The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 370: The Big Sheep, Part I

Automatic pistol and vial of sulfur

It was a slow day in Pago Pago. Nothing was moving in the harbor. Nothing was happening on the streets. Even the palm trees seemed to be drooping. At times like this, there ain't much call a man in my business. I was sitting in my office, wondering how I was going to pay the rent, when I heard a knock on the door. I looked up to see an older gent in a white tropical suit stroll in.

I recognized him from the papers. He was Ted Doubleton, a real estate developer who'd retired to Tutuila from the States. Some people said he'd picked this joint because of the weather, but I heard his company went under a short time after he left. I wondered what his ex-partners thought about that collapse.

"You must be Dan Straight." he said. My name might not make it into the society columns, but it is printed on the door, right above the words `Private Investigator'.

"That's me," I replied. "How can I help you?"

"I'm worried about my daughter Maybelle," he told me. "She's a well-behaved girl, with good morals and a proper upbringing, but someone called the house yesterday and threatened to 'spill the beans' on her."

I thought this one over. It sounded like simple blackmail. Doubleton's kid wouldn't be the first flapper with more money than sense who'd fallen in with the wrong crowd. It shouldn't be hard to solve the case, but I wanted more information before I took it.

"Did you recognize the caller?" I asked.

He shook his head. "Neither my butler or I ever heard the voice before."

"You got any idea what the angle could be? Drink? Dough? Dope? Drugstore cowboys?"

Doubleton flinched. Some of these businessman types are a bit too genteel. "No," he said. "I'll pay you to find out."

That was the kind of information I was looking for. "My fee's ten bucks a day plus expenses," I told him.


My first stop was Pago Pago's police station to see what they had on the Doubleton family. It wouldn't take long to search through the records -- there aren't many people in American Samoa. These things are supposed to confidential, but Hoover, the man in charge, owed me a favor.

"Whatcha doing here, Straight?" he grumbled when he saw me.

"Take it easy, John," I told him. "I want to look through some of your files."

"I can't letcha do that," he complained. "If Captain Willard finds out, I'll be in trouble."

"You'll be in even bigger trouble if your wife finds out about those sacrifices to the Elder..."

He fished through his pockets and handed me the key. "Here," he said, "but make it snappy."

The Doubleton file made for interesting reading. Mister Doubleton seemed to specialize in separating investors from their money. If he played a bit loose with certain bankruptcy laws, I suppose that was all part of the business. Maybelle was the kind of daughter you'd expect a man like him to have. She'd been kicked out of some very exclusive schools in the States before her family moved to the islands. Since then, she'd found her way into Pago Pago's high society, and several of its scandal magazines.

Miss Doubleton wasn't an only child. She had an older sister named Viola. Viola didn't seem to get around much, but she had gotten married in 1923, to a dashing young British airship captain named Ralph Pickman. The man vanished a couple years later, but I suppose that's the sort of thing dashing young British airship captains do.

The next step was to have a look at Maybelle in person. I found her at Crookie's racetrack in Fagasa. This ain't like tracks back in the States. We don't have many nags in American Samoa, so we race sheep instead. It's like greyhound racing, but in reverse. Instead of having dogs chase a mechanical rabbit, a mechanical dog chases the sheep. The winner gets a prize, the losers get to be mutton, and the betters all get fleeced.

Maybelle was a hard number to miss. Her dress alone would have been cause for blackmail if anyone could have snapped a picture. There was no chance of that, since she was surrounded by a crowd of admirers. They didn't want to let me through, but a good P.I. knows how to get a lady's attention.

"Who are you?" she asked, after I'd shoved my way into the inner circle..

"I'm Bond..." I told her, using my prepared alias, "...James Bond."

She laughed. "You're that private investigator, Dan Straight. Daddy must have hired you to watch over me. Abe, make sure this guy gets lost."

One of the lady's pals looked me up and down, like he was looking for a fight. It didn't seem worth the effort to oblige him. My cover was blown, and I wasn't going to learn anything here. I decided to check out the Doubleton place instead.


Some folks in go native when they reach the islands. From look of his house, Doubleton wasn't one of them... unless he was a native of Atlantic City. I'd seen smaller airship sheds. It was a flashy affair, with a private beach, private tennis courts, and what looked like a private golf course in back. The only thing missing was taste.

Doubleton's butler didn't match the house. From the man's looks, he must have gotten his training guarding a pen. He was an ugly bruiser with scarred knuckles, flattened ears, and a broken nose that didn't come from serving tea. That lump under his armpit probably wasn't a tea pot either. He didn't seem pleased to see me.

"Who are you and whaddya want?" he asked.

I handed him my card. "Your boss hired me to do ask some questions," I told him. "I've come to ask a few here."

"So, you're that Straight man," he growled. "I heard about you. You can ask around, but watch yer step."

Doubleton's wife was an ex-dancer named Mavis. Underneath her pearls, her makeup, and that slinky black dress, the lady looked worried. I didn't blame her. It seems she was Wife Number Three, and in a place like the South Pacific, Wife Number Four was only a matter of time. She didn't have anything useful to tell me. She had too much on her mind to pay any attention to her step-daughter.

The older sister, Viola, was another matter. I recognized that look. It spelled trouble: the kind of trouble I'd welcome if I wasn't on a case. She was curled up on the sofa leafing through a magazine when I strolled into the living room, rose to her feet, and looked me in the eye.

"You must be Dan Straight," she said. "I've heard of you." Her voice was like a musical instrument. And no, I don't mean a trombone.

"I hope what you've heard was good," I replied.

She smiled and walked over to stand in front of me. "Daddy must have hired you to watch over Maybelle. I can make it worth your while to drop the case."

I shook my head. "No can do, doll," I said. "I already took the man's dough."

She stepped close enough for me to smell her perfume and reached up to toy with my collar. "I wasn't talking about money," she purred.

"What would your husband think, if you're thinking what I think you have in mind?" I said. This might not have been very suave, but you try coming up with something better in a situation like that.

"That creep?" she laughed. "Why should I care about him? He ran off with some showgirl from Eddie's joint on Aunu'u."

That was enough for me. It was time to leave before I got in over my head. I disentangled myself as best I could and beat path for the door. I could have taken her hint and gone down to Eddie's to see what I could learn about the missing husband, but I suspected this would be a dead end. It was time to talk with Sami.


You know the kind of girl who got into all sorts of scrapes as a kid, but always managed to come out ahead. You always treated her like one of the boys. Until the day she grew up, learned some manners, and you noticed she was a dame. Sami Ho was like that. Except for the learned `some manners' part.

"Look what the squidbat dragged in," she snorted when she saw me. "I heard you got a case from Doubleton."

"Yeah," I admitted. "It sounded easy when I took it, but I'm running out of leads."

I filled her in on what I'd learned. She listened until I was done, then laughed. Her laugh was like a musical instrument too. The kind they play when the hero get punched in the face.

"Why are you wasting your time digging for leads?" she asked. "We both know how this one will go. You'll learn that the older daughter's husband didn't run out after all. It'll turn out he was murdered by the younger daughter after he rejected her advances. Someone found out, and is using this to blackmail her."

I thought it over. I'd heard about cases like this, back in the States, but these people didn't look the type. I told Sami as much, but she shook her head.

"It's your funeral, Straight," she said. "I'll wear my best dress."

"Thanks, Sami," I told her. "You're all heart."


That missing husband, Pelham, seemed to be the key, so I decided to ask around ask around. That's one of the nice things about being a P.I. on an island. There are only three ways people can leave the place: by boat, by airship, or in a box. If it was one of those three, I'd find it.

I began with the air station. I had to grease a few palms to get hold of the crew lists and passenger manifests for every ship that called during the past three years. Fortunately, Doubleton was paying the bills. I noticed some interesting names, but none had anything to do with the case, so I filed them away for the future. There was no sign of Pelham there.

Next stop was the docks. These weren't much better than the station for news. There was plenty of talk about those airship pirates on Tahiti and that big explosion over in the Marshalls. None of this was useful. I was wondering if I should start checking the funeral homes when I spotted two fishy-looking individuals tailing me. When they realized I'd seen them, they marched on up to confront me.

"We hear you're working on the Madison case," said one. "If you know what's good for you, you'll drop it and walk away." He even looked like a fish. There's quite a few guys like that on some of the islands.

"Who's Madison? Never heard of him." I snapped back. It was the truth too.

The man gave nasty gurgle I guessed was laugh. "A wise guy, huh. Obediah, let's show him what we do to wise guys."

"Sure thing, Barnabas."

They grinned like a pair of sharks and closed in. They were big, tough, and looking for trouble. Unfortunately for them, this wise guy had a lead pipe up his sleeve.


I was whistling a happy tune when I got back to my office. There's nothing like a good fight to brighten the day -- particularly when you win. My mood changed when I stepped inside and saw the body lying on the floor. Bodies have a way of doing that. I eased the door shut, then crouched to feel for a pulse. He was still breathing, but he was in bad shape. Someone had plugged him in the shoulder and he'd lost a lot of blood. I was bandaging the wound to save what was left when he groaned and fumbled inside his jacket with his good arm to pull out a small phial.

"Get this... to Madison," he gasped. "Warn him about... Ali... Troop." Then he fell back unconscious.

Who the heck is Madison? I wondered. This was the second person who'd mentioned that name -- or the third, if you counted the gents individually. And who or what was Ali Troop? The name sounded Arab -- an island trading skipper, perhaps -- but it could also have been some Army unit.

I opened the phial, hoping this would give me a clue. It was filled with yellow powder. I recognized the stuff instantly.

Sulfur.

Most people don't pay much attention to the sixteenth element. That's their mistake. It's essential to keep the wheels of industry rolling. It's also an important ingredient in fungicides, battery acid, and safety matches. That's why they call it multivalent gold. It's worth its weight in calcium. And here I was sitting on several ounces of neat polycrystalline.

This wasn't the sort of stuff you left lying around. I slipped the phial into my office safe, spun the lock, then set off find a doctor for my unexpected guest. When stepped out of my office, I got a big surprise.

"You!" I exclaimed.

Next week: Can We Have Samoa?...

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