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THE FLYING STINGAREE

BY JOHN BLAINE

A RICK BRANT SCIENCE-ADVENTURE STORY



GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
NEW YORK, N. Y.

BY GROSSET & DUNLAP, INC., 1963

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

_Printed in the United States of America_


[Transcriber's note: Extensive research found no evidence
that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



To
my sons,
Chris and Derek,
who have watched the stingarees
from the sun deck of the
cruising houseboat
Spindrift




THE FLYING STINGAREE


What's shaped like a sting ray and flies over Chesapeake Bay? This is
the eerie riddle which confronts Rick Brant and his friend Don Scott
when, seeking shelter from a storm, they anchor the houseboat
_Spindrift_ in a lonely cove along the Maryland shore and spot the
flying stingaree.

The "thing," they learn, is not the only one of its kind - one is
actually suspected of having kidnaped a man!

The residents of the Eastern Shore of Maryland believe the strange
objects are flying saucers, but, weary of ridicule, have ceased
reporting the sightings.

Rick and Scotty, their scientific curiosity aroused, begin a
comprehensive investigation, encouraged by their friend Steve Ames, a
young government intelligence agent, whose summer cottage is near the
cove.

As the clues mount up, the trail leads to Calvert's Favor, a historic
plantation house - and to the very bottom of Chesapeake Bay. How Rick and
Scotty, at the risk of their lives, ground the eerie menace forever
makes a tale of high-voltage suspense.




[Illustration: _Little Choptank River_]




Contents


I CHESAPEAKE BAY

II THE FLYING STINGAREE

III ORVIL HARRIS, CRABBER

IV STEVE'S PLACE

V THE FACE IS FAMILIAR

VI THE SAUCER SIGHTERS

VII SIGHTING DATA

VIII CALVERT'S FAVOR

IX THE DUCK BLIND

X KEN HOLT COMES THROUGH

XI ON THE BOTTOM

XII NIGHT RECOVERY

XIII THE NIGHT WATCHERS

XIV DAYBREAK

XV THE EMPTY BOAT

XVI STEVE WAITS IT OUT

XVII CROWD AT MARTINS CREEK

XVIII THE STINGAREE'S TAIL

XIX LUCKY LEFTY

XX HUNT THE WIDE WATERS




LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


Little Choptank River

Scotty fitted the camera to the telescope

Now to find out what he had

The flying stingaree lifted him




CHAPTER I

Chesapeake Bay


The stingaree swam slowly through the warm waters of Chesapeake Bay.
Geography meant nothing to the ray, whose sole interest in life was
food, but his position - had he known it - was in the channel that runs
between Poplar Island and the town of Wittman on the Eastern Shore of
Maryland. The ray was also directly in the path of an odd-looking
cruising houseboat, the _Spindrift_, that had just rounded the north
point of Poplar Island and entered the channel.

The sting ray's color was an olive brown, so dark in tone that he looked
like wet black leather. He was roughly diamond-shaped, like a kite, with
rounded sides. He had a long, slim tail that carried vicious barbs along
the base of its upper side. It was from the barbs, which served as
defensive weapons, that the name sting ray, or stingaree, derived. The
ray was harmless to men - unless one chanced to step on him as he lay
resting on the bottom ooze. At such rare times, his tail would lash up,
inflicting a serious and painful wound.

A tiny crab, hatched only a week before, swam upward toward the gleaming
surface, his churning legs making a slight disturbance. The ray sensed
the small vibrations and instantly changed course, speeding through the
water like a fantastic spaceship of the future. Intent on the crab, the
ray ignored the stronger vibrations caused by a pair of outboard motors
and a long, flat-bottomed hull. Not until the crab was within reach did
the ray sense imminent danger. With a single flashing movement, he
snatched the crab and flung himself upward through the shining surface
and into the air.

Rick Brant, at the helm of the cruising houseboat, saw the ray break
water and he let out a yell. "Scotty! Look!"

Don Scott, asleep at full length on the houseboat's sun deck, which was
also its cabin top, awoke in time to see the dark shape reenter the calm
water. "Stingaree!" he exclaimed.

Rick had never seen an area more teeming with life than Chesapeake Bay,
unless it was the jungles of the South Pacific. Books, guides to eastern
land and water birds, regional fish and reptiles, rested on the cabin
top before him, along with a pair of binoculars. He had used them all
repeatedly, identifying eagles, wild swans, ospreys, wild duck and
geese, terrapin, snapping turtles and water snakes, as well as a horde
of lesser creatures. Trailing lines over the houseboat stern had
captured striped sea bass, called "rockfish" locally, a species of
drumfish called "spot" because of a black spot on the gills, pink
croakers that the Marylanders called "hardheads," and the blue crabs for
which the bay is famous. He had seen clam dredges bringing up bushels of
soft-shelled, long-necked clams that the dredgers called "manos," and he
had seen the famous Maryland "bugeyes" and "skip-jacks" - sailing craft
used for dredging oysters. The boats were not operated during the oyster
breeding season from the end of March until September.

Rick's interest in the life of the great bay was to be expected. As son
of the director of the world-famous Spindrift Scientific Foundation,
located on Spindrift Island off the coast of New Jersey, he had been
brought up among scientists. The habit of observation had developed
along with his natural - and insatiable - curiosity.

The tall, slim, brown-haired, brown-eyed boy was completely happy. He
enjoyed casual living, especially on the water, and life on the
_Spindrift_ couldn't have been more casual. He was dressed in a tattered
pair of shorts and a wristwatch. Once, in the cool of the evening, he
had slipped on a sweat shirt. Otherwise, the shorts had been his sole
attire while on board since leaving his home island a few days before.

Scotty, a husky, dark-haired boy clad only in red swimming trunks, came
down the ladder from the cabin top and stood beside Rick in the cockpit.
"Now that you woke me up to look at a fish, suppose you tell me where we
are? Last thing I remember, we were passing under the Bay Bridge off
Annapolis."

"That's Bloody Point Lighthouse behind us," Rick said. "Poplar Island is
on the starboard and the Eastern Shore to port. That black thing
sticking up ahead of us is a light buoy. When we reach it, we should be
able to see the range markers into Knapps Narrows."

Scotty checked the chart on the table hinged to the bulkhead formed by
the rear cabin wall. "What time is it?"

Rick glanced at his watch. "Five after six. Time for chow. Want to
rustle up something? Or shall we eat at Knapps Narrows? The cruising
guide says there's a restaurant there."

"Let's eat out," Scotty replied promptly. "I'm sick of my cooking - and
yours. I'd like some Maryland crab cakes like those we had in Chesapeake
City."

Rick remembered with pleasure. "Suits me."

"Think we'll get to Steve's tonight?" Scotty asked.

"I doubt it. We probably could reach the mouth of the river about dark,
but then we'd have to navigate up the river and into a creek before
reaching Steve's. I don't want to tackle these Chesapeake backwaters at
night."

The destination of the houseboat was the summer cottage of Rick's old
friend, Steve Ames, who was also a chief agent of JANIG, the top-secret
Federal security organization. The boys, and the Spindrift scientists,
had worked on several cases for JANIG, starting with the adventure of
_The Whispering Box Mystery_. Steve was responsible for Rick's ownership
of the houseboat, which had been named for Rick's home island on the
grounds that it was now his "home away from home."

Rick's first glimpse of the houseboat had been from the air. At the
request of Steve Ames, he, Scotty, his sister Barby, and Jan Miller,
daughter of one of the Spindrift physicists, had been searching the
coast of New Jersey for signs of strangers in the area. Barby had
spotted the houseboat, which at that time was painted a bright orange.
Later, the houseboat had played a major role in the adventure of _The
Electronic Mind Reader_, and Rick had fought for his life and the safety
of the two girls in the very cabin behind which he now stood. The
houseboat had been impounded by Federal authorities, and recently Steve
had mentioned to Rick that it was to be auctioned. After consulting with
his family, Rick had entered a bid for the boat. His bid had been the
only one, and he became owner at what was close to a salvage price.

It was Rick's pride that his chief possessions had been bought with his
own money, and the houseboat was no exception. Like his first plane, the
Cub, he expected the houseboat to pay its own way. Rick had recovered
his investment in the Cub by using it to operate Spindrift Island's
ferry service to the mainland. Rick flew the scientists to Newark
Airport when they had to catch planes, or he flew to Whiteside for
groceries, or into New York to pick up parts and supplies. The houseboat
could not be used in the same way, but he was sure he could get its
price back by renting it to summer visitors to the New Jersey area. He
had repainted it in two shades of green with a white top, and had made a
few other improvements.

Before renting the boat, however, he intended to have an extended
houseboat vacation. He and Scotty had left Spindrift Island, headed
south into Manasquan Inlet, and then sailed into the inland waterway. By
easy stages - the houseboat could make only ten miles an hour - they had
moved down the waterway into Delaware Bay, up the Delaware River,
through the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, and into Chesapeake Bay. Now,
some twenty miles south of Annapolis, the boys were nearing Steve's
summer cottage.

Rick's parents, with Barby and Jan, were now on their way to Wallops
Island rocket range operated by the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration. Hartson Brant had business there in connection with
instruments the Spindrift group of scientists had designed for measuring
solar X rays. The instruments would be launched in rockets. Wallops
Island was near Chincoteague, Virginia, just across the
Maryland-Virginia border on the long peninsula called "The Eastern
Shore" that runs between Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. By car,
Wallops was less than two hours from Steve's summer cottage.

As soon as his business was concluded, Hartson Brant planned to drive to
Steve's, where the Brants and the two girls would join Rick and Scotty
for a vacation on the houseboat. There was plenty of room. The
_Spindrift_ was thirty feet long and ten feet wide, and had two cabins.
Four could sleep in the forward cabin, and two amidships where the
galley, dinette, and bath were located. Steve had agreed to drive the
Brant car to Spindrift on his next trip to New York. The houseboat, with
the full clan aboard, would travel leisurely back to the home island.

Rick was delighted with the arrangements. The Brants - and that included
Scotty, who had become one of them after his discharge from the United
States Marine Corps - were a close-knit family whose members enjoyed
doing things together. Rick considered Jan Miller, Barby's dearest
friend, a welcome addition to the party.

"Range light ahead," Scotty said.

Rick nodded. The light was set atop a black piling. The color meant he
would have to pass it to port, then pick up the red beacon at the
entrance to the Narrows, passing the red beacon to starboard. This was
in accordance with the old sailors' rule: _red right returning_, which
means keep red markers and buoys on the starboard, or right, when
returning from seaward. It was fun navigating in strange waters. He had
never heard of Knapps Narrows a few days before, or of Tilghman Island,
where the Narrows were located. Nor had he heard of the Choptank River,
which lay just below the island.

The houseboat plowed ahead, its twin outboards purring. Its bow, rounded
like the front of a toboggan, slapped into a slight swell. Rick passed
the range light and headed for the red tower that marked the opening of
the Narrows. In a few moments they were in the Narrows, passing lines of
docked crab, oyster, and clam boats. There was a bridge ahead, with a
gasoline dock in its shadow. Rick gauged wind and current and decided
how he would maneuver into place. The current was heavy in the channel,
running in the direction in which he was headed.

"I'll nose in, and you jump off with a bowline," he directed Scotty.
"We'll let the stern swing around with the current. That will leave us
facing the way we came, so we won't have to turn when we leave."

In a short time the maneuver was completed. Rick edged the rounded nose
of the houseboat against the seawall as Scotty stepped ashore carrying
the bowline. He snubbed it tightly around a piling and held fast while
the ungainly boat swung with the current. Rick stepped to the seawall
with the stern line as the craft swung completely around, and the boys
made the boat fast.

"Now," Scotty said, "let's gas up and eat."

After filling the gas tanks, loading the icebox with fresh ice, and
topping off the water tank, the boys slipped into shirts, slacks, and
shoes, then headed for the restaurant that adjoined the dock. Over
delicious, spicy Maryland crab cakes and coffee, they talked with the
proprietor, a friendly, heavy-set Eastern Shore man who spoke with the
typical slurred accents of the region.

"Quite a boat you got there," the man said.

Rick grinned. "It does look sort of odd, but it's comfortable."

"Expect so. Thought it was a seagoin' flyin' saucer when I saw it comin'
through the Narrows."

Scotty munched crab cake appreciatively. "Seen many flying saucers
around here?" he asked whimsically.

"A few."

The boys stared.

The man smiled at the reaction. "Didn't expect that? It's true. We see
one now and again."

"Really?" Rick asked.

"Sure as geese fly. Don't know that they're really flyin' saucers like
we read about in the Washington and Baltimore papers - we get both - but
they're somethin' strange. Not natural, anyway."

The boys looked at each other. There was no doubt that the proprietor
believed what he was saying. He was as casual as though reporting a
catch of fish.

"Seen any recently?" Scotty inquired.

"Two nights ago. Always see 'em about dusk. Real plain, against the sky.
Sun hits 'em when they get high enough. They shine, sometimes silver,
sometimes red."

"Funny we haven't seen anything about it in the papers," Rick commented.

"Oh, I don't know. Used to be we'd report 'em, and the papers carried a
few lines. But the way the stories got written, you'd think us Eastern
Shore folks were short a few marbles. We got tired of being laughed at,
so no one says much about the saucers any more."

"But lots of people see them?" Scotty asked.

"Sure. Anyone that happens to be outdoors."

"Ever report these sightings to the authorities?" Rick wanted to know.

"Did at first. Called the State Police myself. The Coast Guard boys are
located right here at the Narrows, and they reported to Baltimore.
Nothin' happened. The authorities aren't sold on flyin' saucers, you
might say. I guess the last report was when Link Harris was kidnaped by
one."

Rick's scalp prickled. "You honestly mean someone was kidnaped by a
flying saucer?"

"It's the only thing we can think of. Link went out to set his crab
lines, like always, and never came home. We set out to find him, and we
found his boat all right, but no Link. One of the saucers was seen by
several folks, and they said later it seemed right over where he was
workin' at about the time he was there."

The boys digested this startling information. "Maybe he was drowned,"
Rick ventured.

"In a creek? Not likely! Link's been crabbin' for thirty years in these
waters. Water was smooth. Not a ripple, even out on the bay. Even if he
fell over, he could almost walk ashore. Tide was out and he was settin'
lines in about six feet, and he's better than two yards high. Shore
wasn't more than twenty yards away."

"Maybe he hit his head when he fell," Scotty suggested.

"Possible, but even if he drowned we'd have found his body."

Rick shook his head. "It's hard to believe a man could be kidnaped by a
flying saucer. Couldn't he have gone ashore and walked out of the area?
Maybe he _wanted_ to disappear."

"You're mighty hard to convince," the proprietor said good-humoredly. It
was clear he didn't particularly care whether they were convinced or
not. He was making conversation just to be sociable. "Where Link was
settin' lines is just a little creek with marsh all around. No man with
any sense would get out of a boat and go ashore into marshland, now
would he? Besides, there's no reason Link would want to disappear. He
lived all alone and did about what he pleased. Crabs netted him enough
money for his needs."

"How long ago did this happen?" Rick asked.

"Two, three weeks. Not long."

"Where?" Scotty queried.

"Few miles south. In a creek off the Little Choptank."

"That's where we're going!" Rick exclaimed.

"So? Well, watch for Swamp Creek. It's on the chart. That's where they
got Link. Where you headed?"

"A place called Martins Creek," Rick replied.

"Uh-huh. Well, Martins is on the south shore, and Swamp Creek is on the
north, about three miles closer to the river mouth. You'll pass it on
the way. Better keep an eye open. That boat of yours might attract
flyin' saucers the way a decoy attracts ducks."

Rick saw the twinkle in the proprietor's eye. "We'll set a bear trap on
the upper deck," he said. "Any flying saucer tries to pick us up, the
pilot will catch one of his six legs in it."

"Likely," the man agreed. "You catch one, bring it to the Narrows, will
you? Always wanted to see one at close range."

"We'll do that," Rick agreed, and no premonition or hunch warned him how
close he and Scotty would come to carrying out the promise.




CHAPTER II

The Flying Stingaree


Someone once said that the Chesapeake Bay "looks like the deck plan of
an octopus," but the mental image created by the phrase tells but a
fraction of the story. Rivers and creeks empty into the bay by the
dozens, and every river, and most of the creeks, have tributaries. Even
some of the tributaries have tributaries. The result is thousands of
miles of navigable waters, forming a maze of waterways that it would
take most of a lifetime of weekend cruising to explore.

The cruising houseboat _Spindrift_ moved steadily across the mouth of
one of the principal waterways of the Eastern Shore, the Choptank River.
It was a good three miles across the river's mouth, and Rick occupied
the time by reading aloud to Scotty, who was piloting.

"'The Choptank River is navigable for large ships to the city of
Cambridge, a principal Eastern Shore port. Yachts will find the river
navigable for twenty miles beyond Cambridge, depending on their draft,
while boats of shallow draft can cruise all the way into the State of
Delaware.'" Rick paused in his reading and looked up. "Be fun to go up
one of these rivers to the source, wouldn't it?"

"Maybe we can," Scotty replied. "Read on."

"'The name Choptank comes from the Choptank Indians who lived in the
area until the middle of the nineteenth century. These Indians were
first discovered by Captain John Smith when he sailed into Chesapeake
Bay in search of a location for what later became the Jamestown
Colony.'"

"We're sailing through history," Scotty commented. "And we'd better step
on it." He pushed the throttles forward. The houseboat accelerated to
its top speed of about twelve miles an hour.

"What's up?" Rick demanded.

"Look to the southwest. That must be one of those Chesapeake Bay squalls
the book warns about."

There was a black line of clouds some distance away, but Rick could see
that the squall line was moving fast, crossing the bay in their
direction. He swung the chart table up and studied the situation. They
were close to the south shore of the Choptank River now, and the chart
showed no easily accessible place of shelter in the vicinity. They would
have to run for the Little Choptank, the next river to the south. The
chart showed several creeks off the Little Choptank. They could duck
into the one nearest the river mouth.

"Can we ride it out if we have to?" Rick asked.

Scotty grinned. "We'll find out, if we have to. But I'd rather not be in
open water when a squall hits this barge. It's not built for storms.
Keep your fingers crossed and hope we get to cover before it hits."

"I hear you talking. I'm going to do a little research." Rick ducked
into the cabin and took the tide tables from the bookshelf. Back on
deck, he leafed through the official publication and found that the
nearest point for tidal data was the Choptank River Light, only a few
miles away and clearly visible. High and low tides at the light were
about three hours and fifteen minutes earlier than Baltimore, the data
station for the area. Rick checked Baltimore data for the date,
subtracted quickly, and glanced at his watch.

"High tide in about a half hour. The chart shows three feet near shore
at mean low water. High tide will bring it up to four and a half at the
very least. That's plenty for this barge. Get inshore and cut corners.
We won't have to stick to the channel."

Scotty swung the wheel instantly, and the houseboat took a new course,
leading them closer to shore. "Better keep an eye out for logs or
pilings," Scotty warned. "No rocks in the area, so we don't have to
worry about shoals."

The wooded shore slid by, the trees gradually giving way to low scrub
and marsh grass as they neared the mouth of the Little Choptank. Rick
alternately kept an eye out ahead and checked their position on the
chart. They were in about five feet of water, more than enough for the
shallow-draft houseboat. His principal worry was the outboard
propellers. He didn't want to break one on a log that might be sticking
up underwater.

The squall was closer now, and the sky was growing dark. Rick estimated
that they had no more than ten minutes before the storm would hit. He
had to look up at a sharp angle to see the storm front. Visibility was
down to zero directly under it. Whitecaps and a roiling sea told him
there was plenty of wind in the squall. He doubted that the houseboat
could head into it successfully. The wind would catch the high cabin
sides and force the houseboat onto the shore.

Scotty swung around the northern tip of land that marked the mouth of
the Little Choptank. "We won't make it," he said, glancing at the chart.

Rick nodded. "But the wind will be behind us. We can drive right into
the mouth of the nearest creek. According to the chart, there's a cove
just inside the mouth where we ought to be out of the wind." He put his
finger on the place, and suddenly a chill ran through him. The nearest
safe harbor was Swamp Creek, where Link Harris had vanished!

There wasn't time to talk about it. He would have to be prepared to drop
the anchor quickly. "I'm going up on the bow," he said. "Once into the
creek, turn as hard as you can into the wind, then cut the power. I'll
heave the anchor over and the wind pressure on the boat can set it. But
keep the motors turning over in case it doesn't hold."

"Got it," Scotty agreed.

Rick stepped out of the cockpit onto the catwalk. The cabin top was just
chest-high, and he could hold on by grabbing the safety rails that ran
along the sides of the large sun deck. He moved swiftly along the walk
to the foredeck, a small semicircular deck used primarily for docking
and anchoring. The anchor line was coiled on a hook on the curving front
of the cabin, and the patent anchor was stowed on the deck itself. Rick
took the coil and faked down the line in smooth figure eights so it
would run out without fouling, then made sure the anchor was free and
ready to go.

When Rick stood up and looked down the length of the cabin top at
Scotty, he saw that the squall was almost on them. The turbulent cloud
front was directly overhead. He saw the wind line, marked by turbulent
water, move swiftly toward the houseboat. The _Spindrift_ rocked as


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