The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 372: The Big Sheep, Part II

Dan Straight, Lieutenant Murdock, and a threatening shadow

A P.I.'s life is full of surprises. This was one of them. I stared at the figure who'd been about to knock on my door. It was Captain Everett, commander of a Royal Navy airship named something like the Flouting Clyde. The man behind him was Jenkins, his aide. They were nice enough guys, but the last thing I needed was two British naval officers prying into my business.

"Mister Straight," he said. "I'm glad we were able to find you. We were wondering if you'd be willing to undertake a job for us."

My first instinct was to say no. I had enough to keep me busy with the Doubleton job. But I needed some way to pay the rent in the all-too-likely event that went south. "I'd be happy to, Captain," I told him. "Fee's ten bucks a day plus expenses. What's the caper?"

It took the two Brits a moment to figure out what I meant. I guess they didn't understand proper English. "We're missing a junior officer: a lieutenant Murdock," said the captain. "I'm sure you remember the fellow."

"Yeah," I said. "Last I saw, that Russian anthropologist had carried him off on his blimp. What's he up to this time?"

"He'd lagged somewhat behind as we made our way back from the British commercial office in Pago Pago," said Everett. "Before we could go back to fetch him, Jenkins and I were set upon by party of German seamen. By the time we'd dealt with the fellows, he'd wandered off."

"Could some of the Germans have nabbed him?" I asked.

"This seems unlikely," said Jenkins. "We accounted for the lot. We also found no sign of a struggle. But we did find these." He showed me a handful of flower petals. I recognized them as hibiscus, the kind of blossom island girls wore in their hair. This wasn't much of a clue -- there were plenty of dames on the island -- but it was start.

"I say," he added, "why is there an unconscious body lying on the floor of your office?"

"He was looking for a doctor and got the wrong address," I said. "Happens all the time around this joint."

He crouched to examine the body. "This man appears to have been shot," he remarked. "Do you have any idea who was responsible?"

"If he wants, he can pay me to find the answer," I told him. "Fee's ten bucks a day plus expenses."

Jenkins thought this over, then nodded. "Is it possible he was carrying some sulphur?" he said.

"Why do you ask?" I said suspiciously.

"We happen to be looking for some sulphur smugglers, and I thought I recognized the rather distinctive odor."

Sulfur smugglers? I thought to myself. Could this have any connection with the Doubleton case? But I wasn't going to spill the beans to these guys until I knew what was going on.

"I'll keep my eyes open," I told them.

After the Brits were gone, I flagged down a cart to carry my mystery caller to a doctor. The man was still unconscious, and it looked like he'd stay that way for a while. He didn't have any ID, but I asked around some places I knew, and learned he was Amos, a free-lance shepherd from Amanave, near Palagia Beach. What was he doing mixed up in a sulfur operation? I didn't have much time to wonder, because when I got back to my office, I found Paddy and Mulligan, two of Tutuila's finest, waiting for me.

"What can I do for you boys?" I asked them.

"Captain Willard wants to see you," said Paddy, "and he wants to see you now."

"I'm busy on a case," I replied. "What if I don't want to see him?"

"Where will you go?" growled Mulligan. "This is an island. The only way to leave is on a boat, on an airship, or..."

"Yeah," I growled back, "I get the picture."

Willard didn't seem pleased to see me. The feeling was mutual. He put down the racing form he'd been reading and got straight to the point.

"I hear you been nosing around the Madison case," he said.

"Never heard of the man," I told him. "I've been busy checking some family matters for Old Man Doubleton, as I'm sure you know. Who's this Madison character?"

"He's a sheep breeder for one of the racing operations," said Willard. "He went missing a few days ago, and we suspect foul play."

It didn't take much brains to put two and two together. There's a lot of money in sheep racing, which means some very tough operators looking for an angle. Sometimes you hear rumors of doping. I don't know what they use to get sheep to perform, and I'm not sure I want to know.

"I'll keep my eyes open," I told him.

Things were getting a bit too hot for my comfort. With Willard nosing around, unexpected callers barging in, and the Maybelle case still unsolved, I had to get that sulfur out of my office. There was only one place to take it, so I headed over to Sami's place.

She didn't seem much happier to see me than Willard had been. "What is it this time, Straight?" she asked.

I handed her the sulfur and gave her my most innocent smile. "I need you to hold onto this for me," I told her. "It'll only be for a few days."

She opened the vial, took a whiff, and shook her head. "Sulphur?" she asked. "That stuff is worth its weight in potassium! What kind of trouble are you in now?"

I guess that smile wasn't so innocent. "Don't have the slightest, babe," I said. "Some shepherd from the West Side barged into my office, handed this to me, told me to give it to some guy named Madison and warn him about Ali Troop."

"Madison," she said thoughtfully. "He'd be that breeder who went missing the other day."

I frowned. "How come everyone knows about this Madison character but me?"

She pointed to a newspaper on the desk in front of her. "Maybe it's because we can read. I assume your visitor passed out before he could tell you who or what this Ali Troop is?"

"Yeah," I admitted. "I figure it's either an Arab trader or some military unit. I'll check the air station first and see if they've heard the name."

I had a friend at the air station who owed me a few favors: Bernie Carson, a radioman on one of the American cruisers. I was planning to pump him for information, but when I arrived, the man was in a panic. He grabbed my arm like it was his only lifeline to safety and started babbling.

"Ya gotta help me, Straight!" he cried. "Else I'm in deep trouble."

I pried his hands off my sleeve and told him to take a seat. "What's the problem, Bernie?" I asked.

"It's this frail," he said. "Her name's Elana. I took her aboard the airship to... you know... share a drink and show her around. She must have slipped me a Mickey, 'cos next thing I knew, I was waking up on the floor of the radio shack."

"So you got rolled," I said. "Happens to the best of us. What did she take?"

"That's the problem, Straight," he told me. "She didn't take a thing. That made me suspicious, so I checked the codebooks. They were all there, but they weren't the way I'd left them. I'm careful about stuff like that."

Too bad you're not more careful with the dames, I thought, but I kept that to myself. "You think this Elana item took snaps of the codes?" I asked. "How'd she sneak in a camera? If I know you, Bernie, I know just how much the lady wasn't wearing."

"She could have brought someone else aboard after I was out," he said . "A few days later, I spotted her at Crookie's track, hanging out with that Jahnke character."

That set me back a little. I'd had run-ins with Jahnke before, and he was a nasty piece of work. He had more underworld connections than the New York subway and there was talk he was mixed up with some German nationalist group. This was not the kind of man you wanted to cross.

"Sounds like you really put your foot in it this time," I told him. "Whatcha gonna do? You accuse Jahnke of being a spy and he explains how you were derelict of duty with your Elana squeeze. He's got you by the squidbats."

"Yeah," he replied, "but I know he's lost a lot of money on the sheep. If we threaten to call in his marker, maybe we can put the squeeze on him."

I liked the way he said `we'. I would have brushed him off, but a good P.I. learns to get all the information he can. You never can tell when it might come in handy. "Who's his bookie?" I asked.

"A man named Madison," he said.

Madison? I thought. This was interesting news. I was careful not to let anything show on my face. "You might have an angle there," I told him. "Where can we find this Mister Madison?"

Bernie pointed me to Shawnie's, a sheep farm on the peninsula west of Vatia Bay. It was one of the less honest operations on the island. Their stock tended to win and lose races under suspicious circumstances. There were accusations of doping, but nothing had ever been proved. The place was laid out like a fort. The land side was protected by a twelve foot tall fence, topped by barbed wire left over from the War. The ocean side was guarded by more barbed wire, strung on steel poles sunk in concrete. These gents took their even-toed ungulates seriously.

This would require some thought. You don't just waltz into the office of a crooked sheep racing outfit and demand to see their bookie if you know what's good for you. Or maybe you did. There was no way these people could be expecting me. It was worth a try.

A pair of toughs stopped me at the gate. They were built like giant frogs from some lost city that vanished beneath the waves before the dawn of humanity, and looked almost as smart. "This here's private property," said one. "No outsiders allowed."

"My name's Bond, James Bond," I told him. "I got business with your boss. That makes me an insider."

It took the two goons a moment to figure out what I meant. I guess they didn't understand proper English. "All right, buster," said Froggy Boy. "We'll take you to his office. But first we'se gotta check you for hardware."

They patted me down to find my piece. And I'll admit they did a good job... for giant frogs from some lost city that vanished beneath the waves before the dawn of humanity. They got my lead pipe too. They missed the lucky rabbit's foot I'd stuffed inside my jacket -- the kind of rabbit's foot you make from an old sock and a couple handfuls of sand. I hoped I wouldn't need it.

The office building could have done double duty as a mad scientist's lab from some cheap radio drama. It was a low grey building made from concrete bricks, surrounded by some very substantial-looking sheep pens. The door was guarded by two more toughs dressed like shepherds, from some place where shepherds wear cheap suits and carry Thompson submachine guns. I wondered what kind of ruminants they raised in this joint.

Froggy Boy and his fellow tadpole escorted me to a room furnished by someone with a lot more money than taste. The walls would have fit right in at any cathouse, and the desk could have come straight from the flashy hotel next door. The man behind it matched the decor. He glanced up as I entered, as if figuring out how much he could get for my corpse. I recognized Shawn, owner of the joint. I hoped he wouldn't recognize me.

"Who is this man, and what's he doing here?" he asked the guards.

"Says his name's Bond," said Froggy Boy. "He claims he's got business with you."

Shawn's laugh could have been lifted from the same radio drama. "That's a clever alias, Mister Straight," he said, "but it didn't do you much good. I knew who you were as soon as you walked in. There aren't many P.I.'s here on Tutuila."

I nodded. The man had a point. "This don't got anything to do with your operation," I told him. "I'm here on behalf of a..."

"You're here to investigate the doping rumors," he said. "It's just like Willard to send in some stooge when he's afraid to handle the matter himself. You're about to learn all about it. Boys, take Mister Straight down to the Tunnel."

I calculated the odds, and decided not to argue. If I did, the two goons would just beat me to a pulp. I was meek as a kitten as they marched me down the hall, unlocked a thick steel door, and shoved me down a flight of stairs. When I got to my feet, I saw a familiar-looking kid in a British naval airman's uniform staring at me in surprise.

"Lieutenant Murdock!" I exclaimed. "What the heck are you doing here?"

"Good day, Mister Straight," he replied. "I'm not entirely certain. The chain of events that led to my incarceration is rather confusing. Do you have any idea of our hosts' intentions?"

It took me some time to figure out what he meant. I guess the Royal Navy doesn't teach its officers proper English. "I don't got a clue kid," I told him, "but I'm guessing it ain't good."

I glanced around our prison. It was a long concrete tunnel with drains in the floor, like you see in the floor of a slaughterhouse. I didn't like the looks of this. To my right, the passage ended in a thick wooden door that locked on the other side. When I pressed my ear against this, I could hear the sound of surf. The other way was blocked by the kind of steel grating they use at the entrance of a castle. Beyond this, the tunnel vanished into darkness.

I was checking the door again, seeing if there was some way to jimmy the lock, when a voice called down from the locked door at the top of the stair. It was Shawn, come to gloat.

"I suppose you're wondering what's going here," he said. "We don't run a doping operation. That's too risky. The vets have ways to check for doped sheep. Instead, we inject our racing animals with a virus, sort of like rabies, that makes them run faster. It's contagious, so we use a special sheep dip to keep it from spreading to the rest of our stock."

"Sheep dip," I muttered. "So that's what the sulfur was for."

"What sulphur?" asked Murdock.

"I'll tell you later," I replied, then I turned back to face up the stair. "That's no skin off my nose," I yelled. "I don't bet any money at the track."

"Perhaps not," said Shawn, "but you might tell someone who does, and I can't allow that. Do you have any idea what happens to people who get ravaged by a roomful of rabid ruminants?"

"Uh... no," I said.

He gave an evil laugh. "You're about to find out."

I heard a noise behind me. I turned to see the steel grating slide up into the ceiling. Beyond it, I could hear a faint `baaing' sound. The sound was getting louder.

"Our situation does not seem particularly promising," said Murdock. "Do you have any suggestions?"

I pulled out my sap and looked at it. Sheep have pretty thick skulls. I doubt I could take out more than one or two of the animals when they charged. After that, it would be curtains for Mama Straight's boy.

"Don't worry kid," I told him. "I'm working on it."

Next week: Meanwhile, On An Entirely Different Part Of The Island...

Comments about Episode 372? Start a new topic on the Forum!

StumbleUpon        submit to reddit Reedit