Authors: Kenneth Robeson,Lester Dent,Will Murray
Tags: #Action and Adventure
A Doc Savage Adventure
by Will Murray & Lester Dent writing as Kenneth Robeson
cover by Joe DeVito
Altus Press • 2014
Phantom Lagoon copyright © 2014 by Will Murray and the Heirs of Norma Dent.
Doc Savage copyright © 2014 Advance Magazine Publishers Inc./Condé Nast. “Doc Savage” is a registered trademark of Advance Magazine Publishers Inc., d/b/a/ Condé Nast. Used with permission.
Front cover image copyright © 2014 Joe DeVito. All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Designed by Matthew Moring/
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Special Thanks to James Bama, Jerry Birenz, Nicholas Cain, Condé Nast, Jeff Deischer, Dafydd Neal Dyar, Chuck Juzek, Dave McDonnell, Matthew Moring, Ray Riethmeier, Howard Wright, The State Historical Society of Missouri, and last but not least, the Heirs of Norma Dent—James Valbracht, John Valbracht, Wayne Valbracht, Shirley Dungan and Doris Leimkuehler.
Cover illustration commissioned by Terry Allen
GIRL OFF AN ISLE
A WISE MAN once observed that trouble has walked around in skirts since the beginning of things.
This particular wise man did not proclaim such a thing in so many words, but every man knows it to be true. Particularly seamen understand this, just as they know to batten down their hatches and furl sail when the wind strengthens and becomes strange.
It was around noon in the Caribbean when the liner
happened upon the little wart of a cay with the troublesome girl on it.
was one of those dazzlingly white ships that ply the Caribbean Sea looking like a floating castle built of polished seashells. Her passengers were invariably tourists. In the expensive brochures that were used to entice the public to part with their hard-earned money in return for a five-day passage from New York City to Port of Spain, Trinidad, with port stops in Haiti, Barbados, Havana and Port Charles, romance was hinted. Sometimes, it was found.
was on her return leg when she passed the isle. It was a clear day. A few lost-lamb clouds plodded across the too-blue sky. There was a breeze that smelled of salt and sand. The placid Caribbean Sea was a cerulean hue that might have been associated with the Afterlife.
The cay was a low stretch of white sand off to port, crowned with a few shaggy-headed palm trees. Sultry breezes shook their leafy skulls like Hula dancers calling sailors ashore.
In the crow’s nest, the lookout suddenly shouted, “Cap’n, ahoy! A distress signal on that island!”
The lookout couldn’t see the girl, and so was not in a position to reflect on the recorded opinions of wise men in regards to skirted trouble.
The liner captain ordered engines stopped, and a small regulation dory was put off. Its outboard motor toiled noisily as it headed for the isle to investigate the distress signal.
“Probably some Carib native playing a prank,” muttered the First Mate, who understood that the laws of the sea required that the signal be looked into. It was a stretch of the Caribbean that saw no fishing boats, few pleasure craft and only a passing liner now and again.
As the dory drew near the isle, it could be seen that in addition to the drooping coconut palms, there was a little coral honeycombing the cay. But not much.
A figure stood on the white beach waiting for them. The figure was indistinct under the brassy sun, but it seemed to have its hands planted purposefully on its hips. It also stood next to the distress signal—a ragged skirt flapping atop a pole and planted in the white sand.
That was where the skirt came into the picture.
The skirt-pennant made the First Mate sit up at attention. He had the requisite sailor’s interest in the opposite sex. He adjusted his black tie.
As the dory beat closer, the indistinct figure lost its indistinctness.
“Split my keel!” the First Mate exploded. “It’s a dame!”
The others sailors grew interested then.
THEY ran the dory onto the white sands, cutting the engine in the last few yards of turquoise water so the propeller would not have to fight the granular stuff.
The sliding keel made a brief grating sound, stopped. They piled out and dragged it the last several feet onto dry land, where it promptly leaned over like a drunken boatswain. The dory crew were themselves looking a little unsteady as they approached the one they had come to rescue.
It was a girl. No doubt about it. Clad only in a kerchief bra and a pair of ragged shorts. She was a blonde—tall, with some excellent curves of a kind not usually seen in tall girls. She had a thin nose and a rather grim mouth. Standing there with her mouth and her arms folded impatiently, she was enwrapped in an attitude that suggested anything but what she appeared to be—a marooned beachcomber.
“About time you mugs showed up,” she said tartly.
This comment took them off-guard. As far as they knew, they were not expected.
Yet it was obvious that she was alone on the cay. The hump of sand and jungle was that small. There appeared to be no sign of a boat, wrecked or otherwise.
“How long have you been here?” the First Mate wondered, noticing her sunburned and peeling features.
“Anyone else with you?”
“Lady,” exclaimed the First Mate, “you mean to say that you have been living on this dab of an island—all alone?”
The blonde girl at once showed she was inclined to answer no questions. “Listen, stupid!” she snapped. “If you’re gonna rescue me, then rescue me—and don’t ask fool questions.”
crew swapped befuddled looks. Probably half of them had at one time or another fantasized about rescuing a castaway as fetching as this one.
This was not how they envisioned the reality of it. Their faces soon grew long with disappointment. They wore them that way even as they helped the girl into the dory and all during the trip back to the liner.
WHEN the blonde castaway was safely aboard the liner, her attitude did not noticeably improve.
“How I got on that blasted island,” she informed the Captain almost before he could put to her a complete question, “is my own business. And I’ll settle it myself—don’t think I won’t!”
“You might at least give your name,” the nonplussed Captain said.
The blonde put her hands on her hips, stuck her pert chin in the air, and snapped, “Listen! That’s my business! Now will one of these white-coated stiffs show me to my cabin, or do I pick one for myself?”
The First Mate showed the willful young woman to an empty cabin on a lower deck, upon which she promptly slammed the door on his face and locked herself in.
“If there is anything we can get you, Miss—” the First Mate began to say.
The girl’s tart voice came through the door. “Three things.Food. Privacy. And something to read.”
A well-rounded meal and a stack of newspapers arrived within twenty minutes, on separate trays. The steward was instructed to leave them outside the cabin door and after he had departed, the trays were claimed. The ship’s skipper provided these amenities for sound business reasons. He knew the kind of publicity that would greet the
once it docked in Manhattan. In fact, he radioed ahead to the home office so that this would be arranged for.
Nothing more was heard from the cabin for the rest of the day. The incident had to be reported to the maritime authorities, of course. Inquiries as to the castaway’s identity crossed via ship-to-shore radio in both directions. The upshot was, no one seemed to have lost a tall, shapely blonde with a thin nose and even thinner patience.
It was a deep mystery, and naturally it was the talk of the
passengers and crew as she steamed north to the United States.
The liner published its own newspaper, a modest thing not much larger than a Broadway program guide. The next morning’s edition was headlined:
BLONDE MYSTERY GAL RESCUED OFF TROPIC ISLAND
REFUSES TO EXPLAIN HOW SHE GOT THERE
The story below was remarkably bare of facts.
A copy was delivered to the erstwhile castaway’s cabin as a courtesy, and she had not had it more than two minutes when she came storming out of her cabin, leaving her breakfast eggs and toast untouched.
She was now clad in a rather sporty ensemble that had been contributed by a sympathetic passenger, and made a fetching sight as she bowled down the promenade deck, chin lifted with an air of leave-me-alone. Heads turned, naturally. A few passengers called after her. She ignored them pointedly, found the captain’s office and burst in with all the quietude of a blonde typhoon.
“What’s the meaning of this?” she demanded of the Captain, flinging the paper at his immaculate uniform front. “Can’t a gal have any privacy on this tub?”
The Captain ignored the outburst and said in a reasonable voice, “We have had inquiries, miss. No one seems to know who you are.”
“Listen! I’ve told you that’s my business! And I aim to keep it that way!”
The skipper looked pained. “Could you at least give us something to call you?”
The blonde fixed him with a baleful blue eye. “If I give you a name, will you leave me out of your silly shipboard rag?”
“I can arrange that, yes,” the Captain allowed.
“Call me Henrietta.”
The Captain looked disappointed. “No last name?”
“That wasn’t in our agreement,” the blonde snapped. “Next time get it in writing.” And with that, the salty castaway calling herself Henrietta stormed off.
She got several paces, halted, and snapped sunburned fingers sharply.
“Dammit! I meant to ask where and when this tub will put into port.”
Her sun-inflamed face twisted and softened. “I know. I’ll just mingle with the
” And with that, Henrietta made a very determined beeline for the nearest unoccupied deck chair.
This drew attention.
“Are you the gal off the island?” a smiling Joe College type in a sleeveless varsity sweater asked in passing.
“What if I am?” snapped Henrietta, lip curling.
“Ah, I was just making conversation.”
“Come back when you’ve grown into your long pants, sonny boy,” the girl said acidly.
Abashed, the college boy betook himself away.
A very snappily dressed gentleman tried to board the blonde windjammer next.
“Hello, babe!” he called cheerily.
“G’wan! Scram!” growled the brazen blonde.
The would-be swain sought more agreeable companionship.
Others attempted to engage Henrietta in conversation, but to no avail. She put them all off. Even the sportiest guys on the ship couldn’t pick her up. She ignored them all.
There was a magazine on a table beside the deck chair and she snapped it up, burying her thin nose in it. Idly, she paged through the periodical, looking up every so often.