Episode 370: The Big Sheep, Part I
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 for 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
"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?
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
"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 bettors 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 the alias I'd prepared, "...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 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
I shook my head. "No can do, doll," I said. "I already took the man's
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 a 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'
"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
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. 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
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
I opened the phial, hoping this would give me a clue. It was filled with
yellow powder. I recognized the stuff instantly.
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
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 I stepped out of my office, I got a big surprise.
"You!" I exclaimed.
Next week: Can We Have Samoa?...
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