Mystery on Spindrift

Rick Brant could see every detail of the mysterious cabin cruiser. From the corridor window in the north wing of the big Brant house on Spindrift Island he looked down into the cove and watched the cruiser maneuver for a landing at the pier.

A pair of powerful binoculars showed him the faces of the two passengers and the figure of the man in the pilothouse. As the boat swung around for a landing he read the inscription on her stern. She was the Eleanor II, and her home port was New York.

To all appearances, she was just a private motor yacht, a cabin cruiser about thirty feet long, painted white. He watched her tie up and saw the two passengers step to the pier, and he saw his father go down the wooden stairs to the boat landing to meet them.

The glasses picked them out clearly. The older man was of middle age, dressed in an ordinary gray business suit. The second man was younger, perhaps twenty-five. He wore a soft hat and a brown gabardine suit. He might have been anything from a chemist to a professional athlete.

Hartson Brant greeted the men cordially, and for a moment they stood on the pier chatting. Rick would have given a great deal for the ability to read lips. He was burning with curiosity, and he was irritated. For more than two weeks he had tried to penetrate the veil of secrecy that hung over Spindrift Island and he hadn't even made a beginning. He knew only that the white cruiser had called several times recently and that its passengers had spent hours talking with Hartson Brant behind locked doors. For the first time within memory, his father had not only failed to take Rick into his confidence but had told him curtly not to ask questions!

Rick watched until the trio vanished around the corner of the house, then he put the glasses in their case and headed for his own room. He walked quietly, because he didn't want anyone to know he had been spying. He was ashamed but not so ashamed as he was curious.

He was a tall boy of high school age with brown hair and eyes. There was a springiness in his gait that told of speed when he wanted to stretch his long legs. He moved easily, with the natural rhythm of an athlete, and he appeared to be relaxed. The appearance was deceptive, however. People who knew Rick well often noticed that he was never completely still, except when sleeping. Even when sitting quietly his hands were usually busy, frequently with a bit of electrical gear or perhaps a piece of wire. He sometimes explained that he could think better that way.

As he passed the head of the stairs that led down to the library, he heard his father's voice and stopped hopefully.

"I'm positive there have been no information leaks on the island," the scientist was telling the two strangers. "We've been most careful. Only Weiss, Gordon, and Zircon know. We'll go over to the lab in a few minutes and you'll---"

The library door slammed and put a period to the words.

"Careful is right," Rick thought bitterly. Always before, he had been more than Hartson Brant's son. He had been his helper and trusted confidant. Now he was left completely out of things, and it hurt.

As he opened the door to his room and went in, a husky boy with black hair and dark eyes glanced up. The quick glance took in the binocular case slung over Rick's shoulder and the sulky expression on his usually pleasant face. Don Scott, called "Scotty," grinned.

"Deduction: Brother Brant has been playing I Spy again, and he hasn't found out a thing."

Rick put the glasses on a table and flopped down on his bed. "A lot of help I get from you," he said to his friend sourly. "Why don't you give me a hand instead of spending your life in that chair reading horse novels?"

Scotty put down his book, a lurid bit of fiction called Galloping Guns."Horse Novels? You mean Western literature, old son. Better read one yourself. The beat of hoofs will quiet your nerves."

Rick stared at the ceiling and didn't reply.

Scotty's tone became serious. "Why don't you stop beating your head against the wall? When Dad wants you to know what's going on, he'll tell you."

Rick realized the sense of that, but being treated as an outsider rankled. "He might at least give us a hint," he grumbled.

"He can't," Scotty said positively.

"What makes you so sure?"

"Because he wouldn't keep anything from us if he could help it. I'll bet those men, whoever they are, have sworn him to secrecy. What's more, I'll bet they're government men."

"I figured that," Rick said. "But what kind of government men? FBI? Secret Service? Or what?"

"Search me."

Scotty pushed a button on the arm of his chair and the back flopped down to semireclining position. A footrest shot into position. He stretched luxuriously and started to read again, then, seeing that the light wasn't strong enough, he pushed another button and the reading lamp brightened visibly.

The intricately wired, leather armchair, like everything else in the room, was a product of Rick's fertile imagination coupled with his ability to handle electronic equipment. Along one wall ran a workbench topped by cabinets containing parts, wire, tools, soldering irons, and jars of electrical apparatus. Next to the bed was a table with a bank of control buttons that turned on the radio, selected stations, controlled the volume, turned any selection of lights off or on, and opened and closed the windows.

Various gadgets around the room included an induction cooker that heated anything placed between its coils, an assortment of radios, including a television set, a short-wave receiver for the amateur frequencies, and a compact transmitter. The newest device was a popcorn popper that utilized ultrahigh radio waves. Rick was never satisfied. He spent much time making changes and building new equipment.

People seeing the room for the first time were invariably awed. They regarded Rick with respect, as a budding genius. Actually, the devices were all simple if one knew the fundamentals of electronics. They were the type of things that almost any competent amateur radio operator --- like Rick---could produce with a little ingenuity, a lot of hard work, and frequent reference to diagrams and texts.

Rick's interest in electronics was natural enough, for Hartson Brant and the other Spindrift Island scientists were acknowledged leaders in the field of electronic sciences. Rick's ambition was to follow in his famous father's footsteps and, as a result, much of his time was spent in study and experiment, and most of his spending money went for equipment.

Scotty, whose abilities ran along other lines, was properly appreciative of Rick's devices. He spent more time in his friend's room than in his own, which was right next door.

"I still can't see why Dad is leaving us out of things," Rick said unhappily. "We've always been included before."

"I don't like it any better than you do," Scotty replied. "But there's nothing we can do, so stop brooding about it."

A new voice spoke from the doorway. "Who's brooding?"

Rick smiled up at his sister Barby, a pretty blonde girls a year his junior. "I am," he said. "And you know why."

"I know," Barby nodded. "It's awful. Mother caught me hanging around the library just now and chased me upstairs."

"Have you found out anything?" Scotty asked.

"No. And Dad can keep his old secrets!"

"Don't worry," Scotty said dryly."He will."

Barby sat down on a chair next to Scotty. "Anyway, that wasn't what I wanted to see you about. What I want to know is, what are you going to do about Dismal and that woodchuck?"

"Golly," Rick exclaimed, "I'd completely forgotten about Diz!"

"You'd better remember," Barby told him, "or Diz will starve to death. He won't leave that woodchuck hole long enough to eat."

The entire family was amused by the private war between Dismal, the Brant pup, and a large woodchuck that had taken up residence on the island. Mr. Huggins, who ran the Brant farm on the north side of Spindrift, had called on the boys for help, thinking that Scotty would probably dispose of the chuck with his rifle.

The boys had taken Dismal with them. The shaggy little dog surprised the woodchuck away from his hole, and the feud began. The chuck completely outwitted the pup, running him in circles, getting him tangled in a bramble patch, and finally leaving him panting at the edge of a burrow.

Since then, Dismal had maintained a constant vigil, hoping to catch the woodchuck away from his hole. The problem was complicated by the fact that the burrow had several entrances, many yards apart. Dismal would keep watch on one entrance, only to have the chuck come out another.

"He would come home at mealtime, only he never thinks of it," Barby said. "If I go down and whistle to him, he'll come. But it's a long walk."

Rick asked, "Did you try that noiseless dog whistle?"

Barby nodded. "He can't hear it. It's too far. Wouldn't it be easier for everyone if you just shot the woodchuck?"

"That wouldn't be right," Scotty said.

Rick agreed. "Think what a blow it would be to Diz's pride. It would be like saying right out that he wasn't dog enough to handle a mere woodchuck."

Barby considered. "I never thought of that," she said finally. "I guess it wouldn't be right to shoot the woodchuck. But we have to do something, or Dismal will be nothing but skin and bones. It think he would come to eat if he remembered."

"Think of something," Scotty told Rick. "You're the scientific mastermind."

"How about that noiseless whistle?" Rick asked. "If we could make it louder, Diz would hear it and come home at mealtime."

"I'll get it," Barby said. She ran down the hall to her own room and in a moment returned with the whistle, a small metal thing shaped like a tube. It was the kind of patent whistle that could be bought in almost any pet shop. The sound it emitted was above the range that a human ear can hear but perfectly audible to a dog.

Rick studied it for a moment. "Trouble is, we can't blow it loud enough. Suppose we used compressed air?"

"How?" Scotty asked.

"Remember those small oxygen tanks we used in the Submobile? I could fill one with compressed air, then tap the mouthpiece of the whistle so it can be screwed onto the outlet. Then, turn the valve and the whistle blows."

"Sound good," Scotty admitted. "Want to try it?"

"Let's!" Barby exclaimed.

"Might as well," Rick agreed. He swung to the floor and stood up. "Come on over to the lab."

"I'm coming, too," Barby said. "If I stay in the house, someone always thinks I'm spying."

Scotty grinned. "Well, aren't you?"

"Certainly not," Barby retorted indignantly. "Just because I happened to hear a little bit of conversation on the telephone�"

Both boys laughed. Barby's principal duty was acting as switchboard operator for the island telephones. When she was on the job, which was not frequently, she loved to listen in on conversations. Once it had been a good thing for Rick and Scotty that she had listened. During the moon-rocket experiment the boys had been captured by a gang that was trying to wreck the Spindrift Island plans. Barby's quick action after overhearing a phone conversation had helped extricate them from a dangerous situation, as described in The Rocket's Shadow.

Rick led the way down the back stairs and across the orchard to the low, gray bulk of the laboratory. Through the trees he could see the slim shape of his yellow Cub airplane. He flew almost every day, because he was the island messenger service, charged with most of the shopping, both for Mrs. Brant and the scientists.

Barby took his arm. "Look!" She pointed to where Hartson Brant and his two mysterious visitors were walking across the path on the outer edge of the orchard. Evidently they had been at the lab and were returning to the house.

Hartson Brant looked like an older edition of Rick. He was tall and athletic, his brown hair sprinkled with gray. Like Rick, he preferred comfortable clothing and when on the island always wore slacks and a sweater.

He saw Barby, Rick, and Scotty and waved. His two companions nodded politely.

Rick waved back, but not very cordially. "Wonder what they were doing at the lab?"

"Tour of inspection," Scotty guessed. "Visitors always want to see the lab."

That was true enough. People were always interested in seeing the laboratory where so many important advancements in the electronic sciences had been made. But Rick didn't think that was the reason for this particular visit. The strangers could have seen the lab on any of their previous trips to Spindrift.

They reached the building and went to the main door. Oddly, it was closed. Rick turned the knob and pushed, but nothing happened.

"It's stuck," he said, but even as he spoke he knew it wasn't. It was locked!

"Better knock," Scotty said. His forehead wrinkled thoughtfully as he stared at the closed door.

Rick rapped sharply. In a moment the door opened, but only partially. Hobart Zircon looked out. The scientist, whose reputation was almost as great as that of Hartson Brant's, was a huge man with a barrel chest and a low, booming voice. He and Rick and Scotty were the best of friends, old comrades of many far trails and dangerous situations.

"Afraid of burglars?" Rick asked jokingly. He started to enter, but, amazingly, Zircon blocked the way.

"Sorry, Rick," he rumbled. He seemed embarrassed.

Rick couldn't believe it. He was as much a part of the lab as Zircon, or Hartson Brant himself. All of it was open to him. He was free to use even the most delicate equipment. He had practically grown up in the lab!

He asked incredulously, "You mean you're not going to let us in?"

Hobart Zircon's voice boomed out from behind the gradually closing door.

"I'm sorry, kids, but those are orders.You can't come in. None of you!"