empty ocean.
“I thought my eyesight was better than average,” Osceola continued, scanning the horizon, “but I don’t see a blessed thing.”
“It’s more habit than good vision—spotting something at sea,” returned Bill from his place at the controls. He clapped a pair of field glasses to his eyes. “There’s a single stacker off our starboard quarter. She’s almost hull down to the horizon. I’ve been watching her off and on for the past five minutes, and I’ll swear she hasn’t moved an inch. What’s more—the glasses don’t show the slightest sign of smoke.”
“I can make her out now. Think she’s worth while investigating?”
“Yes, I do. There’s something queer about that ship.”
“Why not investigate then?”
“That’s my idea. The people on board may be in a bad way. It’s our duty to be of help if we can.”
“I’m with you, but—how about the time, Bill? You father expects us in New York this afternoon.”
Young Bolton banked to starboard, then neutralized his ailerons when the plane’s nose was headed toward the dot on the horizon.
“The airline distance between Miami and New York City is one thousand and ninety-five miles,” said Bill, applying a normal amount of right rudder to offset the torque. “We’re a good deal better than half way now, and we’ve made swell time with this light wind on our tail all the way. Don’t worry, you’ll see the Statue of Liberty before they turn the floodlights on her tonight.”
“Okay. Your father is such a grand guy—he’s been so wonderful to me and my people ever since we cleaned up that Martinengo gang—I’d hate to disappoint him. And especially so now when he is giving me this trip north.”
“I savvy,” Bill replied. “I’m pretty fond of Dad myself—but he’d be the last person in the world to suggest we pass up anything like this, you know.”
He brought the glasses to his eyes again and stared through them for a full minute without speaking.
“The nearer we get, the queerer she looks,” he muttered finally.
“Some kind of a yacht, isn’t it?”
“It is. And a whopping big one. But that’s not the point, Osceola. She’s not moving, yet she hasn’t broken out her breakdown flag at the fore. She isn’t even flying her colors.”
“I can’t see anyone on board.”
“Neither can I—and still, if she was abandoned after sunset yesterday when her colors had been hauled down, why doesn’t she show her three red lights in vertical line—that’s the sign of a ship not under control?”
“Some mystery!”
“I should say you’re right, Osceola. And what’s more, I don’t like it—not one little bit.”
Bill banked until the amphibian was headed into the teeth of the light breeze. With the wings level once more, he closed the throttle and pushing his stick forward, sent the plane into a normal glide. At an altitude of about twenty-five feet, he began to break the glide with a slow backward movement of the stick. With expert precision he gradually decreased their gliding angle until they were in level flight with the bottom of the hull perhaps a foot above the water. Although the plane was steadily losing speed he did not yet permit his craft to make contact; but continued to pull back the stick gradually raising the nose and depressing the tail.
Like every other trained aviator he knew that as a plane approaches the stalling point, its nose-heaviness increases sharply and the stick must be pulled farther back to compensate for this. When his point of stall was reached, Bill pulled the stick fully back, completing the stall. The step of the hull made contact. There was no rebound. For an instant, the plane skimmed the surface, then floated forward. A few yards to windward lay the yacht, broadside to the gentle ground swell.
Bill ripped off his headgear.
“Slap your feet on the pedals, Osceola,” he called. “Keep her headed for that gangway amidships. She’ll fetch it all right!”
Without waiting for a reply, he caught up a looped mooring line and climbed out of the cockpit. An instant later he stood on the heaving grating, with the taut line wound about his arm.
“Come aboard!” he shouted. “Make it snappy, will you? This ship’s rolling like a drunken sailor!”
The agile Seminole landed beside him and the two lads ran swiftly up to the deck.
“Looks deserted, all right,” Bill eyed Osceola, while he played off the line to the plane, then made it fast. “Packed your gat, I hope?”
The young Chief grinned, and nodded emphatically. “You bet.” He produced an automatic from its holster below his left armpit. “I do everything except sleep with this since the Shell Island mixup.”
Bill nodded. “Me too, old man. From the lay of the land, we’re alone on this craft. Still, you never can tell. There’s something uncanny about a sea mystery——”
“She’s a swell ship.” Osceola motioned toward the polished brass and mahogany. “Some rich man’s plaything, I guess. Must have cost a pretty penny.”
“And she must have carried a large crew. I wonder where everybody disappeared to! I don’t know how you feel, but this ship gives me the creeps.”
“I’m glad I’ve got my gun.” Osceola released the safety catch.
“Well, we can’t stand here all day,” declared Bill. “Let’s take in the engine room first. There can’t be a leak. She’s too high in the water.”
“How do we get down there?”
“The thwartships passage forward of the main companionway is probably what we’re looking for. Let’s go see.”
Bill entered the passage with Osceola at his heels.
“Captain’s and chief engineer’s quarters,” said Bill, glancing through the open doorways on either hand.
“And everything is in apple-pie order,” added Osceola.
Bill stepped inside the captain’s cabin and began to rummage, pulling out drawers at the small desk and bureau. “Strange,” he murmured, “—not a sign of it.”
“What are you looking for?” Osceola sat down on the captain’s bunk.
“Not being a sea-faring man yourself, you probably don’t quite realize how darned mysterious this business is.” Bill slammed a drawer shut in disgust and turned toward his friend. “This ship has no name!” he exploded. “Oh, she had one, all right. I spotted the marks on the hull, under a fresh coat of paint where the metal lettering had been—even before we came overside. And her boats, lifebuoys and belts are gone. I thought I would find the logbook or some of her ship’s papers in the skipper’s cabin—but I’ve drawn a blank. There isn’t the merest scrap of paper.”
“And yet,” remarked Osceola thoughtfully, “the lads who had these cabins left in a hurry. I may be what you Naval Academy midshipmen call a landlubber—but I can see that they left their clothes behind.”
Bill’s eyes crinkled. “Right you are. Let’s go below now. I don’t think Sherlock Holmes could dig any more dope out of these cabins.”
A steep stair further along the passage led down to a roomy forecastle, which, like the cabins above, they found empty. Next to the bunkroom were a crew’s mess, lazarette and galley—likewise deserted.
“Look here, Bill!” cried the Indian, lifting a lid from the cook range.
Bill bent over and was astonished to see the red bed of glowing coals. “Well, I’ll be doggoned! That fire has hardly burned down at all.”
“Somebody has put coal in that range less than three hours ago. I don’t know anything about ships, but fires are another matter.”
“This yacht seems to be the original question mark,” said Bill gloomily. “But in spite of it, we do know three things.”
“That the people on board left in a hurry, and left not more than a couple of hours ago.—What’s the third?”
“Why, that they were so keen on hiding the name of this craft that they either destroyed or took with them everything that could identify her.”
“Yes, that’s so. It sure is confusing. Everything was all right on board at breakfast time, too.”
“How do you fathom that one?”
Osceola took up a large bowl from a table-rack. “Taste that.” He pointed to a cream-colored, doughy mass in the bottom.
Bill dipped in a forefinger and brought it to his mouth. “Wheat cakes!” he exclaimed. “You’ve got it. The cook doesn’t feed the men wheat cakes knowing the ship is going to be abandoned shortly. They’re too much trouble to make in a rush.”
“Exactly!” Osceola looked pleased.
“I always knew you Carlisle lads were a wide-awake bunch,” grinned Bill. “Anything more, Mister Holmes?”
“Yes, there is, big boy—even if they do turn out real live kidders at Annapolis! I don’t know what time the ship was abandoned, but the cook left this kitchen—”
“Galley—” corrected his friend, with a wink.
“The cook left this galley—” Osceola continued, “shortly after breakfast.”
“And how—”
“Well, you see, he’d washed the griddle—it’s hanging up over there—”
“But he hadn’t got to this bowl yet, or those other dirty dishes on the table—” Bill broke in.
“For the first time in history,” said Osceola suavely, “Midshipman William Bolton, U.S.N., Second Class, and all the rest of it, shows a decided glimmer of almost human intelligence! ‘Sing ho, the jolly maiden and the tar’—or words to that effect . . .”
Bill saluted. “And seeing there’s no maiden, the tar suggests we beat it out of here before the famous Seminole Chief goes completely nerts! That door across the passage is marked ‘Engine Room—Keep Out.’”
“And so, naturally, we’ll go in,” laughed Osceola, and leaving the galley, he swung open the door.
The two stepped onto a metal grating. A steel ladder led down to the floor of the engine room ten feet below.
“You wait here while I have a looksee,” suggested Bill, and he ran lightly down the ladder.
From his stand on the grating, Osceola watched him make a hurried inspection of the main engines. “Diesels,” he called up, “they are certainly big ones—but there’s not a blooming thing wrong so far as I can see.”
He stayed below for about ten minutes, then joined Osceola above. “The machinery’s all in running order,” he began.
The young Indian suddenly raised a hand to his lips, cutting Bill short. He tiptoed across the grating and into the passage, and presently beckoned Bill forward, cautioning silence.
“There’s somebody on deck!” he whispered. “He walked across that passage one flight up just now, and went on deck over on the side by the captain’s cabin.”
“You certainly have a pair of ears,” murmured Bill. “I never caught a sound. Are you sure it wasn’t a cat or a dog that got left behind?”
“Dog nothing! My ancestry and early upbringing have been more or less of a hindrance in this white man’s country—but when it comes to distinguishing sounds, Bill, I’m one hundred per cent. Those were the footsteps of a human being. He knows we are down here, whoever he is—and he doesn’t want us to know he’s aboard, or he’d have come into the open long before this.”
“Well, let’s get after him then, and find out why he’s hiding.”
“Right. But let me go first. I’ve had more experience in tracking than you. Better take off your shoes. This is a ticklish business and it’s more than likely he’s armed.”
Osceola waited until Bill was in his stocking feet with his shoes tied together and hanging about his neck. Then he passed up the stair to the passage that led to the deck like a stealthy shadow, with the young aviator at his heels.
After pausing to make sure the way was clear, the two went out on deck. Osceola seemed at a loss for an instant, then started aft, motioning Bill to follow. He walked with his body bent forward so as to keep below the level of the deckhouse portholes, and darted into the main companionway. Then without the slightest hesitation he entered a large cabin on his right, evidently the main salon. For a moment, he gazed about, then he sprang back into the passage, pushing Bill ahead of him.
While his friend watched, Osceola did a peculiar thing. He dropped to the floor and wormed his way along the passage wall until he could peer round the open door. His hand, with the automatic revolver in it, came forward, and trained the gun on someone within the room.
“You’re covered,” he said in his deep voice, “come out from under that couch—and come pronto! Or I’ll fire!”

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