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Title: The Clue of the Gold Coin
Author: Wells, Helen
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Clue of the Gold Coin" ***

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[Illustration: _In the case was a clue to the gold coin theft_]



THE VICKI BARR FLIGHT STEWARDESS SERIES

  _THE CLUE OF THE GOLD COIN_

  BY HELEN WELLS

  _GROSSET & DUNLAP_
  PUBLISHERS
  _New York_



  © BY GROSSET & DUNLAP, INC., 1958
  _All Rights Reserved_

  PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



_CONTENTS_


  CHAPTER                        PAGE

     I SUNSHINE ASSIGNMENT          1

    II A STRANGE TRIP              21

   III AN ODD OFFER                35

    IV PIRATE GOLD                 43

     V THE FBI TAKES OVER          49

    VI NEW YORK INTERLUDE          66

   VII YBOR CITY                   71

  VIII MR. QUAYLE AGAIN            97

    IX SKULL AND CROSSBONES       104

     X THE TORCHLIGHT PARADE      114

    XI THE FRENCH SAND            121

   XII THE DISAPPEARANCE          132

  XIII HAVANA                     136

   XIV THE THIRD MAN              157

    XV THE MYSTERY SOLVED         169



CHAPTER I

_Sunshine Assignment_


Swirls of heavy snowflakes, driven by a brisk wind that whistled across
the vast expanse of concrete runways that is New York City’s Idlewild
Airport, dashed against the big picture window in the Personnel Lounge
and spiraled back into the murky whiteness of the winter morning.
Inside the comfortable room, four girls, all dressed in the trim, blue
uniform of Federal Airlines stewardesses, sat in soft leather armchairs.

“Of all the luck!” One of the girls, a tall brunette, grinned as she
shook her head in mock despair. “Here it is, the middle of the worst
winter we’ve had in years, and what do I draw as my new assignment? New
York to Chicago! The two coldest towns in the world! And you two, you
lucky kids, get the Florida run!”

Vicki Barr tucked a strand of her ash blond hair in place, and her
laugh tinkled like Chinese chimes stirred by a gentle breeze.

“Your trouble, Sue,” she said, “is that you don’t wish on stars. Now
the other night, flying down from Boston, I looked out the window and
there was Venus hanging up in the sky as bright and pretty as you
please. So I just said, ‘Star light, star bright, first star I’ve seen
tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might get the wish I wish tonight ...’”

“Oh, now, go away!”

“No. I really mean it. I said, ‘I wish I am assigned to the Florida
run.’ And the next morning the Chief Stewardess called me into her
office and told me that my new assignment was New York to Tampa.”

Sue chuckled. “Vicki, you little vixen, I don’t know whether to believe
you or not. But just the same I envy you. When I think of Chicago in
this weather ...” She shuddered. “B-r-r-r-r! And I do mean B-r-r-r!”

“I envy you,” one of the other girls spoke up. “You kids are really
going to have fun! I was reading the other day about the big pirate
carnival they have every year about this time down in Tampa. It’s
supposed to be as gay and giddy as the New Orleans Mardi Gras.”

“That’s the Gasparilla Pirate Festival,” the fourth girl, Vicki’s
co-stewardess, volunteered. Cathy Solms was a tall, slender girl about
Vicki’s own age, with flaming red hair that contrasted sharply with
the pale blue of her perky cap. “And you’re right. Vicki and I are
going to have buckets of fun.” She winked at her flight partner and
grinned. “By the way, Vicki, I wonder what big things are happening out
in Chicago this winter.”

“Don’t rub it in,” Sue said. She glanced at the pattern of snow
swirling up against the wide window. “If this keeps up, it doesn’t look
as if any of us will get away from New York.”

“Maybe not you,” Vicki replied. “But we go out on schedule. I checked
with operations as I came in, and south of Washington there’s not a
snow cloud in the sky. Remember, it’s the weather at landing, not at
take-off, that counts.”

At that moment, Johnny Baker, copilot on Vicki’s flight, stuck his
handsome, crew-cut blond head in the door.

“Let’s go, kids. No day off for you two,” he said with a wide grin.
“We’re taking off on the nose. Meet you in five minutes at Gate Five.”

Vicki and Cathy picked up their flight bags and topcoats, and headed
for the door that Johnny had closed after him.

“Give our love to the ice on Lake Michigan,” Cathy said over her
shoulder.

“And don’t slip on the ice when you walk away from your ship,” Vicki
added with a smile.

“Get out,” Sue said, “before we throw you out. And oh, yes,” she
added, a smile twinkling in her eyes, “give our best to that pirate
fellow!”

       *       *       *       *       *

Four hours later the big DC-6-B four-engine plane put up its port wing
as the pilot banked to swing into his landing pattern. Vicki, strapped
in the stewardess’s jump seat for the landing, looked out the window
at the tropical vista spread all around her. To her left, as the pilot
banked, the window was filled with bright blue sky, cloudless except
for a few white wisps that floated high overhead. Through the window
across the aisle, she could look down on the sand of the beaches,
gleaming golden in the early afternoon sun, the vivid aquamarine blue
of the waters of the Gulf, and the crisp green of the lawns and gardens
that surrounded the glistening white houses.

Then the plane straightened, passed over the busy streets of the old
city, over the scattered houses in the suburbs, and at last the hangars
and runways of Tampa International Airport swept into view over the
leading edge of the wing. The big plane shuddered as Captain March, the
senior pilot, lowered his wing flaps to check the landing speed. Then
the runway rushed up to meet the ship, and there was a shrill whine as
the tires hit the concrete strip.

In her natural element, the air, the huge plane was as effortless and
graceful in flight as a soaring gull. But on the ground, her wings
vibrated and seemed to droop, and she shook all over like some great,
tired clumsy beast as she lumbered forward to the unloading gate.

The instant she felt the ship land and steady on its taxiing course,
Vicki unfastened her seat belt and got to her feet, ready to help her
passengers collect their things and get ready to disembark. Ten minutes
later she and Cathy were standing in the open plane doorway saying
good-by to the last of them, three small children, who, with their
mother, had been making their first trip by air. The little girls had
been fascinated by the flight, and Vicki had spent all of her spare
minutes--which on a short flight like this one, and with hot lunches to
be served to eighty passengers, were very few--answering their eager
questions.

Then, rapidly, the two stewardesses checked through the big cabin for
any belongings their passengers might have left behind.

“I hope our hotel is on the beach,” Cathy said, stopping for a moment
to gaze out at the warm sunshine. “I can’t wait to start working on a
Florida tan.”

“I’m staying with Louise Curtin’s family,” Vicki said. “At least for
the first few trips.”

“Louise Curtin?”

“She was in my class at the University of Illinois,” Vicki explained.
“Her family lives down here. When I wrote that I was going to be on the
Tampa run, she phoned me the minute she got the letter and insisted
that I absolutely _must_ stay with them on my layovers.”

“It’s nice to have friends,” Cathy sighed. “Much better than a hotel
room.”

Federal, like all other airlines, provided hotel accommodations for
their crews when they were away from home. In New York, Vicki shared an
apartment with several other Federal Airlines stewardesses.

“That reminds me. I have another friend in Tampa,” Vicki said. “I’ll
have to look him up.”

“Ah!” Cathy said, brightening. “Do I smell romance in the air?”

Vicki laughed. “I hate to disappoint you, Cathy. But Joey Watson is a
boy who works here in the Federal warehouse. He’s an orphan, poor kid,
a cousin of Bill Avery, the pilot who taught me to fly.”

Cathy’s eyes widened. “To _fly_? Don’t tell me you’re a pilot as well
as a stewardess!”

“I’ve had my private license for two years.” Vicki smiled. “But I
don’t have a chance to get in much flying time when I’m in New York.
Anyway,” she went on, “Joey was dying to learn to fly, and Bill asked
me if I’d mind putting in a good word for him with Federal’s personnel
department. There happened to be an opening here, and Joey got the job.
So, you see, there goes your romance. I’m afraid Joey thinks of me more
as a mother.”

Cathy surveyed Vicki’s slim, trim figure, looking her up and down with
an expression of exaggerated appraisal on her face.

“You don’t look like the mother type to me, gal.”

“All right.” Vicki chuckled. “Make it big sister if that suits you
better.”

At that moment the door to the flight deck opened and Captain March
entered the main cabin, followed by Johnny Baker, the copilot. The
captain had a leather brief case tucked under his arm and both men
carried blue canvas overnight bags stamped with the name and insignia
of the airline.

“How did it go, girls?” the captain asked.

“Smooth as silk,” Vicki answered. “Everybody seemed to enjoy
themselves, and one or two went out of their way to say so.”

“Fine,” the captain said briskly. “That’s good. Now let’s check in and
get out to the hotel. I could use a swim.”

As the four crew members walked from the plane to Federal’s operations
office in the airport building, Vicki explained to Captain March about
her invitation to stay with the Curtins.

“And oh, yes,” she continued. “A young friend of mine works as a cargo
handler in the freight warehouse.” She told the captain briefly about
Joey Watson and how she had helped get him his job. “Do you suppose it
will be all right if I go over and say hello?”

“I don’t see why not,” the captain replied. “Just be sure to check
with the foreman first. They don’t like to have unauthorized personnel
wandering around.”

A few minutes after they had made their routine check-in, Vicki said
good-by to her fellow crew members and strolled leisurely in the
direction of the big warehouse building.

A heavy-set man lounged in the warehouse doorway, holding a
half-consumed bottle of coke in his hand. He looked quizzically at
Vicki as she approached.

“Can you please tell me where I can find the foreman?” Vicki asked
politely.

“You’re talkin’ to him,” the man said. His square-cut face was
expressionless, neither friendly nor unfriendly.

“I’d like to see Joey Watson for a minute. Is he on duty this
afternoon?”

“Yep. You a friend of his?”

Vicki put on her prettiest smile. “Well, sort of,” she said. “I haven’t
seen him for some time, and if I may, I’d like to say hello.”

“Just a second,” the foreman said. “I’ll go get him.” He turned and
disappeared into the huge building.

Vicki looked in through the open door. Piles of boxes, cartons, and
bulky sacks stood stacked like islands on the big expanse of floor.
Cargo handlers were busy sorting these, loading some on small motor
carts and unloading others that had just been taken off incoming
planes. Backed up at a long platform that ran the length of the
opposite side of the building were half a dozen trucks waiting to pick
up the cargo for local delivery. Other workmen weighed outgoing boxes
and bales, and nailed cartons up more securely. The whole place had an
air of quiet efficiency.

A tall, young figure dashed out of the dimness of the big room and ran
up to Vicki, a big smile spread all across his eager face.

“Miss Vicki!” he cried breathlessly, holding out his hand. “I never
expected to see _you_ here!”

“Hi, Joey!” Vicki greeted him. She took his outstretched hand, and he
pumped hers in a warm but excited handshake. “How’s the job going?”

“Swell, Miss Vicki! Just swell!”

Joey Watson was eighteen, tall, thin, and with long arms that dangled
awkwardly from his skinny shoulders. As he stood grinning contagiously,
he reminded Vicki of a friendly, energetic, oversized puppy. She
couldn’t help grinning back at him.

“Well,” Vicki asked, “are there enough airplanes around here to suit
you?”

“There sure are. I’d have taken any kind of job, even sweeping the
place out, just to be around planes. And I can’t thank you enough for
getting this one for me.”

Just then the dour foreman reappeared.

“Oh, Van,” Joey said eagerly, “I want you to meet Miss Vicki Barr.
She’s a Federal stewardess and--” he added, his eyes shining, “a
pilot.”

Van mumbled an acknowledgment of the introduction. “Don’t take too long
a break, boy,” he said to Joey. “Ed will need you on his cart to meet
the three-fifty flight from Dallas.”

The foreman nodded briskly to Vicki and walked off. Vicki looked after
his wooden, uniformed figure. Was he naturally chilly, or just a
nose-to-the-grindstone type? Oh, well! It really didn’t matter. She’d
probably never see him again. She turned her attention back to Joey.

“I’m afraid I’m not much of a pilot”--she smiled--“whatever you may
think.”

Joey’s face wrinkled up in a grin. “Anyone who can fly is pretty big in
my book.” He pointed to an area of concrete strip between the warehouse
and a service hangar next door. “See that Beech sitting over there?”

A small, twin-engine Beechcraft stood on the strip. The cowling had
been removed from one of her engine nacelles and a man stood on a
step-ladder tinkering with the motor.

“That’s Steve Miller,” Joey said. “He’s a charter pilot here at the
field, and he’s promised to teach me to fly.”

“Why, that’s wonderful!” Vicki exclaimed, her eyes twinkling with
pleasure. She knew that being able to fly was the most important thing
in the boy’s life.

“Steve’s the best,” Joey went on enthusiastically. “So’s Van
Lasher--he’s the fellow I introduced you to just now. Gosh! Everybody
around this airport is pretty swell.”

“You just naturally like everybody that has anything to do with
airplanes, don’t you, Joey?”

“I sure do,” he admitted. “Say, Miss Vicki, how long did it take you to
solo? Were you nervous the first time?”

Vicki smiled. “See here, young man, if we start talking flying you’ll
_never_ get back to work.”

“I guess you’re right,” the boy said, laughing. “It wouldn’t do to lose
this job, now that I’m getting ready to be a fly boy for real.”

Vicki said good-by and promised to look Joey up again. Then she walked
back to the airport building.

Even though it had become a common, everyday sight to her, an airport
waiting room never failed to fascinate Vicki. And this one at Tampa
was particularly interesting. Passengers from incoming planes carried
heavy coats that they had worn when they had left the northern winter
weather. Sometimes friends, tanned and wearing gay-colored sports
clothes, were waiting to greet them.

Through the big picture window She could see the air taxis waiting
at one end of the field. Anyone who wished to fly across Tampa Bay
to Clearwater or St. Petersburg, or across the Caribbean to Cuba or
Mexico, could charter a plane like the one Joey’s instructor--Steve
Miller--flew. Everything seemed so easygoing and carefree here, Vicki
thought, in this sun-kissed land where the breeze was scented with the
perfume of flowers.

She stopped at the Federal reservations counter where she had left her
bag, picked it up, and then went out the building’s main entrance to
look for a taxi.

Twenty minutes later the taxi pulled up at the Curtins’ home, and
Vicki, carrying her bag and topcoat, stepped out. She stopped for a
moment, after she had paid her fare, to look at the dignified old
house. It was red brick, old-fashioned and comfortable-looking,
surrounded by a close-clipped lawn and rambling flower gardens. Two
tall palm trees flanked it on either side. She opened the iron gate and
walked down a flagstone path to the front door.

Before she could ring the bell, the door flew open and there stood
Louise, looking more grownup than Vicki remembered her, with her dark
hair done up in a chignon and a big smile of welcome on her beautiful,
delicately tanned face. Louise had written that she was doing social
work, but Vicki found it hard to believe that this lovely, vivacious
girl could confine her energies to anything so unglamorous.

“Vicki! How wonderful to see you again!” Louise hugged her and then
stepped back and appraised her. “You’ve changed!”

Vicki laughed. “It’s pretty wonderful to see you, too. But you don’t
have to sound so accusing. You’ve changed yourself!”

“You’re so poised now, Vicki, and so _très chic_ in that lovely blue
uniform. I remember you used to be shy.”

“Still shy sometimes, and I’m _très_ delighted to be at your house. You
were darling to ask me. Are you actually a social worker these days?
_You_, our southern belle?”

“Only a volunteer, whenever the agency needs me. But tell me--”

A tall, slim figure ran lightly down a broad staircase at the end of
the entrance hall.

“That’s enough of this college reunion stuff, Louise. Introduce your
kid sister!”

Louise laughed, apologized, and introduced Nina. Nina managed to tell
Vicki, all in one breath, that she was only a year younger than Louise,
had left college to take a fashion job in a Tampa dress shop, and
thought flight stewardesses “have the most glamorous job in the world.”
When Vicki said her job involved some serious know-how about aviation
and practical nursing, and dealing with people in general--and was not
entirely glamorous--Nina refused to believe it.

“Sheer glamour,” she insisted. “Even better than being an actress. I’m
sure of it.”

Louise looked amused and suggested that they had better invite their
guest into the house. The girls showed Vicki to the guest room
upstairs and waited, chattering about the plans they’d made for her,
while she unpacked the few things she had brought with her and changed
from her flight uniform into a bright cotton afternoon dress.

“Better bring more dresses on your next flight,” Nina warned. “You’ll
need them for parties and going out.”

They went back downstairs to the living room, which in late afternoon
was filled with cool shadows and perfumed with the fresh scent of
flowers wafted in through the open windows.

“I’ll fix us something cool to drink,” Nina said, and disappeared.
A few minutes later she reappeared with a tall, frosty pitcher of
lemonade and three glasses on a tray.

“What does _your_ sister do, Vicki?” Nina wanted to know. “College?
Career? Romance?”

Vicki explained that Ginny was still in high school, and that her plans
for the future kept changing from day to day as some new idea took her
fancy.

Louise wanted to hear news about The Castle, the big rambling home
of Vicki’s family in Fairview, Illinois, which got its name from the
fact that its tower and balcony really did resemble a castle, and
which Louise had visited as often as she could when she and Vicki
were classmates at State University. She asked about Mrs. Barr’s
rock garden; Freckles, the Barr spaniel; and what news Professor
Barr brought home from the university. Vicki answered the torrent of
questions as best she could, for it had been several weeks since she
had been home.

The three girls chattered on and on without noticing the time, and were
surprised when a cheerful male voice broke into their conversation:

“Well, where is she? Where’s the little flier?”

A gray-haired man of medium height stood in the doorway to the room.
He was dressed in a dark-blue business suit and wore heavy horn-rimmed
glasses.

“Dad!” Louise cried, jumping up.

Vicki got to her feet and went forward, smiling, to take Mr. Curtin’s
outstretched hand. He was just the sort of father she’d expected Louise
to have--a substantial businessman, soft-spoken, cheerful, cordial,
good-humored. The smile he gave Vicki in return was the very essence of
southern hospitality.

“It’s nice of you to take in a stranger,” Vicki said.

“You won’t be a stranger in Tampa very long, Vicki,” Mr. Curtin
answered. “We’ll see to that, won’t we, girls?”

He sat down and lighted a cigarette.

“You came to town at just the right time,” he said, exhaling a spiral
of smoke that drifted upward and hung in a golden ray of late afternoon
sunlight which slanted in through a window. “You’ll be here for the
Gasparilla Pirate Festival.”

“Dad’s on the committee,” Nina said excitedly. “He’s going to be a
pirate. And Louise and I are going to be señoritas.”

Vicki smiled mischievously. “I’m afraid you don’t look like a pirate to
me, Mr. Curtin.”

“You just wait until you see me in a big, black beard, a patch over one
eye, and a bandanna tied around my head. Maybe you’ll change your mind.”

“Dad looks simply ferocious.” Louise grinned. “Why, he even frightens
_me_!”

The four were talking and laughing gaily when the housekeeper came in
to announce dinner. Mrs. Tucker was a large, comfortable-looking woman,
with gray hair rolled into a knot on top of her head and wearing a
crisply starched white dress. They followed her into the dining room
and seated themselves at the table.

“I’m sorry Mother isn’t here to meet you, Vicki,” Louise said, as the
housekeeper served the steaming dishes of food, “but she got a wire the
other day saying that Grandma was ill, and she flew out to Oregon to
see her.”

“Vicki will meet her when she returns,” Mr. Curtin said. “For I trust,
young lady,” he said to Vicki, “that you will consider this your home
whenever you are in Tampa.”

The pleasant conversation continued as they leisurely ate the
delicious dinner. Inevitably it returned to the coming festival.

“One of the stewardesses was talking about it before we left New York,”
Vicki said. “She said it was a sort of Mardi Gras, but that’s about all
I know.”

“It’s an old tradition with us,” Mr. Curtin explained. “I think you
might be interested in how it all started.”

“I certainly would,” Vicki answered. “It sounds intriguing.”

“Well, about two hundred years ago, in 1783 to be exact, an officer
in the Spanish Navy named José Gaspar mutinied and seized his warship
the _Florida Blanca_. Then he turned pirate, changed his name to
Gasparilla, meaning Little Gaspar, and began to prey on the merchant
ships of all nations. He made his headquarters in the islands around
Tampa Bay, and whenever a merchantman came by, he rushed out, captured
it, killed the crew, stole the cargo, and then burned the ship.”

“And this cutthroat is the patron rogue of Tampa,” Nina put in. “Louise
thinks it’s too disgraceful.”

“Oh, really, Nina. I never said quite that--”

Mr. Curtin laughed as he went on with the story.

“Be that as it may, old Gasparilla’s luck held out for thirty-eight
years. Then, one day in 1821, he made a fatal mistake. He pounced
on a lone brig which he thought was an unarmed merchantman, but it
turned out to be an American warship, the U.S.S. _Enterprise_. And
Gasparilla’s goose was cooked. Within minutes, his ship was a mass of
flames.”

“So the Navy finally captured him?”

“Not Gasparilla! The old devil wrapped a heavy iron chain around his
waist and leaped into the sea, still brandishing his cutlass.”

“And now Daddy is going to be a lovely, bloodthirsty pirate too,” Nina
said impishly.

Mr. Curtin smiled. “I’d better tell Vicki the rest of the story before
she thinks we’re all crazy down here. You see,” he continued, “since
Gasparilla had made Tampa Bay his headquarters, we decided to use him
as an excuse for a mid-winter festival and a week of fun. A group of
Tampa businessmen formed an organization called Ye Mystic Krewe. You
spell Krewe with a capital _K_ and an _e_ on the end. And aside from
Festival Week, we’re as sedate as any Rotary Club.”

“You’re not very sedate when you capture Tampa,” Louise said.

“No,” Mr. Curtin admitted with a grin, “I’m afraid that for that
particular week we turn into little boys again playing pirate. A few
years ago we raised the money to build a full-rigged sailing ship, an
exact replica of Gasparilla’s _Florida Blanca_. On Monday morning--this
year it will be February tenth--we all dress up in pirate costumes,
sail the _José Gasparilla_ up the Bay, and capture Tampa. Then, for the
rest of the week, everybody has fun--dancing in the streets, balls,
torchlight parades. Then, on Saturday, we sail away and give Tampa a
chance to catch its breath until next year.”

Vicki’s eyes were shining with excitement as Louise’s father finished
his story.

“It _does_ sound like fun! I just can’t wait!”

“Nina and I are going to ride on one of the floats in the big
torchlight parade,” Louise said, her own eyes Sparkling. “We’ll be
all dressed up like Spanish señoritas, in mantillas, shawls, red
dresses ...”

“And red roses clutched in our pearly teeth,” Nina insisted.

“Why can’t I be a señorita too?” Vicki demanded. “That is”--and her
face fell at the thought that she might miss the fun--“if we’re not in
New York that day.”

“Whoever heard of a blond, blue-eyed señorita?” Mr. Curtin teased.

“I have,” Nina said. “In the north of Spain--”

“Dad,” Louise interrupted, “tell Vicki about the old Spanish doubloons.”

Mr. Curtin explained that a collection of ancient gold coins, gathered
together from all over the world, was currently on display at a museum
in New York.

“And since pirates and old gold coins seem to go hand in hand,” he
continued, “we thought it would be an added attraction for the Festival
if we could put them on display here in the Royal Palms Hall during
Gasparilla Week. So I wrote New York, and it turned out we were in
luck. The exhibit is scheduled to close in New York just a few days
before our Festival opens. And they agreed to let us exhibit them. So
at least one part of the Gasparilla Festival will be authentic this
year. Ye Mystic Krewe may be counterfeit pirates, but those gold coins
will be the real thing. Very real indeed!”

The table talk drifted to other subjects--the Florida beaches, the
Florida sun, Vicki’s and Louise’s school days at State University. And
after dinner, Vicki and the two Curtin girls took a short walk along
the moonlit, palm-lined streets.

Later, when Vicki had said good night and slipped into bed, she
realized that the excitement of the day--seeing a romantic new city
and meeting an old friend--had made her pleasantly tired. She dropped
off to sleep almost as soon as her blond hair touched the cool linen
pillow. And her dreams were filled with visions of pirate ships and
pirate gold.



CHAPTER II

_A Strange Trip_


Three mornings later Vicki, Cathy, and Johnny Baker strolled across
the concrete apron in front of Gate Five at Idlewild to board the ship
for their return run to Tampa. Today the skies were clear, but the
wind blowing across the huge airfield carried the crisp, cold bite of
winter, and small snowdrifts were still piled up against the heavy wire
fencing that enclosed the passenger area.

“Where’s Captain March?” Vicki asked Johnny. “He’s late this morning,
and that’s not like him.”

“Captain’s already on board,” the copilot said. “He boarded her in the
hangar.”

“What’s the matter?” Cathy laughed. “Doesn’t he trust the ground crew
to see that she’s ready to fly?”

“Don’t ask me,” Johnny replied, grinning good-naturedly, “I’m just the
copilot. I take over the controls when the captain tells me to and I
don’t ask questions. Then one of these days, if I’m a good boy, I’ll be
a captain myself. I’ll know all the answers, but of course I won’t tell
them to the rest of the crew. So there’s no use asking me anything--not
now or a couple of years from now when I’ve got another stripe on my
sleeve and am sitting up there in the captain’s seat.”

“You’re a big help,” Cathy scoffed.

“I told you I was,” Johnny said.

As the three entered the plane from the landing ramp, Captain March
emerged from the flight deck, followed by a stocky man wearing a blue
business suit under a light-gray topcoat.

“This is Mr. Jones,” he said, making the introductions. “Miss Barr,
Miss Solms--Mr. Baker.”

Mr. Jones nodded briefly to each of the crew members in turn.

“Mr. Jones is making the flight with us,” the captain explained. Then
he said to Mr. Jones: “Just take any seat you like, sir. These young
ladies will see that you get anything you want.”

Mr. Jones removed his topcoat, handed it to Cathy, and sat down in
an aisle seat opposite the door. He took a folded newspaper from
his jacket pocket and began to read. Captain March and Johnny Baker
disappeared through the forward door that led to the flight deck.
Cathy had carried Mr. Jones’s topcoat to the wardrobe amidships. Vicki
followed her down the aisle.

“It looks as if something’s up,” she said in a low voice.

“I don’t go to the movies for nothing,” Cathy remarked. “That Mr. Jones
has ‘cop’ written all over him. We must be carrying something pretty
important today. A shipment of diamonds, maybe, or gold.”

Gold! Suddenly Vicki remembered the antique gold coins that were being
sent from the New York museum to the Pirate Festival in Tampa. Could
they possibly have them on board this flight? That could account for
Mr. Jones and the captain riding the ship out from the hangar. And
especially if, as Cathy had suggested, Mr. Jones had “cop” written
all over him. Oh, well--! She shrugged off the thought. If they were
carrying a shipment of gold, she’d never know about it.

Vicki looked at the passenger list which she still had under her arm.
There was Mr. Jones’s name all right, along with an assortment of other
typical American names: Smith, Cooper, Levin, Carpenter, Fagan, Morris
... One name caught her eye. She pointed it out to Cathy.

“F. R. Eaton-Smith. My, that sounds important. Who do you suppose he
could be?”

“Sounds English,” Cathy commented. “But let’s go. Here they come.”

An attendant had opened the wire gate, and now the passengers for the
flight were streaming across the apron to the loading ramp. Vicki
stood by the plane’s open doorway, the passenger list in her hand, and
checked off the names one by one as the passengers entered.

“You are Mr.--?”

“Cooper.”

Vicki made a check beside his name.

“Oh, yes, Mr. Cooper. You’re bound for Atlanta.”

Atlanta was their one stop en route to Tampa. Vicki studied the man’s
face quickly but carefully. Part of her job was to make her passengers
feel welcome on board by remembering their names. The man walked down
the aisle and took a seat by a window.

One by one the passengers filed through the doorway. An elderly couple.
A woman with a little girl. A young man and woman in their early
twenties who displayed all the familiar outward appearances of being
honeymooners. The next man had a distinguished air about him. He was
portly, dignified, well-dressed. His rimless glasses were so highly
polished that Vicki could not see his eyes behind them, only brilliant
reflections of sunlight.

“I am Mr. Eaton-Smith.” His voice was as dignified as his appearance.

So this was F. R. Eaton-Smith! His appearance certainly fitted his
name. She turned to the next passenger.

He was a thin, frail old man, wearing a battered felt hat over his
badly trimmed gray hair and a shabby overcoat with a frayed collar.
He clutched a battered violin case under his arm, as though he had
been unwilling to trust it with the rest of the luggage in the cargo
compartment. He certainly didn’t look, Vicki thought, like a man who
was accustomed to first-class air travel.

“Good morning,” Vicki said brightly. “Your name, sir?”

The old gentleman looked startled. “I--I’m Amos Tytell, miss.” He
looked around the big cabin. “Where--uh, which seat is mine?”

“Take any seat you like, Mr. Tytell,” Vicki said. “But if you want to
look at the scenery, I’d suggest that you sit next to a window. We’re
going to have clear weather all the way.”

Finally the last of the passengers trooped aboard. The door was closed,
the landing ramp wheeled away by the ground crew, and Captain March
started his engines. One by one the big, four-bladed propellers whined
as they turned over slowly, then coughed and spat small puffs of blue
exhaust smoke and suddenly burst into a steady roar, the revolving
blades making bright, shiny disks that gleamed and sparkled in the
morning sun. The big ship vibrated with the pounding of the air stream
against her sides and strained at the wheel brakes like a race horse
impatient for the start. At last Captain March taxied out to the end
of the runway, waited for his signal from the tower, and when he got
it, gunned the ship down the concrete strip and lifted her into the air
as smoothly and gently as a bird.

Once the airplane was off the ground and droning up to cruising
altitude, and the NO SMOKING--FASTEN SEAT BELTS sign had blinked out,
Vicki and Cathy made their way up and down the aisle, chatting with
their passengers, offering them chewing gum and magazines, and doing
everything they could to make them comfortable and put them at their
ease.

Mr. Eaton-Smith interested Vicki particularly. Maybe, she thought,
it was his curious double name with the hyphen in the middle. Now,
with his hat off, she could see that his large Roman-looking head was
a little bald on top. And Vicki was again impressed by his air of
dignity. When she came to his aisle seat, she said politely:

“Anything I can get for you, Mr. Eaton-Smith? A cup of coffee? A
magazine perhaps?”

Mr. Eaton-Smith smiled. It was a curiously mechanical smile--polite but
certainly not warm or cordial.

“No, thank you.” Then he added: “I think we’ll have a pleasant flight
today.”

“Yes,” Vicki said. “Clear skies all the way. I can see that you’re a
veteran air traveler, sir.”

Mr. Eaton-Smith seem flattered. “Yes, I think I might call myself
that--since I’ve flown just about all over this globe of ours.”

“Oh?” Vicki said. “Are you a foreign correspondent? A writer?”

Mr. Eaton-Smith beamed. “No, but you’re close. I’m a travel lecturer,
and I operate a small travel agency in Tampa. Just to have a sort of
headquarters, as you might say.”

“Just ring if there’s anything I can do for you,” Vicki said.

“I certainly will, and thank you.”

The frail old man sitting across the aisle from Mr. Eaton-Smith was
certainly not a veteran air traveler. Vicki could tell that at a
glance. He actually looked frightened as he sat tensely in his seat,
still wearing his overcoat and with his violin case clutched between
his knees. A breath-taking panorama was unfolding just below the window
next to which he was sitting. But he was paying no attention to it,
staring intently at the back of the seat in front of him.

“Are you feeling all right, sir?” Vicki asked gently. “May I take your
overcoat?”

“No--no, thank you, miss. I--I’m cold.”

Vicki bent over him anxiously. Why, this man was half fainting!

“Are you feeling ill, sir?”

“Hungry,” he whispered.

“Just a minute.”

Vicki hurried to the galley. Obviously, Mr. Tytell could not wait until
lunch was served. She placed a sandwich and a cup of coffee on a tray
and carried it back to the old man.

“There,” she said. “That should make you feel better.”

He was so exhausted, or so nervous or ill, that his thin, heavily
veined hands shook, and Vicki had to help him hold his coffee cup. She
did not attempt to talk to him as he ate. When he had finished, he
smiled at Vicki gratefully.

“I feel better now.”

“That’s good. But why did you let yourself grow so weak?” She knew it
was against the rules to ask personal questions, but she felt a genuine
concern for this frail old man. “You didn’t have breakfast, did you?”

“No.” A tremor seemed to pass over his face.

And what a sensitive face it was, Vicki thought. She had known
musicians before. She knew what dreamy, impractical people most of the
old ones were. Was this man starving? His suit coat, underneath his
overcoat, was worn and threadbare. His thin, gray hair looked as though
it hadn’t been cut in months. His ticket showed that he was going to
Tampa.

“The Florida sunshine will do you a lot of good, Mr. Tytell. Are you
visiting your family in Tampa, or friends?”

He raised his weak, pale-blue eyes to hers. “All the family I have is
my grandson. And he’s in--in a school in New York. Yes, I’m going to
visit friends.” He hesitated and grew silent.

“I didn’t mean to pry,” Vicki said hastily. “It’s a long flight and I
just thought you’d like to talk. But now perhaps we’d better wait till
after lunch.” She looked at her watch. “That won’t be long now, and you
can have a good hot meal.”

She removed the tray from his lap and started to walk away, but the old
violinist plucked at her sleeve.

“Please don’t leave, miss. I’m glad of a chance to talk. You don’t know
how lonesome I am. And you’re the first kind person ...”

The eyes in his worn face were pleading. Vicki sat down in the empty
seat beside him. Poor, frightened little scarecrow of a man!

She touched the violin case. “You must be a musician,” she said
encouragingly.

“This isn’t a very good instrument. Just an old fiddle. I had to sell
my good violin to pay for--” Again his voice broke off and he fell
silent.

“You’ll be in Tampa just in time for the Gasparilla Festival,” Vicki
said, trying to cheer the old gentleman up.

“The--the _what_?”

“The Pirate Festival. Didn’t you hear about it when you planned this
trip? It’s the gayest time of the whole year.”

The old man sighed. “It isn’t as if I had exactly _planned_ this trip.”

“Why, it sounds as if you didn’t want to go to Tampa at all, Mr.
Tytell!”

“But if I--” The old man’s voice sounded scared. For an instant he
closed his tired eyes. “I’m talking too much. Excuse me, miss.”

Vicki got up.

“Miss, what’s your name?”

“Victoria Barr. But all my friends call me Vicki.”

“Thank you, Vicki.” Mr. Tytell relaxed in his seat and closed his eyes.

As Vicki turned to go down the aisle to the galley, she noticed out of
the corner of her eye that Mr. Eaton-Smith, from his seat across the
way, was looking at her and Mr. Tytell with a curious interest. The
next moment, the dignified gentleman turned his attention again to the
magazine he had been reading.

Now it was time for lunch, and Vicki and Cathy had their hands full
preparing lunches for the more than sixty passengers who were on the
flight today.

She glanced out a window. The ship was flying above Virginia now, where
scattered white patches of snow were melting in the brown fields. Soon
they would be approaching the green fields of the Carolinas. There
wasn’t much time to get the passengers fed. Vicki forgot everything in
her concentration on her job.

Vicki worked her way up the aisle of the plane serving the luncheons,
carrying one tray at a time, making sure that each passenger had a
cushion on his lap upon which to rest it, inquiring whether he would
care for coffee or tea. When she came to Mr. Eaton-Smith’s seat,
she noticed that he had moved across the aisle and was now sitting
next to old Mr. Tytell. The old man was dozing, his eyes closed. Mr.
Eaton-Smith put a finger to his lips.

“This gentleman seemed to be ill,” he whispered. “I thought I had
better move over here and see if there was anything I could do for him.”

“That’s very kind of you, sir,” Vicki said, as she placed Mr.
Eaton-Smith’s lunch tray on his lap. Old Mr. Tytell’s eyes fluttered,
and their glance caught Vicki’s for a split second. They looked like a
begging puppy dog’s eyes, she thought.

In a few minutes she had brought the tray for the old man and helped
him steady it on his lap. He picked up a fork and began to toy
listlessly with his food, keeping his eyes fixed upon his plate.

Back in the galley, cleaning up the remains of the lunch, Vicki
couldn’t get her mind free of the shabby old man.

Promptly on schedule, Captain March circled his plane over Tampa and
landed.

The mysterious Mr. Jones was the first person to get off when the
ground crew pushed the landing ramp up to the door. He spoke briefly
to one of the crewmen on the ground, and the two of them stepped around
to the tail of the plane, next to the baggage-compartment door.

Then Vicki saw the rest of her passengers off the ship and said good-by
to each one as he was leaving.

“I hope you had a pleasant trip, Mrs. Peterson. Ride with us again, Mr.
Levin. Good-by, Mr. Harper.”

She saw old Mr. Tytell coming toward her, still clutching his battered
violin case. Close behind him was Mr. Eaton-Smith.

“Good-by, sir. Have a pleasant stay in Tampa.”

“Good-- good-by, Miss Barr.” He glanced back over his shoulder for a
moment in the direction of his seat, and when his eyes returned to
Vicki they held an odd, hopeless look. “Thank you again.”

Behind him, Mr. Eaton-Smith was visibly impatient at the delay. He
brushed against the old violinist’s shoulder, and Mr. Tytell, feeling
the slight pressure, lowered his head and seemed almost to scurry
through the exit door.

Speaking mechanically to the other passengers as they left, Vicki kept
an eye on the tired old man as he went down the ramp and across the
apron, Mr. Eaton-Smith following at his elbow. She wondered who was
going to meet Amos Tytell. But he walked straight on through a group of
people who were obviously waiting to greet incoming friends and was
soon swallowed up in the crowd.

With the last of the passengers gone, Vicki and Cathy went rapidly
through the big cabin on a final inspection tour. The empty seats
were reclined at all angles; pillows, magazines, and newspapers were
scattered over them in confusion. At one seat she picked up a small
package that had been forgotten. She’d take it to the _Lost-and-Found_
desk in the terminal building.

In the seat that old Mr. Tytell had occupied something peculiar caught
her eye. It was a Tampa visitor’s guide, part of the travel literature
and other reading matter carried in the plane’s seat pockets. But it
was folded in the shape of a sort of pyramid and was standing upright
on the seat.

“Odd,” Vicki thought, and reached over to pick it up. As she did so,
she noticed that the exposed page was an advertisement for a restaurant
located in Ybor City, Tampa’s old Latin Quarter. The restaurant was
called the Granada, and under the name was the slogan: “The liveliest
and most popular meeting place in Tampa’s famed Ybor City.”

The words “meeting place” were underlined by a wavery pencil scrawl!

Had the old man left this as a signal? She remembered his furtive
over-the-shoulder glance as he was leaving the plane. Maybe he had a
job at the Granada playing in the orchestra. But why hadn’t he come
straight out and said so? Vicki wrinkled her pretty brows in a puzzled
frown. Was something strange going on here? Or was she just imagining
things?

She tucked the folder into her jacket pocket and went on with her work.



CHAPTER III

_An Odd Offer_


Vicki said good-by to Captain March, Johnny, and Cathy and strolled
leisurely through the air terminal waiting room, watching the milling
crowds of people which always fascinated her. One could certainly pick
out the “Yankees” who had just come in, she thought. Their northern
winter pallor contrasted sharply with the deep sun-browned skins of
the local residents. It suddenly struck Vicki that she was a “Yankee”
herself. “I’ll have to go to the beach and start working on my own sun
tan,” she thought, “the first time I have a day off.”

A rack of colorful picture post cards caught her eye. Gosh! Here it was
her second trip to Florida and she hadn’t sent a single card! That was
the first thing any respectable Florida visitor did!

She selected a dozen of the most exotic cards, those that depicted
wide sandy beaches, palm-lined streets, the moonlight over Tampa Bay,
and the _José Gasparilla_ sailing up the Bay with hundreds of bright
pennants flying from its masts and its deck crowded with Ye Mystic
Krewe.

Leaning on the counter, she addressed one to her father, one to her
mother, one to Ginny (who adored getting mail in her own name), one to
Bill Avery, and one to each of the girls who shared her apartment in
New York.

Then, just for fun, she addressed one to Mr. Curtin, to Nina and to
Louise. On each of these last three, she wrote: “I’m _so_ glad to be
here. Love, Vicki.”

She bought stamps from a machine on the counter, mailed the cards in a
postal drop nearby, and strolled on to the main door to hail a taxi.

On her way, she passed the terminal snack bar. An ice-cream soda, it
suddenly occurred to her, would taste just about right on a hot day
like this. She pushed open the swinging glass doors and entered the
dim, air-conditioned room.

The first person she saw was Joey Watson, sitting in one of the booths.
She started toward him, then checked herself when she saw that another
man was sitting in the seat opposite him. Vicki decided not to intrude
in what probably was “man talk.” She slipped into the next booth, with
her back to the man who was sitting with Joey.

[Illustration: _Vicki decided not to intrude_]

The man was speaking in a low voice, but it was deep-toned and
resonant. The man spoke with a soft Spanish accent, and had a peculiar,
almost indiscernible, lisp. Since he was separated from Vicki only by a
thin plywood partition, she couldn’t help hearing every word he said.
She paid no attention to the conversation, and ordered her soda from
the waitress.

Then a sentence caught her ear.

“... and you’re such a nice kid, Joey, that I want to help you. You’re
smart and ambitious, and I like to help boys like you.”

“But why should you want to help _me_?” Joey’s voice was puzzled. “You
never saw me before. And-- Why, I don’t even know your name.”

“Now that _does_ surprise me a little, Joey. With all the business I do
with Federal Airlines, I’m surprised you don’t know the name of Raymond
Duke.”

“I--I think I have seen your name on cargo consignments,” Joey said
hesitantly.

“Sure you have, kid,” the man said. “I’m one of the biggest importers
in Tampa. And you can bet that I’ve heard about Joey Watson. Your boss,
Van-- Van-- What’s his name--?”

“Van Lasher.”

“Sure. Van Lasher says you’re the smartest man he’s got. He tells me
you’re saving up for flying lessons, and that you need money real bad.
Well, I can fix that, kid. If you work for me, I can put a lot of money
your way.”

Vicki’s ears pricked up. This conversation was certainly taking a
curious turn! Now she began listening intently, careful to catch every
word. She felt responsible for Joey Watson, and the proposition this
man seemed to be trying to make to him sounded mighty strange indeed!

“Now in my business,” the man went on, “I can always use a smart boy.
Think you’d like to work for me? I pay mighty well.”

“Gee, Mr. Duke,” Joey said, “I’ve already got a good job. I like to
work around airplanes, and I’m already starting to take flying lessons.
Or I’ll be starting--any day now. No--thanks a lot--but I don’t think
I’d like to leave the airline.”

“Who said anything about leaving the airline, kid? What I want you to
do is work for me in your spare time--do odd jobs, run errands, things
like that. Why, I’ve got a job coming up that will pay you-- How does a
hundred dollars sound?”

“A _hundred dollars_!” Joey almost shouted.

“Not so loud, boy! Not so loud!” the man cautioned. “I don’t go around
offering good jobs to everybody I see. I don’t want every Tom, Dick,
and Harry pestering me for work. This is confidential. Just between you
and me.”

“Gee,” Joey said, “I--I don’t know.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know? A hundred smackers would sure pay
for a lot of flying lessons, boy. At the rate you’re going, you’ll
be an old man before you get your pilot’s license. Look, Joey, I’ll
tell you what I’ll do. You agree to work for me, and I’ll give you
twenty-five bucks in advance.”

Vicki heard the man flip some crisp bills.

“Look at that, kid. That’s just to show I trust you. And there’s plenty
more where that came from!”

“Gosh, Mr. Duke, I’ll have to think it over.”

“Nothing doing!” Vicki heard Mr. Duke say. “When I make a man as good a
proposition as this, I expect him to say yes or no. Besides, I’ve got
a job that needs to be done right away. Now what do you say, boy? That
money looks pretty good, doesn’t it? I’ll bet you never saw that much
before in your life. So what is it? Yes or no?”

“Gee, Mr. Duke!” Joey’s voice was wavering with indecision. “I--
Honest, I’ll have to think it over.”

“Okay!” Mr. Duke’s voice rose slightly, and seemed to Vicki to have
an angry, exasperated tone. “But look here, kid. You keep your lip
buttoned about this. If the word got around about me having a good job
open, every boy in Tampa would be after me. So not a word to anybody.
Okay?”

“Okay,” Joey said. “I’ll let you know.”

“You do that. But remember what I said about keeping quiet.”

Mr. Duke got to his feet, picked his Panama hat off the hatrack by the
booth, and started for the door. He was tall, thin, sleek, and slightly
overdressed. The shoulders of his jacket were just a little too padded,
Vicki thought, and the lapels a little too pointed. His hair was thick
and black and curly, his long face was deeply tanned, and a hair-thin
mustache spread across his upper lip.

On impulse, Vicki stood up and casually followed him out the door
of the snack bar and across the terminal building. When he stepped
out into the sunshine of the taxi loading ramp, she hung back as he
whistled for a cab. A taxi pulled up, and before Mr. Duke got in, he
said to the driver: “Granada Restaurant. Ybor City.”

Granada Restaurant! Ybor City! Vicki’s hand felt for the travel folder
in her jacket pocket. Why, that was the restaurant old Mr.--what was
his name?--Tytell had tried to call her attention to! If he really
_had_ been trying to call her attention to it by leaving the folder
on his seat in such a peculiar way with the words “meeting place”
underlined!

Vicki shook her head in bewilderment. It all seemed too curious to
be a coincidence. The frightened old man on the plane--the travel
folder--and now this odd-looking man making such a strange proposition
to Joey--and then going to that very same restaurant!

It seemed too curious to be a coincidence, but for the life of her,
Vicki couldn’t make any sense out of it. Maybe she’d better go back to
the snack bar and have a talk with Joey.

When she entered the air-conditioned room again, the booth at which
Joey and the strange man had been sitting was empty.

Vicki shrugged and smiled to herself. “Vicki Barr, with your
imagination, you ought to write mystery stories! You see a deep, dark
plot every time you look around! You could be spending your time better
at the beach, getting that Florida sun tan!”

She thrust all suspicions from her mind and went out to find a taxi.



CHAPTER IV

_Pirate Gold_


One of the nicest things about Vicki’s New York-Tampa assignment was
staying at the Curtins’ home. Yesterday afternoon, after Vicki had come
from the airport, she and Louise had gone to the beach for a swim--and
to begin “work” on Vicki’s Florida sun tan. After dinner, Mr. Curtin
had taken the three girls to the movies. Appropriately enough, it had
been a picture about pirates.

“You see,” Mr. Curtin had said, smiling, “we’re real pirate-minded here
in Tampa. We want to give the tourists a real good run for their money.”

Vicki loved the guest room--which was now called “Vicki’s room”--with
its flowered curtains and its big four-poster bed. And everyone in the
family, including Mrs. Tucker, the housekeeper, were understanding
about hard-working airline stewardesses and why they sometimes had to
sleep late in the morning.

Now the three girls were at lunch--brunch for Vicki--at a small
table on the side porch. The sun was shining brilliantly through the
tree-tops and making little puddles of golden light on the tiles of
the floor. The air was still, and held a heavy perfume of oleander
and hibiscus. Up in the trees, songbirds twittered merrily. Birds are
smarter than people, Vicki thought, they all go South for the winter.

“You’ll be back in Tampa tomorrow, won’t you, Vicki?” Louise asked.

“Not tomorrow,” Vicki corrected her. “Sunday. Then one more trip and
I’ll have a few days’ rest leave.”

“Perfect! We’ll spend the whole time at Clearwater Beach just relaxing
and lying in the sun,” Nina said enthusiastically. “Daddy will take us
out to Ybor City for dinner--and you’ll come to my shop and see all the
lovely things we have. Then we’ll ...”

“Nina, dear,” Louise interrupted, “Vicki says this is a _rest_ leave.”

Nina shook her silky black hair impatiently. “Oh, who wants to rest
when there are so many more exciting things to do?”

“I thought you had a job,” Vicki said with a grin.

“Sure I have. And I work mighty hard at it too. But there’s always time
to have fun.”

“This young dynamo wears me out.” Louise laughed. “I have to work, too,
you know, Nina, and Vicki has to rest. But we’ll manage to have fun,
don’t you worry.”

All three were chatting gaily when Mr. Curtin stepped out through the
open French windows onto the tile floor of the porch. His face looked
drawn and haggard, and worried wrinkles creased the skin around his
eyes.

“Dad!” Louise cried, jumping up. “Whatever are you doing home at noon?”

“Come and sit down, Daddy,” Nina said solicitously. “We’re just
finishing, but I imagine Mrs. Tucker can manage to find something for
you.”

Mr. Curtin slumped into a high-backed wicker chair.

“An awful thing has happened, girls,” he said. He took off his glasses
with a nervous gesture, rubbed his eyes, and ran his hand through his
thinning gray hair. “I’m the chairman of the committee, and I feel
responsible. But--” He stopped and shook his head. “But I don’t know
what to do about it.”

Louise ran to her father’s side and took his hand in hers.

“My goodness, Daddy! You look as pale as a ghost. Whatever has
happened?”

“Get me a cup of coffee, honey,” Mr. Curtin said. “I think I need
something to steady my nerves.”

Louise ran to the kitchen. When she returned with a steaming cup of
coffee, and her father had taken a few sips, Mr. Curtin took a deep
breath and leaned back in his chair.

“When it happened,” he said, “I was so stunned I just had to walk
around for a while and think.”

“Daddy,” Nina said, her eyes wide, “if you don’t tell us what happened,
we’re all just simply going to bust.”

Mr. Curtin managed a smile. “Sorry, honey. I’m not thinking very
straight.” He paused a moment, then continued. “You remember I told
you the other night about the collection of antique gold coins that
my committee was bringing down here from New York to exhibit during
Festival Week? Well, the case from the museum was delivered to the
exhibition hall this morning. Being the committee chairman, I was there
to receive it. It was all secure, and wrapped tightly around with steel
bands. But when we opened it, we found that it was filled--not with the
gold coins--but with worthless pieces of scrap iron.”

Vicki’s mouth dropped open, speechless. Louise clapped her hand to her
lips and her eyes grew wide. Nina said, “Daddy! That’s impossible!”

“Yes, that’s what you’d think,” her father replied.

“Had the box been tampered with?” Louise asked, after a minute.

“It didn’t seem so,” Mr. Curtin said. “As I say, it was taped with
steel bands, and the shipping label from the museum in New York was
intact. It had come down from New York yesterday by air express ...”

“Air express?” Vicki almost screamed the question. “Then it might have
come down on _our_ flight!” Suddenly she remembered the mysterious Mr.
Jones, whom Cathy had said had “cop” written all over him. And there
was the odd fact that he and Captain March had boarded the airplane in
the hangar. Before she could marshal these confusing thoughts in her
mind, Mr. Curtin went on.

“That’s right, Vicki. Air express. The case stayed in the warehouse out
at the airport overnight--under a heavy guard, I might add--and was
delivered to the exhibition hall about ten o’clock this morning.”

“And it hadn’t been tampered with, opened up?” Vicki asked the question
again.

“If it had,” Mr. Curtin said, “it was the cleverest tampering job I’ve
ever seen.”

“What--what were the coins worth?” Vicki asked.

“From the standpoint of their value as antiques,” Mr. Curtin answered,
“they were priceless. For the gold they contained, figuring gold at
thirty-five dollars an ounce, possibly a hundred thousand dollars.
Maybe twice that.”

“Whew!”

“But who could have stolen the gold?” Nina asked.

“Lots of people,” Vicki said. “The people at the museum who packed it.
The transfer people who trucked it to the airport. The cargo crew at
the New York airport. The cargo crew here at Tampa. The truckers who
delivered it from the field to the exhibition hall. Heaven knows how
many people could have got to that gold shipment.”

“At any rate,” Mr. Curtin said, “the Tampa police called in the FBI. If
the FBI can’t clear it up, I don’t know who can.”



CHAPTER V

_The FBI Takes Over_


After Mr. Curtin had eaten a hurried lunch and departed for committee
headquarters to await any new developments in the gold coin mystery,
Vicki and her two hostesses went for a stroll through the ornate flower
gardens that surrounded the big brick house.

“Look, Vicki. Did you ever see such gorgeous camellias in your life?
And just look at these wonderful poinsettias. They’re just simply
Mother’s pride and joy! Did you know that poinsettias were invented--I
mean, actually _invented_--by a man up in Charleston named Mr.
Poinsett? I don’t rightly know quite how he did it, but he crossed one
flower with another, and ...”

Nina rattled on and on about the flowers that grew in such brilliant
profusion in the gardens. Vicki nodded absently and tried her best to
be interested, paying what she hoped were the right compliments at the
right time. But she couldn’t seem to get her mind off the theft of the
gold shipment and that her plane might have been carrying the valuable
coins.

“Miss Vicki! Oh, Miss Vicki!”

It was Mrs. Tucker, calling from the porch steps.

“Miss Vicki, you’re wanted on the phone.”

Vicki hurried up the garden path, followed by Louise and Nina. She
picked up the telephone in the hall.

“Vicki Barr speaking. ... Oh, hello, Captain March. ... But I thought
we weren’t taking off until three-thirty. ... Oh? ... Yes. ... Yes, of
course I can. ... Half an hour. ... Yes, sir. Good-by.”

“What’s up, Vicki?”

“I don’t know. That was Captain March, chief pilot of my plane. I have
to report in half an hour to the airport manager’s office.”

Nina’s hand flew to her mouth. “Do you suppose it has anything to do
with ... with the ...”

Vicki had to smile at the younger girl’s excitement.

“If you mean with the crate of gold that was stolen yesterday, I
wouldn’t be a bit surprised. Now I have to change and run.”

Fifteen minutes later Vicki was again in the lower hallway, dressed in
her flight uniform and with her blue flight bag in her hand.

“My convertible’s out front,” Louise said. “Hop in and I’ll have you at
the airport in no time.”

“I’m coming too,” Nina declared.

The three girls piled into the sleek little car, and in minutes it was
whisking through the city streets. Then they left the town behind and
were rolling along the causeway, a long, sandy strip that ran across
the bright blue waters of Tampa Bay. Palm trees swished their heavy
fronds in the gentle breeze that blew across the Bay and silhouetted
their umbrellalike tops against the blue sky. Bathers and surf
fishermen lined the pink-yellow sand of the beach. Nina, as usual,
wanted to talk, to speculate about the mystery. But Louise remained
silent, concentrating on her driving, and Vicki replied to Nina’s avid
questions with “I haven’t any idea, Nina!” or “Gosh, I wonder!”

At last they drew up before the entrance to the terminal building with
five minutes to spare. Vicki hurriedly said so long to her friends, and
went directly to the manager’s office.

Johnny Baker and Cathy Solms were standing outside the closed door.
Both were wearing their flight uniforms.

“Hi, there,” Vicki greeted them. “What’s up?”

“You know as much as we do,” Johnny said, puzzled. “The skipper called
the hotel half an hour or so ago--he’d left earlier this morning--and
asked us to show up here. Maybe we’re hauling some important VIP back
to New York this afternoon. But heck, that’s no reason to rush us out
here, just before Cathy and I were going to take one last quick dip in
the surf.”

Cathy’s eyes lighted up. “Maybe it’s a planeload of movie stars!”

“Or maybe some South American dictator who was kicked out last night.”
Johnny laughed.

Vicki was pretty sure she knew why the crew was assembled here. She
remembered Mr. Curtin saying: “The Tampa police have called in the
FBI.” But she saw no point in mentioning this. Maybe, for all she knew,
the FBI was keeping the whole thing a deep, dark secret while they
worked behind the scenes.

So she simply said, “If I have my choice between South American
dictators and movie stars, I vote for movie stars.”

At that moment the door to the manager’s office opened to reveal
Captain March’s frowning face.

“Will you come in, please.”

The three filed in through the door.

Aside from Captain March, the only other person in the room was a
short, heavy-built man in a tan gabardine suit. His crew-cut hair was
salty black and he had a tired look about his eyes.

“Sit down, sit down,” he said briskly but courteously. “This shouldn’t
take more than a few minutes.”

Slowly, intently, his eyes went from one member of the crew to the
other. Then he straightened his shoulders, rested his hands on the
sides of the desk behind which he was sitting, and leaned slightly
forward.

“My name’s Quayle. John Quayle. Special Investigator, Federal Bureau of
Investigation.”

Well, she’d been right, Vicki thought. She stole a sidelong glance at
Cathy and Johnny. Both were openmouthed with surprise.

“Captain March tells me that you were his crew on Federal Airlines
Flight Seventeen, New York to Tampa, yesterday, February seventh.”

The copilot and the two stewardesses nodded automatically.

“Flight Seventeen,” Mr. Quayle continued in a droning voice, “was
carrying an especially valuable item of cargo. A crate of antique gold
coins from the National Numismatic Museum in New York consigned to
the Royal Palms Hall here in Tampa. These coins were to have been put
on display next week during the Gasparilla Festival. It is impossible
to estimate the value of this shipment. I can only say that it was
priceless.”

Mr. Quayle looked at his audience in silence for a long moment.

“When that crate was delivered to the Festival committee at the Royal
Palms, it appeared to be exactly as it was when it left the museum.
But when the committee members opened it, it was found to contain, not
the gold coins, but an equivalent weight in iron-and-steel scrap.”

Johnny and Cathy gasped. Vicki looked at Captain March. His eyes were
impassive. Naturally, she thought, he had been told about this before
the rest of the crew.

“Only two possibilities have occurred to us,” the FBI man went on, “as
to how the theft could have been accomplished. One: the crate could
have been opened, the gold removed, and the scrap metal put in its
place. Two: the crate of scrap could have been substituted for the
crate of gold somewhere en route.”

Again he paused to let his words sink in.

“As to the first possibility, there was no sign of tampering. As to the
second, the crate undoubtedly had been packed and labeled at the museum
in New York. The label was genuine.”

Again Vicki noticed that Cathy and Johnny were listening in breathless
silence.

“I might add,” Mr. Quayle went on, “that a private detective employed
by the museum, a man named Jones, accompanied the gold on your flight.
But his presence was only routine. It is quite obvious that nothing
could have happened to the shipment while your plane was in the air.
The gold could only have been stolen under the following circumstances:
(a) at the museum in New York; (b) en route from the museum to Idlewild
Airport; (c) at Idlewild itself; (d) while cargo was being loaded into
your plane; ah ...” Mr. Quayle scratched his head and grinned a tired
grin. “What’s the next number? ... oh, yes ... (e) during your brief
stop in Atlanta; (f) while lying in the warehouse at Tampa overnight;
and finally (g) while it was being transferred to the Royal Palms.”

He paused. “Do I make myself clear thus far?”

Johnny Baker grinned. “You lost me a couple of letters back.”

Everyone in the room took advantage of Johnny’s wisecrack to let off
their tension with a laugh.

“At any rate,” Mr. Quayle said, “that is the picture. At the moment
our agents are checking every possible angle in New York and Atlanta.
I just wanted to have this talk with you because, after all, you were
crewing Flight Seventeen, and I wondered if any of you had noticed
anything out of the ordinary.”

“May I ask,” Captain March inquired, “when the theft was discovered?”

“Your airplane landed at approximately three-fifteen yesterday
afternoon. The cargo was taken from the ship to the warehouse. So
far as we know, very few people knew that such a consignment was
coming--only the people on the Festival committee--and so the airline
didn’t want to make a special production out of it. They figured
it would be safer to let it go through with the other air express.
Nonetheless, Mr. Jones--the private detective who flew down with
you--stayed in the Federal Airlines warehouse all night last night.
Now, to answer your question, sir.”

Mr. Quayle nodded at Captain March and resumed his narrative ...

“A bonded air express truck picked up the crate this morning at
seven-thirty and delivered it to the Royal Palms Hall. There the
delivery of the crate was taken by a committee of the Festival
people--I believe a Mr. Curtin was in charge--and it was opened. The
crate was then found to contain only worthless scrap iron and bits of
lead and steel.”

Vicki spoke up. “Mr. Quayle, I’m a house guest at the Curtins’. I
learned about the theft from him at lunch, not quite an hour ago.”

All heads turned in Vicki’s direction, like those of spectators at a
tennis match.

“Did Mr. Curtin say anything that I haven’t mentioned?” the FBI man
asked.

“No, sir. He told me just about the same thing that you have.”

“All right, then. That is the entire picture. I might add that we
have interrogated all of the airport employees and Federal Airlines
people on this end who could possibly have come into contact with the
shipment. The only reason that I am talking to you, Flight Seventeen’s
crew, as I said a moment ago, is to ask if you noticed anything out of
the usual routine either before, during, or after the flight.”

He looked around slowly, his penetrating eyes going from Captain March,
to Johnny Baker, to Cathy, and finally to Vicki.

“As you are aware,” Captain March spoke first, “I knew that we were
carrying an especially valuable cargo yesterday. Frankly I didn’t
know what it was, and I didn’t ask. I didn’t even look at the label.
I met Mr. Jones by prearrangement in the hangar at Idlewild. This was
an unusual arrangement, but it was orders and I didn’t question it.
Together we supervised the loading of the crate into the cargo hold
of my airplane. We then got aboard, and I personally taxied the ship
up to Gate Five. There we picked up the rest of our crew”--he nodded
his head at Vicki, Cathy, and Johnny--“and as soon as we had taken our
passengers and their luggage on board, we took off. When we sat down
at Tampa, Mr. Jones stayed with the plane until all cargo had been
unloaded. I’m afraid, sir,” he concluded, “that that is everything I
can tell you.”

“Very good, Captain,” Mr. Quayle said. “Have you anything to add, Mr.
Baker?”

“I’m afraid I can’t help you, sir,” Johnny said. “I boarded the plane
after Captain March had taxied her out to the apron in front of Gate
Five. When all passengers had come aboard, the captain took her off
and up to cruising altitude. That was fourteen thousand feet. He then
turned the controls over to me. Bill and I--I mean, Captain March
and I--then took turns spelling each other at the controls until we
reached Atlanta, our one stop en route to Tampa. After leaving Atlanta,
I again took over until we were ready for our approach to Tampa. The
captain asked me if I would like to take her down, and I said I would.
I touched down, I believe, at three-seventeen.”

Vicki couldn’t help smiling at Johnny’s serious recital. Three-fifteen
wasn’t close enough to suit him! It had to be on the nose.
Three-_seventeen_!

“And so, Mr. Baker, you saw nothing unusual?”

“No, sir, I didn’t.”

Mr. Quayle now turned to Cathy.

“And you, miss?”

“I--I’m afraid I haven’t anything to tell you either, sir. Miss Barr
and I tried to make the passengers comfortable--she usually works the
forward part of the ship while I work aft--and then it was time to
serve lunch. Then we straightened up, and--Well, I honestly didn’t
notice a thing out of the ordinary.”

“Thank you, Miss Solms,” Mr. Quayle said wearily. This was obviously
a job that he had to do, and he wanted to get it over as quickly as
possible. “Did you notice anything that might help us, Miss Barr?”

Vicki couldn’t erase the picture of the sick, tired old violinist out
of her mind. It might all be silly, she told herself. But then again ...

She told the story exactly as it had happened. From the time he had
boarded the airplane, bewildered, hungry, almost starved, until he had
gotten off and she had found the folded travel brochure on his seat.

“But what makes you think this old musician had anything to do with
the theft of the gold coins, Miss Barr?” Mr. Quayle asked, obviously
impatient.

“Nothing makes me think so, Mr. Quayle,” Vicki answered. “You asked me
if anything unusual had happened on the flight. Mr. Tytell was unusual,
and I thought I had better tell you about him.”

“Quite right! Quite right!” John Quayle said, nodding his head and
fumbling with a file of papers on the desk in front of him. “At the
moment I can’t see how the incident could have any bearing on our
investigation, but I’ll keep it in mind.”

Captain March spoke up. “May I ask a question, sir?”

The FBI man looked up curiously. “Certainly. Of course!”

“What security precautions were taken here last night, between the time
we landed the crate of coins and the time they were picked up this
morning?”

“That’s a fair question,” Mr. Quayle said. “And since you were the
crew that flew it down, I see no reason why you shouldn’t know. As I
have told you, Mr. Jones, the private detective who flew down with
you, stayed in the warehouse with the shipment all night. So did the
foreman of the warehouse crew--a Mr. Van Lasher. He’s an old and
trusted employee and I believe he’s been with Federal for quite some
time. In any case, the coin shipment was moved into a small room within
the warehouse where valuable cargo is often kept under lock and key.
No flights were due in that night, and no night crew was on duty; so
Jones and Lasher stayed with the shipment until the morning work crews
reported, keeping awake with coffee and cigarettes. It was a lonely
watch and pretty dull. Lasher admitted that he had dozed off lightly
once or twice. And then Jones sheepishly admitted that he might have
done the same thing. But they were both on guard all night, and one or
the other was awake and alert at all times.”

“And nothing happened?”

“Only one thing. Shortly before midnight, Lasher had gone to an
all-night lunch counter to refill the coffee jug, and Jones was in the
warehouse by himself. The warehouse was dark, lighted only by a few
scattered light bulbs.”

“Then the warehouse wasn’t locked?” Captain March asked.

“Oh, yes, the warehouse is always locked, unless a night crew is
working. The only people who had keys were the foreman, Van Lasher, and
the night watchman. The watchman made his regular rounds that night,
but he saw nothing unusual.

“Well, as I said, Jones was by himself when he heard a sound, as though
someone had stumbled into a pile of packages or crates that were
stacked on the warehouse floor. He jumped to his feet and shouted,
whereupon the intruder dashed across the warehouse and out the door
that leads to the loading ramp. Lasher had left the door unlocked
when he went to get the coffee. Jones could hear feet pounding over
the concrete floor and tried to catch the intruder in the beam of his
flashlight. Just as the man dashed out the door, he seemed to drop
something.”

Mr. Quayle paused a moment, and Johnny Baker said, “Then you _do_ have
a suspect?”

“No,” Quayle said thoughtfully, “I’m not sure that we do. When Lasher
returned with the coffee, he turned on the lights and the two of them
looked around. What the prowler had dropped was a flashlight. From
the name inked on a piece of adhesive wrapped around the handle,
Lasher recognized it as belonging to a young fellow who worked in the
warehouse day crew, a lad named Joey Watson.”

Vicki drew in her breath sharply, then quickly covered up her
inadvertent expression of surprise by putting her fingers to her
lips and coughing lightly. She looked quickly at Cathy and Captain
March, remembering that she had casually mentioned Joey’s name to them
the other day. But both the pilot and the stewardess seemed to have
forgotten all about it.

Mr. Quayle continued. “When the crate was opened at the Royal Palms
Hall about nine this morning and the theft discovered, the police
immediately called me in on the case, since the interstate aspect of
the affair put it under Federal jurisdiction. I immediately began
questioning the ground crew and warehouse personnel. Young Watson
was at work as usual and I questioned him along with the others. He
admitted that the flashlight belongs to him; said he kept it in his
locker in the warehouse. But he denied being around the airport at
all after he knocked off work for the day. He claimed that he and a
pal of his had gone to a movie last evening and then straight home to
their boardinghouse. One of my men is checking his story as a matter of
routine.”

Captain March was asking another question, but Vicki’s thoughts had
gone off in a dizzying cycle of speculation. The flashlight that the
prowler had dropped last night was Joey’s! Only yesterday afternoon a
foreign-looking stranger had offered Joey a large sum of money to do
some kind of “work,” the nature of which he had taken pains to keep
obscure! On leaving Joey, the stranger had directed his taxi to the
Granada Restaurant in Ybor City! On the plane, old Mr. Tytell had tried
to call her attention to the same restaurant--or had he? Could there
possibly be any connection between the seemingly unrelated events?
Should she reveal these half-formed thoughts--that didn’t seem to make
any sense even to her--to Mr. Quayle? He hadn’t been too impressed
when she had told him about Mr. Tytell’s queer behavior on the plane.
No, she decided. Joey was already under a cloud of suspicion. No use
involving him any deeper. She’d have a talk with Joey first.

Her mind came back to the discussion that was going on.

“... and so,” Mr. Quayle was saying, “for the moment we’re at a dead
end. The crate that was delivered to the exhibition hall was identical
with the one shipped from the museum. If it had been opened and metal
scrap substituted for the gold coins, it was the cleverest job I’ve
ever seen.”

Vicki remembered Mr. Curtin saying the same thing.

“Maybe the coins were taken out of the crate in the museum in New York
before the crate was shipped,” Johnny Baker ventured.

“That’s the baffling thing,” Mr. Quayle said. He shook his head,
and his brows wrinkled in puzzlement. “The curator of the museum
personally checked on the contents and stood by while the crate was
closed and sealed just a few minutes before it was given to the crew of
an armored truck for delivery to Idlewild.”

“Well,” Captain March concluded, “all I can say is that you’ve got the
darnedest mystery on your hands that I ever came across.”

“You can say that again,” said Mr. Quayle.

Outside the office door, the crew of Flight Seventeen looked at each
other for a long moment without speaking.

“What do you make of it, skipper?” Johnny Baker asked.

“I don’t even try.” The captain grinned. “I’ll leave that to the FBI.”
He looked at his watch. “I’ll meet you all at the loading gate in
forty-five minutes.” He turned and walked away.

“Come on, gals,” Johnny said brightly. “I’ll buy the cokes.”

“Not for me, thanks,” Vicki said. “I have an errand to do.”

She watched Johnny and Cathy stroll away in the direction of the soda
fountain, and stood still a minute wondering what to do. Should she go
over to the warehouse to talk with Joey? No, better not. No use calling
attention to the fact that the stewardess of the plane that had brought
in the gold was a friend of the only person thus far who was suspected
of having a hand in stealing it. Maybe she’d find him in the snack
bar. She directed her steps to the small air-conditioned restaurant.
Inside, she looked all around, but there was no sign of Joey.

Well, she thought, there’s nothing she could do now. She’d just have
to wait until she got back to Tampa on Sunday. Maybe a couple of extra
days would give her a chance to straighten out these wispy, formless
thoughts that were buzzing around somewhere in the back of her head.



CHAPTER VI

_New York Interlude_


When, six hours later in New York, Vicki entered the large apartment
she shared with five other Federal Airlines hostesses, she found the
place a shambles. Furniture was piled up helter-skelter. Canvas covered
parts of the floor, and paint buckets and stepladders were stacked
in corners. A wave of turpentine-flavored air assailed her nose at
the same time that a pounding rhythm of swing-and-sway music from the
record player blasted in her ears.

“The lost is found!” Celia Trimble greeted her gaily. “The stranger has
returned! Come in, stranger! We’re having a party!”

Vicki waved her hand around at the jumble of scaffolds, paint buckets,
and stepladders. “What in the world ...?”

“We’re being painted, Vicki! At last, after two years of pestering the
landlord, we’re finally being painted! And to honor this eventful
occasion, we’re giving a party. You’re just in time.”

Vicki stepped over the piles of newspapers, brushes, buckets and
paint-splattered overalls, and entered the apartment’s big living room.
Apparently the painters hadn’t got this far, for the room seemed to
be in a fair semblance of order. The rug, however, had been thrown
back and two couples were dancing to the swing beat of the music. Dot
Crowley was dancing with Pete Carmody, the newspaper reporter, and Jean
Cox with Vicki’s former copilot, Dean Fletcher.

When the four spotted Vicki in the living-room doorway, Dean stopped in
mid-step and led Jean over to her.

“Well, well,” he said. His tanned face split in a big grin. “How does
my little ex-crew member like the sunny South?”

“It’s the greatest.” Vicki laughed.

“Then how come you haven’t got a Florida sun tan?”

“I’m working on it,” Vicki replied. She looked up at the tall flier.
“But you’re tan enough for both of us.”

“This tan I got down in Mexico on my vacation,” Dean assured her
proudly. “And you know what, Vicki? Remember that hidden valley we
discovered down there? Darned if I didn’t find it again while I was
flying around this time. And”--he grinned archly--“without you!”

“Impossible!”

“Look, you two,” Jean said. “Why don’t you dance while you talk? I’ll
go help Mrs. Duff make the sandwiches.”

Dean Fletcher danced as well as he flew. And that, Vicki knew, was good.

“Think we’ll ever be assigned to the same crew again?” Vicki asked, as
Dean whirled her around to the swing of the music.

“In this business”--Dean smiled--“you never can tell. But I have my
fingers crossed. I miss you.”

At that moment the music stopped while the record player changed, and
Pete Carmody came ambling over. The reporter was tall and thin, and
unlike Dean Fletcher, his skin looked as if it hadn’t been exposed to
the sun for years.

“Hi, Vic!” the reporter said. “We had a whale of a story on the wire
today about Tampa. Aren’t you on that run?”

Vicki nodded her head.

“Was the story something about gold coins?”

“It was! Know anything about it?”

“Oh, nothing much,” Vicki said, crinkling up her mouth in mock
unconcern, “except that my plane was carrying the gold.”

“What?” Pete almost shouted.

“Don’t get excited, Pete.” Vicki smiled. “My flight had the gold on
board. We didn’t know it until we were questioned by the FBI at noon
today. So I’m not what you’d call a news source.”

“I can see the headlines now,” Pete said. “Vicki Barr--famous airlines
hostess and gold thief. Admits holding up plane carrying treasure
in mid-air. Makes off with booty.” He stopped his kidding and grew
serious. “No fooling, Vic. Do you know anything I could use?”

“Seriously, Pete,” Vicki said, “not a thing. I don’t know how much of a
story your paper got, but I can tell you that the Tampa police--and the
FBI--are up against what they admit is a blank wall.”

“You mean to say,” Pete asked, “that somebody just waved his magic wand
and a chest of gold was changed to a chest of nuts and bolts?”

“Pete,” Vicki said, “that’s just exactly what it looks like.”

At that moment Mrs. Duff, the girls’ housekeeper, appeared with a
heaping platter of sandwiches. She followed this with a steaming pot of
coffee and a cool pitcher of milk.

After the supper was eaten and Mrs. Duff had cleared away the dishes,
Pete Carmody got to his feet and clapped his hands for attention.

“We will now,” he proclaimed, “play charades. Miss Vicki Barr will
captain one team and I will captain the other. Vicki, take your first
choice of players.”

In the winter-crisp air of New York, and the informal atmosphere of the
apartment which she shared with her friends, Vicki relaxed and gave
her mind over to the problem of how to act out “A horse--a horse--my
kingdom for a horse!”

But deep in her subconscious, like chips of wood in a whirlpool, names
and people and things were churning themselves up and around and over
and over--Joey’s flashlight, a slick Latin-type importer, a sick old
man on an airplane, a restaurant in Ybor City, a tired-looking FBI man
trying to solve a challenging case.

She was glad when the party broke up early and she could tumble into
bed.

“Isn’t this turpentine smell awful?” Jean said as she turned out the
light and pulled the covers up over her head.

“You won’t believe it, Jean,” Vicki said, “but it smells like oleander.
And I wish it wouldn’t.”



CHAPTER VII

_Ybor City_


New York had been icy cold and covered with a blanket of snow. Now, as
Captain March banked his big airplane into the landing pattern over
Tampa, it was as though Vicki were on some kind of futuristic spaceship
coming down into a completely different world. Funny, she thought, this
morning it was winter, this afternoon it’s summer.

When the ship rolled to a standstill in front of the unloading gate and
the big door was swung open, Vicki breathed in a deep breath of the
thick, sweet-scented air and sighed contentedly. “Golly,” she thought,
“I’m falling in love with Florida! Me! A girl from Illinois!”

She quickly went through the routine of checking in at flight’s end,
and then once more found herself face to face with the problem of what
to do about Joey. She knew that she had to talk with him, but again she
decided against going to the warehouse to see him. It would be better
to get his address from Personnel and call him at his boardinghouse.

Just as she was making this decision, she heard a cheerful, familiar
voice:

“Hi there, Miss Vicki!” Joey’s eager face certainly didn’t look like
that of a suspected criminal. “I saw your plane come in, and I asked
the boss for a few minutes off to come over and say hello.”

“You’re just the person I wanted to see, Joey,” Vicki told him. “Come
over to the snack bar and I’ll buy you a coke.”

“Nothing doing!” The boy grinned. “I’ll come with you, but the cokes
are on me.”

Vicki led the way to one of the booths, and when they had ordered, she
said seriously, “Look here, Joey. You may be in trouble.”

Joey frowned, then his face brightened in his infectious grin.

“If you mean about that flashlight they found the night the gold
shipment was stolen, forget it.”

“Forget it?”

“Sure. It was my flashlight all right. But either it was stolen from my
locker, or I had left it around and somebody picked it up. The FBI men
quizzed me about it, but I proved that I couldn’t have been anywhere
near the airfield that night. I room with a fellow by the name of Pete
Saunders. He works in the terminal checkroom. Well, that particular
night, Thursday, I met Pete after work and we ate supper at Cicco’s
Italian restaurant down by the docks. Then we went to a movie and got
home a little after twelve. I told all this to the FBI man, and Pete
told him too.”

“What I was thinking about,” Vicki said, “was the job offer that man
made you in here the same afternoon--the man who promised you a hundred
dollars to do a job for him and offered to give you twenty-five of it
in advance.”

Joey’s eyes widened.

“How--how in the world did you know about that, Miss Vicki? I haven’t
mentioned it to a soul. Not even Pete.”

“It just so happened, Joey, that I was sitting in the next booth--this
very one we’re in now--and I couldn’t help overhearing.”

All Joey could say was an astonished: “Gee!”

“Have you seen him again? Mr. Duke? Wasn’t that his name?”

Joey finally found his voice. “Gosh, no! I figured he was nutty or
something. Offering me all that money out of a clear sky. I wouldn’t
have touched it for anything. It sounded either crazy or crooked, and I
didn’t want any part of it.”

Vicki breathed a deep sigh of genuine relief. She’d been pretty sure
that Joey wouldn’t get himself mixed up in something wrong.

“If I were you, Joey,” Vicki said, “I’d go to Mr. Quayle, the FBI
investigator, and tell him about your conversation with Mr. Duke.”

“Gee, Vicki!” Joey was so startled by the suggestion that he neglected
to add the usual “Miss” which he automatically put in front of her
name. “Do you think Mr. Duke might have had something to do with the
stolen gold?”

Vicki thought for a swift moment. Her vague, unformed suspicions
wouldn’t make any sense to the boy. She said: “Not necessarily. But
some mighty peculiar things have been going on around this airport.
And even though you proved that you weren’t in the warehouse Thursday
night, it _was_ your flashlight the prowler dropped, and up to now
you’re the only person who has come under suspicion. I think you ought
to go to Mr. Quayle, if, for no other reason, than to show that you
want to do everything you can to help him. Besides, sometimes little
odd, unrelated facts can be the key that opens up the whole mystery.
I’m not saying this one is,” she added hastily, “I’m just saying that
it could be.”

“Gee!” Joey said again. “If you think I should, I’ll certainly do it.”

“And do it right now,” Vicki advised, “before you report back to work.”

Joey looked anxiously at the clock over the lunch counter.

“I’m supposed to be back on the job in five minutes. Van’s a good guy,
but he gets sore when people are late.”

“Just tell him the FBI sent for you again. I know it’s a sort of fib,
but under the circumstances I think it will be all right. And it ought
to satisfy your boss.”

As the two were about to get up from their seats, a tall, dark-haired
young man in a leather windbreaker loomed over the booth.

“Hello there, Joey!” His browned face smiled at Vicki. “Hello,” he said.

Joey jumped to his feet. “Hi, Steve! Miss Vicki, this is Steve Miller,
the pilot I was telling you about the other day.”

“Hello, Steve.” Vicki returned his smile. “Do you think you can make a
pilot out of this fellow?”

“I think so. At least, I give him ‘A’ for eagerness.”

“But you’ve got to admit that I took over the controls for a while
yesterday.” Joey beamed.

“That’s right. And almost flipped us over on our back. You’re a pilot,
Miss Barr--oh, Joey’s told me all about you--so you tell him that
you’ve got to learn to fly level before you can do nip-ups and bells.
Just as you have to learn to sit on a horse while he’s walking, before
you can keep your seat when he’s going at a gallop.”

“That’s true, Joey.” Vicki smiled. “You do exactly as Mr. Miller tells
you, and we’ll pin a pair of wings on you yet.”

“It’s been a pleasure, Miss Barr,” Steve Miller said as he turned to
go. “Maybe some afternoon when we’re both free you’d like to take my
ship up for a spin.”

“Thanks awfully. I might just take you up on that one of these days.”
She turned to Joey. “Now you do what I suggested before you go back to
work.”

“Sure thing, Miss Vicki,” Joey said.

       *       *       *       *       *

Vicki came downstairs late on Monday morning. Except for Mrs. Tucker
puttering around somewhere back in the kitchen area, the big Curtin
house was quiet as a church. At the sound of Vicki’s footsteps on the
stairs, the housekeeper popped her head out the dining-room door.

“’Morning, Miss Vicki. I’ll have some breakfast on the table for you
in a jiffy. You don’t want to miss the big goings-on downtown this
morning. This is the day the pirates land.”

Vicki sat down at the big dining table and Mrs. Tucker brought her a
glass of orange juice.

“You can’t live in Florida without having orange juice for breakfast,”
she remarked. “And the girls left you this note.”

Vicki opened it and read:

  “Dear Vic: Had some errands to do, so Nina and I have gone on
  ahead. Wanted to let you get your beauty sleep. Don’t miss the
  big pirate invasion. The ship comes in about noon. I’ll manage
  to find you in the crowd--I hope. Love, Louise.”

Vicki looked at her watch. Ten-thirty. She’d have plenty of time. She
ate her breakfast and read the morning paper. It was devoted almost
entirely to the coming visit of the _José Gasparilla_ and the pirate
crew that was expected to land and conquer the city shortly after noon.
Headlines in the New York papers yesterday had been devoted to the
United States new satellite. Here a small story about it was almost
lost at the bottom of page one. Vicki giggled. This week Tampa turned
back the clock and the calendar a hundred and fifty years!

There was one story on an inside page that caught her eye. It was a
follow-up on the theft of the gold coins. The carefully worded account
contained no new facts, simply stated that the local police and the
FBI were pressing their investigation and that Mr. John Quayle, chief
of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the Tampa district, was
confident that the case would be broken soon. There was no mention of
Joey Watson or the flashlight clue.

The part of the story that most interested Vicki was a spread of
pictures of the antique coins that had been forwarded from the museum
in New York. Even in the black-and-white newspaper reproduction, she
could see that the coins were of exotic design and extraordinarily
beautiful. One showed a huge bird in flight. Another bore the likeness
of a sea nymph, her hair blowing above the waves. A third showed the
profile of a forgotten queen wearing a tall, many-pointed crown. Her
face was encircled by laurel branches and the entire coin was rimmed
with stars. On a hunch, Vicki tore the picture out of the paper and
slipped it into her purse.

When Mrs. Tucker came in to clear the table, Vicki asked, “Aren’t you
going downtown to see the fun?”

The housekeeper smiled a motherly smile. “I haven’t missed one yet.”

Outside, the sun was shining down out of a cloudless and brilliantly
blue sky. A gentle breeze blew in from the Gulf of Mexico, ruffling the
fronds of the tall palms that lined the streets and serving to make
the heat bearable. As she approached the downtown part of Tampa, the
traffic grew heavier and the crowds thicker until, by the time she had
made her way to the waterfront, the throng was so jammed that she could
hardly push her way through. Golly, Vicki thought, she’d never seen so
many people in one place in all her life! Not even in New York. The
paper had said that more than half a million people were expected to
jam the streets today, and Vicki estimated that the figure couldn’t be
far wrong. This was more than four times the normal population of the
city. She wondered how all of them had managed to find places to stay.

She elbowed her way to the front of the crowd just in time to see a
big drawbridge swing up to allow a big sailing ship to enter the upper
Bay. It was an authentic-looking pirate ship, a full-rigged sailing
vessel. Hundreds of colorful pennants flew from lines rigged all over
its superstructure, and its decks and yardarms were jammed with men in
fierce-looking pirate costumes, waving cutlasses and shooting pistols
into the air. The ship’s sails were furled and a pair of tugboats, tiny
by comparison, were pushing the big ship through the water.

Dozens of cruisers, sailboats, outboards, and skiffs were clustered all
around her, like chicks around a mother hen. Everybody was shouting
and yelling. People in the crowd that milled around Vicki were craning
their heads to see over other people’s heads, and fathers were holding
little children on their shoulders to let them see the fun. Peddlers
circulated through the crowd carrying trays of souvenirs--pirate flags,
Confederate flags, tiny brass figures of pirates, pistols, cutlasses,
and model ships.

Caught up helplessly in the surging throng, Vicki was pushed this way
and that. But she found that she too was cheering and shouting with the
rest of them and having the time of her life.

Then the pirates landed, amid a wild chorus of cheering and yelling and
firing of blank pistol shots. The costumed members of Ye Mystic Krewe
clambered onto gaily decorated floats, and amid the strident music of
half a dozen bands, the parade began to move slowly up the street away
from the docks.

[Illustration]

On one of the floats, wearing a huge black beard, an eye patch, and
brandishing a revolver in the air, Vicki saw a figure that looked
vaguely familiar. She blinked and stared a second time. It was Mr.
Curtin! He wore a striped red-and-white sash around his waist, and on
his head was perched a tricornered hat with a huge skull and crossbones
painted on its front.

Carried along by the tide of the crowd, Vicki waved frantically and
yelled at the top of her voice: “Hi, Mr. Curtin! Hi, Mr. Curtin!”

Finally he saw her and waved back. “Yo-ho-ho, Vicki, and a bottle of
rum! Where are the girls?”

“I don’t know!” Vicki shouted. But by this time the crowd had swept her
away, and in an instant she lost sight of Mr. Curtin and his float.

The whole city was enjoying itself. When she finally wormed her way
out of the middle of the huge throng, Vicki could see couples dancing
in the streets under the waving palms to the music of the bands.
Children were running around everywhere, carrying balloons and little
toy models of ships and pirate swords. Over at the wharf, now securely
tied up and deserted by its crew, the _José Gasparilla_, its pennants
flapping in the gentle breeze, rocked to the motion of the water and
squeaked as its sides rubbed against the rubber-tire fenders that lined
the dock.

Free at last from the thickest part of the crowd of swarming people,
Vicki stopped to catch her breath. There wasn’t a chance in a million,
she thought, that she would find Nina and Louise. Well, it was a
pleasant day, so why not walk around and see the sights! She hadn’t had
a chance to do much sight-seeing since she had been in Tampa.

At that moment her eye was attracted to a painted sign atop one of the
dockside buildings:

        VISIT GLAMOROUS YBOR CITY--
  _Enchanted Land of Fiesta and Romance_

Ybor City! The Granada Restaurant! The little old man on the plane had
appeared to be trying to direct her attention to it. The mysterious
Mr. Duke had gone there after his peculiar talk with Joey. She hadn’t
been able to rid her mind of the nagging thought that these two events
might be connected. So why not go and see the place for herself? She
walked for some time through the crowded streets before she could find
an empty taxi.

Ybor City was quite different from the modern section of Tampa. Here
the streets were narrow and ancient buildings of brick and stucco sat
flush with the sidewalk. Unlike the broad, palm-lined boulevards of
modern Tampa, there were few trees in evidence in Ybor City. Some of
the buildings had doorways of intricate iron grillwork, and on some,
balconies overhung the sidewalks to make sheltered arcades. This Latin
Quarter of Tampa, Vicki thought, was indeed a city within a city, a bit
of old Spain dropped down in the middle of a modern American metropolis.

She saw signs in some of the store windows printed in Spanish, and
most of the people in the streets, aside from those whose clothes and
bearing marked them as tourists, had a dark-haired, dark-complexioned
Latin look. Flags, small gold-colored ships, and other souvenirs of the
Gasparilla Festival filled the shopwindows and were hawked by peddlers
on the street.

Attracted by the old-world charm of the Quarter, Vicki stopped the
taxi, paid her fare, and stepped out onto the sidewalk. She was in
no hurry and decided to walk around and see the sights and visit the
Granada Restaurant when she came to it! She walked leisurely down the
street.

As she passed an old brick house with an iron grill around its doorway,
she noticed a sign: F. R. EATON-SMITH--TRAVEL AGENCY.

Now why was that name so familiar? Suddenly she remembered. Of course!
That was the name of the man on the plane the other day--the day the
gold was stolen--the man who had told her he was a world traveler and
lecturer and operated a travel agency in Tampa. It struck her as a
little odd that he should have his office out here in the Latin Quarter
instead of downtown Tampa. The windows were filled with attractive
travel posters from all over the world.

She halted momentarily to look at them, and at that moment a truck
pulled up to the curb and stopped. The driver stepped up to Mr.
Eaton-Smith’s door and rang the bell while two other men wrestled
a large crate out of the back of the truck and deposited it on the
sidewalk. The crate was marked _Air Express_ in large letters, and
Vicki noticed casually that it was securely wrapped around with metal
bands.

Just then Mr. Eaton-Smith answered the bell and stepped out onto the
sidewalk.

“Crate for you, sir,” the truckman said.

“Just carry it into the front hallway, boys,” he said.

His glance went to Vicki, whose progress along the sidewalk had been
momentarily blocked by the truckmen and their burden. As he stared at
her, he looked exactly as he had on the plane when he had given her a
hand with old Mr. Tytell--dignified, slightly portly, slightly bald,
and with his eyes scarcely visible behind the highly polished, rimless
glasses.

He smiled, stepped up to Vicki, and offered his hand.

“Well, well,” he said, “aren’t you the little hostess from the airplane
the other day?”

“Hello, Mr. Eaton-Smith,” Vicki said, accepting his hand. “It isn’t
often that I run into my passengers after they have left the plane.”

“And it’s a real pleasure to see you again, Miss--”

“Miss Barr,” Vicki said.

“Oh, yes, of course. Miss Barr. This is a pleasant time to be visiting
Tampa, with the Festival in full swing.” He glanced over his shoulder.
“If you’ll excuse me, Miss Barr, I’d better attend to this express
shipment.”

Nodding his head politely, he disappeared into the house.

Vicki strolled on, and turning a corner, saw a sign that read: GRANADA
RESTAURANT. It was on a street with the un-Spanish name of Fifth Avenue.

The Granada was a colorful restaurant, and judging by the number of
people seated at the tables, a popular one. The foyer just inside the
door was floored with bright mosaic tile as were the walls of the room.
A tiny fountain in the middle of the hall was surrounded by small
potted palms and brightly colored flowers. A huge archway provided the
entrance to the restaurant proper.

As Vicki paused under the archway and looked around the room, a
dark-haired waiter, wearing a short white jacket, stepped up and
greeted her with typical Spanish politeness.

“You’re meeting someone, señorita?” He spoke with a soft Spanish accent.

“No. I’m alone.”

“Then here’s a nice table for you.” The waiter led the way to a small
table in a corner. “Will this be comfortable?”

For Vicki’s purpose, the corner table was perfect. Sitting here, she
could view the entire room and the entrance as well. She herself was
half shielded by a cluster of palms growing out of a blue-and-white urn.

In the opposite corner of the room, a musician in a Spanish costume was
softly playing Spanish tunes on an accordion.

To the waiter who was standing by, she said, “Do you have other
musicians here, possibly at night?” She indicated a piano beside which
the accordionist was standing as he played.

“_Sí, sí!_ At dinner we have also the piano and a violin.”

Vicki’s heart quickened. A violin! Maybe she was on the right track
after all!

“Your violinist?” she asked. “Is he a tall, thin, elderly man with gray
hair?”

The waiter laughed and slapped his expansive stomach as though Vicki
had made a funny joke.

“You do not know Pedro, señorita. He is big like me. Even fatter.” He
put his fingers to his lips and blew a kiss into the air. “But his
violin--it is the sweetest in Ybor City.”

“Then you don’t know a violin player named Mr. Tytell?”

The waiter wrinkled his brows and slowly shook his head. “Tytell-a?”
He put a soft vowel sound on the end of the name. “No, señorita. Only
Pedro plays the violin at the Granada.”

Vicki’s heart fell as quickly as it had leaped up a moment before. To
cover her disappointment, she gave her attention to the menu the waiter
had handed her. She wasn’t hungry, having eaten a big breakfast only
a short time before, but she felt that she had to order something to
justify her presence. She ordered a sandwich with an unpronounceable
Spanish name.

The sandwich fascinated Vicki. It contained sausage, cheese, sliced
tomato, sliced olives, pimento, and capers. And it was so huge that
it would have made a complete meal by itself. Along with it, the
waiter brought a silver pot of coffee, which, when he poured it into
a delicately made demitasse cup, proved to be as thick and sweet as
hot chocolate. Vicki looked around the room as she nibbled at the
sandwich’s ample contents.

Most of the patrons were Americans, tourists in town for the Festival,
she guessed, by looking at their pale, untanned faces. Scattered among
them were people with distinctly Spanish faces, many of them dressed in
colorful Spanish costumes. These, she knew, must be the natives of the
Quarter. The air was filled with a cheerful babble of conversation that
was a mixture of English and Spanish.

Suddenly a loud, cheerful Spanish-accented voice made Vicki turn her
head sharply. Raymond Duke was coming through the arched doorway.

“Arturo!” he hailed the waiter who had served Vicki’s lunch. “_Cómo
está?_ How goes it?”

“_Bueno_, Señor Duke!” The waiter’s dark eyes and broad smile beamed a
hearty welcome. It was plain that Raymond Duke was a regular patron of
the Granada.

“Hello, Duke!” a group at a nearby table called. “Come over and sit
with us.”

Duke stepped briskly to their table, shook hands all around, and sat
down in an empty chair.

“Was it hot in Havana?” one of the men asked.

“Not on Veradero Beach.” Duke flashed a white-toothed smile.

A few more words and Duke excused himself. He sat down alone at a small
table with his back toward Vicki. After ordering his lunch from the
ubiquitous Arturo, he took some papers out of his pocket and settled
down to read them.

Every minute or so, as Duke was eating his lunch, various people
stopped by his table to say hello. “How’s the Duke?” “That was a mighty
fast trip to Havana!” “What’s the good word, Duke?” He certainly was a
popular man in Ybor City, Vicki could see that plainly.

Duke took his time finishing lunch. Vicki sipped at her coffee and
finally ordered another pot which she didn’t want. At last, Duke called
for his check, paid it, and got to his feet. Vicki called for her own
check at the same time, and by the time Arturo had taken her money and
returned with her change, and she had stepped out once again into Fifth
Avenue, she saw Duke’s tall, broad-shouldered figure down at the end of
the block.

Vicki had come to Ybor City on the off-chance that she might again
see the little old man from the plane. Instead, she had run into the
mysterious Mr. Duke, the man who had offered Joey some kind of “job”
on the afternoon before the gold robbery. Could there possibly be a
connection somewhere? She didn’t see how, but since she’d come this
far, her detective instincts were too keen to let her stop now.

She sauntered in Duke’s direction.

It was well that she walked slowly. Duke was stopped half a dozen times
in two blocks by people who loudly addressed him as “The Duke” and
exchanged pleasantries with him. Finally he turned into the hallway
of a house, pressed the buzzer, and when it was answered, disappeared
through the door. Clearly this was neither his house nor his office
or he would have gone in without ringing the bell. Vicki waited on
the street for fifteen minutes, looking in the shopwindows and trying
her best to act like a tourist. But Mr. Duke did not reappear. On an
impulse, she retraced her steps to the Granada Restaurant.

The big room was now more than half empty, settling down as do all
restaurants into the mid-afternoon doldrums. Arturo, the waiter, was
sitting at a table writing out the evening menus in Spanish, in purple
ink, on large sheets of yellow paper. He looked up as Vicki approached.

“Yes, señorita?”

“It’s about Mr. Duke. I have some business with him. Unfortunately I
don’t have his address. I thought possibly you might help me.” She took
a dollar bill from her purse and placed it on the table. “This is for
your trouble.”

The waiter took the bill and slipped it into his pocket. “Ah, yes,” he
said. “But weren’t you here at lunch when Mr. Duke was here?”

“Yes--” Vicki hesitated. “But he was speaking to so many people--”

“_Sí, sí!_ I understand. And you wish to know where he lives?”

“That’s right. Or the address of his office.”

Arturo shrugged. “To find the Duke is like putting your finger on
quicksilver. But his home is on Columbus Drive at the corner of
Thirteenth Street. A red-brick house with a balcony. Perhaps you can
find him there.”

Vicki inquired the way to Columbus Drive, and when the waiter told her
that it was two streets up, she thanked him and left the cool interior
of the restaurant.

Walking along the street, fascinated by the colorful costumes of the
people and by the open-air stands where white-capped chefs were serving
steaming hot bowls of bean soup to any passer-by that wanted one, Vicki
took stock of the situation.

She knew that Mr. Raymond Duke was a regular patron of the Granada
Restaurant. But since, on Thursday, she had heard him direct a taxi
to take him there, this was not startling news. From the snatches of
his various conversations with people in the restaurant that she had
overheard, she knew that he had many and varied business connections.
But he had told this to Joey, so again she had learned nothing new.
Old Mr. Tytell was _not_ playing in the Granada’s orchestra. She had
leaped blindly to a conclusion that he was employed there when she had
found the marked travel folder on the seat the elderly man had occupied.

What she had expected to discover in Ybor City, Vicki didn’t know.
But what she had actually found was absolutely nothing. There really
didn’t seem to be much sense in going on to Mr. Duke’s house. But since
an impulse had made her inquire about his address, and since she was
within a block of the house, there was no reason why she shouldn’t go
on.

When she turned the corner into Columbus Drive, she saw that it was no
different from any other street in Ybor City. The same curio shops,
the same restaurants, the same crowds of festive people, the same
sidewalk peddlers. She found the house with no difficulty. A balcony of
wrought-iron grillwork overhung the front door.

She stood before the house for several minutes, looking at the
intricate, old-fashioned grillwork over the door, peering at the
heavily curtained windows. She was about to move on when the door
opened and a man stepped out.

It was old Mr. Tytell! He still looked as shabby and harassed as he
had on the plane. His sparse gray hair was still as badly in need of
trimming. There was the same bewildered, hunted look in his eyes.

When he looked up and saw Vicki, he recognized her immediately. He
clasped her hand, almost desperately, she thought.

“Miss Barr!” he whispered. “Do you remember me?”

“Why, certainly I do, Mr. Tytell.” Vicki said, trying to keep her
voice calm and normal in tone. The unexpected sight of this old man
who had been so much in her thoughts had sent her heart to pounding.
So there _was_ some connection between Tytell and Duke and the
Granada Restaurant--and possibly with Duke’s talk with Joey, and--her
imagination took a wild leap--maybe even with the stolen gold! But she
said evenly:

“It’s nice to see you again. You look much better than you did the last
time I saw you.” This was a fib--if anything the old violinist looked
paler and more worried--but she felt that she had to say something
to keep him here until she could put the mixed-up thoughts that were
spinning around crazily in her head into some order. “A few days in
Florida seem to have done you a lot of good.”

The old man still clung to her hand.

“Miss Barr--I want--I have to talk to you--”

At that moment a voice boomed from the open doorway.

“Old man! Get going!”

Raymond Duke stood in the entryway, glowering under dark eyebrows.

“Yes, sir,” the old man muttered, and he scurried away like a
frightened rabbit.

She looked at Duke. His dark frown had magically become a white-toothed
smile. He bowed his head graciously.

“Ah,” he said, “the young lady from the restaurant.”

This observation again set Vicki’s heart to pounding. Had Duke seen her
the day she’d overheard his conversation in the airport snack bar? She
stammered a reply:

“The--the restaurant?”

“Ah, yes. It isn’t every day that a lovely young lady lunches at the
Granada alone. Raymond Duke has an eye for beauty--if you will allow me
to introduce myself--and even though you sat by yourself at a corner
table, believe me that I noticed and admired you.”

Again Vicki noticed the slight lisp in his voice as he spoke.

Relieved, Vicki smiled. This was a break she certainly hadn’t
expected--a chance to talk with this man, who like old Mr. Tytell, had
been so much in her thoughts these past few days.

“I am flattered, Mr. Duke,” she said coyly.

“I see,” Duke said casually, “that you are acquainted with our elderly
friend.” He nodded at the retreating figure of Mr. Tytell who was
hurrying down Columbus Drive, and at that instant, turned a corner and
disappeared from view.

“Not really,” Vicki replied casually. “I met him on the airplane coming
down from New York last week. My name’s Vicki Barr. I’m a stewardess on
Federal Airlines and Mr. Tytell was ill. That’s why I remembered him so
well.”

“Ah, so,” Duke said, his smile never leaving his dark-skinned face.

“Does--does he work for you?” Vicki asked hesitantly. “He told me that
he was a musician, a violinist.”

“Possibly he plays the violin. I don’t know. But here in Ybor City he
works as a handyman. Runs errands.” He shrugged. “An old man can’t do
much to earn a living.”

“I’m a little surprised,” Vicki ventured, “that, in view of his
circumstances, he came to Florida from New York by first-class air
travel.”

Again Duke’s face darkened momentarily, but the smile reappeared almost
instantly. And once more he shrugged his shoulders in the gesture that
is almost as much a part of the Spanish language as spoken words.

“_Quién sabe?_ Who knows?”

The conversation had come to a dead end. Vicki would have liked to
prolong it, but she didn’t know what to say.

“It’s been pleasant meeting you, Miss--ah--Miss Barr,” Duke said.
“Visit us in Ybor City again.” He inclined his head in a short, nodding
bow. “_Adiós._” And with that he turned and disappeared through the
doorway.

Vicki walked slowly down the street. At the corner she hailed an empty
taxi and directed the driver to the Curtin residence. Then she leaned
back wearily in the seat and attempted to put in order the scrambled
thoughts that still spun crazily in her head.

She had been right after all! She still couldn’t imagine what the
connection between Duke and old Mr. Tytell could be. But the old man
_was_ running errands for Duke, and seemed frightened half to death!
And he _had_ whispered desperately: “I have to talk to you!”

Maybe she was letting her imagination run away with her. But one thing
she was sure of. It was time to have another talk with Mr. Quayle of
the FBI!

She leaned forward in her seat.

“Driver,” she said, “I’ve changed my mind. Take me to the airport.”



CHAPTER VIII

_Mr. Quayle Again_


“Come in, Miss Barr.”

The FBI man greeted Vicki with a tired smile and offered her a chair.
He looked as though he hadn’t had too many hours of restful sleep
during the past few nights.

“I had a talk with your young friend, Watson, yesterday. I suppose
that’s why you’re here.”

Vicki nodded.

“It was wise of you to have the lad come and see me. I certainly agree
that Mr. Duke’s proposal to him was a most unusual one. As soon as the
boy left I tried to contact Duke, but discovered that he was in Cuba
and was expected back today.”

“Yes, I know,” Vicki said.

Mr. Quayle looked at her sharply for a moment and then went on:

“However, I did make some discreet inquiries about him. It appears that
he is in the import-export business, engaged in trade between the
United States and Cuba. So far as I can tell, his trading is thoroughly
respectable and legitimate, being principally concerned with sugar,
although he also deals in laces, perfumes, antiques, and other luxury
items. He seems to be fairly well known here at the airport, since a
great many of his shipments come in by air express and air freight.”

The FBI investigator grinned and reflectively stroked the stubble on
his square jaw.

“You remarked a moment ago that you knew Mr. Duke had been in Cuba. Do
I gather that you have been doing some sleuthing on your own?”

“A few things were worrying me,” Vicki said seriously, “and I didn’t
want to bother you with them until I had a little more to go on. The
other day--” She paused and then started over again. “You may remember
that when you questioned our crew the other day I mentioned an old man
on the flight who seemed to be behaving in a peculiar manner? At the
time you didn’t attach much importance to it.”

Mr. Quayle nodded his head slowly as he thought back over the Friday
meeting.

“Uh-huh,” he said.

“Well,” Vicki went on, “I saw him again today.”

As Vicki told her story, the FBI agent listened in attentive silence.
Vicki repeated her experience with Mr. Tytell on the plane; how Mr.
Eaton-Smith had helped to keep the old man calm; how Mr. Tytell had
been so anxious to talk at first, but had lapsed into silence after
she had served his lunch; and how she had found the travel folder
that seemed to direct her to the Granada Restaurant in Ybor City. She
told the story in more detail than she had on Friday, so that Mr.
Quayle would get all the background that led up to her present vague
suspicions and feeling of unrest.

Then she told about overhearing Raymond Duke’s conversation with Joey
Watson in the snack bar and her surprise when Duke directed the taxi
driver to take him to the same restaurant that was named on the travel
folder Mr. Tytell had left in his seat.

“And so this afternoon, after the pirate crew had landed, I decided to
go out to Ybor City and see this restaurant for myself. I thought that
maybe Mr. Tytell might be playing his violin in the orchestra.”

Mr. Quayle remained silent, puffing on an old smoke-blackened briar
pipe and nodding now and then and muttering “Yes. ... Yes. ... Uh-huh.
... I see.”

Vicki went on with her story. She told about seeing Mr. Eaton-Smith
again at his office; of seeing Raymond Duke at the Granada; and
finally, of finding old Mr. Tytell apparently working as an errand boy
for Duke.

“He seemed frightened half to death, Mr. Quayle,” she continued. “He
clutched my hand like a little boy and kept saying, ‘I _have_ to talk
to you.’ I don’t know what it all adds up to, if anything. But I can’t
help having a strange feeling about it.”

“Yes,” Mr. Quayle said, “I can see what you mean.”

“In the first place,” Vicki said, “if Mr. Tytell is so poor that he
hadn’t eaten the day I saw him on the plane, and if he has to make a
living by running errands, why was he flying to Florida on a luxury
airplane? Why didn’t he come by bus, or at least on an economy coach
flight?”

“That’s an interesting question,” Mr. Quayle agreed.

“Maybe I’m imagining things, Mr. Quayle. But it was Raymond Duke who
made that strange proposition to Joey. It was Joey’s flashlight that
was found at the scene of the robbery. It was old Mr. Tytell who tried
to direct me to Ybor City--and who I found today at Raymond Duke’s
house so scared he could hardly talk. All of these odd coincidences,
somehow, seem to tie together. Anyway, I thought it was time to talk to
you.”

“You are a very wise young lady, Miss Barr,” Quayle said, knocking
out the ashes of his pipe into a tray on his desk. “And you’re a good
detective too. You have good instincts. And good hunches.”

He got up from his chair.

“Let’s keep this meeting a secret between you and me. You’ve given me
some ideas that I’m going to look into. Meanwhile, continue to keep
your eyes open. And don’t hesitate to come straight to me with any
other notions that may occur to you.” He smiled his quiet, friendly
smile. “As I said, you’re a pretty good detective.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Curiously enough, Vicki was back in Ybor City that night, having dinner
with the Curtins. This time they ate in a restaurant called the Spanish
Park. It was very much like the Granada, Vicki thought, with archways,
tiled floors and walls, potted palms and tinkling fountain.

Dinner began with an assortment of fruits and a spicy Spanish bean soup
called _Sopa de Garbanzo_. Mr. Curtin told her that this soup was the
speciality of Ybor City and that it was served free at street booths
all during Festival Week. She remembered seeing the soup booths on the
sidewalks that afternoon.

The dinner continued with Cuban bread baked in a banana leaf; then
chicken cooked with yellow rice and a whole assortment of spicy
vegetables. It was topped off by coconut ice cream served in a coconut
shell.

As she ate, Vicki looked around at the people in the restaurant.
They seemed to represent about the same cross-section of Americans
and Spanish-Americans she had seen in the Granada at noon. A small
orchestra played soft Spanish music. It had a violinist, but he was a
short, fat man wearing Spanish clothes. She wondered what Mr. Tytell
was doing. Then she shook these thoughts out of her head. She had told
her suspicions to the FBI. That was all she could do at the moment. Mr.
Curtin was telling a joke, and she joined in the laughter.

When they left the restaurant, the air of Ybor City was full of the
Pirate Festival. A peddler offered a tray of the souvenirs Vicki had
seen that afternoon--small pirate ships, pistols, cutlasses, and pirate
figurines, all made of bright coppery-gold metal. Mr. Curtin bought one
of each. “For little Ed Ernest, the boy next door,” he explained.

“You _will_ be back in Tampa for the torchlight parade on Thursday
night, won’t you, Vicki?” Louise asked.

“I certainly will,” Vicki replied. “From your description of it, I
couldn’t miss it for the world.”

As they were driving home through streets crowded with merrymakers,
Vicki asked:

“Have there been any developments in the gold coin mystery, Mr. Curtin?”

Louise’s father shook his head.

“The FBI hasn’t a single clue to go on. It is as though some ancient
alchemist reversed himself and muttered a few magic words that changed
a chest of gold into a chest of nuts and bolts.”

Vicki remembered that Pete Carmody had said exactly the same thing the
other night in New York.



CHAPTER IX

_Skull and Crossbones_


Heavy storms, carrying snow, hail, fog, and winds of gale proportions
had swirled down out of the northwest and enveloped the entire Atlantic
seaboard from the Carolinas northward in the worst weather of the
year. All flights out of New York had been canceled for twenty-four
hours, and so now it was Thursday afternoon, instead of Wednesday, when
Captain March touched down the tricycle landing gear of his big DC-6-B
on the concrete strip at Tampa airport.

The usually calm and placid air had been as rough as a rolling sea
even at the plane’s normal “over weather” altitude for the first two
hours of the flight; and since the ship was packed to capacity due to
yesterday’s cancellations, Vicki and Cathy had their hands full.

But here, over Florida’s west coast, the sun shone brightly. The blue
waters of Tampa Bay caught a billion sunbeams and threw them back up
into the sky like a shower of tiny diamonds. Below, the palm trees
fluttered their long fronds in the lazy breeze.

It had been just a week ago today, Vicki remembered, that their ship
had carried the cargo of gold coins that had seemed to vanish so
mysteriously into thin air. She wondered if Mr. Quayle had acted on the
information she had given him after her adventures in Ybor City--or
if there had been any new developments of any kind in the mystery of
the stolen gold coins. Well, in any case, she’d soon find out. But
right now she had better get a move on if she wanted to be in time for
tonight’s big event.

It was late by the time she arrived at the Curtin home. Mrs. Tucker,
the housekeeper, met her at the door.

“We heard about the bad weather in New York on the radio,” Mrs. Tucker
said, “and weren’t sure whether you were going to make it today or
not. The girls went on ahead to take their places on the float for
the parade. They said to tell you to meet them for dinner about eight
o’clock at the Spanish Park, the restaurant you all went to the other
night.”

Vicki saw that Mrs. Tucker was carrying a light coat over her arm, as
though she had been just about to go out. The housekeeper added:

“Is there anything I can do for you, Miss Vicki, before I leave?” She
smiled half-apologetically, as though a woman of her age and dignity
should be aloof from such gala goings-on. “I thought I’d go and see
the parade myself.”

“You go right ahead,” Vicki said cheerfully. “Don’t worry about me.
Maybe I’ll see you in Ybor City.”

She hurried upstairs to her room, slipped out of her blue uniform,
showered, and then wriggled into a sleeveless, red silk dress with a
flaring skirt that she had bought especially for the occasion. With her
silvery blond hair she might not look much like a Spanish señorita, but
at least the bright crimson dress was a gesture.

When her taxi set her down on the edge of the Latin Quarter, the old
streets, with their archways extending out over the sidewalks, were
teeming with people. Some wore the light-colored sports clothes that
marked them as tourists and sight-seers. Most of the men and women,
and practically all the children--of whom hundreds were running around
laughing and shouting--were in costume. Some were dressed in Spanish
clothes, others wore pirate outfits. Music poured from loud-speakers
over the sidewalks and from distant bands. Vicki supposed the unseen
bands must be on the floats which were probably forming up somewhere
out of her sight for the parade.

At the curbs the free bean-soup stands were doing a lively business.
Red roses, geraniums, and varieties of other brilliant flowers spilled
out of windows and strewed the sidewalks. Some of the younger people
were dancing in the streets. Several groups were singing. Some people
were already finding places along the street and craning their necks to
catch a glimpse of the coming parade.

A gay spirit of carnival had Ybor City in its grasp, and Vicki joined
in the laughter as she allowed herself to be carried along on the
human tide of the huge crowd. She stopped at one sidewalk shop to buy
a souvenir for her young sister Ginny. She chose one of the miniature
imitation-gold pirate ships that seemed to be the Festival’s most
popular souvenir, and slipped it into her handbag.

She paused again to buy a red rose from an old woman who was selling
flowers under an arcade. As she slipped it into her hair, two boys with
a guitar stopped and serenaded her with a few rhythmic chords. Vicki
couldn’t control the impulse to whirl gaily around in a Spanish dance
step.

She wound up against an iron grillwork gate and paused to catch her
breath. She looked up and a familiar sign caught her eye: F. R.
EATON-SMITH--TRAVEL AGENCY. Underneath it was a hastily lettered
cardboard placard: WELCOME TO THE GASPARILLA FESTIVAL. _Open
House--Refreshments._

Inside, the house was a blaze of light. People were going in and out
in a steady parade. On impulse, Vicki walked up the three steps to the
entryway and entered the hall.

At a long table against one wall, two señoritas were serving cakes and
fruit punch. Vicki accepted a cake from a tray and a glass of punch.

“Is Mr. Eaton-Smith around?” Vicki asked one of the serving girls. She
thought it would be polite, and in the spirit of the evening, to thank
her host for his hospitality.

The girl laughed gaily, and waved a hand aimlessly in the direction of
the several rooms that led off the center hall.

“He’s around somewhere. Anywhere.”

“What a wonderful old house,” Vicki thought as she looked around. “It
must be at least a hundred years old. Maybe more.” The broad doorways
were hung with heavy brocade drapes, and huge oil paintings, so dark
with age that she could hardly make out the subject matter, decorated
the walls. She wandered aimlessly into the next room. At the doorway
she stepped aside to avoid a man and woman who were coming out.

As she did so, her toe struck an object on the floor that was half
hidden behind an ornate screen. It was a violin case, scuffed,
battered, and gray with age. There seemed to be something vaguely
familiar about it; then, suddenly, she remembered the case that Mr.
Tytell had carried so lovingly on the plane.

She looked at it more closely. Yes, the leather had worn away on the
handle to expose the metal clasp, in the same way the old man’s case
had been worn when she sat beside him in the plane. She bent down and
lifted the lid gently. Inside was a fiddle that appeared to be as old
and time-worn as the case. She looked for initials or some identifying
mark on the inside of the lid, but there were none.

Oh, well, Vicki thought, there must be a thousand old violins in a
place as music-minded as Ybor City. She went on into the room.

On the shelves of a long built-in cabinet that lined one wall were
dozens of the little metal ships and swords and pirate figurines that
were being hawked by peddlers all over the city. Or were these real
works of art and Mr. Eaton-Smith a collector? She picked up one of the
ships to look at it more closely. No, it was just like the one she had
bought a few moments ago for Ginny--just a cheap little gold-colored
metal figure. Odd, though, that Mr. Eaton-Smith should have so many
of them. Maybe he gave them to prospective customers to advertise the
Pirate Festival.

Strolling casually around the room, admiring the paintings and the
antique Spanish furniture, she came presently to a door that opened
into a dimly lighted room not much larger than a storage closet. Three
men stood inside, talking in low half-whispers. Facing her was Mr. F.
R. Eaton-Smith, looking as dignified as usual in the polished rimless
glasses that gave his eyes such a shiny look. His face was slightly
averted as he talked earnestly with a tall, dark-haired man who was
dressed in a bullfighter’s costume. A third man, stocky and heavy-set,
stood with his back to the door. He was wrapped in a heavy black cloak
and wore a big pirate’s hat. Vicki could see that he was wearing a
black mask over his eyes.

This was no time to interrupt, even to say “Thank you,” and she was
about to leave when the bullfighter turned his head. When Vicki saw
Raymond Duke’s long, deeply tanned face with its thin black mustache,
she involuntary gasped. At the sound Mr. Eaton-Smith looked up, a look
of surprise on his face.

“Who’s there?” he said sharply, and stepped toward the door.

“The airline stewardess!” he exclaimed. “Miss Barr!”

“Hello, Mr. Eaton-Smith,” Vicki said, hoping that her voice didn’t
sound as nervous as she felt. “I--I was just looking for you to pay my
respects.”

“So I see,” the travel agent said coldly, staring at her intently
through his shiny spectacles.

Raymond Duke stepped forward and made her a slight bow, a broad
white-toothed smile gleaming in his dark face.

“Ah! The lovely lady of the restaurant! Welcome to our fiesta!”

The third man had seemed to stiffen at Mr. Eaton-Smith’s mention of
her name. He remained frozen in his tracks, his broad back turned to
the doorway.

[Illustration: _The men were talking in low whispers_]

“There are refreshments in the hallway, Miss Barr,” Eaton-Smith said.
“Please enjoy yourself. I will join you in a moment.”

Vicki turned away, relieved to be free of the awkward situation, but
with a hundred thoughts tumbling over and over in her head in wild
confusion, each one seeming to cry out for recognition.

So there _was_ some sort of connection between Duke and Eaton-Smith!
She had found old Mr. Tytell half frightened out of his wits leaving
Duke’s house. He had cried: “I _have_ to talk to you!” And now the old
man’s violin case in Eaton-Smith’s house! She was sure of that now!
If Mr. Tytell was also working as Eaton-Smith’s errand boy, was he as
frightened of him as he had been of Duke? And did all these things
have any bearing on Duke’s strange proposition to Joey? And to the
fact that Joey had been the only suspect up to now, at least so far as
she knew, of the theft of the pirate gold? And who was the third man
who had stood with his back to her? Was there something familiar about
that stocky figure? She had obviously surprised them while they were
talking about something they didn’t want overheard. If not, why Mr.
Eaton-Smith’s brusque manner after his politeness of the other day,
and the open hospitality of his house tonight?

All these thoughts flashed through Vicki’s mind in the short time it
took her to walk across the room. As she was entering the hallway, a
heavy black figure brushed past her, bulled its way through the people
who had entered in response to Mr. Eaton-Smith’s welcome sign, and
bolted through the door into the street.

As he flashed past her, Vicki caught a glimpse of a white
skull-and-crossbones design on the front of his hat. He might be the
key to the mystery! She had to find out! She started after him.

Somewhere behind her she heard the lisping, accented voice of Raymond
Duke saying urgently: “Keep her here a few minutes! Don’t let her go
now!”

As she dashed through the doorway she heard a muttered oath.



CHAPTER X

_The Torchlight Parade_


In the street outside it had suddenly grown dark, with the last,
brilliant red rays of the setting sun bathing the housetops to the west
in a crimson glow. The crowds in the street had become even heavier
and noisier, and down at the end of the block, Vicki heard the blaring
bands and saw the bobbing flames of the torches as the parade went by.

She looked around frantically. How was she ever going to spot one man
in this mad, confused throng? Then, down the block, moving in the
direction of the parade, she saw a stocky figure, his black costume
standing out in the sea of so many colorful costumes. He was pushing
his way ruthlessly through the mass of people that jammed the street.

She ran after him, stumbling, bumping into people, sometimes nearly
falling, but never letting that broad, black back out of her sight.
Then the man came to the corner, at the intersection of the cross
street along which the noisy, colorful parade was passing. He slipped
into the gay crowd of marchers and was lost to sight. She turned her
head to look back over her shoulder. The tall figure of Raymond Duke,
with his shiny bullfighter’s cap perched jauntily on his head, was
moving rapidly in her direction. With a little gasp, Vicki ran to the
passing line of marchers, and then she too was swallowed up by the
parade.

Now she was carried along by the merrymaking marchers like a chip of
wood in a swift stream. Some groups were parading six or eight abreast,
with clasped hands forming a barricade through which she could not
pass. She dodged around them, squeezed between other marching couples,
squirmed and twisted and tried to forge ahead through the slowly moving
column. Now and then, just often enough to be sure he was in the stream
of moving bodies ahead of her, she caught a swift glimpse of the
black-robed pirate.

Now and then she glanced behind her to see if Duke was following. If
she could keep track of the man she was after by his black cloak,
Raymond Duke would have no trouble keeping _her_ blond hair in sight!

At that moment the moving line of marchers ground to a slow stop. Just
ahead was a float, standing still as its driver waited for the parade
to move again. Looking up at the float, she saw Louise Curtin, wearing
a white silk dress and a black lace mantilla over her dark hair,
sitting on a throne of red and white flowers and waving to the people
below her.

“Louise! Louise! It’s me! Vicki! Right here below you!”

Startled, Louise looked all around and then finally saw Vicki’s
upturned face. She waved and shouted a greeting.

“Louise! Your mantilla! May I have it please?”

Louise didn’t seem to understand. “My--my mantilla?”

“Oh, please, Louise!” Vicki reached up pleadingly. “I need your
mantilla! Quick, Louise! Oh, _please_!”

Louise’s eyes widened at the urgency in Vicki’s voice and the
expression on her face. She whipped the lace from her head and handed
it down to Vicki’s waiting fingers. Vicki quickly wrapped it around her
bright blond hair and looked again, desperately, for the man in the
black cloak. He was nowhere in sight, and her heart sank. Then, far up
ahead, she caught sight of him. She elbowed her way through the stalled
crowd, drawing angry glances from people that she was pushing rudely
aside.

She clutched the mantilla tightly around her throat as she ran and
stumbled forward. No need to worry about Raymond Duke following her
now! With the red dress and black head covering, she looked like any
one of the thousand other girls in the great crowd.

Once she saw the masked man turn hurriedly around an peer in her
direction. Did he see her? With her identifying blond hair covered up,
she didn’t think so. If only she could manage to move faster! One thing
she was pretty sure of. He would stay in the parade. The heavy mass of
costumes would be his best protective cover. Walking up one of the side
streets by himself, he would be much too conspicuous.

Then, once again, she caught sight of Duke’s tall figure. He was
peering all around. But under the protection of her black mantilla, she
felt safe. She turned her head away and plunged on.

She didn’t dare look back again, lest Duke accidentally spot her face.
Her breath was coming in painful gasps now, but she fought her way on,
never taking her eyes from the pirate’s black cape and black hat.

Then, half a block ahead of her, the moving parade seemed to be
widening out, losing its marching form, the marchers spreading out and
milling around in aimless circles like a thin stream of water that has
suddenly flowed into a round, cuplike pool. The floats ahead of her
stopped, some of them pulling out of line. Obviously this was the end
of the route. The parade was breaking up. The black-clad figure was
forever lost in the surging eddy of human figures.

Vicki found herself pushed up against an iron fence that surrounded
a statue. She clung to it while she caught her breath. All around
her, groups of people went off arm in arm. Musicians from the bands
strode by carrying their instruments under their arms, or occasionally
pausing to blow out a wild note in sheer exuberance. Vicki felt lost,
discouraged and alone.

Then she took stock of the situation she was in, and reflected on the
wild chase of the last half hour. Supposing she _had_ caught up with
the black-robed pirate? Suppose he had suddenly stopped and confronted
her? What could she have said? Would she have pulled the mask from his
face?

As she was thus lost in thought, a cheerful voice behind her said:
“Vicki!”

She turned around. It was Louise.

“Hi there, Vic! How do you like our Gasparilla Parade?”

Vicki managed a grin. “I wouldn’t want to be in one every day.”
She took the black lace from her head. “Thanks for the use of your
mantilla.”

Louise frowned as she took the shawl. “Back there a while ago, when you
asked me for this, you seemed--well, almost desperate. Was anything
wrong, Vic?”

“I guess maybe my face was showing my excitement.” Vicki laughed,
passing the incident off lightly. “I guess I sort of felt out of place
without a costume.”

“I don’t blame you,” Louise said, forgetting the incident. “Now let’s
go join Daddy and Nina at the Spanish Park.”

The meal was a gay one. Louise and Nina laughed and talked about the
parade, and Mr. Curtin told funny stories about the antics of the
members of Ye Mystic Krewe. Vicki joined in the gaiety, but her mind
was far away--seeing the frightened old violinist in front of Duke’s
house; Duke, Eaton-Smith, and the masked pirate whispering in the
little room and startled at her appearance; the pirate running away
from her in the crowd; and finally, Duke appearing to follow her.

“You’re very quiet this evening, Vicki,” Mr. Curtin remarked on the
drive home.

“She’s tired,” Louise said. “Don’t forget she had a long trip down from
New York today.”

When they arrived at the house, Mrs. Tucker was there before them.

“A messenger just delivered this for you, Miss Vicki,” she said,
handing over a large manila envelope.

Vicki took the envelope and continued on her way to her room to wash
up. Inside the room, she opened the flap and pulled out the contents.

They consisted of the skull-and-crossbones insignia crudely cut from
the front of a cardboard pirate’s hat, like the one the masked man had
been wearing tonight, and a crudely penciled note:

  “_Airline-hostess work is safe! Stick to it! Keep out of things
  that don’t concern you! This is a solemn warning!_”

A cold hand gripped her heart.



CHAPTER XI

_The French Sand_


Vicki had a restless night. This was unusual, because her healthy young
body ordinarily enabled her to drop off into restful slumber almost as
soon as she turned off the light. But last night she had been disturbed
by fitful dreams of big old houses with murky rooms, ghostly pirate
figures chasing her, and strange creatures lurking in wait for her
around dark corners. The face of old Mr. Tytell floated through her
dreams, frightened and pleading, and that of Raymond Duke with his
leering, white-toothed smile.

Once she woke up and lay awake for a long time, thinking about the
skull and crossbones and the threatening note. It couldn’t be a prank!
She was obviously getting close to something--and those involved were
trying to scare her off. It could be nobody else but the masked pirate,
Raymond Duke, and, she was sure of it, Mr. Eaton-Smith. Although until
she had surprised him in his home last night, it had never crossed her
mind that the mild-mannered travel agent might be mixed up in any kind
of shady dealings.

The note also implied that one of the three knew a great deal more
about her than she had suspected--specifically where she was staying in
Tampa. She didn’t think Duke or Eaton-Smith could possibly have found
out during the short time between the parade and her return with the
Curtins. Maybe the third man then--the pirate--!

She got up and dressed early, and was having orange juice and coffee by
herself in the dining room when Louise and Nina came downstairs.

“Well, well!” Nina laughed. “We thought you were the late sleeper of
the household! Was the excitement of last night too much for you?”

“_You don’t know the half of it!_” Vicki thought to herself, but she
smiled and said: “I never had so much fun in my life.”

“Then get ready for some more fun,” Louise said. “I believe you said
your vacation starts today?”

“Change of plan,” Vicki told her. “I didn’t have a chance to mention it
last night. I’m to make one more trip. Leave here tomorrow, return on
Sunday. Then I have a whole week to soak up that Florida sun and get
the tan Nina was teasing me about.”

“Wonderful! That fits right into the plan!”

“What plan is this?” Vicki wanted to know.

Louise’s eyes twinkled. “Daddy’s promised us all a trip to Havana. He
says that after Festival Week he needs a rest, and he’s sure we do too.
He had planned for us to fly over on Monday--we can get there from here
in a couple of hours. Then we’ll spend two or three days seeing the
sights, shopping in their wonderful markets for laces, jewelry--”

“They have some of the most wonderful combs and brooches and things
made of tortoise shell and coral!” Nina interrupted excitedly.

“... and taking in some shows and night clubs,” Louise went on, “and
just having a high old time.”

“That sounds perfectly wonderful,” Vicki said enthusiastically. “I’ve
never been to Havana and it’s one place I’ve always wanted to visit!”

“Then get yourself ready, Vic. We’ll have the time of our lives!”

After breakfast, Nina excused herself to go to the shop. She _did_ have
a job, she assured Vicki with a big smile, even though she managed to
find plenty of time to enjoy herself. “And since today and tomorrow
are the last two days of the Festival, we’ll probably be swamped with
tourist business.”

“I have to go down to the Welfare Agency this morning,” Louise said,
getting up. “Can you find plenty to do by yourself, Vic?”

“Don’t worry about me,” Vicki assured her. “I have some shopping to do
to get myself ready for Havana.”

After the girls had departed, Vicki telephoned Mr. Quayle’s office and
made an appointment to see him in half an hour.

In the taxi going to the airport, she fell to wondering about the
identity of the third man, the masked pirate in the black cloak. He
had known that she was staying at the Curtins’. The only people in
Tampa who knew that were Mr. Quayle and the Federal Airlines personnel.
Could the pirate be connected in some way with the airline? Well, she
decided, the riddle was too much for her now. But she was going to do
her best to find the answer!

When she entered the FBI investigator’s office--he had now taken
up more or less permanent quarters in the airport’s administration
building until the gold coin case was solved--his secretary looked up.

“I’m so sorry, Miss Barr,” she said. “You had no sooner hung up than
Mr. Quayle called to say that he was detained. I told him about your
call and he asked if you could see him at ten.” She looked at her
watch. “It’s only nine-fifteen now. I’m terribly sorry if this holds
you up.”

“No indeed.” Vicki smiled. “I’ll go sit in the passenger lounge and
watch the planes land and take off.”

The secretary grinned. “Isn’t that sort of a busman’s holiday, Miss
Barr?”

Vicki strolled through the terminal waiting room, then decided to go
outside and stand in the sun. She still couldn’t get over the wonderful
fragrance of the perfume-laden Florida air. She couldn’t seem to get
enough of it. “I guess I’m just a hick from Illinois,” she chided
herself.

As she sauntered along the walk outside, breathing in refreshing
lungfuls of the scented breeze, a familiar voice hailed her:

“Hi there, Miss Vicki! Wait up!”

It was the irrepressible Joey Watson, his usual broad grin splitting
his freckled face.

“What are you doing out of uniform? Aren’t you flying today?”

“I’m like an old firehorse who can’t resist the sound of alarm bells.”
Vicki smiled. “Only in my case it’s the sound of airplane motors.”

“I know what you mean,” Joey said. “I feel the same way.” He fell into
step beside her. “Look, Steve is taking me up for a lesson in a few
minutes. Have you got time to come over and take a look at his ship?
It’s a peachy two-engined Beech.”

“Are you sure the field people won’t mind?”

“Of course not,” Joey said. He opened the heavy wire gate that led out
onto the concrete apron. “Come on.”

Steve Miller was standing at the step that led into the little cabin
of his charter plane. He wore light-brown slacks and a gabardine
flying jacket. He wheeled around and smiled broadly when he saw Vicki
approaching at Joey’s side.

“Oh, hello, Miss Barr,” he said. “Did you come to take me up on that
spin?”

“Not this morning, Steve,” Vicki said. “I’ve got things to do. But I
may some other day real soon.”

“You do that, Vicki--Miss Barr,” Steve said.

“I will,” Vicki promised. She looked at the trim little plane, and
nodded her head approvingly. “Nice airplane you have here.”

“We like it,” Steve said, evidently pleased. “It may seem like a lot of
airplane to be giving our young friend his first flying lessons in, but
she handles just like an automobile.”

“I know,” Vicki said. “I’ve flown in Beeches before.”

“Good deal,” Steve said.

Just at that moment a blond-haired young man strode toward them from a
twin-engine Cessna that was parked farther up on the concrete apron. He
gave Steve a semimilitary salute and said, “Hello!”

“Come over here, Roy,” Steve called. “I want you to meet a friend of
mine.”

The blond young pilot looked at Vicki as he said, “I’ve met your
student, Steve, but ...”

“This is Miss Vicki Barr,” Steve told him. “Licensed pilot and Federal
Airlines hostess. Vicki, this is Roy Olsen. He’s a charter pilot out
of Saint Pete. He comes over the Bay occasionally to take the bread out
of our mouths.”

Roy Olsen grinned. “Don’t you believe it, Miss Barr. I just fly over
here now and then to help relieve the load on the Tampa boys.”

He had an infectious grin, and Vicki liked him immediately.

“I hate to break this up,” Steve Miller said, “but if I’m to give Joey
a lesson before the warehouse boss starts yelling for him, we’d better
take off.” He climbed into the cabin and went forward to the cockpit.
“Come on, kid,” he said over his shoulder. “Strap yourself in, and
don’t touch that wheel until I tell you to.”

Joey touched his thumb to his forefinger in the time-honored airman’s
salute to Vicki, and followed Steve into the plane.

Vicki watched as they taxied out onto the runway, and getting the
go-ahead from the traffic tower, took off.

“I’ll see you again, Mr. Olsen,” she said to the flier from St.
Petersburg.

Again the young man grinned and said, “Good deal!”

       *       *       *       *       *

“Mr. Quayle,” Vicki asked, after she had told the latest of her
adventures, “do you think I’m seeing bogeymen in the closet?”

John Quayle had listened attentively as Vicki recounted her experiences
of last night--the visit to Eaton-Smith’s house; her discovery of the
violin case; her unexpected stumbling upon the tourist agent, Duke,
and the third man whispering together in the darkened room; Duke’s
whispered “_Don’t let her go yet! Keep her here!_”; the masked man’s
flight; her chase after him; Duke’s pursuit of her in the costumed
crowd; receiving the threatening note on her return home.

“No, Miss Vicki Barr,” John Quayle said serious as he puffed on his
old pipe, “I don’t think you’re seeing bogeymen at all. I think you’re
teaching me a valuable lesson that they forgot to include in the FBI
training course--never underestimate the feminine point of view.”

He blew a thick, blue smoke ring that drifted lazily toward the ceiling.

“I started out with the cold, hard fact that a shipment of gold coins
had been stolen in some mysterious way. You, on the other hand, started
out with the warm, human fact that an old man was unhappy and a young
boy seemed headed for trouble. I concentrated on trying to find the
thieves. You concentrated on trying to help the old man and the boy.”

He paused again and smiled.

“Does this sound like a lecture?”

“Why--no, sir,” Vicki said politely.

“Well, it should sound like one--because it is. A lecture to myself.”

He picked up the telephone. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll
take a little closer look at a certain importer and a certain travel
agent.”

Vicki got up from her chair.

“And one more thing,” John Quayle said. “The next time you see
something that doesn’t feel right to your woman’s intuition, come and
tell me about it.”

Vicki took an airport bus back to Tampa and got off in midtown. Her
head was spinning as she tried to puzzle out the tangled events of the
past week and put them together in some logical order. But the sun was
too bright and the air was too sweet and clean for gloomy thoughts. Her
mind leaped ahead to the fun she’d have in Havana.

She sauntered along the street aimlessly, looking into shopwindows. She
stopped in front of an art supply store and was casually examining some
pictures that were on display when a familiar figure inside the shop
caught her eye. It was the old violinist, Mr. Tytell!

She entered the store just as the old man was saying to the clerk in
his quavering voice:

“... and five pounds of French sand, please.”

“I’m afraid you’ve almost bought us out of French sand these past few
days, sir,” the clerk said. “Not very much demand for it here. But we
should have some left. I’ll see.” He turned to go.

Vicki looked around the store. Mr. Tytell seemed to be alone. This was
her chance to talk with him. She walked up to the counter and said,
“Why, hello, Mr. Tytell.”

At the sound of her voice the old man turned and a smile broke over his
lined face.

“Why--why, it’s Miss Barr.”

“You were in such a hurry the last time we met that I didn’t have much
opportunity to say hello.”

She remembered the old man’s frantic plea: “I have to talk to you!” If
he really did have something important to tell her, now was the time to
draw it out.

“Mr. Duke said that you were working for him. He seems like a pleasant
man.”

At the mention of Duke’s name the old man’s eyes again took on a
frightened look. He nodded his head and for a second his eyes fell.

“Y-yes.”

“Do you also work for Mr. Eaton-Smith?” Vicki asked casually.

As he had on the street in Ybor City, the old man grasped her hand and
stammered, “M-Miss Barr--I feel that you’re my friend--the--the only
friend I have--” His eyes were pleading in his ashen face.

At that moment the clerk reappeared with Mr. Tytell’s package. The old
man fumbled nervously in his pocket to get the money to pay for it.

So the old man really is in trouble, Vicki thought. But how could he
possibly be connected with Duke and Eaton-Smith--and the man in the
pirate cloak?

“Mr. Tytell, did you leave a message in the plane that day for me? A
travel folder?”

“Y-yes. And you found it!” For a second his eyes lost their frightened
look. “Miss Barr--I--I need help. I have to talk with you.”

“Then let’s find a quiet place and talk,” Vicki said soothingly.

“No, no. Not now.” He looked furtively out into the street. “Mr.--Mr.
Duke is waiting for me. In his car down at the corner.”

The old man lowered his voice to a whisper. “When do you fly again to
New York, Miss Barr?”

“Tomorrow,” Vicki answered, surprised at this question. “Tomorrow at
three-forty-five. Federal Flight Seventeen.”

“I’ll be on that plane, Miss Barr.” Tytell’s voice was so low that even
standing beside him, Vicki could hardly make out the words. “They won’t
stop me! I’ll be on that plane.”

He turned quickly and went out the door.



CHAPTER XII

_The Disappearance_


Promptly at three o’clock Vicki entered the airport terminal building.
From a pay phone she put in a call for Mr. Quayle’s office upstairs.
He had asked her to report anything to him that didn’t “feel” right
to her. Her meeting with Mr. Tytell yesterday certainly qualified as
not “feeling right.” She had tried to call him yesterday but had been
unable to reach him.

But, once again, the FBI man wasn’t in his office. His secretary
thought he’d be back shortly.

Vicki went to the reservations desk to look at the passenger list for
Flight 17. There was his name, all right. Amos Tytell. So the old man
had made it! Before this day was over, Vicki thought to herself, she
ought to have the answers to a lot of troubling questions!

She looked around. The old man was nowhere in sight.

“Has Mr. Tytell checked in?” she asked the clerk at the desk.

The girl looked down her list.

“Why, yes. He was in over an hour ago to validate his ticket.” She
looked at her watch. “About one-thirty.”

Then he must be somewhere around, Vicki knew. Possibly in the snack bar.

She had plenty of time, so she sauntered toward the restaurant. There
was no sign of the old man at the counter or any of the tables, but
Captain March was sitting on one of the stools, hastily gulping a cup
of coffee.

“Vic,” he said, “you’re just in time to do me a favor. I can’t find my
best pair of pigskin gloves, and I think I may have lost them somewhere
in the terminal. I have to rush to weather briefing, so be a good girl
and see if they might be at _Lost-and-Found_. You’ll know them by the
Abercrombie label.”

Vicki walked across the big waiting room, casting her glance around
for Mr. Tytell, but he was nowhere to be seen. At the _Lost-and-Found_
desk, the boy in charge grinned when she asked about the captain’s
gloves.

“These were turned in Thursday,” he said, reaching under the counter
and coming up with a new pair of pigskin gloves. “These the ones?”

As she took the gloves, Vicki’s eye caught sight of an object lying on
the lower shelf behind the boy.

“What’s that?” she asked sharply, pointing. “That--that violin case?”

The boy turned and picked it up.

“One of the porters found this old fiddle about an hour ago. Is it
yours, miss?”

Vicki looked at the worn leather case, with the frayed handle that
exposed the metal of the clasp. It was Mr. Tytell’s, no doubt of that.
But now it bore fresh scratches and there was a dent in the side as if
someone had stepped on it.

“Where was it found?” Vicki’s voice took on a strident note as a dark
wave of dread swept over her.

“Outside somewhere. The porter didn’t say just where.”

Vicki turned and ran up the stairs to Mr. Quayle’s office on the second
floor. When she burst through the door, the secretary looked up and
shook her head.

“He hasn’t come back yet, Miss Barr. And I really don’t know when he’ll
be in. Is there anything I can do for you?”

“May I leave him a note?”

“Certainly. You’ll find paper on that desk over there.”

Vicki hastily scribbled a message, telling the FBI investigator
about her meeting with Amos Tytell yesterday; his checking in at the
reservations desk; and her finding of the battered violin case that
appeared to show marks of a struggle.

She folded the note and gave it to the secretary. Then she went down
the stairs with a heavy heart.

Twenty minutes later, when the passengers boarded her plane, she looked
in vain for Mr. Tytell among them. But when the last of them had come
aboard, and the ground crew had secured the door and wheeled away the
loading ramp, he was still absent.

Since finding the violin case in _Lost-and-Found_, Vicki had had an
awful feeling that he would not board the plane.



CHAPTER XIII

_Havana_


When Vicki arrived back in Tampa the next day, she went directly to
John Quayle’s office to see if he had any news of Amos Tytell. The
office was closed. She found a taxi and drove to the Curtins’.

Nina and Louise were in a flurry of packing for their Havana trip,
trying to decide which dresses they would need for the various things
they planned to do.

They both burst out in a torrent of excited babble when Vicki entered
the room.

“Look, Vic. Which evening dress do you think looks better? The green or
the white?”

“Just look at this lovely new bathing suit I bought at the shop today!”

“You’d better start your own packing, Vic. Daddy plans on leaving
bright and early in the morning.”

Vicki had to smile at their enthusiasm, but her pleasure in the
projected trip to Cuba was dampened by her worry of what had happened
to elderly Mr. Tytell.

“Wait until I change,” she said. “Then I’ll help you pack and you can
help me.”

In her room, Vicki threw her bag on the bed and took the telephone book
from the table. It hadn’t occurred to her to wonder whether Mr. Quayle
lived in Tampa. If he didn’t, she’d have to ask Mr. Curtin where she
could find him. He’d certainly know. But she didn’t want to worry him
with her own involvement in the case unless she had to.

She was in luck. John Quayle’s name was in the book. She dialed his
number and waited. In a moment his familiar voice answered the phone.

“Mr. Quayle? ... This is Vicki Barr. I hope you don’t mind my calling
you at home like this on a Sunday afternoon, but I was worried about
Mr. Tytell. Did you find out anything about him?”

“I’m sorry, Miss Barr,” the voice on the other end of the phone said.
“As soon as I got your note yesterday, I put one of my men on the
job of tracking him down. But so far, no luck. We found that he had
been living in a cheap boardinghouse in the Quarter, but his landlady
apparently hasn’t seen him since yesterday.”

“Oh, dear!” Vicki said.

“Don’t worry, Miss Barr. I’ll let you know as soon as I hear something.”

“I won’t be home for a few days, Mr. Quayle. The Curtins are taking me
to Havana. But if I can be of any help by staying ...”

“Now see here, young lady. You just go on to Havana and enjoy yourself.
The FBI will find him, don’t you worry.”

Vicki thanked him and started to hang up, then she thought of something
else.

“Did you find out anything about Mr. Duke and Mr. Eaton-Smith?”

“It appears that both of them are out of town ...”

“_Gone?_” Vicki almost shouted the word. “Maybe they forced Mr. Tytell
to go with them! Maybe they ...”

Mr. Quayle’s good-natured laugh came over the wire. “Better not jump to
conclusions, Miss Barr. Mr. Duke told some friends that he was going
out of town on business. He didn’t say where. And Mr. Eaton-Smith’s
office said that he had flown to Nassau. We’re making a check, of
course, on the basis of the reports you made to me. But you have to
remember that both men are respected businessmen here in Tampa and that
the nature of their businesses compels them to travel a good deal. We
can’t barge in with charges we have no way of proving. But again, don’t
worry. If they’ve done anything unlawful, we’ll find out. Now you run
along to Havana and have a good time.”

Vicki thanked him and hung up.

       *       *       *       *       *

Early the next morning Mr. Curtin and the girls boarded a Federal
Airlines plane for Havana. It was fun, she thought, as she leaned back
in the reclining seat, to travel as a passenger. Both the stewardesses
on the flight were old friends with whom she had flown many times.
They made a point of waiting on her with mock pomp and ceremony, and
referred to her, sometimes two and three times in one sentence, as
“Madame.”

“Is Madame comfortable?” “Would Madame care for one or two lumps of
sugar in Madame’s coffee?” “Is Madame sure she won’t get airsick?” “Has
Madame ever flown before?”

Nina and Louise giggled at the joke and played up to it. Everyone was
having fun. This, Vicki thought, is the way a vacation should be! All
the fears and uncertainties that had crowded her mind for the past week
vanished like magic.

The plane landed briefly at Miami, and then took off again for the
short hop over the Keys and across the blue Straits of Florida to
Havana.

They checked into a luxurious hotel, surrounded by vast green lawns and
towering palm trees. Then quickly they unpacked their clothes and set
out to see the sights.

For the next two days, Mr. Curtin escorted the three girls on a
whirlwind round of fun and good times. He knew the old city thoroughly,
but for Vicki and the Curtin girls it was a round of wonderful
discoveries.

They went to the race track, the beaches, the historic old forts and
the fascinating museums during the mornings and afternoons, and in
the evenings to the theater and afterward to a night club where the
orchestra played Spanish music and the dancers whirled and stamped
their feet in all manner of Latin fandangos.

On the third morning--or maybe it was the fourth, Vicki had lost track
of time in the wonderful world of Havana--Mr. Curtin said at breakfast:

“Today we’re going to see something that you’ve never seen before, a
real Spanish-American market place down in the Old City.”

“What’s so special about it?” Nina asked.

“Some people call it the Thieves’ Market,” Mr. Curtin explained. “In
the old days the pirates and freebooters went there to sell the loot
they had taken from captured ships. And even today, it’s a place where
stolen goods are sold.”

“Oh-h!” Nina said. “A Thieves’ Market! I can’t wait to buy something!”

“Not so fast, Missy!” Mr. Curtin laughed. “I said we were going to
look, not to buy. It’s still a crime to receive stolen goods.”

“But if it’s all right for the thieves to sell things,” Nina
persisted, “it should be all right for me to buy them.”

“Not on your life! The authorities down here occasionally shut one
eye to certain practices that help make a tourist attraction. But _I_
don’t!”

“Then I’ll do it when you’re not looking,” Nina teased.

“And you’re not too big to be spanked if I catch you.”

The girls giggled at this exchange, and then Mr. Curtin went on:

“Seriously though, this market is a strange combination of fine
legitimate shops and black-market operators. What say we go out to
Veradero Beach this morning for a swim, and then take in the market
this afternoon?”

The Thieves’ Market was a cobblestoned square, with an ancient stone
fountain in the middle and shops and outdoor cafés on all four sides.
A few men, most of them dressed in nondescript clothes, lounged in the
doorways. Two or three small parties of American tourists sat at the
café tables.

“Let’s sit down and order limeades,” Mr. Curtin suggested, “and see
what happens.”

They didn’t have to wait long. A tall individual, dressed in a soiled
seersucker suit and a Panama hat that had seen better days, sauntered
up to their table. From his coat pocket he extracted a bottle of
perfume that Vicki recognized as a famous French brand.

“For the young ladies,” the man said in broken English. “Five dollars.”

Vicki knew the perfume cost three times that in New York or Tampa.

Mr. Curtin pretended to think it over. Then he handed the bottle back
to the man and shook his head. The peddler returned the bottle to his
coat pocket and walked away as casually as he had approached.

In a few moments a second man strolled up to their table, an old
suitcase in his hand. Without a word, he put the case on the tabletop
and opened it. Inside was some of the most beautiful lace Vicki had
ever seen. She couldn’t repress an exclamation of admiration.

“Ah,” the man said, revealing broken yellow teeth in a wide grin. “The
señorita knows fine lace. Direct from Spain, señor! A great bargain.”

Again Mr. Curtin pretended to be trying to make up his mind. And again
he shook his head no.

“My goodness, Daddy!” Louise exclaimed when the man had gone. “That’s
the dreamiest lace I ever saw in my life. Can’t we buy just one teeny
little piece? It would look wonderful with my new white evening dress!
What do you say, Daddy?”

Mr. Curtin laughed. “Am I going to have to spank you too? That’s stolen
goods, honey. We look just for fun. But that’s all.”

A third man detached himself from a doorway and headed in their
direction.

“Here comes another one,” Nina said. “You must look like a rich
American, Daddy.”

When the man revealed the object he had for sale, everyone gasped. It
was one of the tiny souvenir ships from the Gasparilla Festival in
Tampa. But instead of being cheap brass, this one gleamed like pure
gold.

Mr. Curtin’s eyes flashed. “Where did you get this?”

The man smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

“Solid gold, señor. I sell cheap.”

“Solid _gold_?” Vicki repeated incredulously.

“_Sí_, señorita. Solid gold.”

Mr. Curtin laughed. “We’re from Tampa, fellow. We could buy all of
those we wanted last week for a quarter. I must say you’ve done a nice
polishing job. But go and find yourself another sucker.”

He waved the man away.

“Well, girls,” he said, “have you seen enough?”

“I’d like to buy something for Mother and Ginny before I leave,” Vicki
said. “But I certainly wouldn’t want to buy stolen goods.”

“As I told you this morning, Vicki,” Mr. Curtin said, “this market is a
curious mixture of thieves, smugglers, and honest men. Just across the
square is Manuel Rodriguez’s jewelry shop. He specializes in Spanish
antiques, and he’s thoroughly respectable. Maybe we can find something
there.”

Mr. Curtin paid for their limeades, and they strolled across the
cobbled square.

Manuel Rodriguez’s jewelry shop was completely unlike the Thieves’
Market that existed just outside its windows. The interior was plain
and dignified, and glass display cases along its walls held beautiful
pieces of finely wrought silver and gold.

A small man, wearing a trim swallowtail coat and a pince-nez, stepped
out to greet them.

“_Señor y señoritas_,” he said, rubbing his hands together as though he
was washing them in the air. “What may I do for you?”

“We’re just looking around,” Mr. Curtin explained.

“Please do,” the little man said. “If there is anything I can do--” He
smiled and shrugged.

The girls browsed among the display cases; Nina keeping up a running
chatter of “oh’s” and “ah’s.”

“Look here, Vicki,” Louise called from across the shop. “Come and see
this necklace. It’s really the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen!”

As Vicki stepped to her side, she pointed out a huge emerald, the size
and shape of a bluebird’s egg, suspended on a woven cord of spun gold.
But it was not the emerald that made Vicki gasp with astonishment when
she looked into the case. It was a heavy gold chain in the tray
beside it.

[Illustration: _The souvenir ship gleamed like pure gold_]

Hung on the end of the short gold chain was a large gold coin. It was
the exact duplicate of one of the stolen coins that had been pictured
in the Tampa newspaper. There was the profile of the queen wearing a
high crown, the laurel wreaths that encircled the head, and the ring of
stars around the rim.

Vicki was sure of it! Then she remembered the picture she had torn
from the paper. She put her handbag on the top of the case and began
to explore its contents. She finally found the clipping under a pile
of loose change, bobby pins, lipstick, nail file--and all the other
assorted odds and ends with which girls clutter up their handbags. She
unfolded the piece of paper and compared the picture with the coin in
the display case. There was no question about it. It was the same coin!

“Vicki,” Louise exclaimed, “what in the world are you doing?”

“Look at the coin on that heavy chain, Louise. Isn’t it the same one
that’s in this picture?”

Louise looked at the coin in the case and then studied the newspaper
clipping.

“Why, yes,” she gasped. “It certainly is. But where did you--”

“Sh-h-h!” Vicki cautioned.

The little jeweler had come up behind them.

“Yes?” he said expectantly.

Vicki pointed to the coin and chain.

“Can you tell me the price of that piece, sir?”

“The señorita has a good eye for antiques,” the jeweler said. “But I am
afraid that this particular piece is not for sale.”

Vicki raised her eyebrows. “Not for sale?”

“I regret to say it is not. We made the chain to order to accommodate
the coin.”

“Do--do you have any other antique coins like this one that you could
sell me?”

“I only wish I did,” the jeweler replied. “But again I must tell you
no. The coin belongs to a Señor Ramon Garcia who brought it to us.” He
tapped his pince-nez with a fat finger. “But wait! Señor Garcia is an
importer, and sometimes deals in antiques. It is possible that he has
other such coins.”

“Could you give me his address?”

“Certainly, señorita.” The jeweler talked as he wrote a name and
address on a piece of paper. “It is quite possible that _El Duque_ may
have something interesting ...”

Vicki’s heart leaped into her throat and for a moment almost choked her.

“Did you say _El Duque_?”

“_Sí_, señorita,” the jeweler said, giving her the piece of paper.
“Among his friends in _Habana_, Señor Garcia is known affectionately as
_El Duque_.”

_El Duque!_ The Duke! Vicki’s head was spinning.

“I--I wonder if Mr. Garcia--_El Duque_--is the same man we met at the
hotel last night, Louise. You remember he said he was an importer too.”

“Why, I don’t remember meeting ...” Louise began.

Vicki cut her short. “Is Mr. Garcia a short man,” she asked the
jeweler, “not quite as tall as you, with a bald head and a goatee?”

The jeweler laughed. “It is plain that you did not meet _El Duque_,
_señorita_. Señor Garcia is quite tall, quite thin, with dark hair and
a small mustache. No, no. That was not _El Duque_.”

Suddenly all the crazy notions that had been spinning around inside
Vicki’s head, like the flashing colors of a kaleidoscope wheel,
exploded into a great sunburst of light, and little bits and pieces
settled into place and put themselves together like the pieces of a
jigsaw puzzle.

The stolen gold coins! This coin in the display case certainly was one
of them!

The jeweler’s description of Ramon Garcia fitted Raymond Duke to a T.
_Ramon_ was Raymond in Spanish! And _El Duque_ was The Duke! Raymond
Duke had an import business with offices in both Tampa and Havana!

She remembered Mr. Curtin saying on the morning that the theft of the
gold coins had been discovered: “The thieves could never sell the
antique coins. It’s the gold itself they wanted!”

She remembered the row on row of souvenir ships on the shelves in
Eaton-Smith’s house.

She remembered what French sand was. It was used by metal casters to
make molds!

The ship the peddler had tried to sell them a few minutes ago! It
really had been solid gold!

It all sounded too crazy to make sense. She didn’t quite see how all
the pieces fitted together. But deep down in her bones she knew they
did!

That little ship that the peddler had offered them was made from gold
melted down from the coins that had been stolen from Flight 17!

She had to have that gold ship!

“Mr. Curtin,” she said, and her voice was so urgent that it trembled,
“please come outside.”

Mr. Curtin looked at her, puzzled. Then, when he saw the expression on
her face, he followed her out the door.

“Vicki,” he said anxiously, “are you ill?”

“Mr. Curtin--the man who offered us that Tampa souvenir--he said it
was solid gold--” Vicki stammered, not quite sure how to explain the
confused thoughts that were still spinning around in her head.

“Yes?” Mr. Curtin said. “Of course, it was just a fake.”

“Mr. Curtin,” Vicki blurted out, “I’ve got to buy that ship! Will you
lend me the money--and--and help me find that man?”

“But--but I don’t understand,” Mr. Curtin said.

“Please trust me, Mr. Curtin! Please believe me! It’s important! I’ve
just got to have that gold ship!”

Mr. Curtin didn’t understand. But he was conscious of the desperate
urgency in Vicki’s eyes, and in her voice. He knew she was a
level-headed girl, not one to be carried away by foolish notions. He
had found that out during the short time she had been his daughters’
house guest.

“Just a minute,” he said, and turned back into the shop.

“Louise,” he said. “Nina. You girls stay right here. Vicki and I will
be back in a moment.”

“But, Daddy ...”

“Look, Nina,” Mr. Curtin said sternly, “I haven’t time to explain.
Please stay here. It’s important.”

Then he went outside and joined Vicki again.

Vicki was looking wildly around the Thieves’ Market. The man who had
offered them the gold ship was not in sight.

“Let’s walk around,” Mr. Curtin said. “He’s bound to be in the square
some place.”

They saw the man who had tried to sell them the perfume, and then the
grinning, broken-toothed character who had shown them the lace. But of
the peddler with the gold ship there was no sign. They walked around
for ten minutes, peering into every doorway, but still with no success.

Then Vicki saw a familiar figure emerge from a doorway at the far end
of the square.

“There he is, Mr. Curtin! Stop him!”

Mr. Curtin raised an arm and waved it urgently. “Hey, there!” he
yelled, somewhat undignified for a staid American businessman. “Stop!
Wait a minute!”

The man glanced once over his shoulder, then ducked into an alley and
disappeared.

“Oh, no!” Vicki groaned.

“Come on, Vicki,” Mr. Curtin said, and broke into a run. Vicki followed
at his heels.

They came to the alley, but there was no one in sight. At its end was a
small restaurant with dirty, fly-specked windows. Vicki peered inside.
The man was hurrying through a back door into what must have been the
kitchen.

“I’ll get him,” Mr. Curtin said, and stepped inside.

Looking through the dirty glass of the window, Vicki saw Mr. Curtin
speaking earnestly to the man behind the counter. The man listened,
then turned and spoke through the doorway. And then, to Vicki’s vast
relief, the peddler appeared. Mr. Curtin spoke to him briefly, and the
two came outside.

The Cuban took the little gold ship from his pocket and Vicki breathed
a thankful sigh.

“Where did you get this?” Mr. Curtin asked, as he had done when the
man had first approached them in the square.

Again the man shrugged.

“All right,” Mr. Curtin said. “Never mind. How much?”

“Solid gold,” the man repeated. “One hundred dollar.”

Mr. Curtin took the ship from the man’s outstretched hand and passed
it over to Vicki. It was so unexpectedly heavy that she almost let it
drop. She looked at it carefully. It gleamed with the rich luster of
pure gold. More than ever, Vicki was convinced that her crazy notion
was right.

“Please buy it, Mr. Curtin.”

“Fifty dollars,” Mr. Curtin said.

The Cuban shook his head. “Eighty-five.”

“Seventy-five,” Mr. Curtin said, “and that’s my last offer.”

The man shrugged. “You drive a hard bargain, señor.” He held out his
hand. “Seventy-five.”

Mr. Curtin counted out the bills from his wallet and the man turned and
disappeared into the shabby restaurant.

“Oh, thank you, Mr. Curtin. I’ll give you a check as soon as we get
back to the hotel.”

“Now, young lady,” Mr. Curtin said, “maybe you will explain what this
is all about.”

“I’ll explain later, Mr. Curtin. Please trust me. But where can we go
to find out if this really is solid gold?”

“The jeweler,” Mr. Curtin said, “in the shop where we left the girls.”
They retraced their steps to the shop of Manuel Rodriguez.

Nina and Louise were still in the shop. They both looked at Vicki and
their father curiously. When she saw the little ship in Vicki’s hand,
Louise gasped.

“The gold ship, Vicki! What in the world ...?”

“I’ll explain later,” she promised. Then she handed the ship to Mr.
Curtin who in turn gave it to the fat little jeweler.

“I just bought this,” he said. “I wish to know what it is made of. I
will gladly pay your usual fee.”

The jeweler looked at the ship closely.

“Are you interested in the figurine as an object of art, sir, or in the
gold it might contain?”

Mr. Curtin looked at Vicki inquiringly.

“In the gold, sir,” Vicki said.

“Very well. The exterior obviously is gold. The weight seems right.
Whether, under the surface, it is made of lead or some other base metal
we can tell only by boring into it. It will take only a few minutes.”

He bowed slightly to excuse himself and disappeared behind a heavy
curtain into the back of the shop.

Both Nina and Louise were bursting with curiosity.

“Vicki,” Louise said, “if you don’t tell us what all this mystery is
about, I’ll never speak to you again.”

“Neither will I,” Nina said.

“At the hotel,” Vicki said. “I’ll tell you everything when we get back.
But not a word until then.”

In a moment the jeweler returned. His face was wreathed in a smile.

“Señor,” he said, “I am happy to tell you that this piece is of solid
gold. It is very valuable.”

       *       *       *       *       *

“Now, Miss Mystery Girl,” Mr. Curtin said when they were once more in
their suite at the hotel. “Can you tell us what this is all about?”

Vicki’s mind was still in a whirl. Now she was sure she had the secret
of the stolen gold coins! She didn’t know how they had been stolen, or
by whom. But she was pretty sure she knew what had happened to them.

“Nina,” Vicki began, “I want you and Louise to promise me--cross your
heart and hope to die--that you won’t breathe a word of this to anyone.
If you do, all of us may be in terrible danger.”

Nina’s mouth popped open and she stared first at Louise and then back
to Vicki.

“Nina talks a lot.” Mr. Curtin smiled. “That’s her nature. But she can
keep quiet when she has to. Isn’t that right, honey?”

Both Nina and Louise nodded in silent, open-mouthed agreement.

“All right,” Vicki said. “I’ll start at the beginning.”

She told her story in detail, from the time she had first noticed the
sick old man on the plane straight through to her adventures on the
night of the torchlight parade and the mysterious disappearance of old
Mr. Tytell at the airport. She explained about her relationship with
Joey Watson and her reports to John Quayle.

She took the newspaper clipping from her handbag.

“Then I saw that gold coin this afternoon in the jeweler’s shop. It was
this one right here.” She gave the paper to Mr. Curtin.

“Then the jeweler’s description of Ramon Garcia--remember, he called
him _El Duque_?--couldn’t have been that of anyone but Raymond Duke.
And then I remembered the little Gasparilla ship the man tried to sell
us by saying it was solid gold. And all of a sudden all the pieces of
the puzzle fell into place. It was you, Mr. Curtin, who suggested that
the thieves didn’t want the gold coins themselves because they’d be too
hard to dispose of, but the gold they contained. If the gold figure the
man offered us in the Thieves’ Market today had been anything but a
copy of the Ybor City souvenirs, I probably never would have suspected
anything. But since it was, I knew there must be some connection with
Tampa.”

Mr. Curtin laughed. “The way you wormed that description of Ramon
Garcia out of the man in the jewelry shop would have done credit to
Sherlock Holmes.”

Vicki’s eyes sparkled. “Where do you think I got the idea?”

“What I don’t understand,” Louise said, “is how the peddler in the
Thieves’ Market got the gold ship model. Surely the people who took the
coins wouldn’t plan to dispose of the gold by offering it to American
tourists at ridiculously low prices.”

“That,” Mr. Curtin said seriously, “is something that I am sure the FBI
will be able to find out. And now, Vicki, I think you had better get on
that telephone and put in a person-to-person call for John Quayle in
Tampa.”



CHAPTER XIV

_The Third Man_


John Quayle met their plane at the Tampa airport the next morning. He
took the little gold ship that Vicki had been carrying in her handbag.

“Better not let this go through Customs,” he said. “We don’t want
anybody, even the Customs people, to know about it at this stage. If
you will come with me, Miss Barr, I’m sure your friends won’t mind
taking care of your luggage.”

When the two of them were alone in his office, Mr. Quayle looked at
Vicki for a long moment with a big smile on his face.

“The last time you were here, Miss Barr, I said that you were a good
detective. Now I want to repeat it--doubled. Of course you were lucky,
too, when the peddler offered to sell you the gold ship and when you
saw the coin in the jeweler’s shop. But a good detective is one who is
smart enough to take advantage of such breaks. And on the basis of the
information you gave me yesterday over the phone, we’ve broken this
case wide open. All but one or two small details, and we’ll soon know
all about those too.”

A dozen questions popped into Vicki’s mind, but she contained her
curiosity and let the FBI man go on.

“We found out all about Raymond Duke and his business connection in
Havana as Ramon Garcia, his real name by the way. We searched his
house from top to bottom and found nothing. He, of course, was gone.
Then we made a search of F. R. Eaton-Smith’s place, and that time we
hit the jackpot. Most of those old-fashioned Spanish houses had their
kitchens in the basement with big brick ovens for baking bread built
into the wall. But the oven in Eaton-Smith’s house was extra special.
It had been lined with modern firebrick, fitted with high-intensity gas
burners and converted into a kiln. It was in this kiln that the gold
coins were melted down and recast in the form of the souvenir ships. We
found a handful of the antique coins that had been overlooked in the
thieves’ haste to get the job done, and they’ve been identified. We
also found all the metal-casting equipment, including the molds that
had been made from the cheap souvenirs. Needless to say, we didn’t find
Eaton-Smith. He, too, had flown the coop.”

“And poor old Mr. Tytell ... he just _couldn’t_ have been one of the
gang. Did you find _him_?”

“We haven’t yet found him, but we did find out all about him. He was an
expert goldsmith, and ...”

At the word “goldsmith” Vicki gasped. Then he was one of the thieves!
It just didn’t seem possible!

“... until a few years ago was regularly employed,” Mr. Quayle went on.
“Then, apparently, his health broke down and he couldn’t hold a regular
job. Our New York people went to work investigating him the day you
reported him missing from your flight for which he had picked up his
reservations. We’ll know more about him soon.”

“It hardly seems possible,” Vicki mused, “that all those preparations
in Mr. Eaton-Smith’s house could have been made after the coins were
stolen.”

“That’s right. They couldn’t have been. Somehow, Eaton-Smith knew that
the gold was coming to Tampa, and when. So he made his preparations
well in advance. Our New York people are working on that angle too. But
when we find him and Raymond Duke--and I assure you that the FBI will
find them--we’ll learn about that, and a lot of other things too.”

“There was that third man,” Vicki said. “The masked pirate I followed
in Ybor City.”

“When we get the others,” Mr. Quayle said, “we’ll find out about your
pirate friend too, never fear.”

“The curious thing to me,” Vicki said, “is how the coins were stolen in
the first place. According to Mr. Curtin--you remember he was on the
committee that arranged for the exhibition--the packing case didn’t
show any signs of having been tampered with at all.”

“That puzzled me, too. But because it was so puzzling it gave me an
idea that we’re working on.”

“An idea?”

Mr. Quayle smiled. “Don’t worry. I’ll tell you all about it at the
proper time. You’ve been our Number One operative on this case, and
I’ll certainly tell you everything after I’ve found out whether or not
I’m right.”

Mr. Quayle patted the gold ship which he had put on his desk.

“It’s amazing,” he said “what people will do to get this pretty yellow
stuff. Now you go on and enjoy the rest of your vacation. I’ll call you
if I need you.”

       *       *       *       *       *

When Vicki went back downstairs to the main terminal waiting room, a
light rain was falling outside, one of those sudden showers so peculiar
to southern Florida that seem to come out of nowhere and stop as
suddenly as they start. Since she didn’t have a raincoat, she decided
to wait it out.

She strolled over to the big plate-glass observation window that looked
out on the airfield. Then she saw something that made her heart pound,
and a cold hand seemed to clutch her throat.

A short, stocky man, wearing a long black raincoat and a black hat,
was striding across the concrete apron in the direction of the freight
warehouse. He carried a valise in his hand. Vicki would have known that
hurried walk anywhere, and the long black coat, and the fact that she
was looking at his back, made it all the more recognizable.

It was the masked pirate of the torchlight parade!

She hesitated for a second, debating whether or not she should call
John Quayle. Then she decided against it. In the time it would take to
make a phone call or to run upstairs to his office, the man would be
gone. She dashed out into the rain.

The man strode on, not looking back. He passed the open warehouse door
and walked on in the direction of a twin-engine Cessna that stood on
the apron beyond it. Roy Olsen, ignoring the light rain, was standing
beside his plane, fiddling with the door handle. Steve Miller’s
Beechcraft stood some distance away.

As the man passed the warehouse, Joey Watson appeared from out of the
interior.

“Hi, Van!” he called. “Going somewhere?”

Van! Van Lasher! The warehouse foreman! So he had been the masked
pirate!

Vicki ducked into the open door, and dragged the surprised boy with her.

“Look, Joey,” she said breathlessly. “I haven’t time to explain, so
just do as I say. Call Mr. Quayle. He’s in his office. Tell him that
Van Lasher is the third man. Have you got that, Joey? Tell Mr. Quayle
that Van Lasher is the _third man_!”

“But--but--” the boy stammered.

“Joey!” Vicki snapped. “This is important! Tell Quayle that Van is
here and it looks as if he has chartered Roy Olsen’s plane to take him
somewhere. I’ll do what I can to stall him. Now hurry, Joey! Hurry! And
you’d better use the phone in the office.”

When she reappeared at the open door, Vicki could hear Roy Olsen
arguing with Van.

“But look, mister! I have to have clearance for a flight to Cuba. I
just can’t pick up and go on the spur of the moment.”

“All right,” Van said, “I’ll double my offer. Five hundred dollars!”

“Sorry, mister. If I did a thing like that I’d lose my license for
sure.”

“Look here,” Van said. “I’m in a tremendous hurry. I missed my plane,
and if I’m not in Havana by two o’clock I’ll lose a lot of money. I’ll
make it a thousand. How’s that?”

“Gee, mister, I’d like to take you,” Roy said, “but I just can’t do it
for any price unless I have legal clearance.”

“All right,” Vicki heard Van say, “how long will it take you?”

“Twenty minutes maybe. A half hour at the most.”

“Okay,” Van said. “But hurry it up.”

Vicki breathed a deep sigh of relief. The delay would give Quayle and
the airport police plenty of time to get here!

Just at that moment Joey rushed out of the interior of the warehouse.

“Miss Vicki,” he shouted excitedly, “I got Mr. Quayle!”

At the sound of Joey’s voice Van wheeled around. When he saw Vicki, his
face contorted in a horrible expression of anger. He whipped a pistol
from his coat pocket and stuck it in Roy Olsen’s ribs.

“All right,” he snarled, “I’m tired of all this stalling! Get in that
airplane or I’ll blow you apart!”

Roy, shock at the sudden turn of events showing in his white face,
opened the door and climbed into the ship. Van followed at his heels.

Vicki almost panicked. Van was getting away--and he had to be stopped!
She looked in the direction of the terminal. There was no sign of
Quayle and his men. She looked inside the warehouse. By the time she
called any of the other workmen and explained the situation to them,
Roy’s plane would be air-borne. And there would be nothing they could
do, anyway, against a desperate man armed with a gun.

These thoughts flashed through her mind in a split second. Then she saw
Steve Miller’s plane. She made a dash for it.

When she reached the Beechcraft, Vicki opened the door and scrambled
in. By the time she had stumbled up the narrow aisle between the
passenger seats and settled herself behind the wheel, she could hear
the grinding noise of the Cessna’s starter and see its twin propellers
slowly turning over. Quickly she flicked the ignition switch and jabbed
at the starter buttons. As she did so, the engines of Roy’s plane
caught with a tremendous roar and the propellers flashed in dazzling
disks of reflected sunlight and a wild spray of falling rain.

At that moment the motors of the Beechcraft started, and Vicki spun the
wheel to taxi the ship into Roy’s path.

With Van Lasher’s gun at his back, Roy had no choice but to try to get
his plane into the air. He swerved just in time to miss the wing of the
Beechcraft by inches and headed out crosswise over the landing field.

Vicki opened the throttle wide. The Beech was a more powerful ship
than the Cessna and it answered the throttle like a race horse hurtling
out of a starting gate. Vicki pushed the wheel forward hard to keep the
ship from taking off into the air.

Again she intercepted Roy, and again he swerved in time to avoid
a collision. Vicki said a silent prayer that no passenger plane
was coming in for a landing, with all this crazy taxiing going on.
Certainly by now the tower would have seen the two planes racing madly
across the field and warned off any ships that might already be in the
landing pattern.

Roy had straightened out now, and again was heading up the field. Van
must indeed be desperate, for he apparently was ordering Roy at gun
point to make a downwind take-off.

Vicki took a last-ditch chance and cut in front of the Cessna again. A
collision at seventy miles an hour might kill everyone in both ships.
But Vicki had only one thought--to keep the other plane from getting
into the air. Again, Roy swerved just in time, almost scraping his left
wing against the high steel-mesh fence that edged the field.

Out of the corner of her eye, Vicki saw two airport jeeps dashing
across the field in their direction. That would be Quayle and the
police getting into the chase. Just then there was a smacking sound in
front of her and a small round hole appeared in the glass window only
inches from her head. Van was using his pistol to scare her away!

Once more, Roy tried to straighten out for a take-off. And once more
Vicki managed to intercept him and make him swerve away. At the same
time, the two jeeps cut in ahead of him. Roy tried to swerve out of the
way of this new menace, and in doing so the tip of one wing caught the
wire of the fence. The Cessna pivoted in a sort of exaggerated ground
loop, fell over onto its injured wing, and came to a shuddering stop.
Roy cut the engines, and the whirring propellers slowed down and came
to a standstill.

At the same time, Vicki cut the motors of the Beech and slammed on the
wheel brakes.

[Illustration]

Instantly a swarm of uniformed policemen surrounded the Cessna. As
Vicki watched, her heart pounding wildly after the excitement of the
chase, Van Lasher came out of the plane’s door and stepped onto the
ground, his hands high in the air. In a moment Roy Olsen followed him
and walked around to survey his wrecked plane. Vicki saw Mr. Quayle
walk up to Lasher, say a few words, and wave him off in the custody of
the police.

She got up from the pilot’s seat, walked slowly back down the aisle,
all the energy drained from her in these past few harrowing minutes,
and climbed down the step to the ground.

The FBI man came up to her, smiling.

“I might have known it was you in that plane. Thanks to your keen
instincts, we’ve caught all the other people in this gold coin case, so
it just naturally figures that you’d trap Lasher. If I’m not careful,
J. Edgar Hoover will fire me and give you my job.”

Vicki was looking sorrowfully at the wreckage of Roy Olsen’s beautiful
plane. John Quayle read the thoughts that were so clearly showing in
her face.

“Don’t fret about that plane, Vicki,” he said. “I imagine the insurance
company will be glad to take care of the damage.”

Roy Olsen joined them just in time to hear Mr. Quayle’s final words. He
was still pale and shaken, but he was able to manage a smile.

“Vicki,” he said, “my hat’s off to you. I was never so glad to make a
crash landing in all my life.”



CHAPTER XV

_The Mystery Solved_


It was a pleasant Sunday afternoon, two days after Vicki’s hair-raising
experience with Steve Miller’s airplane. Vicki, Mr. Curtin, Nina,
Louise, John Quayle, and Joey Watson were sitting on the Curtins’ broad
patio sipping cool fruit drinks and relaxing. A gentle breeze blew
through the flowers and trees that surrounded the big brick house, and
Vicki could feel its gentle fingers patting her on the cheek.

“So if it hadn’t been for this young lady,” John Quayle was saying as
he raised his glass and made a toast to Vicki, “I’m afraid all of us
would still be in the dark about the theft of the gold coins, and the
thieves would be well on their way to parts unknown. But now, thanks to
her, all of the gang except Amos Tytell are safely behind bars. Since
the old man was an unwilling accomplice, we released him, and, for the
first time since he came South, he’s enjoying himself here in Tampa
waiting to be the key witness at the trial.”

“The newspapers,” Mr. Curtin said, “didn’t tell all the details of the
story, not enough anyway to satisfy those of us who had a part in it.
Frankly, Mr. Quayle, that’s why I invited you here today. Are you at
liberty to give it all to us? I suddenly found myself caught up in the
middle of it--first when our committee opened the crate of scrap metal,
and second when I bought that gold ship in Havana--but frankly I’m
still at sea.”

Mr. Quayle took a long sip of his drink. “It might be well,” he said,
“if I started at the beginning.” He paused for a second to marshal the
thoughts in his mind, and then went on.

“It all started out with Eaton-Smith. He had, as we finally found out,
a pretty shady career behind him. He had never been arrested, though,
and that’s why it took our people so long to track down his past. He
had become friendly with a certain Max Schmidt in New York. Max didn’t
have a record either, but Eaton-Smith discovered that he wasn’t above
making a dishonest dollar if he thought he could get away with it. Max
was a man-of-all-work at the Numismatic Museum, and when Eaton-Smith
learned that your committee, Mr. Curtin, had requested that the antique
coin exhibit be sent to Tampa, the two of them went to work on an
elaborate scheme to steal them.

“First he contacted Raymond Duke who had, he knew, a business in Havana
under the name of Ramon Garcia and who also was not reluctant to steal
several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of gold. Through Duke he got in
touch with Van Lasher.”

“But I thought you said Van was an old Federal Airlines employee with a
good record,” Vicki interrupted.

“He had been for the past eight years, Vicki, and that’s what almost
fooled us. After you reported that skull-and-crossbones warning, we
started digging a little deeper into the background of all employees at
the airport here. And we found out that he had served a prison term in
Texas ten years ago for larceny. When he got out of prison, he changed
his name and went to work for Federal Airlines. So far as we can
tell, he had kept his record clean ever since. But Duke, who had been
involved in a deal with Lasher some years ago, approached him on the
gold coin job. And again, the prospect of all that easy money was too
much for him.”

He took another sip of his lemonade.

“It is this kind of case that is always toughest to break. Where you
are dealing with people who are known criminals, you automatically
suspect them when a crime is committed. But all of these men had an
outward cloak of respectability that acted as protective coloration.”

“But Mr. Tytell?” Vicki began, unable to control her curiosity about
the old man who had so aroused her sympathy.

“I’m coming to him,” Quayle continued. “He had been an expert jeweler
and goldsmith as I told you the other day, Vicki, and Eaton-Smith ran
into him in New York. When this gold coin business came up, the old
man immediately came to Eaton-Smith’s mind. Eaton-Smith went to him
and told him that he had a good job for him in Tampa. The old man was
so grateful that he didn’t say he hadn’t eaten in twenty-four hours.
That’s why he was practically starved when you saw him on the plane.

“Eaton-Smith picked him up in a taxi on the morning of--let’s
see--Thursday the sixth. On the way to the airport, Tytell made certain
inquiries about the job and Eaton-Smith evaded them. Then, when
Eaton-Smith told him that the two were going to travel on the plane as
if they didn’t know each other, the old man began to get suspicious.
Being old and sick and hungry and nervous, he began talking to you,
Vicki, after he was on the plane. Eaton-Smith noticed this, moved over
into the empty seat beside him, and told him in no uncertain terms to
keep his mouth shut. Then Tytell knew for sure that something was wrong
and he became badly frightened. That’s when he left what he hoped you
would discover as a message in the form of the folded travel folder.
The Granada Restaurant thing was an accident. He was trying to tell you
that he would be in Ybor City, where he knew that Eaton-Smith lived.”

“But how in the world did he think Vicki could help him?” Louise asked.

“He wasn’t thinking clearly at all. Remember that he was badly
frightened and desperate.”

The FBI man stopped for a moment.

“Am I keeping this straight enough for you?”

Everyone nodded silent assent, and he continued:

“Well, for weeks Eaton-Smith and Raymond Duke had been scheming to
steal the coins. Max Schmidt in the museum in New York had found out
that the shipment would be made by air, since the closing of the
exhibit in New York and the opening of the Festival here were only
a few days apart. Part of Schmidt’s work at the museum was handling
packing and shipping details. Schmidt then made up an exact duplicate
of the crate that the coins would be shipped in. He loaded this
duplicate crate with scrap metal and shipped it in advance to Raymond
Duke. When it was received, Van took it to the small inside room of
the warehouse where valuables were kept overnight and covered it up
with a canvas tarpaulin. Being the warehouse foreman, Van’s movements
were never questioned. Of course, at this point, there was nothing for
anyone to be suspicious about. So when Schmidt in New York advised Duke
that the gold was coming on Federal’s Flight Seventeen--your ship,
Vicki--they were all ready to snatch it. It was only a coincidence
that Eaton-Smith and Tytell were on the same plane.

“Since he was the warehouse boss, it seemed natural for Van to offer to
sit up with the private detective who had accompanied the shipment and
whose main reason for coming to Tampa was to guard the coins while they
were on exhibit at the Hall. Jones, of course, was glad of the company.
And Van had figured out a pretty cute gimmick. He knew that the
all-night guard duty in the warehouse would be a pretty dull affair, so
he brought along a thermos jar of coffee which he went out at regular
intervals to refill. He had also provided himself with some very mild
sleeping pills. Sometime during the night he slipped one of the pills
into Jones’s coffee. Since Jones had been up all day, and had had a
fairly tiring plane trip too, the mild pill was just enough to put him
into a sound sleep and give Van a chance to switch the crates. Schmidt
had sent him a set of duplicate labels from the museum in New York. So
Van soaked the original labels off each crate with a solvent solution,
and put the label addressed to Duke on the crate of gold, and the label
addressed to the Festival committee on the crate of junk. Since the
solvent had thoroughly dried by morning, there was no way to tell that
a change had been made. Then he switched the bills of lading, covered
up the genuine crate with the canvas--and that was all there was to it.

“When it was all shipshape, he woke the detective up, and so far as
Jones knew he had only slipped off for a moment into a brief nap. The
bit about the prowler, Joey, was staged by Van to indicate that someone
had been snooping around. It was just by chance that he used your
flashlight. You had left it on top of your locker and Van happened to
see it.”

“And so,” Mr. Curtin said, “the theft was accomplished by the simple
device of Van Lasher switching the crates.”

“That’s right,” Mr. Quayle said, “it was as simple as that. The
next morning, at the same time the fake crate was delivered to your
committee, the crate containing the gold was delivered to Raymond Duke.
Naturally, we checked on all deliveries made that morning, but Duke
showed our man the bill of lading for a shipment of perfume, and we had
no reason to doubt him.”

At that moment Mrs. Tucker interrupted with a plate of sandwiches and a
fresh pitcher of lemonade. Mr. Quayle turned his attention briefly from
the gold coins to the food.

“Being a bachelor,” he said to the housekeeper, “I don’t often get
chicken sandwiches like these.” He helped himself to another one.

As she sipped on her lemonade Vicki couldn’t get her mind off the old
man who had been the starting point of the whole case so far as she
was concerned.

“How,” she asked, “did Duke and Eaton-Smith get Mr. Tytell to work for
them after he found out what was going on?”

“By another simple method,” the FBI man replied. “They threatened to
kill him if he made a false move.”

“But when I saw him in Ybor City and in the art supply store no one was
with him,” Vicki said. “So he couldn’t have been completely a prisoner.
Why couldn’t he have gone to the police? They’d have protected him.”

“They had one other weapon,” Mr. Quayle said. “It appears that the old
man has a grandson in New York. Tytell was unable to support him and
the boy is in a charitable institution. They threatened to hurt the boy
if Tytell went to the police. Naturally, the Tampa police would have
gotten in touch with the New York force to assure the boy’s protection.
But the old man was scared out of his wits and wasn’t thinking
straight. That’s why he was so frightened when you saw him that day in
front of Duke’s house.”

“But he did try to get away on my plane to New York,” Vicki reminded
him.

“There’s no accounting for what people do when they get panicky,” Mr.
Quayle said. “He saw you in the store that day and the idea of running
away on your ship suddenly occurred to him. He had come to look on
you as a friend, Vicki, since you were the only person who had acted
friendly toward him. He had seen Eaton-Smith’s air-travel credit card
lying on his desk. So, having no money, he tried to use it to pay for
his ticket when he picked it up at the airport. Naturally, the Federal
people called Eaton-Smith, and he and Duke drove to the airport, found
the old man, forced him into the car and took him back to Ybor City. He
lost his violin case in the struggle.”

The FBI man took a long sip of his lemonade. “I’m certainly doing a lot
of talking,” he said.

“If you stop now,” Louise said pertly, “I’ll take away that tray of
chicken sandwiches.”

“In that case--” Quayle reached for another sandwich. “Now where was I?”

“What I don’t understand,” Mr. Curtin said, “is how that peddler in
Havana happened to have the solid gold ship he sold us.”

“We got him, too,” Quayle said. “But let me go back a little.
Eaton-Smith had a very ingenious idea about shipping the gold out of
the country. He bought up several crates of those little Festival
souvenirs, on the pretext of giving them to his customers. You saw
some of them at his house, Vicki. He then forced Tytell to melt down
the coins and cast the gold in the shape of the little ships. He then
recrated the souvenirs, putting several layers of the gold ships under
the cheap ones, and Duke shipped them to Ramon Garcia in Havana. If
the Cuban customs people bothered to open the crates at all--don’t
forget that Ramon Garcia was constantly shipping things in and out
of Havana--they would have seen the souvenirs on top and pass the
shipment. Naturally, they would have no reason to suspect that the
crates held anything more valuable than cheap novelties. And, of
course, it worked.

“Now for the man who sold you the gold ship in Havana. He was a
handyman who worked at odd times around Duke’s place. When Duke was
removing the gold from the crates of souvenirs, he was careless to let
the fellow get a good look at one. He recognized it for what it really
was, and when Duke’s back was turned for a moment, slipped it into his
pocket.”

“And thereby,” Mr. Curtin volunteered, “providing us with the one piece
of concrete evidence that solved the mystery.”

“Don’t you mean solid gold evidence, Daddy?” Nina teased.

“It’s a good thing we went to the Thieves’ Market that afternoon,”
Vicki remarked.

“No,” Quayle corrected her. “It’s a good thing that you have all the
instincts and the quick mind of a good detective, Vicki. You were smart
enough to put all the odds and ends of evidence together and come up
with the right answer. Not everyone has that talent.”

“Me, for instance.” Mr. Curtin laughed. “I saw the same things Vicki
did, and they didn’t mean a thing to me.”

“Now there was nothing in the world to connect Raymond Duke and
Eaton-Smith in any way with that gold shipment except Van Lasher. And
that’s where you come in, Joey.”

“You mean that offer of a job that Duke made me?”

“That’s right. The three of them could never afford to be seen
together. They were even afraid to use the telephone, lest a message
somehow be intercepted when Van was out of the warehouse. But obviously
they had to keep in touch. Since you were always around the warehouse
with Van, the idea was to use you as a messenger boy. They figured you
needed the money badly enough to do as you were told, and that you
would believe any cock-and-bull story Van cooked up to explain the need
for secrecy. Of course, if everything went right, there was no reason
for you or anyone else to connect either of them with the missing gold.
But you turned them down, and they were afraid to approach anyone else.
So Van used the cover of the torchlight parade in Ybor City, where
almost everyone was in costume and most people were masked, to meet
with his confederates. That’s why he ran away when he recognized you,
Vicki, and lost himself in the crowd. And that’s why Duke went after
you, to hold you up by some pretext or another until Van could get
away. Van sending you that threatening note was another dumb play. He
thought it might frighten you into keeping quiet.”

“That proves he doesn’t know Vicki very well,” Mr. Curtin said.

“And again you used your detective’s intuition when you saw Van walking
across the airfield toward Olsen’s plane, and recognized him as the
pirate. If you hadn’t followed him, Olsen would have got his clearance
papers and taken Van to Cuba as a matter of course.”

“But why was Van running away in such a hurry?”

“Well, up to that morning everything had gone according to plan.
Eaton-Smith and Duke, having shipped all the gold to Cuba, went there
themselves and took the old man with them for safekeeping. They planned
to stay there, under cover, until they could make arrangements to
dispose of the gold, possibly in South America. Then they would simply
ditch the old man and fade away. Van was completely in the clear up to
that point, so the plan was for him to stay here working at his job
until everything had blown over. Then he was to join them.

“However, Van was pretty leery of you, Vicki. It was obvious to all
three that you were doing a lot of poking around where you had no
business to be. Van saw me meet you at the plane Friday morning and
take you to my office. Since he knew the plane was inbound from Havana,
he began to smell a rat. He followed us upstairs, saw that my secretary
was away from her desk, and took a quick peek through the keyhole.”

“He was taking an awful chance of having your secretary walk in and
catch him,” Vicki suggested.

“That’s true. But he figured he was taking a worse one if he didn’t
find out what we were up to. He saw the gold ship model on my desk,
and he knew the jig was up. He hurried to his rooming house, which is
just on the edge of the field, picked up some money that Eaton-Smith
had given him in advance for emergencies, grabbed his raincoat and hat,
then hurried over to make a quick deal with Roy to fly him to Cuba.
When he saw you had followed him, he got panicky and pulled his gun.
You know the rest of the story.”

The FBI man drained the last of his lemonade.

“It’s been quite a case,” he said.

“Just one other thing,” Mr. Curtin said. “How did you locate Duke and
Eaton-Smith so fast?”

Quayle smiled. “When Lasher saw that we finally had him, he told us
the whole story from the beginning, including where we could pick up
Eaton-Smith, Duke, and old Mr. Tytell.”

“That poor old man,” Vicki said. “This whole thing has been terrible
for him.”

“On the contrary,” Quayle said, “it probably will turn out to be the
best thing that ever happened to him.”

“What?” Vicki could hardly believe what she was hearing.

“This Florida climate was just what he needed,” Quayle said. “Even with
what he’s been through, his health has improved considerably in the few
days he’s been down here. A man with his skill as a jeweler shouldn’t
have any trouble finding work in Tampa. He can bring his grandson down,
and start living a normal life again.”

Vicki’s eyes sparkled. “Oh, I’m so glad for him. So very glad!”

The FBI agent rose to go.

“Miss Vicki Barr,” he said, “it’s been a pleasure working with you.
I’ve said it before and I say it again--you’re a darn good detective.”

Vicki blushed in spite of herself.

“This crime was much worse than an ordinary theft,” Quayle said.
“Those ancient gold coins were a living part of history. They were
irreplaceable and priceless. Those men who stole them and destroyed
them, all but the handful we found in Eaton-Smith’s house, did a
terrible thing. The jury and the judge will show them no mercy. It’s
fortunate that we recovered the gold, but compared to the original
coins, it is virtually worthless. There’s a whole vault full of gold up
in Fort Knox.”

He grinned. “When I say the gold is worthless, I am speaking only in a
comparative sense of course. I don’t think you’ll find this altogether
worthless, Vicki.”

From his pocket he took the little golden ship that Vicki had first
seen in the Thieves’ Market.

“For your invaluable help in solving this case, the insurance company
wants you to have this as a reward.”

He reached over and put the ship’s model in Vicki’s hand. The polished
gold glistened in the afternoon sun.

“If I ever have another case as perplexing as this one, I may call on
you for help, Vicki. You’re a darn good detective.”



Transcriber’s Note:

Punctuation has been standardized. Other changes to the original
publication are as follows:

  Page 9
    “Hi, Joey!” Vickie greeted him. _changed to_
    “Hi, Joey!” Vicki greeted him.

  Page 148
    flashing colors of a kaleidscope wheel _changed to_
    flashing colors of a kaleidoscope wheel

  Page 172
    He way trying to tell _changed to_
    He was trying to tell

  Page 175
    she sipped on her lemondae _changed to_
    she sipped on her lemonade





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