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[Illustration: MAP OF SMUGGLERS' REEF AND VICINITY]
A RICK BRANT SCIENCE-ADVENTURE STORY
BY JOHN BLAINE
GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
NEW YORK, N. Y.
COPYRIGHT, 1950, BY
GROSSET & DUNLAP, INC.
* * * * *
I NIGHT ASSIGNMENT 1
II CAP'N MIKE 11
III THE REDHEADED KELSOS 22
IV A WARNING 33
V THE MYSTERIOUS PHONE CALL 43
VI THE _Albatross_ 53
VII SEARCH FOR A CLUE 63
VIII THE OLD TOWER 70
IX NIGHT WATCH 82
X CAPTURED 93
XI THE HEARING 100
XII THE MISSING FISHERMAN 107
XIII THE TRACKER 118
XIV CAPTAIN KILLIAN 125
XV PLIMSOLL MARKS 137
XVI NIGHT FLIGHT 151
XVII ENTER THE POLICE 162
XVIII BRENDAN'S MARSH 172
XIX THE FIGHT AT CREEK HOUSE 188
XX READ ALL ABOUT IT! 201
* * * * *
"Adventure," Rick Brant said, "is kind of hard to define, because what
may be adventure to one person may be commonplace to another." He took
a bite of cake and stretched his long legs comfortably. "Now, you take
flying with Scotty. That's the most adventurous thing I do."
Mr. and Mrs. Brant and Jerry Webster looked at Don Scott, the object
of Rick's jibe, and waited for his reply. Verbal warfare between the
two boys was a usual feature of the evening discussions on the big
front porch of the Brant home on Spindrift Island.
Scotty, a husky, dark-haired boy, grinned lazily. "You've proved your
own point," he returned. "Flying with me is adventure to you but safe
travel to anyone else. I'd say the most adventurous thing you do is
drive a car."
Mrs. Brant, an attractive, motherly woman, poured another cup of
coffee for Jerry Webster. The young reporter had started the
discussion by stating wistfully that he wished he could share in some
of the Brant adventures. "Why do you call Rick's driving
adventurous?" she asked.
"The dictionary says so," Scotty replied. "One definition of adventure
is 'a remarkable experience.'"
Hartson Brant, Rick's scientist father, grinned companionably at his
son. "I agree with Scotty. Not only is Rick's driving a remarkable
experience, but it fits the rest of the definition: 'The encountering
of risks; hazardous enterprise.'"
Jerry Webster rose to Rick's defense. "Oh, I don't know. Rick always
"Sure he does," Scotty agreed. "Of course his passengers always have
nervous breakdowns, but he gets there."
Rick just grinned. He felt wonderful tonight. When you came right down
to it, there was nothing that matched being at home with the family in
the big house on Spindrift Island. The famous island off the New
Jersey coast was home for the scientific foundation that his father
headed, and for the scientist members. It was home for Scotty, too,
and had been since the day he had rescued Rick from danger, as told in
_The Rocket's Shadow_. As junior members of the foundation, Rick and
Scotty had been included in a number of experiments and expeditions.
Rick wouldn't have missed a one of them, and if opportunity offered he
would go again with just as much eagerness. But it was nice to return
to familiar surroundings between trips. More than once, during lonely
nights in far places, his thoughts had turned to evenings just like
this one with the family and perhaps a close friend like Jerry
gathered on the porch after dinner.
Rick, Scotty, and Barbara Brant had only recently returned from the
South Pacific where they had vacationed aboard the trawler _Tarpon_
and had solved the mystery of _The Phantom Shark_. Barby had gone off
to summer boarding school in Connecticut a few days later. Chahda, the
Hindu boy who had been with the Brants since the Tibetan radar relay
expedition described in _The Lost City_, had said good-bye to the
group at New Caledonia and had returned to India. The scientists,
Zircon, Weiss, and Gordon, were away doing research.
Suddenly Rick chuckled. "Speaking of adventure, I'll bet the biggest
adventure Barby had on our whole trip to the Pacific was eating
_rosette saut√©_ at the governor's in Noumea."
"What's that?" Jerry asked.
"Bat," Scotty replied. "A very large kind of fruit bat. Barby thought
it was wonderful until she found out what it was."
"I should think so!" Mrs. Brant exclaimed.
"It tasted good," Rick said. "Something like chicken livers." He
grinned. "Anyway, I sympathized with Barby. I felt kind of funny
myself when I found out what it was."
Hartson Brant, an older edition of his athletic son, looked at the boy
reflectively. He knocked ashes from his pipe. "Seems to me you've been
pretty quiet since you got back, Rick. Lost your taste for excitement?
Or are you working on something?"
"Working," Rick said. "We scientists must never rest. We must labor
always to push back the frontiers of ignorance." He put a hand on his
heart and bowed with proper dramatic modesty. "I am working on an
invention that will startle the civilized world."
"We will now bow our heads in reverent silence while the master tells
all," Scotty intoned.
"I know," Jerry guessed. "You're working on a radar-controlled lawn
mower so you can cut the grass while you sit on the porch."
"That's too trivial for a junior genius like Rick," Scotty objected.
"He's probably working on a self-energizing hot dog that lathers
itself with mustard, climbs into a bun, and then holds a napkin under
your chin while you eat it."
"Not a bad idea," Rick said soberly. "But that isn't it."
"Of course not," Hartson Brant put in. "You see, I happen to know what
it is, due to a little invention of my own - an electronic mind
Scotty gulped. "You didn't tell Mom what happened to those two pieces
of butterscotch pie, did you? I wanted her to blame it on Rick."
Rick asked unbelievingly, "An electronic mind reader? All right, Dad,
what am I working on?"
"A device to penetrate the darkness."
Rick stared. His father had scored a hit. He demanded, "How did you
"My new invention," Hartson Brant said seriously. "Oh, and one other
clue. Yesterday morning the mail brought me a bill for a thousand feet
of 16-millimeter infrared motion-picture film."
So that was it. Rick grinned. "I hope your new invention told you I
asked the film company to send the bill to me and not to you."
"It did. The bill actually was addressed to the Spindrift Foundation,
attention Mr. Brant. Since I didn't know which Mr. Brant was meant, I
opened it. Don't worry, Rick. I'll let you pay it."
"Thanks, Dad," Rick said. "But don't make any sacrifices. You can pay
it if you want to."
"Don't want to," Hartson Brant replied. "I haven't the slightest use
for motion-picture film."
"Because Rick has the only motion-picture camera on the island,"
Scotty finished. He frowned at his friend. "Keeping secrets, huh?"
"I'm not sure it will work," Rick explained. He hated to brag about an
idea and then have it turn out to be a dud. Consequently, he seldom
mentioned that he was working on anything until he knew it would be
"What does the film have to do with penetrating the darkness?" Jerry
Rick caught the look of interest on his father's face. "Ask Dad," he
said. "The electronic mind reader probably has told him all about it."
"Of course." The scientist chuckled. "Rick is planning to take movies
at night without lights."
Jerry looked skeptical. "How?"
Rick stood up. "Long as we've started talking about it, I may as well
The others rose, too. As they did so, a shaggy little dog crawled from
under Rick's chair where he had been napping.
"Dismal and I will put the cake away," Mrs. Brant said.
At the sound of his name the pup rolled over on his back and played
dead, his only trick. Rick bent and scratched his ribs in the way the
pup liked best. "Go with Mom," he commanded. "Come on, the rest of
you. Maybe I can get some free advice from the director of the
Hartson Brant smiled. "If you're looking for a technical consultant,
Rick, my price is very reasonable."
"It would have to be," Rick admitted ruefully. "I've spent my entire
fortune on this thing."
"The whole dollar," Scotty added.
The boys' rooms were on the second floor in the north wing of the big
house. But where Scotty's was usually neat as a barracks squad room,
the result of his service in the Marines, Rick's was usually a clutter
of apparatus. Living on Spindrift Island with the example of his
father and the other scientists to follow, it was natural that he
should be interested in science. He was more fortunate than most boys
with such an interest, because he was permitted to use the laboratory
apparatus freely and his part-time work as a junior technician gave
him spending money with which to buy equipment. Another source of
revenue was his little two-seater plane. He was the island's fast
ferry service to the mainland.
His room was neater than usual at the moment because he had not
bothered to connect most of his apparatus after returning from the
South Pacific. The induction heater that he used for midnight snacks
was in a closet. His automatic window opener was not in use, nor was
his amateur radio transmitter.
He opened a workbench built into one wall and brought out a
motion-picture camera. It was a popular make with a type of lens mount
that permitted fast switching of lenses. It used one-hundred-foot
rolls of 16-millimeter film. He put the camera on the table, then from
a cupboard he brought out what appeared to be a searchlight mounted on
top of a small telescope.
"That's a sniperscope!" Scotty exclaimed.
"No reason why it shouldn't work very well, Rick," Hartson Brant said.
Jerry Webster sighed. "Excuse my ignorance. What's a sniperscope?"
"They were used during the last war," Scotty explained. He picked up
the unit and pointed to the light, which was about the size and shape
of a bicycle head lamp. "This searchlight throws a beam of black
light. Rick would call it infrared. Anyway, it's invisible. The
telescope is actually a special telescopic rifle sight which will pick
up infrared. You can use the thing in total darkness. Mount it on a
rifle and then go looking for the enemy. Since he can't see the
infrared, he thinks he's safe. But you can see him through the 'scope
just as though he had a beam of white light on him."
"I see," Jerry said. "Where are the batteries?"
Rick brought out a canvas-covered case that looked like a knapsack. It
had a crank on one side and a pair of electrical connections. "It's
not a battery," he explained. "It's a small, spring-driven dynamo."
Jerry nodded. "I get it now. You rig this thing on the camera, which
is loaded with infrared film. The film registers whatever the infrared
searchlight illuminates. Right?"
"That's the idea," Hartson Brant agreed. "But it isn't as simple as
that, is it, Rick?"
"Far from it. I have to determine the effective range, then I have to
run a couple of tests to find out what exposure I have to use, and
then I have to find the field of vision of the telescope as compared
with the field of the lens. A lot depends on the speed of the film
emulsion. That will limit the range. The searchlight is effective at
eight hundred yards, but I'll be lucky if I can get a picture at a
quarter of that."
"Where did you get the sniperscope?" Scotty wanted to know.
"By mail. I read an ad in a magazine that advertised a lot of surplus
war equipment, including this."
"You might have said something about it," Scotty reproached.
Rick grinned. "You were too busy working on the motorboats. I knew you
couldn't have two things on your mind at once."
Since the boys returned from vacation, Scotty had been overhauling the
engines on the two motorboats which were used, along with Rick's
plane, for communication with Whiteside, the nearest town on the
"I have a book downstairs that you'll find useful, Rick," Hartson
Brant said. "It gives the comparative data on lenses. It may save you
"Thanks, Dad," Rick replied. "I may have to ask your help in working
out the mathematics, too. Anyway...." He stopped as the phone rang.
In a moment Mrs. Brant called. "Jerry, it's your paper."
"Something must have popped!" Jerry ran for the door.
Rick hurried after him, Scotty and the scientist following. The
Whiteside _Morning Record_, for which Jerry worked, must have had
something important come up to phone Jerry on his night off.
In the library, Jerry picked up the phone. "Webster. Oh, hello, Duke.
Where? Well, why can't one of the other guys cover it? Okay, I'll be
on my way in a minute. How about a photographer? Hold the phone. I'll
ask him." He turned to Rick. "Duke wants to know if you can take your
camera and cover a story with me. A trawler went ashore down at
Rick nodded quick assent. The little daily paper had only one
photographer, who evidently wasn't available. It wouldn't be the first
time he had taken pictures for Duke Barrows, the paper's editor.
"He'll do it. We're on our way." Jerry hung up. "Have to work fast,"
he said. "We start printing the paper at midnight."
"It's nine now," Scotty said.
Rick ran upstairs and opened the case containing his speed graphic,
checking to be sure he had film packs and bulbs, then he snapped the
case shut and hurried downstairs with it. Jerry and Scotty were
waiting at the door.
"Don't stay out too late," Mrs. Brant admonished.
Dismal whined to be taken along.
"Sorry, boy." Rick patted the pup. "We'll be home early, Mom. Want to
come along, Dad?"
"Not tonight, thanks," the scientist replied. "I'll take advantage of
the quiet to catch up on my reading."
In a moment the three boys were hurrying toward the hook-shaped cove
in which the motorboats were tied up. Although Spindrift Island was
connected to the mainland at low tide by a rocky tidal flat, there was
no way for a car to cross. The cove was reached by a flight of stairs
leading down from the north side of the island. Elsewhere, the island
dropped away in cliffs of varying heights and steepness to the
They ran down the stairs and got into the fastest of the two boats, a
slim speedboat built for eight passengers. Rick handed Scotty his
camera case and slid in behind the wheel. While Jerry cast off, he
started the engine and warmed it for a moment. Then as Jerry pushed
the craft away from the pier, he backed out expertly, spun the boat
around, and roared off in the direction of the Whiteside landing.
"Let's have the story," Scotty shouted above the engine's roar.
"A fishing trawler from Seaford ran aground," Jerry shouted in reply.
"Duke figures it's an unusual story because those skippers have been
going out of Seaford for a hundred years without an accident. There's
no reason why one of them should run onto well-charted ground in clear
Scotty squinted at the sky. "It's not exactly clear weather. There's a
moon just coming up, but it's kind of hazy out."
"Yes, but you couldn't call it bad weather, either," Jerry pointed
out. "Not from a seaman's viewpoint, anyway."
"Where did this trawler run aground?" Rick asked.
"Arm of land that extends out into the sea above Seaford," Jerry
replied. "It's called Smugglers' Reef."
Jerry's car was an old sedan that had seen better days, but it could
still cover ground at a good speed. The macadam highway unrolled
before the bright head lamps at a steady rate while the beams
illumined alternate patches of woods and small settlements.
There were no major towns between Whiteside and Seaford, but there
were a number of summer beach colonies, most of them in an area about
halfway between the two towns. The highway was little used. Most
tourists and all through traffic preferred the main trunk highway
leading southward from Newark. They saw only two other cars during the
Many months had passed since Rick's last visit to Seaford. He had gone
there on a Sunday afternoon to try his hand at surf casting off
Million Dollar Row, a stretch of beach noted for its huge, abandoned
hotels. It was a good place to cast for striped bass during the right
"Smugglers' Reef," he said aloud. "Funny that a Seaford trawler
should go ashore there. It's the best-known reef on the coast."
"Maybe the skipper was a greenhorn," Scotty remarked.
"Not likely," Jerry said. "In Seaford the custom is to pass fishing
ships down from father to son. There hasn't been a new fishing family
there for the past half century."
"You seem to know a lot about the place," Rick remarked.
"I go down pretty often. Fish makes news in this part of the country."
Scotty pointed to a sign as they sped over a wooden bridge. "Salt
Rick remembered. Salt Creek emptied into the sea on the north side of
Smugglers' Reef. It was called Salt Creek because the tide backed up
into it beyond the bridge they had just crossed. He had caught crabs
just above the bridge. But between the road and the sea there was over
a quarter mile of tidal swamp, filled with rushes and salt-marsh
grasses through which the creek ran. At the edge of the swamp where
Salt Creek met Smugglers' Reef stood the old Creek House, once a
leading hotel, now an abandoned relic.
A short distance farther on, a road turned off to the left. A
weathered sign pointed toward Seaford. In a few moments the first
houses came into view. They were small, and well kept for the most
part. Then the sedan rolled into the town itself, down the single
business street which led to the fish piers.
A crowd waited in front of the red-brick town hall. Jerry swung into
the curb. "Let's see what's going on."
Rick got his camera from the case, inserted a film pack, and stuffed a
few flash bulbs into his pocket. Then he hurried up the steps of City
Hall after Jerry and Scotty. Men, a number of them with the weathered
faces of professional fishermen, were talking in low tones. A few
looked at the boys with curiosity.
An old man with white hair and a strong, lined face was seated by the
door, whittling on an elm twig. Jerry spoke to him.
"Excuse me, sir. Can you tell me what's going on?"
Keen eyes took in the three boys. "I can. Any reason why I should?"
The old man's voice held the twang peculiar to that part of the New
"I'm a reporter," Jerry said. "Whiteside _Morning Record_."
The old man spat into the shrubbery. "Going to put in your paper that
Tom Tyler ran aground on Smugglers' Reef, hey? Well, you can put it
in, boy, because it's true. But don't make the mistake of calling Tom
Tyler a fool, a drunkard, or a poor seaman, because he ain't any of
"How did it happen?" Jerry asked.
"Reckon you better ask Tom Tyler."
"I will," Jerry said. "Where will I find him?"
"Inside. Surrounded by fools."
Jerry pushed through the door, Rick and Scotty following. Rick's quick
glance took in the people waiting in the corridor, then shifted to a
young woman and a little girl. The woman's face was strained and
white, and she stared straight ahead with unseeing eyes. The little
girl, a tiny blonde perhaps four years old, held tightly to her
Rick had a hunch. He stopped as Jerry and Scotty hurried down the
corridor to where voices were loud through an open door. "Mrs. Tyler?"
The woman's head lifted sharply. Her eyes went dark with fear. "I
can't tell you anything," she said in a rush. "I don't know anything."
She dropped her head again and her hand tightened convulsively on the
"Sorry," Rick said gently. He moved along the corridor, very
thoughtful, and saw that Jerry and Scotty were turning into the room
from which voices came. Mrs. Tyler might have been angry, upset,
tearful, despondent, or defiant over the loss of her husband's
trawler. Instead, she had been afraid in a situation that did not
appear to call for fear.
He turned into the room. There were about a dozen men in it. Two were
Coast Guardsmen, one a lieutenant and the other a chief petty officer.
Two others were state highway patrolmen. Another, in a blue uniform,
was evidently the local policeman. The rest were in civilian clothes.
All of them were watching a lean, youthful man who sat ramrod straight
in a chair.
A stocky man in a brown suit said impatiently, "There's more to it
than that, Tom. Man, you've spent thirty years off Smugglers'. You'd
no more crack up on it than I'd fall over my own front porch."
"I told you how it was," the fisherman said tonelessly.
Rick searched his face and liked it. Tom Tyler was perhaps forty, but
he looked ten years younger. His face was burned from wind and sun,
but it was not yet heavily lined. His eyes, gray in color, were clear
and direct as he faced his questioners. He was a tall man; that was
apparent even when he was seated. He had a lean, trim look that
reminded Rick of a clean, seaworthy schooner.
The boy lifted his camera and took a picture. The group turned briefly
as the flash bulb went off. They glared, then turned back to the
The town policeman spoke. "You know what this means, Tom? You not only
lost your ship, but you're apt to lose your license, too. And you'll
be lucky if the insurance company doesn't charge you with barratry."
"I've told you how it was," Captain Tyler repeated.
The man in the brown suit exploded. "Stop being a dadblasted fool,
Tom! You expect us to swallow a yarn like that? We know you don't
drink. How can you expect us to believe you ran the _Sea Belle_ ashore
"I got no more to say," Tyler replied woodenly.
Jerry turned to Rick and Scotty and motioned toward the door. Rick led
the way back into the corridor. "Getting anything out of this?" he
"A little," Jerry said. "Let's go out and talk to that old man."
"Lead on," Scotty said. "I've always wanted to see a real news hound
Rick dropped the used flash bulb into a convenient ash tray, replaced
it with a new one, and reset the camera. At least he had one good
picture. Tom Tyler, framed by his questioners, had looked somehow like
a thoroughbred animal at bay.
Outside the door, the old man was still whittling. "Get a real scoop,
sonny?" he asked Jerry.
"Sure did," Jerry returned. He leaned against the doorjamb. "I didn't
get your name."
"Didn't give it."
"Sure. I ain't ashamed. I'm Captain Michael Aloysius Kevin O'Shannon.
Call me Cap'n Mike."
"All right, Cap'n Mike. Is it true Captain Tyler stands to lose his
master's license and may be even charged with deliberately wrecking
"He says he was drunk."
"How do you know?"
"I know Tom Tyler."
"Then how did it happen?"
Cap'n Mike rose and clicked his jackknife shut. He tossed away the elm
twig. "You got a car?"
"Let's take a ride. You'll want to see the wreck, and I do, too. We
can talk on the way."
The boys accepted with alacrity. Rick and Scotty sat in the back seat;
the captain rode up front with Jerry. At the old man's direction,
Jerry drove to the water front and then turned left.
"I'll start at the beginning," Cap'n Mike said. "I've had experience
with reporters in my day. Best to tell 'em everything, otherwise they
start leaping at conclusions and get everything backwards. Can't
credit a reporter with too many brains."
"You're right there," Jerry said amiably.