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Power
A Complete G-Men Novel

Featuring Dan Fowler
ACE OF THE F. B. I.

by C. K. M. Scanlon

 The Seeds of War are Planted by a Diabolical Criminal Who Brazenly Defies Humanity 

CHAPTER I
Eternal Mission

THE steam yacht Oro Del Mar nosed eastward through the black void, its white prow splitting the dark waters of the Gulf. A gleaming row of lighted port-holes paled the phosphorescent fire of the roiled waters. Over the still air came the mournful toll of a buoy marker.

Capitan Esteban Garcia stirred restlessly on the glass-inclosed bridge and looked aft to where the official flag of the Republic of Parazilla stood straight in the breeze behind the fast-running boat.

Throughout this entire trip the estimable and efficient Capitan Garcia had displayed that flag of as proud a country as South America could boast. Days, of course. And nights, as well!

Up the west coast of South America ...through the Panama Canal... on along the coast of Hondagua in Central America.

And now, as the Oro Del Mar churned a mid- channel course that took it unerringly for Key West, Florida, the good captain frowned, uncrossed his braid-banded sleeves from over his chest. He leaned forward to listen, his head cocked attentively and his dark eyes flashing in the dim light of the navigation bridge.

Standing to the left of the steersman, the chief mate understood the unspoken question of his superior.

"The channel marker, on the right," he said in his soft, Spanish speech. "It is but a matter of hours now, mi capitan."

The mate, sturdier, calmer of eye and manner than his chief, moved to stand nearer Garcia. The Oro Del Mar's skipper shuddered slightly as the keening of the buoy's bell came louder, seemed to intensify its doleful, melancholy toll.

"Por Dios. I shall not regret when we have reached our port! With so important a man as Don Pedro a passenger—and affairs of the world as tense as they are—" He broke off, slight beads of perspiration making shiny the blur that was his face.

THE mate's face was stolid; but interest showed in the eyes that he turned on his superior.

"But, mi capitan—of what use to worry now?" He shrugged his own unconcern, his man- of-the-sea confidence in himself and in the ship. "De veras—indeed, it is not one's first such journey."

Garcia reached a hand up to tug nervously at his mustache.

"From the first," he confided in a low voice, "misgivings have been heavy on my mind. El Jefe Dyaz himself came to me, himself said, 'Esteban Garcia! It is I—your jefe—who warn you to be on guard at all moments! On the safe deliverance of Don Pedro to the United States rest affairs so great that I—I, myself, dare not consider what the consequences might be!'" The man took a deep breath. "Those were the words of El Jefe Dyaz to me!"

The mate blinked. "En verdad—In truth, mi capitan, there are those who speak of peculiar affairs since the Great One in Europe has made himself to be interested. But, since the day has passed when one could be anything but a Dyachista—"

"Silencio!" Captain Garcia hissed. He slid his eyes covertly to see if the steersman were listening. But the sailor, a mestizo whose high cheek bones, wide, flat face and narrow eyes marked him for the South American-Indian half-breed that he was, was staring woodenly ahead. Then, as if repeating a formula long rehearsed:

"There is but one jefe, and that is El Jefe— Dyaz!"

The mate repeated it after his captain, mechanically. He stepped back to his former post near the steersman, his eyes narrowed, watchful, peering into that dark void for which the yacht speared.

After about ten minutes he tensed slightly, leaned forward and peered through the glassed-in bridge, to the left in the direction of land.

"Mi, capitan," he spoke softly, but with a jolt in his words, "do I mistake when I say that I see lights bearing this way?"

Garcia trained his night glasses in the direction indicated. He lowered them after a moment, his face taut.

"Full speed," he snapped crisply. "Bear slightly to the right. Turn the searchlight—the small one—aft, to shine on our Parazillan official flag. Order all hands to stand by, under arms. Man the machine-gun!"



"Si, mi capitan."

* * * * *

In the great saloon amidships the Oro Del Mar, Don Pedro Mario Cortez del Val y Llantanao sat stiffly erect in a thronelike, high-backed chair and stroked his white goatee with a slender, aristocratic hand. His white hair shone silkily in the soft glow of the indirect lighting. Brown eyes that were mellow, kindly, were focused on the sleekly dark youth who sat behind a small table opposite him, a table that was littered with papers.

Don Pedro was attired in formal evening dress, a sash of brilliant color accentuating the snowy-white perfection of his stiffly starched shirt. The young man opposite him was wearing a dinner jacket, with black tie, and in his button hole was. the colorful bud that signified a high decoration.

But there was no sign of such an honor relieving the severe black of Don Pedro's lapel. For lesser men it was, to wear marks of distinction. It was distinction enough to be Don Pedro Mario Cortez del Val y Llantanao—to be of the great Cortez family at all.

Take all of such marks away—take away the sash that marked him "Envoy Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary"—the impeccably-cut evening clothes and the costly materials of which they were made—take away the enviable title Don, even. It was still a Cortez who sat here—moreover, a Cortez del Val y Llantanao.

WHEN he spoke, his voice was low, rich, musical. "Digo que si, Carlos. I say yes. My mission shall succeed—must succeed." He paused, determination kindling a fire in his eyes. "It is the will of God that the Americas remain amistoso— friendly."

Carlos Agramonte, secretary to Parazilla's richest and most famous citizen, smiled weakly.

"Si, Excelencia. But the gringos, they can be hard people, si?"

"Ay, ay!" Don Pedro chided with a censuring forefinger. "Alas, Carlos, that a diplomat speak disparagingly even before he enters into the conferences which, it is hoped, will accomplish so much for our amistad. Read to me the arrangements upon our landing at Key West."

"Si, Excelencia." The diplomat's secretary took a small, leather-bound memo-book, read from it rapidly. "A special airplane will conduct your excellency and my humble self to Washington, to the gringo capital. We—"

"Be careful, Carlos!" Don Pedro interrupted, a slight chill in his tone.

Agramonte blushed. "Perdoneme Ud., Excelencia." He continued quickly, reading from the book. "An airplane will conduct us to the American capital, and we shall be met and driven to the Parazillan Embassy. It is doubtful that sleep will be permitted for tomorrow," the secretary explained, looking up. "We arrive late and fly five hours."

The statesman dismissed the matter with a negligible wave of his hand.

"Continue, Carlos."

"Conference with Embajador Julio Mercante after breakfast at the Embassy. Conference with Senor Jay B. Marshton, the banker, at ten o'clock in the morning—also at the Embassy. Conferences with Raimondo Correro, Parazillan newspaper publisher, with Senor Cort Rappleyea, of the American State Department, with Senor Gray Burbury, banker and ship owner, as time permits— after the Marshton conference."

Don Pedro nodded. "And, if necessary, conferences with—the President of the United States!" He considered a moment, then smiled slightly. "All is quite in order, Carlos. It gives me pleasure to say that you are a most efficient secretary. Most efficient!"

Young Agramonte flushed with pleasure. "Gracias, Excelencia."

Both men looked at one another inquiringly when the steady vibration of the boat increased suddenly. Don Pedro swayed forward slightly in his chair as the craft altered its course abruptly.

The statesman's eyes were thoughtful a moment before he eased them in another gentle smile.

"A fisherman, perhaps, who gets in the way. Who knows, Carlos, but that it is the President of the United States himself, who is the cause of our altering the course? You remember, it was said over the wireless that he fished for a few days, in Florida waters? At this very moment?"

"Let us hope not!" the young secretary said devoutly.

Don Pedro's smile widened and his eyes glinted with subdued humor.

"Ah, but let up hope it will be, Carlos—let us hope that it will be the President of the United States, if necessary—who shall cause us to alter the course of our ship—" he paused, added almost under his breath—"our Ship of State!"

Agramonte gathered up the papers before him, thrust them into a brief case, and snapped shut the small but strong lock on it. He rose and walked to a small safe whose door stood ajar. He put the dispatch case away carefully, closed the door, twirled the combination dial.



He straightened up suddenly, his eyes on the companionway that led up to the deck. From nearby came a hoarse shout, then a high, long, hail.

"Ahoy, Oro Del Mar," were the words that reached them through one of the opened, screened ports. "Heave to! United States Coast Guard wants to come aboard!"

There was instant and voluble chattering from the men on the deck of the Oro Del Mar with the officers on the bridge. Don Pedro motioned to Agramonte.

"Go see what is wanted," he directed him. "It is probably an escort which has been sent us." Agramonte nodded and quickly went out.

CHAPTER II
"Diplomatic Immunity"

DON PEDRO'S secretary blinked his eyes into the beam that was directed at the deck of the ship. He raised his hand and pointed to the ensign that fluttered from the stern of the yacht.

"Parazillan envoy on official business," he shouted, in good English. "Key West is our destination. We do not need help. Thank you!"

He could see the other boat now. It was a small coastal patrol boat, with two guns, mounted one fore and one aft. What appeared to be its full crew—some half dozen men—manned the deck on the near side. One of them, wearing a white cap with officer's insignia, answered him through a megaphone.

"We know all about it," he said curtly. "Heave to! Government orders!"

Agramonte frowned and was about to argue the matter; but Don Pedro had heard, had ascended to the deck. The envoy bowed slightly to the man in charge of the Coast Guard boat.

"This is indeed unusual," he said in his rich, musical voice and superb English. "But—since we are your guests—" He relayed the order to Captain Garcia, on the bridge.

The Oro Del Mar's screws stopped turning and it glided silently a moment, then churned into reverse. The Coast Guard craft came alongside and made fast. Its commander disdained seeing the ladder being lowered for his use from the higher deck of the yacht.

One of the gobs hooked a boarding ladder to the rail of the Oro Del Mar and the officer went up it agilely, followed by three of his men. Two others, in the conventional dark-blue working garb and dark, pull-down knitted hats of United States sailors, manned the machine-guns.

The man in officer's uniform wore a service automatic in the holster strapped to his leg. He was a tall man—a full two inches over six feet, dwarfing the envoy and his secretary.

"Who's in charge here?" His eyes rested on Agramonte, then shifted to Don Pedro, took in his sashed, white shirt-bosom. "You?"

"I," the diplomat answered slowly, "am Don Pedro Cortez del Val y Llantanao, Envoy Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary from the Republic of Parazilla. What can I do for you, sir?"

"Oh." The officer blinked, seemed to consider the matter a moment. He saluted briefly, then came to the point. "Sorry, sir," he said, his voice not in the slightest sorry, "but we have orders to stop you and search for certain contraband reported to be aboard."

"What?" Don Pedro's eyes went round. "This is—unheard of! I, sir, am a diplomat accredited to a mission of peace in your waters—a mission of eternal peace between our countries. Do you understand"—he dropped his eyes to the gold stripes on the man's arms—"Lieutenant?"

The officer stared long and steadily. He shifted his weight, his eyes taking in the armed sailors on the Oro Del Mar.

"I understand my orders," be said tersely, when he spoke again. "And I can't help it if your mission is eternal, or infernal, or what it is. I have orders to search this ship, and she's going to be searched. Get it?"

DON PEDRO flushed and an angry light came into his eyes. Agramonte cursed softly in Spanish and moved forward. But the envoy stopped him.

"Carlos! Stop! My mission, as I have said, is one of peace. These men shall be permitted their outrageous request." He swung to the officer again. "I wish your name and command, Lieutenant. And I warn you that you shall answer for this!"

The Guard officer nodded. "Lieutenant Guy S. Dobsen, Key West Station. Commanding Guard Patrol Number Naught-four-one-two." He thumbed at the numerals visible on the side of the boat that had swung clear to cover the decks of the Oro Del Mar. "Take 'em down if you want, on paper." His eyes narrowed at the arms the Parazillan sailors held at ready.

"Tell your men to ground their arms," he snapped. "The United States Navy isn't used to having ordnance shoved under its nose. Not in its own waters!"

Don Pedro gave the command in a low, flat voice. The American officer nodded his head in the direction of the stacked rifles on the deck.



"You, Curry—take charge of those rifles. Pass them to Norris, on the boat. When we're through, we can return 'em."

Agramonte proved the efficient secretary still. He had whipped out a notebook, was writing in it. The Yank officer ignored him.

"Hart!"

"Yes, Lieutenant Dobsen."

"Strip the deck guns of all ammo. Throw that over to the boat, too. Then frisk the men for small arms."

"Yes, Lieutenant Dobsen." The gob did his job swiftly, tossed his find across the narrow gap of water and into a net that was propped in readiness off the deck of the patrol boat.

Don Pedro's face was pale, his eyes burning. "Are you quite ready to explain what it is you are looking for, Lieutenant?"

"Dope."

The diplomat staggered and raised a hand to his heart. Agramonte steadied him.

"Dope," the envoy muttered. "Ah, what a serious thing it is you are doing, sir! This is an insult that I cannot brook!"

"No?" The American officer stepped over and before the statesman knew what he was about he had patted his pockets expertly. He searched Agramonte, also.

"Everybody below deck," he snapped, motioning to the crew with his hand. When they didn't move quickly enough to suit him, he slid his .45 Navy automatic out and handled it carelessly. It did the trick.

Back in the saloon, Don Pedro made his way to his chair, seated himself with dignity and composure.

"You men will remain quiet until our hosts have satisfied themselves that they have made an error." His eyes glittered with a fury that he couldn't altogether suppress. "But nothing will alter the consequences of this—this affront!"

The Yank officer was boredly efficient. "Curry and Hart—search the crew quarters, then the sleeping cabins." He swung to Agramonte. "Open that safe in the corner, please."

"Par Dios, no!" the secretary gasped. "Papers of state are there, Lieutenant. I assure you that is all. You can no more violate that safe than you could—than you could our Parazillan Treasury!"

"Open!" Don Pedro commanded in a low voice, "Open, Carlos!"

"Si Exceleacia, " the youth hissed. His eyes were raging when he stooped, twirled the dial, opened the safe door. The Naval officer stared in, reached and pulled out the briefcase, saw the lock.

"Unlock this."

"No!" Don Pedro snapped. "Seal the safe, if you wish, with that case in it, and leave a man to guard it until we shall land. But—it is not to be opened. Not if—"

THE Coast Guardsman had the thing in his hand, was whacking at the little lock with the butt end of his .45 service automatic. He jostled Agramonte aside when the youngster jumped to stop him.

"Lay off that," he snapped. "One more move like that one and I'll fix you so you won't interfere again!"

The lock broke, fell to the carpeted floor. The officer jerked the papers out, shook them apart, threw them onto the table. He examined the interior of the leather dispatch case carefully, scanned the thing for hidden pockets or recesses.

"This is clear," he said smoothly, passing it back to the secretary.

The Parazilans were silent, white-faced. A ship's clock tinkled musically on the table. The American officer blinked, stared at it.

"One bell, on the night watch," he mused. "That's twelve-thirty at night, to you landlubbers. Hmm! Pretty funny time for a diplomat to be docking."

"I dock where I wish and when I wish," Don Pedro said shortly. "I do not hold my movements or actions accountable to a sailor."

The Yank shrugged. "It's okay with me," he said flatly. "Just so long as you don't try to dock with any dope aboard. I've got my duty to perform, and I'll—" He broke off as a shout of triumph, then a tramp of feet sounded outside the saloon. The two gobs came into view, each carrying a small, tightly wrapped and sealed package. One of them patted his find grimly.

"Where'd you find those?"

"One of the main cabins, sir." He upended the thing, showed the hole he had torn in the wrappings. Stacks of small, square tins were revealed. He passed the lieutenant one of the tins that he had taken out, and was now carrying in his band. "It's 'snow,' sir."

The American officer pried the top of the thing off, blinked at the white powder inside, then sniffed it cautiously. He turned to Don Pedro and Agramonte, his eyes hard.

"This does it, gentlemen!"

The Parazillan diplomat shook his head uncomprehendingly.

"But—but I have never before seen those packages, Lieutenant. Never! I do not understand!"

"You stopped at the port of Calaya, in Hondagua—Central America?"



"But, yes. For a matter of several hours, and purchased some gifts for my friends in the United States."

"Customs check them? Did they check your purchases?"

"Certainly not!" His lips curved in an ironic smile. "In civilized countries, my good Lieutenant, diplomatic privileges are observed."

The officer stuck the tin in his hip pocket; but it fell to the floor, bursting open. He ignored it.

"These are a few presents that your friends won't get, when you arrive in the United States," he said drily. "Not unless they call on you in jail, and the authorities are suckers enough to give the stuff back to you." He smiled tightly. "Diplomatic immunity, eh?"

Don Pedro's eyes were incredulous. "But— you mean?" He broke off, swallowed visibly, waved his hands helplessly. "You cannot mean you think I had knowledge of this? My dear fellow, I—"

The American officer was impatient. "Tell it to the authorities," he snapped. "I have my orders. You're under arrest, Don Pedro! Come with me!"

CHAPTER III
Peace—and War!

THE Parazillan envoy lost all semblance of control. He came to his feet with a volley of imprecations pouring from his white lips.

"You insolent dog! Get off my ship this moment. This moment! You hear?

Make your report to your gringo authorities, and take with you those packages. But leave my ship!"

The Coast Guard officer slid his automatic out of its holster again. "You, Curry and Hart—take him along. I'll keep these men covered. Slam him onto our boat, and put him in irons if he doesn't sit still."

The proud blood of a thousand years pounded fiercely in the veins of Don Pedro. He moved quickly to the desk, opened it, took out a revolver and placed it on the table.

"You have flouted the flag of my country, sir. You have insulted me. You have violated the sacredness of State papers and documents. But you will not take me from this ship—from what is technically Parazillan territory—without armed resistance!" He paused, every muscle in his body trembling with the rage that was in him.

"Should you or your men make one move to take me, should you so much as put a hand on me —I shall shoot to kill!"

The, Yank officer might not have heard, for all the effect it had on him.

"Snap into it, men. Look alive! Didn't you hear my order?"

The gobs moved swiftly. And so did Don Pedro. He reached out a slender hand, grasped the revolver, started to bring it up. The Navy officer shook his head sadly, almost, put pressure on his trigger finger.

Three shots crashed deafeningly in the low- ceilinged confines of the place. Acrid smoke curled from the snout of the American officer's gun. A dull, stupefied silence fell over those others in the room as Don Pedro was slammed back and across the desk by the sheer force of the slugs that blasted his sash-decorated bosom.

The Parazillan sailors looked on woodenly, impassively. The officers in the place blinked their eyes, stared as if uncomprehendingly from the American officer to the envoy who was struggling to push himself erect from the desk.

"Madre de Dios," Agramonte choked, his eyes bulging.

Even the American gobs seemed stunned by the thing, their eyes wide, their faces blank. The envoy's secretary forced his paralyzed nerves to act, forced his legs to step forward, to carry him stiffly, mechanically, to his master's side.

"Don Pedro!" he whispered brokenly. "Por Dios, Don Pedro, you are not-not-?" He couldn't bring himself to finish it. Nor could he move for the moment as Don Pedro tried again to sit up, slid off the desk and fell to the carpet. An ugly pool of crimson formed under his left arm, spread in an ever widening, dark blotch on the light-colored material of the flooring.

THE American officer bit his lip uncertainly. "Curry! Take two of these sailors with you to drop anchor. You, Hart—radio an emergency ashore." Then, when the man had started, "No! Hold it a minute!"

He considered in a silence that was broken only by the stertorous breathing of the envoy. Agramonte was bending over Don Pedro, was now lifting him gently, propping the stricken diplomat against the side of the desk. The man's shirt front was torn raggedly and a steady stream of blood was pulsing down it.

The Navy man moved. "Just drop anchor for the Oro Del Mar. Take those packages of dope aboard the patrol boat. I'll come aboard her in a few minutes. Then we'll radio for an emergency boat to come out here and take over. Better still— we'll radio and make for shore to file our report."

He tapped Agramonte on the shoulder, spoke his instructions slowly, distinctly.



"Those are orders," he said. "You are not to weigh anchor until one of our sea patrol boats stands by and gives orders for it. Understand?"

Agramonte's eyes were dazed, uncomprehending. Captain Garcia nodded his head, spoke with the horror that was in him.

"I—onnerstan'," he said brokenly.

The Navy officer's eyes were hard. "See that you remember," he snapped. "One move of this boat to get away and we'll blast it clear out of the water. Let's go, men!"

*   *   *   *   *

Don Pedro was stretched out on the divan of the main saloon, his face drawn and white, his white goatee flecked with the blood that was spraying from his shrunken lips with every gasp of his breath.

Captain Garcia and his men were gathered in a silent huddle behind the dying man's head. The young secretary, Agramonte, knelt at Don Pedro's side, his eyes full of many things.

"Are you in pain, Excelencia?"

The man's breathing stilled a moment. His rapidly filming eyes moved, rested without recognition on his secretary.

"I ... come for ... peace," he murmured. "For ... peace, amigos!"

Agramonte turned his head. "Capitan Garcia. It is how long now since the murdering gringos departed?" There was hatred in his voice, his eyes, his taut face.

Garcia looked at the clock. "It is not yet two o'clock," he said. "I should say, perhaps close to an hour and a half, they left us."

"So! You will order your radio man above deck, send a call for help—to the Parazillan Government! You will say, 'The Oro Del Mar was halted by a United States Navy boat, its envoy brutally shot and dying, that we are helpless to move under threat of gunfire by the gringo navy.' You will say—" He paused. Don Pedro was speaking...

"I come for peace," the rapidly fading man was whispering. "And—I have found... peace!"

The envoy struggled to catch his breath, moved his hand as if to ease the rattling that started in his throat. His hand came halfway up, paused— then fell lifelessly to his side again.

Don Pedro lay utterly still, his glazed eyes filled with an understanding that was beyond the ken of living man. The illustrious descendant of an illustrious family bed joined his ancestors in their Hall of Honor.

Don Pedro Mario Cortex del Val y Llantanao was dead—his 'eternal mission of peace' realized.

AT the Key West Coast Guard basin, the radio operator stirred and sat erect at the signal that flashed on his board. He yawned, stretched, looked at the U. S. Naval Observatory clock on the wall. He reached for his pencil, pulled an official message pad close.

He was bored when he said, "Go ahead, Naught-four-one-two. What you got this time—a couple of drunken sponge fisherman? Or a bunch of landlubbers running without lights?"

He listened a moment, blinked his eyes, pinched himself. "Huh? Come again! And don't kid me, this time. You say you stopped the Oro Del Mar, the Parazillan yacht, and—what?"

The man listened, wrote mechanically for a minute, then dropped his pencil and stared open- mouthed at the board in front of him.

"You're reporting to the basin immediately.... Right—I got it." He snapped the key closed, sat stiffly in his chair. His lips moved, but it was a full minute before they could say anything.

"War!" he whispered in awe as his chair scraped back.

* * * * *

The skeleton force on duty at the State Department in Washington rubbed their eyes and stared at the young Assistant Secretary who jumped for a telephone.

"I wouldn't call the Secretary at this time," one of the crew ventured. "Unless—" He paused, blinked at what he saw in the other's eyes. "Is it very important?"

"War!" was the whispered answer he got.

* * * * *

The radio man at the Navy Department offices nodded grimly to the orders of a disheveled admiral, snapped words into the mouthpiece of his set.

"Destroyer three-six-three—proceed at full steam to Parazillan State boat, Oro Del Mar, position—" He rattled off the latitude and longitude given him. Then: "Place heavy guard around Key West Coast Guard basin. All officers and men of patrol boat Naught-four-one-two are to be placed under arrest, aboard boat. Got it?"

"War!" he grunted, as the harried admiral raced for another office.

* * * * *

At the F.B.I. offices in the great building on Pennsylvania Avenue, the night operator turned to the Director of the famed manhunters.

"Inspector Fowler has his orders, sir: 'Drop all personal work on Exdine case ... report Washington Headquarters immediately.'"



"And? Where is Dan Fowler now?"

"Speeding to the Cincinnati airport, sir. A special plane is waiting for him there." The man scratched his head, considered risking the wrath of the famous Director. "Must be something extra important, sir?"

"Murder on the high seas," the head of the F.B.I. clipped out savagely. "Improper seizure of a foreign government's property—ruthless disregard of diplomatic immunity—violation of all international ethics—and murder of the Parazillan Envoy Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary—by the United States Navy!" He smiled grimly. "There's a shorter word for it....

"War!"

CHAPTER IV
A Nation's Honor

O NTO the great building on Pennsylvania Avenue, in Washington, that houses the Department of Justice strode a tall, powerfully muscled man whose rugged, irregular features and steely gray eyes were known with fear and awe by a thousand big-time crooks.

His conservative, well-cut gray suit was molded to broad, muscle-sheathed shoulders and chest, but hung at loose ease over his flat, washboard belly and slim hips. His faultlessly pressed trousers couldn't hide the bulge of muscle of his column-like legs, and his shoes, of soft, tough leather, seemed impelled by hidden springs. A snap-brim hat of gray felt was pulled low over his forehead, as if he wished to hide his identity.

But respectful voices acknowledged his progress down the long inside hall—respectful voices in which there was more than a tinge of the tension that had gripped Washington.

"Morning, Inspector!"..."How are you, Mr. Fowler?" ... "Hi, Dan!" ...

But cutting through these greetings came the shouted, scare-lines of street newsboys, wafted on the air from the street below through the open windows of the F. B. I. offices...

"Wuxtry! Wuxtry! Parazillan Ambassador Delivers Ultimatum To State Department! ... Don Pedro's Murder Termed Barbaric Outrage By Two European Dictators! ... Two U. S. Cruisers Speeding To Rio Paulo, Parazilla, To Protect American Citizens And Property!"

Dan Fowler, ace manhunter of the most brilliant and daring crew of crime-busters in the world, the Federal Bureau of Investigation— accelerated his pace. He rounded a turn in the corridor, rapped twice, sharply, on a door that bore the inscription: Office Of The Director.

His strong, browned hand twisted the knob and he strode into a small entry-room. An alert lad seated at a small desk nodded and jerked his head in the direction of an inner door.

"The Director is expecting you, Mr. Fowler."

Dan Fowler, Nemesis of five score of the most vicious racketeers ever to be put behind the bars of a prison cell, stopped before this second door, rapped again—but waited, this time.

"Come in!"

It was a tense, low voice that spoke; and the man Dan Fowler faced when he stepped noiselessly into the room and shut the door after him, was tense of face and eyes, lines of care and worry creasing his square, rugged face.

"Well, Dan? You've bean in touch with Key West?"

There was nothing in the face of the star investigator of the F. B. I. to indicate he had spent a sleepless night—racing over the mountainous West Virginia country in a plane, bisecting the north portion of Virginia at more than two hundred miles an hour, swirling down to a landing at the U. S. Army's Bolling Field, there to be whirled in a speeding armored car to the F.B.I. offices.

His clear, gray eyes and his fresh complexion bore no hint of the more than three hours of speedy but careful checking he had done on the international incident of but eight hours past in the Gulf of Mexico.

He extracted four sheets of closely typed lines from his inside pocket, placed them on the desk in front of his superior.

"Casey, of the Jacksonville field office, is in full charge, sir. The local police there, the Navy Department, the Coast Guard and the Narcotics. Division is trying to get a wedge in the case."

"That's out!" the Director snapped. "The uproar here in Washington is bad enough—with ambassadors tearing into the State Department in their shirt sleeves, Navy executives radioing instructions helter-skelter all over the world, all Army and Navy leaves canceled and the nation picking up each new rumor and blowing it into a balloon of panicky half-truths. At Key West, of all places, we must have level-headed thinking and calm, unbiased investigation!"

DAN FOWLER nodded. "Casey has his orders, sir. 'Crime on the High Seas' comes under our bureau. He has six crack agents with him at the Coast Guard basin, and the cooperation of the commandant there."



"Good." The Director snapped a look at his watch. "We're due for a talk with Cort Rappleyea, Assistant Secretary of State, at noon. Let's go over the groundwork of the case new."

"Right, sir." Fowler picked up the papers from the desk, ticked off some items, rapidly, the Director nodding as he digested each bit of information.

"Identity of CG-0412 established beyond question. It is the offending craft. Footprints on Deck of the Oro Del Mar coincide with those of certain members of the crew.

"Fingerprints of Lieutenant Dobsen, commanding CG-0412, developed from tin ascertained to have contained cocaine, and dropped by Dobsen in the main saloon of the Oro."

The Director frowned his impatience and stirred restlessly; but he didn't interrupt. Dan Fowler, he knew, wasted no time with anything that was non-essential. His chief bore with the peculiarly trivial matter of crew identification, for the moment.

"Four members of the Guard patrol have been identified by name," Fowler went on. "Personal identification by those aboard the Oro Del Mar is not so definite, however." Fowler raised his eyes to his chief s before be continued:

"Carlos Agramonte, Oro passenger, contends that guns, ammunition and two strange packages, alleged by the boarders of the Parazillan boat to have contained drugs, were removed to CG-0412.

No trace of these can be found! "Complete check of crew of CG-0412 has been made through the Treasury Department by this bureau. All men aboard are of highest caliber. Inquiry has been made into their families and private lives by our various field offices, with full details in my hands now."

The Director raised an impatient hand. "Dan! The President is on a fishing trip off the Florida coast. The Parazillan Ambassador has demanded a satisfactory explanation within forty-eight hours. Two European governments are demanding an explanation, due to their pacts and understandings with Parazilla. A war is only a matter of hours away—unless we can work a major miracle through our investigation and the swift, tactful handling of Parazilla by our State Department!"

"Yes, sir. I know that. The papers, the radio, the crowds on the street—"

"Then, why take up time with this sort of detail? What reason does Lieutenant Dobsen give for his highhanded actions, for his cold-blooded murder of Don Pedro, for his flouting of the sanctity of State papers?"

Fowler's eyes were a flat, slate gray when he answered his chief.

"I have had a long talk with the Coast Guard commandant at Key West, over the telephone. What he told me, and what Casey confirmed, made me ask for Dobsen himself, on the wire. I got him."

"And?"

"The entire crew of CG-0412 has issued a flat denial of the charge, despite the evidence I have just cited you. Not a man-jack aboard the Coast Guard patrol boat seems to know what the uproar is all about!"

THE Director's eyes went wide with the stunning statement.

"But they lie! They're just trying to cover up, Dan!" He paused for a moment. Then: "Did you have the log book checked? What's the last entry?"

The crack investigator's eyes went back to his notes:

  • 11:50 P.M.—Unknown advises. Yacht Oro Del Mar believed carrying drugs. Am proceeding immediately to intercept vessel.
  • 12:20 A.M.—Oro Del Mar sighted and hailed. Am boarding her with a search squad.
  • 12:40 A.M.—Oro Del Mar boarded. Parazillan Envoy, Don Pedro Mario Cortez del Val y Llantanao protested seizure of drugs, offered resistance to arrest. Was forced to shoot. Proceeding Key West basin immediately, after warning Oro Del Mar to remain at anchor pending instructions from us.

"The last entry," Fowler said slowly as he read off these items, "is: Two-ten a.m.—Nearing basin. Have advised CG Station of actions and am reporting for further orders."

"My God!" the Director of the F. B. I. breathed. "Down in black and white—for all the world to read! Dan—the honor of our country hinges on those entries. Had Dobsen and his men been drunk, it would have been bad enough. Reparations—apologies—trade concessions harmful to us—and loss of face the world over would have been inevitable in any case. But with this brazen murder and the cool, unvarnished report in the log book—"

He broke off to answer one of the telephones on his desk.

"What?... Oh, Mr. Rappleyea!... Yes!... When?... In an hour?... Yes, of course, Mr. Rappleyea, I'll be there and bring Fowler with me." He paused for a moment, then seemed to make a sudden decision.

"Mr. Rappleyea?... We're not satisfied with things as they are developing at Key West. I'm ordering the impounding of the patrol boat's log book and strict orders are going to be given to turn the investigation over to my star investigator, Dan Fowler....Fine!"



The Director of the bureau dropped the telephone back on its cradle.

"In one hour, we are to meet at Rappleyea's office with the Parazillan Ambassador, Don Julio Mercante; and the two most important American business men in South and Central American affairs are to be there to lend what help and advice they can. Lay your lines to get away as soon as possible after the conference. I'm putting you in charge of this investigation, Dan—at Key West! Casey will have the necessary instructions from me."

"I'd like to have Larry Kendal with me, sir. He knows how I work and can save a lot of time in any side investigations that may come up." The Director's face was eased by a smile; but his eyes were heavy. "You wouldn't care for Sally Vane along?"

Fowler grinned as he got his papers together. It didn't take the keen insight of the master of the greatest crime busters in the history of the world to know that Dan Fowler was in love with Sally Vane, comely daughter of a martyred Western sheriff, and now one of the F.B.I.'s cleverest undercover agents. Some day, when Dan Fowler could hang up his guns and turn from the scientific detection of crime—

Fowler grinned. "I don't think I'll take Sally along, sir. Too many Navy uniforms floating around the Florida waters, and you know how the girls are about a blue coat and a bit of braid!"

"Kendal's yours," Fowler's chief barked. "Contact Key West again; issue your orders pending your arrival, and meet me at Rappleyea's office in one hour."

CHAPTER V
Conference

BIG and solid-looking, Dan Fowler sat quietly in a chair against the wall of Cort Rappleyea's large office in the State Department. The Assistant Secretary, a dark, lanky, brooding type of man, was stretched at long- legged ease in a chair in back of a huge desk. The Director of the F. B. I. sat at his right, the profiles of the two men visible to Fowler. Across the desk, in leather easy-chairs, sat the two acknowledged experts in the United States on South and Central American business affairs.

One of them, Gray Burbury, head of an internationally known shipping and banking house, stared gloomily at his big-knuckled hands, his blue eyes troubled. His broad shoulders were perceptibly drooped.

The second of the two, Jay B. Marshton, promoter, Wall Street wizard and a power in Central America, was the calmer of the two. The noonday sun streamed in through the high window and etched the silver spots that dotted the otherwise reddish, curly crop of hair of the man. He was shorter than Burbury by many inches, but stocky, solid, compact. His pale blue eyes were calm but alert.

The sixth man in the room was Larry Kendal, Dan Fowler's dark, dapper sidekick in the F.B.I. and an outstanding agent of that body of crime smashers. Kendal sat at the opposite side of the room to Dan, his black eyes watchful and interested.

"I'll just sum up the things we know, gentlemen," the suave Rappleyea was saying. "First: El Jefe Dyaz, the pint-sized but potent South American dictator and President of Parazilla, has a powerful junta of the military gang backing him up in his own country—and in five other re- publics in South America.

"Second: Our—ah—private sources of information have assured us that El Jefe is working his destiny out with the steering and backing of two of Europe's most theatrical and desperate dictators. Reason? A 'sphere of influence' in trade matters in South America, with an aim to cut the U. S. A. out of the limelight. The same—er— private sources assure us that if this is effected, Central America is the next goal of this European 'sphere of influence'."

Burbury interrupted with a blunt, "Do you mind if I ask your 'private' sources of information?"

"I don't mind a bit if you ask it, so long as you don't mind if I don't answer it," Rappleyea parried.

Burbury flushed. Jay Marshton made no attempt to cover the grin of appreciation that eased his mouth. Studying the neat, red-haired man, Dan Fowler felt an instinctive respect for him. He sensed in the former soldier of fortune the same daring, the same smoothness, the same playing of hazardous angles that had brought them both to the top of their calling—Marshton, to a position of power in Central America and of great influence in the Hondaguan "banana" republic; and Fowler to the pinnacle of success in scientific but hazardous detection of crime.

"In the interests of your country, gentlemen," Rappleyea said, "I am asking your full cooperation. You are both versed in Latin- American politics and affairs of finance. Doubtless, Mr. Burbury, you were to have conferred with Don Pedro on his visit?"



The dour financier nodded. "I have sunk millions into Parazilla. Millions! This outrageous affair may break me!"

Marshton smiled in a manner which indicated the grain-of-salt with which he took the dire prediction.

"Tell them the rest of it, Burbury! I haven't been able to get a breath of Parazillan air, even, in more than five years—let alone a trade set-up with them." He paused, gesturing significantly.

"Pfut go all my chances now," he continued. "I, too, was, to have conferred with Don Pedro on his arrival. Who knows what benefits might have resulted from my talk with him?" He shrugged. "Quien sabe?"

Burbury glowered at him; but Marshton appeared not to notice.

"Knowing El Jefe's temper as you do, Mr. Burbury," the Assistant Secretary said, "what is your suggestion of the proper handling of this with least possible loss to us?"

"Build a bigger and better navy," the man growled. "Apologize, make full reparation within the dictates of justice to both sides. But stand firm against any unreasonable attitude El Jefe might assume."

"And if it means war?"

"Then it means war!"

Rappleyea stared at the man for a silent moment.

"Very helpful," he murmured. "What is your opinion, Mr. Marshton?"

"I have no shipping lines that the government would take over at a large profit, in the event of war," the red-headed man smiled, his eyes taunting Burbury. "My idea is, the State Department should make every effort to pacify Don Julio Mercante's government. Parazilla will hardly attack us. Unless we attack them, the European spheres of influence will not act."

Burbury was on his feet, reaching for his hat. "I came here to assist, not to be insulted." He bowed stiffly to Rappleyea; but Marshton eased the tension with a laugh.

"Now, Burbury, old man! Let's not add to the day's hardships by rowing." He yawned. "I jumped out of bed as soon as my valet woke me with the shocking news at eleven o'clock."

Dan Fowler grunted. He'd had four hours' sleep in two nights. Lying in bed until eleven o'clock of the morning struck him as the height of luxury.

"That's better," Rappleyea smiled tightly when Burbury's face eased. "We've got to keep our heads and our tempers in this thing. The President has called for the full facts to be radioed his yacht, and the matter is in the capable hands of Inspector Fowler, of the F.B.I., who will take charge at Key West."

Burbury turned. "I thought the Coast Guard came under the Treasury Department, or Navy Department? What's the Attorney General's office got to do with this?"

The Director of the F.B.I. frowned. "Crime On The High Seas," he said. His eyes twinkled as he added calmly: "I trust you have no bias against my Bureau, Mr. Burbury?"

"Why, no," Burbury said hastily. "You've got a fine organization and I think you've done a great job. Yes, a great job."

"Well, Dan?" the Director said as Burbury left.

"We're off, sir. We'll advise you of any developments."

"Work fast!" the Director warned them. "There is very little time in which to give the President the full, searching report he wants."

Fowler and Kendal jumped into one of the Bureau's high-speed, armored cars and were driven rapidly to the flying field.

CHAPTER VI
The Leak

THE sun was going down when the speedy cabin job roared high over the mainland and stitched a straight route above the tiny, mangrove-covered islands that stretched from the tip of Florida's mainland westward in the Gulf of Mexico.

The rays of Old Sol brushed purple streaks of color across the aquamarine blue of the water below. Above them, the still clouds on the far horizon raised castellated shapes of every hue, seeming to grow from a mother-of-pearl base high in the heavens and as colorful as an artist's conception of The Land of Oz.

Dan Fowler blinked his eyes in wonder at the beauty of it all. But he directed Larry Kendal's attention to the keys that were strung far below.

"Those keys have a history as horrible as the darkest dungeons of the Spanish Inquisition," he said. "The last stronghold of the most murderous pirates ever to infest any seas. The roaring typhoons that sweep across them with scarcely any warning, the treacherous channels, the savage sharks and the ferocious schools of barracuda that lie in wait there were nothing when compared to the bloodthirsty marauders who made those keys their headquarters."

Kendal stared down and shook his head. "But they're all gone now, those lads."

"Yes." Dan Fowler considered the thing, his eyes narrowed. "The marauders have gone smooth, have swapped their cutlasses for machine-guns, their dirks for automatics. They have spread from the keys to every nook and corner of the United States. Four million of them, Larry! Think of it! Enough crooks and racketeers to make a city twice the size of Chicago, if they were all gathered in one spot."



"Yes," Kendal agreed soberly. "Just think of wiping out a city twice the size of Chicago. Some job, that! But it's a tougher job when they are scattered to the four winds of the nation!" The taciturn pilot turned in his seat in front of them and grimaced.

"Hey! Cut it out, will you? You're giving me the willies!"

Fowler chuckled. "Don't tell me a crack pilot like you is scared of anything?"

The man grunted. "Listen, Inspector—I'm glad you got me to pilot you! Once in a while, I get fed up with my job; but when I hear you fellows talk, I'm tickled to have some work in the clear, clean reaches of the sky!"

When the finger of land on which Key West was situated slid into view, the pilot cut the throttle and eased the speedy plane down in a slanting glide. Fowler, staring down through the tilted window at his side, saw a huge crowd gathered near the hangars. Farther away, another mass of humanity was clustered close to a wharf.

"From the amount of interest, I gather that's the Coast Guard basin over yonder." He indicated the water front to Kendal.

The pilot twisted down the sky trail gracefully and set his wheels smoothly on the ground. He was taxiing for the hangar space when Fowler saw a long, sleek limousine dart out from a parking space and speed across the tarmac.

"Hold it!" he called to the aviator. "Here comes a car. We'll climb down here." He twisted the handle of the cabin door and jumped down, his heavy suitcase in his hand. Kendal followed.

THE black car screamed to a stop, whirling up a cloud of dust from the dry field. Both doors swung open simultaneously, and three men hopped out of the car—two from the rear seat, one from the front. It was the driver of the car who spoke.

"Inspector Fowler? I'm Garret-son, one of Bill Casey's men. The director just telephoned that he wants you to hop back to Miami, with us, to follow a lead on the dope smuggling there!"

Fowled blinked. His eyes ranged ever the three men—from the stocky, dark one who had introduced himself as Garretson, to the others—a tall, clean-featured man with a wide, straight mouth; and a slim chap with a slight stoop and a scar on his left cheek.

Kendal started to toss his suitcase back into the ship; but Fowler stopped him.

"Who drives the automobile back to— wherever it came from?"

The scar-faced little man slithered away. "I don't have to go. I can take it back."

"Hold it!" Fowler snapped. Kendal turned in astonishment, dropped his suitcase when he saw the hardness that had come over the crack investigator's face. "Just stand where you are a minute, you!"

The lanky, strong-mouthed man laughed slightly.

"The inspector has never seen us before, fellows. He needs some identification." The man's hand started for his jacket lapel, but never reached there. Dan Fowler whipped his automatic from his convenient shoulder holster and covered him.

"Don't even give it a thought," he growled. "There's something phony about this!" But the big fellow tried to beat him to it.

Fowler's gun crashed, shattering that hand with a .38 slug. The strong-featured man cursed slowly and jammed his left hand for his hip. The ace G-man Fired again, his slug drilling the man through the left breast as he attempted to sidestep. The man staggered and went down as his two companions swarmed into the car and started away.

Kendal had his gun out, was firing with care and precision at the tires of the fleeing car. With the third crash of his heavy gun the automobile listed dangerously to the left. There were shouts of excitement from the crowd by the far hangar and a stampede started as the black car hurtled squarely for them. The sound of a police siren was raised in the distance, shrieked louder and nearer with a banshee wail.

"I got his left front tire," Kendal shouted to Fowler. "He's—Oh, the fool!"

ANOTHER car had swung onto the tarmac. The retreating automobile tried to swerve to the right, keeled dangerously, went over with a sickening carumpf and a tinkling of shattered glass.

The crowd was running for it when a cry of horror broke from the foremost of them. A tongue of flame had started from the hood of the overturned car, was blooming into a hissing, crackling inferno.

"Give me a hand, Larry!" Dan Fowler barked. He jumped to the side of the fallen man, knelt to give him a hurried examination. But one look at the wide-staring, glassy eyes and he knew that the man, whoever he was, had pulled his last bluff, made his last go for a gun.



Kendal shook his head puzzledly. "But—how did you guess it, Dan? Did you recognize one of these fellows?"

Fowler smiled grimly. "I know Casey," he said. "And I know the F.B.I. Casey wouldn't use a scar-faced man on a new field investigation; he'd be too easily marked and it would be a dead give- away! Also, the case we're on is too important for us to be shunted off on something else. And besides, the F.B.I. isn't concerned with narcotic smugglers!"

The second car screamed up. Two uniformed men of the local police jumped out and raced back to the scene of the fire. A third, with the insignia of a sergeant on his arms, came near, a stocky, severe-faced man behind him. Fowler nodded to the police officer.

"See if you know that man, Sergeant." He faced the severe man in civilian clothes. "Hello, Casey. I thought I'd remember you."

"Inspector Fowler! You're not hurt, are you? What happened?

Dan Fowler's face was grim. "Someone expected me! You understood my orders—that my trip here was to be kept quiet?"

"I never said a word!" Casey protested. "Not even the boys with me know you are coming!" Fowler considered, nodded. "You got a man named Garretson?"

"Yes, Inspector. At the basin this minute. Why?"

"The driver of that burning car said he was Garretson, that a call had come from the Director to have me go back to Miami with him and the other two."

Casey's face wore a look of stunned amazement.

"But—but—"

"The call 'Garretson' reported was framed. There's been a leak someplace, and the plan was to get Larry Kendal and me out of the way... somewhere on the route to Miami!"

The sergeant was back. "Ah never saw that bird in mah life," he said, his dark eyes curious. "And that car is strange, too!"

Fowler nodded. "We'll find out who he was," he promised, grimly. "These fellows had a clever move planned, but they stripped badly." He frowned at the mob that was coming nearer.

"Better get some more men and hold them back," he told the sergeant. "We've got a little work to do here, and we don't want to be the least bit crowded."

"Hey!" It was the pilot of the plane, leaning out of his cabin window. "Would you mind very much if I got the hell out of here and back where it's safe?"

Dan Fowler's "Take it away!" was drowned by the roar of the wide-open motor.

CHAPTER VII
The Broken Screens

A CORDON of police forced the car back. The sergeant returned when he had things under control.

"Anything else Ah can do to help, Inspector?"

"We'd like to use your morgue at the station house, Sergeant," Fowler answered.

"Sho' thing! Ah've read a lot about—you-all, but this is the first time Ah've had the chance to work with G-Men."

Fowler explained to Casey, "Kendal here has a full emergency field kit with him, as well as one of the clever, new, flat, tommy gun packs that Ted Conboy designed. We'll drop him at the police station to check this fellow's prints and photo him." He turned. "And, Larry! Get any body marks, and the usual on the clothing."

The sergeant had started away. Dan Fowler stopped him.

"Wait a minute! Where are you going?"

"To get a wagon fo' the body," the officer answered, puzzled.

"Skip that," Fowler said. "This lad had two friends with him. It's just as likely that another of this gang is lurking in the crowd, with his eyes peeled to see what's doing. We'll prop him in the car, between two of us. Then it'll look as if we're only arresting him."

Casey blinked. "Nice figuring. It certainly is a pleasure to see how you figure these angles, Inspector."

With the car to shield their movements, the F.B.I. men lifted the corpse into the rear seat. Kendal held it upright while Dan Fowler stepped a few feet away, picked up the Panama hat that had fallen from the man's head, and jammed it down to shade those glazed, staring eyes from any more- than-morbidly-interested observer.

"Kendal and I will sit in back, Casey," he said. "Get over there on the left, Larry. Lean forward slightly, to block a clear view of this fellow; but keep a tight grip on his coat sleeve to keep him from toppling with the sway of the car."

"Right, Dan."

The police car started down the flying field, its siren raising a growing wail. Through a double bank of staring and open-mouthed onlookers it went, bent to the right to negotiate a turn into the street, gathered speed as it hit clearer traffic.

Dan Fowler reached his hand into the torn and wet jacket, yanked out the gun that was holstered there. It was a cylinder-action Colt .45 of ancient vintage. Fowler grunted.



"An old-fashioned boy who didn't take any chances on an automatic jamming the works," he commented. He twisted the thing, looked to where the numbers on the gun should have been. They had been carefully filed away.

The F.B.I. Inspector shook his head sadly.

"They'll never learn," he said. "These fellows set themselves up as smarties. They think that a few passes with a file can beat science! We'll have these numbers almost as quickly as we get the fingerprints." He motioned to Kendal.

The dark, dapper G-man who looked so harmless but who was in reality tough as rawhide, frisked another gun from the dead man's hip pocket. It was a similar make and model—and, similarly, the numbers had been filed away.

As rapidly as he could, then, Dan Fowler went through the rest of the dead man's pockets. There was nothing by which to identify him, as the G- man had already surmised. His search revealed some keys, cigarettes, about fifty dollars in bills, and a scrap of paper tucked away in the corner of a vest pocket.

Fowler looked at the paper. A peculiarly lettered and drawn line of alphabetic signs and devices met his eyes, followed by a short message:

Sit Tight for Fireworks

The G-man frowned over the paper. It meant nothing at the moment; except for that one short line, the symbols on the paper made no sense. Fowler put the paper into his wallet, with a mental reservation that he would examine it more closely when he got the chance.

THE car swerved around a left turn, then drew up in front of a police station.

"Not here, Sergeant!" Fowler said quickly. "Drive around to the back. You park your patrol cars there, don't you?"

"Yes, suh."

"Okay. Get as close to the rear entrance as you can. We'll handle this body to make it look as if he has been wounded, but can walk a bit. To carry out the appearances, we'll sign him in on the blotter under a fictitious name and assign him to a 'solitary.' Then telephone to the police surgeon and bring him up in front of the station house."

The sergeant shook his head dazedly; but he carried out Fowler's request. Kendal and Fowler lifted the body out of the tonneau of the car and "helped" it up the steps. Inside the station house door, they paused. The sergeant pushed open the door of a room on the right. The gruesome burden of the G-men executed a macabre dance across the floor as his long legs jiggled and the ankles buckled at each step.

Dan Fowler stood back, took in a few details.

"Pretty nice hat the lad was wearing," he commented. He rubbed his rugged chin with a browned hand. "I don't think we'll be long identifying this fellow. He's an old hand, and a reckless one. His coolness, when he saw the jig was up... the way he tried to kid us when be went for his gun... his guts in trying for the second cannon when his right hand was smashed to a pulp..." He shook his head. "No trouble with this lad's identity, I'll bet!"

He motioned to Casey, drew Kendal aside. "We'll go over to the Guard basin, Larry. It's almost dark now, and I want to get a look at Dobsen and his men, maybe make a trip covering their patrol. You see the details through here, and have them post a strong guard to be on the lookout for any of this fellow's friends who might come snooping around."

"Right, Dan."

"And you might ask the chief here to have the bodies of those other two brought in from the burned car. Check the motor numbers and, if you can find any left, the body numbers. Maybe we can trace the car through the dealer."

"I know," Kendal nodded. "After all, I've worked with you long enough to know what you want without your having to tell me every time, Dan."

"Sorry," the crack investigator apologized with a slight smile. "But we've got to work fast, Larry. I can't take a chance on missing a single bet. Follow me to the Guard basin when you're through."

AT the entrance to the Guard basin, Dan Fowler was besieged by a mob of reporters and feature writers. But be waved them away.

"Nothing to say," he told them. "After all, I've only arrived this minute. You fellows ought to know more about it than I do."

"What happened at the flying field? who attacked you? Is it true that Dick Merrill was your pilot? Do you think you can whitewash the Coast Guard?" They flung the questions at him rapidly.

Dan Fowler swung around at the last question. "The F. B. I. has never whitewashed a guilty man in its history. We're interested in facts, and facts only. We—" He broke off.

A reporter for a chain of sensational newspapers twisted Fowler's answer.



"'F.B.I. Inspector sees Coast Guard guilty,'" he read into the man's words. A score of reporters rushed away in search of telephones, to the mainland.

"Print that and you'll regret it!" Fowler roared after them. He turned and made his way to the commandant's office.

After a short session with the Guard chieftain, he asked for Dobsen to be brought in, then heard the stories of each of the men in turn, until he had seen them all. When the gob, Hart, came in, he said:

"It's alleged that you have been ill. Did you go on sick bay?"

"No, sir."

"Why not, if you were sick?"

"It was only a cold, sir."p

"And you think night cruising is the right cure, eh?" He turned to the commandant. "I'd like to see the medical officer, please."

The lieutenant-commander in charge of the Guard station picked up a telephone.

"My compliments to Lieutenant Sarter, and will he report to my office instantly!"

Fowler stared curiously at Hart, "Have you had any news of your brother lately? The one that ran away to go to Alaska?"

The gob stared in amazement. "H-how do you know about him?"

"We make it our business to know quite a few things, Hart. I have your pedigree from here to there. If you have anything to say, this is your chance."

"I—you have my story, sir." The youngster fell silent. But he started abruptly when a rap came at the door. It was the M.O. Fowler introduced himself. Then:

"Lieutenant? Will you please examine this man and tell me if, in your opinion, he has a cold?"

The medical man drew the gob close to a light and told him, "Open your mouth and say 'Ah.'" The gob said 'Ah.' The M.O. motioned to Fowler, calling on Hart to do it again.

"You see? Those blisters on his soft palate? And on the wall of the throat? And that angry, orange-red color? Tonsillitis, Inspector! And, maybe, a bit of a streptococcus infection, as well."

Fowler stood silent, but with alert eyes, as the medico took the man's pulse and temperature. He saw him look almost casually at the man's eyes, then start slightly, draw nearer and peer intently.

The crack investigator walked close. "You notice it, too?"

"Yes!" The M.O. stared, nodded his head. "Yes, I do!"

Fowler snapped a pocket flash from his jacket, pressed the switch, jammed the glowing lens of the thing close to Hart's eyes. He switched it off again.

"The rest of them are the same way—every one of them." He turned to the commandant, who was staring at him puzzledly. "I'd like to have Lieutenant Dobsen, Commander—and a string of floodlights on that patrol boat."

CASEY stirred with a question burning his tongue for utterance. But he kept his lips clamped shut. They were still clamped shut ten minutes later when Dan Fowler, with Lieutenant Dobsen at his side, squatted on the wharf alongside the Coast Guard patrol boat.

His eyes took in the processed spots on the deck where Casey and his men had prepared the crew footprints for photographing and comparison with those found on the deck of the Oro Del Mar. His flat, gray eyes ranged slowly over the boat, not missing a single detail. He twisted on his haunches and addressed the commandant.

"I'd like to have the boat shoved a few feet away from the wharf, so I can see the side of it more clearly."

Two gobs jumped at the lieutenant- commander's order, slacked the mooring hawsers, and pushed the craft broadside away from the wharf. They held it there while Dan Fowler trained his strong flashlight on certain scuff-marks he saw on the side.

"Those marks are where the craft contacts the wharf-buffers, I imagine?" The commandant nodded. "Swing the boat, please. I want to examine the other side."

One of the gobs held the aft hawser while the other shoved with his boat hook on the prow of the craft, forcing it out into the water further. The gob with the hawser ran along the wharf, holding his line taut and swinging the bow of the craft into the reversed position. Once again they secured the CG-0412 with their hooks while Dan Fowler trained his searchlight along the side.

He tensed suddenly, stabbed his flash along the open but screened port-holes, then snapped it off. He stood and faced Dobsen.

"Lieutenant? Didn't I understand you to say you made a mental note to order a screen door fitted to the crew's quarters—to keep out the mosquitos and other insects?"

Dobsen nodded. "That's right, Inspector."

Dan Fowler turned to the commandant. "I want my men to take over those hawsers, Commander. Also, please clear this area of the basin instantly."

When his order had been carried out, Dan Fowler squatted down again, snapped his flash alive once more. He trained it on one of the ports, forward, then swung it back to an aft port. He reached for a boat hook, turned it blunt-end out. "Don't you think, Lieutenant, that before you put a screened door on your boat that you might fix this?" He poked with his stick against the screening of the port, swung quickly to do the same with the other. "And this?"



Dobsen gasped. The fine wire meshing of the rounded screens had parted in vertical slits.

"I keep my boat shipshape," the accused officer said excitedly. "I can swear those cuts are new! I can't even imagine how they got there."

"I can," Dan Fowler told him drily. "Commander? Please have your medical officer make a check on the condition of Lieutenant Dobsen and the rest of the men under arrest, instantly." He swung to the Jacksonville field office man. "Casey. You have a chemical technician along?"

"Garretson," Casey answered. "He's one of the best."

"Good. Get him aboard CG-0412 with his equipment. There may be some pretty ticklish testing to do. I want the log book of the craft, a strong glass, some fingerprint developer. Leave word for Kendal to report aboard the boat to me as soon as he comes to the basin. And have my suitcase lugged down from the command-ant's building.

"This is a weird mess, Casey-but unless I'm the craziest man in Florida, these slit screens are letting in the light of day!"

CHAPTER VIII
Enter Science

LIKE Sentinels of a military outpost, armed guards patrolled the wharf vigilantly; and stationed in the mouth of the basin was a patrol boat with searchlights poking pale, inquiring shafts of silver into the darkness beyond. No visitors were wanted!

On CG-0412, a small cluster of G-men were going through paces that would have struck fear and discouragement in the craven hearts of a thousand big-time racketeers, could they have but seen it.

Casey and the basin Commandant stood beside Dan Fowler, on the deck of the ship, and watched the crack investigator paint the filed-away metal of one of the captured six-shooters with a brush, dipping first into one open phial with the slight dauber, then into another.

"The frame of the gun is made of forged steel, Commander," Fowler explained. "That metal grains in one direction, and the stamped numbers another. Thus, the number bed is tougher than the normal frame." He dipped again, applied the brush carefully. "Painted with hydrochloric acid, alcohol and cupric chloride, the different depths of hardness of the metals will be brought out in contrasting colors. It's the acid heat that does it. When you get that"—he paused, setting down the brush and picking up a pencil—"you get the filed or buffed numbers clearly through the liquid."

He wrote down the identification numbers that reappeared, as if by magic, on the gun.

"That's one set of numbers. You develop the other gun, Casey. I want to see Kendal a moment."

The Jacksonville man dropped down at the small table and started the second development of filed-away numbers. Dan Fowler walked aft to where Larry Kendal was poring over the log book, a strong glass in his gloved hands, He paused, sprinkled some powder on a page, dusted it off lightly with a fine brush.

"Got another one, Dan!"

The star investigator picked up a small flash- bulb camera, trained it on the indicated whorl of lines, snapped the shutter. Kendal pulled off his gloves.

"That's all, Dan. Got six of 'em, total!" He drew out a strong glass and held it over the last entries—then switched his scrutiny to an older one.

"Same ink, beyond question. But—" He tensed, his eyes narrowed, compared two letters. "Here's one! The 'y' of Key West, in all the old entries, is perfectly rounded at the base, but with a break where the downstroke starts. The new entry has letters 'y' with a boxed, angular base, and no break in the downstroke."

"Stick to it," Fowler said. "I'm going below to see how Garretson is making out."

In the crew quarters, a slim, studious-browed, blond man with glasses was cooking some test tubes over a small flame. From time to time, as Fowler watched, he would pour off a bit of fluid into a clean tube and add a few drops of liquid.

He stopped once, climbed high on a bunk and scraped a flat-bladed spatula up the woodwork, then slid down lightly and transferred the specks he had gathered to another test tube. He poured and re-poured steadily for some minutes, then snapped off the flame of his portable testing set.

"What luck, Garretson?" Fowler asked, his eyes narrowed.

"Peculiarly, inspector, I have found—in the particles which I gathered here-Cryptopine... some Papaverine... a bit of Laudanosine... a trace of Codamine... a tinge of Hydrocotarnine..." He broke off, ran his slender fingers through his hair. "Yes, Inspector, there's no doubt about it!"



"About what?"

"Opium has been burned in these quarters, in copious quantities, within the last twenty-four hours!"

Fowler's jaws set grimly. "You're sure, Garretson? You're sure?"

"Of course I'm sure, Inspector," the man answered mildly. "Where else would you expect to find those alkaloids of opium?"

Dan Fowler's eyes blazed with triumph. "We're getting there!" He snapped his flashlight out of his pocket and trained it on the slit port screens. He leaned close, fetched his glass from his pocket, examined the cut wires carefully. His face was tense when he stood down.

"There are some minute particles of white on those screen cuts, Garretson. Collect them carefully, examine them and let me know what they are. I'm going above deck."

HE raced up the companionway. Larry Kendal was just finishing his camera shots of the comparative entries in the log.

"Follow me, when you're through," Fowler snapped. "I'm going up to see the M.O. We've got something conclusive!"

He jumped to the wharf and went rapidly to the commandant's headquarters. The Coast Guard medico was waiting for him. Fowler held up his hand to stop him from speaking.

"Opium. Right?"

"Ah!" the service doctor sighed. "That's the rest of it, eh? I wondered—about those eyes, those dilated pupils, and the severe headaches the men complained of."

Fowler blinked. "What do you mean, that's the rest of it? That's all of it."

"No. No, it isn't, Inspector. I made a thorough check of the men, including blood tests. In every case, the haemoglobin tests are amazingly low. There's only one explanation for it—with healthy men who are working around gasoline motors."

"You mean—?"

"I mean that every one of these men shows positive reaction to tests for carbon monoxide poisoning—and, as you so helpfully supplied, a slight—a very slight—indication of use of opium." The man shrugged. "Of course, it would have proved more noticeable twelve hours or more ago."

Garretson, Kendal and Casey came into the building, followed by the Commandant. Fowler faced them.

"Well?"

"The numbers developed on the second gun," Casey reported. He looked at a slip of paper in his hand. "U. S. Army serial numbers."

"Stolen from an armory, probably," Fowler said, remembering the Kansas City massacre with stolen National Guard guns. "How about you, Larry?"

Kendal held up his camera. "I've got my prints to develop and send by code to Washington. The handwriting is forgery—a clever forgery, but nevertheless fraudulent. Might have passed ordinary inspection, but I checked and rechecked, Dan."

Fowler nodded. "Garretson?"

"Opium without question. And the particles of white on the screen are—rubber!"

Fowler was radiant with energy and enthusiasm. "They can't beat science! That's what licks them every time. Science!"

"And brains," Larry Kendal said soberly. "You've got to have brains to start off right."

A terrific blast came from outside, rattling the pictures on the wall and smashing the windows of the building. Garretson and Casey were thrown flat by the shock of it. The commandant of the basin was slammed back against the wall.

Kendal and the medical officer swayed and grabbed at chairs to steady themselves.

But Dan Fowler took it standing up, his weight shifting instinctively to the balls of his feet with the first tremor of the explosion. He was running to the door now, had jerked it open, was racing through the eerie light of flickering flames for the wharf. For the wharf where the CG-0412 had been—but where now was a seething foam of maddened water, the torn and blazing timbers of the wharf!

The bodies of two Coast Guard sentries sprawled like broken dolls in the path of the raging flames. A column of yellowish smoke rose where the CG-0412 had been moored, and the smell of burning powder was strong in Fowler's nostrils as he raced along...

HOURS later, Fowler, Casey and Garretson were closeted in a bare room at the police station. Dan Fowler paced the length of the detectives' room he had requested and been granted.

On the floor against the wall by the barred and screened window lay an ominous, blanket-covered shape. The Government investigator stooped, stared at that still, blanketed heap, resumed his pacing. The other agents in the room sat silent, their eyes alert on Fowler. In another room of the station house sat a group of swarthy, olive-skinned men with blazing black eyes and hard faces. One of them, in the uniform of a sea captain, tugged at his mustache.



"And so we are revenged!" he said in Spanish. "The gringo boat has been exploded and two of their foul sailors killed!"

A slim, sleekly dark youth stirred in his chair and looked at the speaker with saddened eyes.

"But—Don Pedro is not brought alive again! Of what use, this explosion? And who—"

He paused, his eyes roving over his compatriots with a frank question in them.

The swarthy men stared at him, suspiciously, then scrutinized one another searchingly, wonderingly...

"And for what purpose are we here now, Senor Agramonte?" the captain asked suddenly "Is it not enough insult that we have suffered, but we must be put under arrest here, in this foul jail?"

Don Pedro's secretary shook his head. "We are not under arrest Captain Garcia nor are we being forced. You and I know that the gringos are guilty. But—" He shrugged. "It is that their detectives of the government—the G-hombres— wish us to identify once again the foul murderers."

"Por Dios!" Garcia muttered "As if already it had not been done to satisfaction!"

Agramonte shrugged. "Our consul, a representative of the Embajador in Washington, some sailors from a Parazillan boat at Tampa— they are here, also. For what purpose the sailors, I cannot imagine." His eyes flashed with sudden fire. "You may be sure, my dear Capitan, that El Jefe Dyaz will exact full satisfaction, after the gringos have worn themselves out with this play, this—bluff!"

He turned suddenly, walked close to the window, peered outside.

"Did I not see someone, something—out there in the darkness?"

Garcia crossed over and stood beside him.

"It is probably one of the gringo policemen, who watch us."

Agramonte shrugged and turned away.

But he had not been mistaken.

A stealthy figure moved along the wall of the jail after the two long shadows that the light made of Garcia and Agramonte had jerked out of that bright patch on the ground.

Along the wall, that figure slid, paused below the barred square of the cell to which one, John Smith—Charge: Assaulting a Federal Officer—had been assigned.

An arm stretched back of the shadow's shoulder, held tautly a moment, elbow bent. A sharp ping sounded in the stillness of the night, and a white blur flicked through the dark and disappeared within the barred grille. The shadow crouched low, moved for the black splotches of cars in the unlighted yard of the station house and jail.

It slid from view.

Carefully counted seconds later, a second shadow materialized from the dark of the yard and followed silently, cautiously.

Dan Fowler's corpse-baited trap had drawn a furtive quarry—and Larry Kendal tracked silently after the stealthy shadow...

CHAPTER IX
Insufficient Evidence

HIS eyes flat and his brow wrinkled in a frown of concentration, Dan Fowler made another circuit of the room in the police station. He shook his head finally, baffled wonder in his voice, when he spoke.

"I can't figure it," he said, turning to Casey. "From some angles, the blowing up of CG-0412 and the killing of those two sentries has a sort of 'Remember the Maine' tinge to it. Revenge! Yet, we could find no trace of any of the Parazillans anywhere near that quarter of the basin." He reverted to a formula he applied to every case. "Who? Why? With what? And how?"

"Revenge," Casey said. "It was done by the Parazillans."

"Don Pedro's body lies in state on the Oro, under a destroyer guard and twelve posted sentries. Not one of those men, nor any of the Parazillan officials left that boat. We've found that out."

Casey shrugged. "Who else?"

Fowler stared. He raised his hand and stabbed it at the still form beneath the blanket.

"Who is this?" he countered. Then, when Casey gave it up, "With what? And how?"

Garretson stirred. "A heavy charge of TNT did it," he said simply. "Probably some sort of mine, or heavy charge planted below the surface. I examined bits of the hull, determined that the blast came from outside—not inside."

Fowler nodded. "Right. But—how was it planted, and when? Any man within a hundred feet of that boat would have been killed instantly. Yet, the Coast Guard sentries were the only victims. And the boat has been under constant surveillance since it hove into the basin after Don Pedro's killing."

Casey stirred. "They didn't miss us by more than five minutes, whoever did the job," he reminded Fowler.

The F.B.I. ace blinked. "By God, Casey! You've got something."



"Sure," the Jacksonville man said. "They were trying to kill us."

Dan Fowler smiled tautly and shook his head.

"No. That's wrong. They tried to get Larry and me at the flying field. But at the boat, they tried to block us, to stop us from—what?" His eyes were blazing. "They tried to stop us from finding out what we found out! They tried—but they missed."

"Prove it," Casey challenged him.

"All right. If it was Parazillan revenge, we know that the men here at Key West didn't do it. If it was Parazillan national revenge, why didn't El Jefe, who owns his republic's citizens, body and soul, retaliate on our nationals in Parazilla? Why, Casey, this flagrant, open, senseless blasting?" Why use a fly-swatter on an elephant hunt?"

"I can't answer it," Casey admitted.

Dan Fowler pointed to the still form under the blanket.

"There's your answer! Find out who that man is—was!—and you're a long way along the road."

The Jacksonville man stirred. "Then you absolve the Coast Guard entirely? What about the identification? What about ballistics proving Dobsen's gun was the gun? What about the fingerprints on the cocaine tin in the Oro's saloon?

Fowler smiled enigmatically. He walked to the door, yanked it open.

"Sergeant? I'm ready for Dobsen and the gobs. Bring them first!" He turned to Casey. "This is the acid test, Casey. The results of this show will determine the path of the investigation!"

THE crew of Guardsmen ranged the wall by the window. Lieutenant Dobsen stood to the right of the line and several feet in front. They were in full working regalia, as the gobs had been on the night of the last patrol of CG-0412.

Dan Fowler took a last look at the line before he called down the hall:

"Ready for the Oro crew, Sergeant!"

The swarthy, tense group of Parazillans from the ill-fated yacht filed slowly into the room. Dan Fowler addressed himself to the stony-faced secretary.

"Mr. Agramonte? I want you to bear with me a few minutes while I demonstrate something."

"Proceed, sir," the youth said tightly, his manners one of aloofness. Patently his eyes were saying, "You waste time!" But the government man didn't seem to notice.

"Men," he addressed the Yank sailors, "take a look at these sailors, and the captain. Study them well." He paused for a full two minutes while the Coast Guards looked the South Americans over carefully. Then:

"Okay. Swing facing the wall now!" He called down the hallway again: "Ready, Sergeant!"

A second group of Parazillan sailors and officers entered the room—the men from Tampa. Fowler lined them up with their fellow countrymen. Then he addressed the American sailors again.

"Now, if you'll face this way again, and pick out the men who were in the room first—the ones you saw, and studied!"

The gobs stared, blinked their eyes, scratched their heads. They pointed in a confusing series of finger stabs at the entire group of Parazillans until each and every man in the room had been "identified" as having been among the first group. Fowler smiled tautly, turned his head to Agramonte.

"How do you account for that? My men studied your men closely—without any excitement going on!—and still can't identify them a few minutes later. Do you still insist that you can identify the Americans who invaded your ship? Identify them from a short scrutiny, after twenty- four hours have passed? And with your first view of them obtained under trying, stunning conditions?"

Agramonte shrugged. "You are very clever, Mr. Fowler," he said in an icy voice. "It is true that all South Americans look more or less alike to the gringos!"

Fowler ignored the slurring word. "But American sailors don't look alike to you? Is that it?"

"Those are the murderers," Agramonte snapped, his hand pointing to the American file.

"Oh." Fowler stared. "You'll swear to that?"

"I swear to it!"

The ace investigator stepped to the door. "Hart! Curry! Norris!..." He called the roster of the enlisted personnel of CG-0412.

Agramonte gasped when the new group of gobs came through the door.

"These are the ones!" he said weakly.

Fowler smiled grimly. "You'll swear to that, too, I suppose?"

Agramonte's eyes were dazed. He looked from one group to the other.

"Por Dios!" he muttered. He passed a hand across his eyes. But he rallied gamely.

"It is possible," he admitted. "The excitement was so great, you know. But of this I am certain: Lieutenant Dobsen was the man in charge. He was the killer, I am certain!"



"You heard him called by name?"

Agramonte nodded, consulted his notebook. "Hart!" he quoted from that momentous scene on the Oro, reading the words just as he had copied them down. "'Yes, Lieutenant Dobsen?'" He looked up. "Those were the words! Also, he is of the size, the appearance. He is the man!"

Fowler turned to the ailing gob. "What do you call your officer, Hart? How do you address him?"

The man grinned slightly. "Ashore and around the basin, we call him 'Lieutenant,' but on patrol, we call him 'Loot,' for short, or just 'sir.'"

Fowler nodded. "Sorry to put you to this, Dobsen—but you'll have to take it for a minute."

THE Guard officer blinked, watched curiously when Fowler and Casey stooped, lifted the blanket-covered form from the floor, stood it stiffly against the wall. The Jacksonville man undid the knot at the back of the blanket.

There was a gasp from the assembled sailors and officers when the covering dropped away to reveal a man in uniform identical to Dobsen's, a man of Dobsen's approximate size, possibly an inch taller, a man who had clean-cut features, a wide, strong mouth, and hard eyes—dead eyes.

It was the slain gunner of the airport fight!

"Aquel es el hombre!" Captain Garcia shouted. "That is the man! It is not the Dobsen, but this one!" He peered closer, took off his visored cap, blessed himself and backed away. "Por Dios, el hombre es muerto! The man is dead!" He shuddered at the horribleness of that uniformed thing.

But Fowler was listening, was watching Agramonte, seeing the sudden horror that had dawned in the youth's eyes. He waited, saw that mobile Latin mouth and the revealing eyes go from shock to surprise—from surprise to grimness and— something else.

Fowler frowned. "What is it, Mr. Agramonte? Do you recognize this man?"

Don Pedro's faithful secretary started suddenly, turned his liquid eyes slowly.

"It might have been the man who murdered Don Pedro," he said flatly.

Fowler shot a quick look at Garcia and the others. Then he watched Agramonte narrowly. But the youth had regained his composure, his suaveness, was putting his notebook back into his pocket.

"Of what matter?" Captain Garcia said after a moment. "It is still an American officer who has murdered Don Pedro. But—thanks to God!—we have found the right one!"

"Thank God, we have," Fowler repeated slowly. But his eyes were still on Agramonte, as if he expected the man to speak. After a tense two minutes, the Parazillan secretary turned and went slowly out of the room.

* * * * *

The Director of the F. B. I. sat up from the divan in his office, rubbed his knuckles into his eyes, pushed himself to his feet and reached for the telephone that was ringing.

"Hello?... Hello?... Yes, Dan ... I expected you'd call sooner.... What?... You have news? ... Well, hold it until I give you the report on those prints you coded to us."

He reached for a report from the Fingerprint Division—for a report on the unseen but cleverly coded series of telltales that made identification possible from thousands of miles away at a moment's notice.

"Nothing on it," he spoke into the mouthpiece. "Of course, we may be able to do a little better when we get the wirefotos developed.... The wirefoto of the dead gunner isn't on file, either... That's certain, Dan ... The Colt people identify the revolvers as part of a U. S. Army shipment."

The Director pulled a chair over, settled into it.

"What's new? ... You'll have to step fast, Dan!... The President is calling a conference on board his yacht—but keep that to yourself! The situation is grave; but the State Department feels it would panic the country and bring things to a head if the President were to rush to Washington instantly!... Of course, we have given out word that his yacht is on the way back to the mainland."

The Director of the F.B.I. wiped the beads of perspiration from his forehead.

"It's up to us, Dan! The President is giving us twenty-four hours to turn up something that will let the United States out of this thing with a semblance of national honor left.... All right, go ahead."

"Crew of the CG-0412 innocent," Fowler said crisply from a small room in the station house. "There's something tremendous behind this, sir; and something that I haven't been able to crack yet."

Briefly, clearly, Dan Fowler gave his report of the flying field incident—of the condition of the men—the blowing up of the patrol boat—the clues which scientific investigation had provided him.

"As far as I can reconstruct it," he said, "Checking with the stories I got from the crew, something like this happened." He half-closed his eyes, and the scene became almost vividly clear in his mind as he started to narrate it.



CHAPTER X
Aboard the CG-0412

IT was a dark, starless night when CG- 0412 nosed out of the Key West basin and westward on its night patrol. A slight ground swell was running. Lieutenant Dobsen cocked his head back and studied the sky overhead, and the direction of wind.

"Bear west by north, Curry," he told his helmsman. "This is just the kind of night those Havana smugglers will pick to run their stuff through the channel east of Tortugas and try to get cut in between us and Tampa. We'll set our usual trap and wait at anchor."

"Aye, sir."

Dobsen made his way forward, his legs braced against the swell. He crouched on his heels alongside the forward watch.

"Keep a sharp eye out for that old tub of a sponge boat, Hart. We'll anchor a mile or so in the lee of her."

Dobsen was a hard-working man with an eye to promotion. He prided himself on his keen powers of observation. One thing he had observed, during the past two weeks, was the high-sided, rusty, antiquated old freighter some sponge fishermen in the area had taken over and were operating about midway between Key West and Tortugas Island.

The crew aboard her fished for sponges and acted as an off-shore market for other, smaller sponge boats. A "buy-boat," it was called in fisherman's parlance—a boat that bought the catch of other fishermen instead of depending entirely on their own men.

Every night, the sponge buy-boat anchored to the north of the channel of free running water that was the Gulf Stream, a "river" of warmish water that flowed through banks of cooler water, to wind into the broad Atlantic and flow northward.

Dobsen had noticed this, made use of the boat for his own purposes. Twice, in the past seven nights, he had anchored patiently in the lee of the larger boat and about a half mile or a mile north of it. There, with lights off and a wary eye peeled on the lighter patch of water that was the Gulf Stream, he had been able to discern two smugglers' boats as they bucked across the current and tried to dash east and north from Tortugas and bend for the mainland.

It had been a simple matter to trap the boats among the treacherous waters of Dry Tortugas— so-called because it was never awash. Dobsen, on the fatal night, had set out again for the sponge boat, had dropped anchor in its lee.

That had been at eleven o'clock. He was considerate of his six men. The hours were long, at night, on the rolling bosom of the Gulf. Dobsen split his crew into three watches of two hours on duty and four off. The men off duty were in their quarters, forward of the ship, and within easy call.

It was a dark night, but warm, and the myriad mosquitos and insects that swarmed close to the refuse and dead fish and floating vegetable matter of the stream were biting hard. All the ports were opened, and screened; but the lights of the crew's quarters attracted them in droves. So that even these lights were dimmed, earlier than the accustomed time.

Hart was on watch and Curry helmsman, Dobsen went below deck and to his cabin aft the ship. He snapped on the light and opened his log book, dutifully making the entry of the time they had stopped. After a few moments, he closed the book, lay back on his bunk and snapped the light out.

HART and Curry crouched at their posts and stared into the surrounding blackness, their eyes alert for any sign of a light to the windward of the old sponge boat.

Hart, at the wheel, felt a sympathetic rising and falling of his stomach, of his heart, of his brain, with the successive rolls of the ground swell. His throat was sorer than a scuffed blister, and his head ached like a tooth. He was wishing he hadn't come on this tour; but reporting to sick bay didn't appeal to the lad: he knew the M.O. would yank his tonsils, and he wasn't strong for it—the way he felt now.

Curry, on fore watch, had his eyes glued on the sponge boat. There was a slight, dull, thudding sound. It came from somewhere below. The gobs hadn't seen the shadow that had crept close from the leeward quarter, the... something... that must have come from a distant, hidden boat to the leeward,, a boat that had crept close as it dared, had then dispatched a smaller craft on which something human stirred.

The stealthy craft—diminutive, low to the water, invisible, almost—had contacted the Coast Guard craft with a thud. Its occupant pulled close under the stern, hugged the shadow of it, waited tensely. Someone in the aft cabin moved, footsteps sounded on the companionway. It was Lieutenant Dobsen.

The gentle rolling of the ship must have lulled him off to a light sleep. But he awoke with a start, conscious of the queer thudding sound. He listened a moment, thinking that some smaller boat might have come alongside. Not hearing anything, he arose and went to the companionway.



"Hart?"

"Aye, sir," the watchman answered.

"What was that noise?"

"That bump?" the gob called down. "Came from below, Loot."

"Maybe one of the men, turning in his sleep," Dobsen mused. He pushed open the door to the crew's quarters and listened in the silence of the darkened space. A snore sounded, near him.

Dobsen closed the door tight again. "I got to get the boys a screen door," he noted mentally. "With hot weather coming on it'll be death of heat or death from mosquitos, if I don't!"

He went above deck, made a careful, routine inspection. He traveled the length of the boat, his eyes watchful overside. If the boat had become surrounded with weed and driftwood, he didn't want to start the screws turning, if a chase came up, and foul them. He snapped his flash alive and made sure. The water was dark but clear.

He turned to Hart. "How do you feel?" The man'd had a cold and complained of a headache, earlier.

"Not so hot, Loot."

"Go below and stretch out. You, too, Curry. I dozed off when I lay down, a few minutes ago; and I want to stay awake. We've still nearly an hour before the lads try their run, if they are going to."

Hart and Curry went below and stretched out, closing the door after them. Dobsen sat quietly in the after cockpit, his eyes on the black splotch to the south that was the sponge buy-boat. A noisy gull screamed by overhead. The officer turned to watch it, a fleeting, gray blur against the black of the sky, unaware of what was happening below.

WHEN the ray of Dobsen's flash had advanced during his inspection, the hidden craft had scurried to follow it, its occupant pulling on the side of the patrol boat. Dobsen completed his tour of the windward, fore, started back down the lee side.

The stealthy figure on the hidden craft to windward, working fast, slit the fore-port screen, inserted a white rubber hose, turned a valve. A silent jet of opium fumes and carbon monoxide gas flowed into the quarters.

When Hart and Curry came down a few minutes later, the stealthy poisoner dropped low on his craft, shoved quickly to an aft port. Another quick, silent, slit—and another jet of the deadly fumes; this time into Dobsen's quarters. The officer must come down, must come down—for the plan to be a success.

But he sat there on the deck, twisted his head to watch a screaming gull flap past. The poisoner must have been desperate in that moment. A bit of hard thinking followed—and a daring, brilliant inspiration had resulted. The figure waited for the newly bunked-down men to get into their bunks— to fall under the influence of the drug and the poison.

Then it came erect slowly, that figure—came erect, pressed lips hard against an open port. "Lieutenant! Lieutenant!" it whispered hoarsely.

Dobsen straightened suddenly, his ears alert. He frowned. He remembered Hart, the ailing man, wondered if he had become really sick, needed help or medication. He tiptoed to the companionway, went down the steps silently. He opened the door of the fore quarters and stood listening.

One of the men was muttering in sleep, was writhing nervously on his bunk. The room seemed grayish, blurred, after the inky darkness of above- deck. A mosquito hummed near Dobsen's ear. He shut the door, out of consideration for his men. One of the crew moaned again.

Dobsen moved forward slowly, tracking the sound to a lower bunk.

"Is that you, Hart? Are you sick?"

He got no answer, then remembered, "This is Norris' bunk." He wondered which was Hart's, vaguely. He thought he ought to go over to it, ought to see how the man was. But he found himself strangely satisfied to stay where he was... for a moment... for minutes, in fact....

Dobsen sat in the stifling air of the hot cabin, feeling suddenly that it didn't matter, that nothing... much... mattered....

After a long silence, the flat, slight craft, probably built to accommodate just that one man and his equipment to pressure the fumes, slid to the lee side of the patrol boat, out of sight of any possible watchers on the sponge craft. A signal- flash snapped alive, motioned the larger vessel with the six others aboard to come close.

A silent scrambling of furtive men, a rapid undressing of the unconscious Guardsmen, a stronger dose of the fumes from larger equipment for that purpose.

CG-0412 barked alive and wheeled out into the stream for its rendezvous with dope... with Don Pedro... with Death....



At a few minutes after two o'clock, the Guard crew stirred and came alive. Curry held his throbbing head.

"My God, my dome is busting open."

"Mine, too," Norris agreed. Hart didn't say anything because he had felt rotten to start with. The other three gobs sat in stupefied silence, until one of them started guiltily.

"Hell! The boat is under way! If we're all here, who's handling her?"

"The Lieutenant. Let's go above deck and see where we're going. What the hell time is it, anyway?"

Feet tramped up the companionway. The crew eyed the listless figure of Dobsen, at the helm.

"Hey! We're comin' back into the basin! What are all the lights for, anyway? There must be some excitement!..."

CHAPTER XI
Message in Cipher

THE Director nodded at Dan Fowler's reconstruction of the episode.

"Yes, 'Something like this,' Dan. But, that isn't good enough. Insufficient evidence. It's weird, and we know that something of the sort happened, Dan, but—that's just us! Who else will believe it?"

"Nobody," Dan Fowler agreed, over the wire. "It's full of holes:

"One—If it was simply a dope pick-up, why plant fingerprints, footprints, and uselessly kill Don Pedro to bring us down on their necks?

"Two—They had the dope. Why try to knock Larry and me off in that plane?

"Three—If they were going to destroy the boat, why not do it when they had mopped up with the Oro?

"Four—It's too elaborate—for a simple snatch of dope from where it was planted on a ship. Why spend all that money for two small packages of snow? It could be had for less at retail prices." He paused a moment.

"They must have some very clever equipment," he continued then, "for that fume spray; and they're daring and have more guts than any ordinary racketeers and murderers I've ever run up against. No, Mr. Director—this is big! There's something almighty important behind it, probably more to gain in whatever they're trying to do than from the entire narcotic trade of the world."

The Director stirred. "I agree, Dan. So— where are we?"

"No place," the crack investigator admitted miserably.

"No place—and with twenty-four hours before us to stave off a national catastrophe," the Director pointed out. "It's insufficient evidence, Dan. Nothing less than the murderers in our hands and alive, if that's possible, will turn the trick for us!"

"Yes, sir." Dan Fowler paused. "Nothing new on the car numbers? You haven't traced them yet?"

"No. We'll call you as soon as we do, and let you—" The voice paused. "What's that? That noise?"

"A tommy gun, from nearby!" Fowler blared. "We baited a trap with a corpse, and Larry was watching it! I think we've hit something alive on the other end of it!"

The F.B.I.'s crack investigator slammed the telephone down and raced out the back door of the station house in the wake of Casey and Garretson.

The deadly chatter of a tommy gun was lying flat on the air. Dan Fowler's trained ears located the direction of the firing. It came from close by. He sped between two cars, cleared the five-foot barbed fence of the enclosure in a clean leap, and raced into an alleyway toward the next street.

THE few people in the street at that late hour were speeding for cover when Dan Fowler rounded the corner of the alleyway.

Down the street, near a parked ear, a man was making himself small in the shadow of a doorway; but orange-red streaks beaded a line across the curbs, diagonally, and back toward the alley. Dan Fowler heard a closer stutter of fire, saw the frame of that far doorway splinter.

"Larry," he said to himself, when he saw the deadly aim of the tommy gun. He waited for the figure in that hiding place to show once more, snapped a shot from his .38 that crashed close. The furtive head ducked back.

Dan Fowler seized his chance to sprint down the street, stooping low, and cross to the covering of the automobile. Kendal held his fire a moment until his friend had cleared, then opened up again, higher. The hoarse shouts of men and the blowing of police whistles sounded. A siren's scream curdled high on the air.

Fowler dropped flat in the street and trained his eyes under the running board of the car. He saw the white blur of a face, close to the sidewalk, as the gunner set his sights for Kendal again. The investigator aimed carefully, put pressure on the trigger. He held it, throwing three slugs at that low-lying face.

There was a choking gasp of surprise, a despairing scream—and then silence. Fowler waited a full twenty seconds, his eyes glued to that collapsed bundle of humanity in the doorway.



A police car tortured its tires as it screamed aground the far corner. Men were running the middle of the street, now, their panting breaths and the hard slap of their shoes on the pavement coming plain.

Fowler peered over the hood of the car, waved the oncoming police and F.B.I. men to a less hasty pace, and came into full view of the doorway, his gun at ready. He trained his pocket flash on that huddled form as he came near, cautiously kicked the automatic out of the hand that stretched into the open.

"Nice work, Inspector," an admiring policeman muttered. He stooped and turned the prostrate gunner over on his back, shuddered at the three slug rips that started at the mouth and gored the man's throat and chest, loosing a fountain of blood. "Dead, huh?"

He peered close, with the rays of Dan Fowler's flash helping, and stared intently.

"I'll be damned," he said slowly. "It's—it's Dopey Joe Gitchman!"

"Who's he?"

"Oh—a waterfront rat. Small potatoes. He's done time. Lately, he's been trying his hand at a dishonest dollar in the smuggling racket. But"— the man scratched his head—"I can't see where the hell he fits into this!"

Larry Kendal came up, his tommy gun in the crook of his arm.

"I can tell you where he fits," he said. "He snapped something—I don't know what—into 'John Smith's' cell. I followed and he spotted me, opened fire."

Dan Fowler considered. He asked the police, "You think it's likely that somebody might have hired him to carry a message—and that he'd try to shoot his way clear of being caught? After all, if he isn't wanted by you, what's he afraid of?"

"Maybe he's been up to something we don't know about yet," the copper admitted. "That could be. We keep a close eye on him, and he has been out of sight for a week or more, now."

Dan Fowler motioned to Casey. "Search him, print him, give his home a thorough going over."

"He hasn't got any home," the copper put in. "He just lives around. On fishing boats, mainly."

Fowler shrugged "Find out what you can, then report back to the station house. Kendal and I will look 'John Smith's' cage over and see what the gunner tossed in there." He turned away. "Give Casey a hand, Garretson."

A SHORT time later, Dan Fowler sat at a table in the detective's room, his eyes riveted on a bit of brown paper. It was the message that had been tossed into "John Smith's" cell. There was just one brief line which read:

Sit Tight For Fireworks.

The phrase drummed in Fowler's mind, and suddenly he clapped his hand to his head.

"Good Lord!" he exclaimed, as he reached for his wallet. "Larry, I'm getting to be Old Man Forgetful. There was so much we had to get done I completely forgot about a bit of paper I took from our dead friend's pocket."

He smoothed the scrap of paper out. "The same phrase on this message, too," he said. "But what are all these hieroglyphics?"

The message—if it was that—was more than puzzling. It was incredibly meaningless and just as apparently not a standard code. A part circle—like a parenthesis mark—appeared in a large area at the extreme left of the paper. This was followed by the letters, C.T., and then Ray. N. Murr. ZDS.

Fowler shook his head. "I can't make this out. Maybe there is something to it. One thing we know: that phrase about sitting tight for fireworks refers to something definite. Our 'John Smith' evidently got this first message some time ago, and now they thought it important enough to risk sending somebody with the same message."

"But why should Dopey Joe," Kendal asked, "who is just a mouse in this big game, risk getting bumped off rather than be taken by us?"

"Because he's hooked up with something, with some gang, that has him scared green; was hooked up with them!"

Fowler dropped his eyes again to the scrap of paper with the cryptic symbols on it.

C. T. Ray N. Murr ZDS.

Kendal picked up the piece of brown paper with the single line of writing on it.

"Just why do you suppose it was so important to get this message into the hands of 'John Smith'?"

Fowler frowned and shrugged. "Probably because the mob he's connected with wanted to make sure that he'd keep his mouth shut. They were afraid we might make him sing." The G- man's steely gray eyes narrowed. "Larry, there's something about our not being able to trace this gang that has me bothered. We know that the gang that pulled the snatch of the CG-0412 was clever, shifty, daring. Yet, we can't identify the prints we found on the log book.

"We know that the dead 'John Smith' was a reckless, die-hard customer, went down fighting and with a laugh on his lips. Yet, we can't find a trace of him in our criminal records. That man had the savvy, the coolness, of a trained hand. But the dead gunner of tonight, and the men burned to death in the car, are of the 'rat' type—petty mugs— hangers-on at the hem of crime." He put his fingertips together and regarded them thoughtfully.



"Why the strange contrast of types? And what was it that Agramonte saw in that corpse? I'm positive he recognized it—but as what? As the fellow who took Dobsen's place? I don't think so, because despite Captain Garcia's identification, I have an idea it wasn't 'John Smith' who substituted for Dobsen. The prints that we got from the log book aren't his, for one thing. No, somebody of about the same build and appearance, we've proved, could have acted as Dobsen—but it needn't have been 'John Smith.' Then who is he?"

KENDAL'S eyes were disturbed. Let's see if we can't get aboard the Oro. Maybe the boat shows some prints."

Fowler gestured helplessly. "The Parazillan Government has taken the boat over, will allow nobody aboard, but the Ambassador and other Parazillan nationals." He fell silent, studied the cryptic note again, read the thing through soundlessly but with moving lips. Kendal, watching him, sat straighter.

Fowler's eyes were kindling with light and an excited glow came into his lean cheeks. "Ray—N—Murr—" he uttered slowly, paused at the ZDS. "Seeds?... Zeeds? RayN MurrZds?" He jumped to his feet.

"Larry! Did you ever hear of the Reina Mercedes?"

"A Spanish warship, wasn't it?"

"Right! The flagship of Admiral Cervera, of the Spanish Fleet, in the Spanish American War!"

Kendal's eyes widened. "Say! The, Spanish American War... the blowing up of the Maine... the blowing up of the CG-0412. And—wasn't it announced that two Parazillan cruisers were on their way through the Canal—supposedly to act as honor escorts to bring Don Pedro's body back in the Oro?"

Fowler paced the floor, his eyes narrowed. "It's crazy! It's crazy, I tell you. There's no connection at all. There can't be." He stopped at the table, riveted his eyes to the paper again. His mind raced swiftly. A new moon—that's what that parenthesis mark could be. And the letters CT— hmm. New moon CT—New Moon City. Now, what the—"

Dan Fowler smashed a clenched fist into the palm of his hand and strode to the telephone.

"Give me long distance," he barked into the instrument. Kendal watched him, excitement pounding through his veins as he saw the transformation that had come over the man.

Fowler had the operator, was saying, "Connect me with the once of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in New Orleans!" He swung his eyes to Kendal.

"I think I see a connection, Larry, New Orleans is called the 'Crescent City,' because of the way the Mississippi River makes a sharp turn and reversal of its stream before it twists back and rushes for the Gulf of Mexico through a number of passes in the delta. If I'm right this note says, 'New Orleans. Reina Mercedes.' Then that phrase, 'Sit tight for fireworks.'

"Well, if one ship is called 'Reina Mercedes,' after a Spanish queen, why not another ship, a half dozen other ships called that, throughout the Spanish speaking world?"

CHAPTER XII
Tracks to New Orleans

PERHAPS there were a half dozen other ships called Reina Mercedes throughout the Spanish speaking world, but certainly there was one ship by that name at anchor in New Orleans.

Earlier in the day, a Customs official of the Port of New Orleans made his way slowly along the wharf, his eyes bored. He looked at the overcast sky, the ominous mass of black that crept up from the south—from the Gulf.

"Bad weather," he said to a husky boss- stevedore. "Likely get a heavy fog, up from the Gulf, and then some tons of rain for a day or two to come." He watched a gang of Negroes file down the wharf with small, compact cases slung on their shoulders, file across a gang plank and out of sight into a freighter.

"The Reina Mercedes is just about set, eh?"

The white foreman nodded. "Just a few mo' crates of them plows to be swung aboard, an' she's set." His eyes were on a crane that was swinging a long, heavy crate up from the wharf for the deck of the freighter, where it would be dropped out of sight into the hold through the open hatches. "That's the tough work, right there. She's loadin' almighty fast. To clear port before the storm, Ah reckon."

The Customs checker was turning away when a startled exclamation from the foreman checked him. He looked up. The nest of chains slung around the solid-sided crate had slipped. The item of cargo was listed heavily to one side, slipped again, dangerously, as it was swept higher.



The foreman shouted a warning to the men below it, sprinted down the wharf knocking Negroes right and left.

"Watch out fo' that crate! It's crashin', it's crashin'."

There was a rattle of the chains as the heavy burden slid loose and hurtled for the side of the wharf. It hit on a corner with a splintering crash, spun like a top, over and over, its sides bursting out. Shouts of terror from the darky loaders mingled with the babble of confused voices from the ship's deck and from the dock below.

The Customs official came up, shaking his head.

"Close call," he said. His eyes were on the splintered wreckage. "They'll have to recrate those plows before shipping them."

He frowned suddenly, stepped forward, peered into the shattered box. Then he straightened, examined the stenciled designation on the outside of the crate. It read:

CONTINENTAL
PLOW CORPORATION

The Customs man's eyes were hard, suspicious, when he swung them up to the swarthy sailors and officers who stared down overside the Reina Mercedes at him. He smiled grimly, pulled a whistle from his pocket, blew it loudly, repeatedly.

OTHER Customs employees came on the run from neighboring ships. The man on the spot had lost his boredom, was all efficiency and orders.

"Rip that crate open," he called. He looked around him. "Where's Martyn? He's got the invoice on the Reina." He stood on tiptoes to see over the crowd that was collecting. "Here he is now!"

A tall, wooden-faced individual came along, pushed through to the official's side. His eyes widened in surprise when he saw the squat, black, metal affairs—round-cased, with perforated, tub- shaped pieces inside. He stepped close, reached down, spun one of the perforated interior pieces.

When he straightened, he said in a casual voice:

"Probably this stuff got mixed up in the packin' of it." But the Customs man saw the warning look in his eyes. He turned.

"Okay, all you men. Nobody's hurt. Back to your jobs. Clear this space so this stuff can be lifted and re-crated." But as the crowd dissolved, he came close to the inspector.

"Well?"

"Hold the ship up," Martyn said. "Those things that look like chunky washing machines— know what they are?"

"What are they?"

"Centrifugal wringers—for gunpowder! There's something fishy here!"

"I'll put an armed guard on her," the Customs official said. He looked around him a moment. "There's Smaley, of the F.B.I., over yonder." He raised his voice. "Hey! Smaley!"

The G-man came over. "Just nosing around here and heard the racket. What's up?" He listened intently while the Customs men spoke. "Okay. I'll stay here and watch this stuff while you get your guards..."

* * * * *

And it was to Special Agent Smaley that Dan Fowler spoke that night as he put his call through to New Orleans.

"Hello?... F.B.I., New Orleans? ... This is Inspector Dan Fowler, calling from Key West. Your name's Smaley?... I want you to find out for me if there is a boat—large or small—in port at New Orleans, called the Reina Mercedes. If there is—" He stopped, his eyes widening slowly and blazing a gray fire, as he listened to Smaley's account of the incident at the wharf.

"So that's what happened, eh? What's the Reina's destination?"

"Rio Paulo, Parazilla," the stunning answerer came.

Fowler smashed his fist on the table. "Kendal and I are starting for New Orleans instantly. We'll take a Coast Guard plane, will probably land at Shushan Air Port."

"You'll have trouble," the New Orleans agent warned him. "There's a very dense fog here with rain sweeping up from the Gulf—"

"We'll take our chances," Dan Fowler snapped. "Things are very tense, Smaley. There's no time to waste. There's some sort of tie-up between the killing of Don Pedro and that freighter, the Reina Mercedes. I'm going to find out what it is!"

He dropped the telephone. "Larry! Call the Guard base and have them get a plane set for a hop to New Orleans." He paused when the bell of the instrument shrilled noisily. Kendal took it.

"For you," he told Fowler. "Washington."

THE crack investigator jumped to the wire. "Yes? Yes, Mr. Director... this is Dan speaking." He listened a tense moment. "What... From New Orleans?... We're just bopping over there by plane to cover a clue we unearthed. Can't make out what it is, yet..."

He told his story, simply, briefly, and listened for another long interval.

"Right, sir... I'll work fast as I can, sir, and report any developments." He hung up and turned to Kendal.



"That automobile that burned up on the landing field was sold for cash, five days ago, in New Orleans! Now, how did it get here? There's no road stretching for seventy miles over the keys! It didn't come here by rail from the mainland. And no one had seen it before it raced out on the field to meet us." He thought a long moment. "Two tracks leading to New Orleans!"

"No check on those fingerprints yet?"

Fowler shook his head. "None. The President's yacht is off Miami, still apparently 'fishing.' There's going to be a secret, important conference shortly, and the President has passed along word that he's relying on us to give him the full facts on this."

There was a knock at the door. Casey and Garretson came in carrying two paper-wrapped bundles that were sopping wet. They dropped them on the floor. "The Coast Guard patrol found these floating far off-shore. They thought you might be interested."

Fowler's eyes widened. He broke the string and paper tape of one—and a score of tins tumbled out. The investigator opened a few. They were empty—dummy tins! He jumped to the other package, saw the hole that had been torn in it, saw that a few tins were missing. He straightened.

"The tins and the packages that Agramonte described!"

"Then there was no dope," Kendal breathed. "Only the stuff found on the carpet in the saloon— and that was a plant, with Dobsen's fingerprints! This absolves the Coast Guard!"

Fowler shook his head slowly. "No, Larry; it doesn't. It just makes it worse for them, and for the United States. It looks as if the 'dope' story was framed as an excuse, by us, for an alibi on Don Pedro's death." He swung to Casey.

"Report this to the Director." Rapidly he explained his plans. "Hang on here and check further on Dopey Joe, if you can. We'll keep in touch."

Larry Kendal jumped to the phone to call the Guard basin. Casey and Garretson shook hands with Fowler, a grim look in their eyes.

"Good luck, Inspector! Let us know your orders and they shall be obeyed if we must drain the floor of the Gulf to do it!"

"Thanks," Fowler said drily. "From what I hear of the weather ahead, you may find us on that Gulf floor when you drain it!"

THE Coast Guard plane was warming at the basin when they sirened their way through the crowds and made their way hastily to the ship. The pilot nodded.

"Nasty weather coming in," the man said. "Don't expect it'll hit us before tomorrow, sometime. But it's plenty black right now."

The F.B.I. men loaded into the plane and the ship gunned its way for the take-off. It sped low over the CG boats standing guard at the basin. The pilot leaned forward and stared at his instrument board. Dan Fowler frowned.

"We don't seem to be picking up any altitude," he said to Kendal.

In another twenty minutes, it was apparent why. The motor coughed and sputtered, and the pilot nosed the craft down for the blackness below, cursing softly.

The F. B. I. men sat tensed in their seats; but the pilot was good, knew his stuff. The seaplane hit the flat of the water with a towering white spray that splashed high around them all. He zoomed the plane up, steadied it, slid it back gently to a contact with the water.

"Sounds like the gas is phoney," the aviator muttered. He climbed down and eased along the wing to where he could get at the motor, turned his flashlight on it. "Can one of you guys give me a hand with this light, while I clear out the carburetor? Seems like I got water in the jets."

Larry Kendal jumped to give the man a hand. The Guardsman pilot had the jets out in a brief minute, was letting the gas run down onto his hand. He snapped the pet-cock off, raised his hand, stared at the dense pool of liquid that lay in the center of the little pool of gas.

"Huh! Look at that water! Now, how did that get there?"

Dan Fowler looked down at him. "Where is the gas kept?"

"In big drums, ashore, and in service boats that cruise up to the planes and service them."

The Federal investigator grunted. "Well— whoever reached the CG-0412 with TNT shouldn't find any trouble in watering your gas. There's something queer about the way all this stuff is done."

The pilot shook his head. "With everything under guard? The boys ought to see anyone nosing around there, Inspector." He opened the petcock again. "Gas is lighter than water. The stuff s had time to settle, as you saw. I'll run it a little and then try 'er out again."

Dan Fowler was settling back when a sound came to him—the sound of a muffled motor throbbing low. He cocked his head and stared at the pilot.

"What's that? You hear it?"



Kendal snuffed the flash and all that came to him for a moment was the lap of the water on the pontoons. And then it came again—that brrrt of an idling but coughing motor. Fowler swung down to a wing, then climbed over to a pontoon. He peered ahead, to the sides... behind.

"I don't see any light," he said. "But I was sure I heard a—" He broke off and whispered to Kendal: "Larry! I think I see a boat sneaking up on us! Get your tommy gun ready! That boat would be wearing lights if it had any right out here!"

He listened, crouched in the black of the night and the blacker shadow of the plane. And then a voice came clear...

"Guess they went under, eh, Spike?"

"Damned if I know," came the answer. "I thought they were going to land smack on top of us."

"Well we don't want to—Hey!" the voice changed to a startled gasp. "What's that, over there?"

Larry Kendal was back, was passing his small machine-gun to Fowler. The investigator raised his voice in a commanding shout.

"Just hold it, you fellows! You're covered! We're F.B.I. men, and—" He broke off at a flat slap of gunfire that cut across the still air. Two slugs ricocheted off the water like giant, angry bees, and droned off.

Fowler braced himself, but relaxed his arms and chest against the racking vibration that was to follow. Aiming for the spurts of flame, he squeezed the trigger of his gun. Its chatter drowned the fitful bursts from that prowling boat.

There was a scream of pain, then the roar of the powerful motor as the boat leaped into panicked life. It swept by the plane, its wake jiggling the craft on its pontoons. Dan Fowler clutched a landing-gear strut to keep from falling into the water. Larry Kendal took a few pot shots in the direction of the fleeing craft; but it was soon lost in the dark.

"What do you suppose, Dan? Think they were after us?"

Fowler shrugged. "Can't tell. Might very well have been. Then again it might have been just some boys who were up to no good, and they ran afoul of the plane." He laughed grimly. "It's a cinch that the Coast Guard and the F.B.I. aren't any too popular with a certain crew down this way!

The pilot said, "I'm set. Let's get out of here!" They clambered back into the ship and he set the self-starter into motion.

The motor sputtered at first, then picked up with a healthy roar.

CHAPTER XIII
The Wraith

OVER the treacherous flight of nearly six hundred miles, Dan Fowler was slumped in his seat in a profound sleep. It was one of the secrets of his amazing energy, his quick rebound from fatigue. Fowler could work forty hours without closing an eye—and then, with a few short hours of sleep, recharge the batteries of his tremendous vitality.

The Guard plane winged a route straight across the Gulf, plunging at terrific speed into the black of the waning night, fighting on as the sky changed to a muddy gray and high winds plucked at the wings of the craft.

With still a hundred miles to go, a fog shrouded the ship and the wind died. The pilot drilled obstinately into the opaque banks of the stuff for a time, then nosed down slightly and cut his throttle back. Dan Fowler opened his eyes, took in the situation quickly.

"It's good we're in a seaplane," he observed mildly. He looked at Kendal, smiled when he saw his friend slept on. The pilot twisted in his chair.

"Pontoons don't necessarily mean safety out in the Gulf! This is the most treacherous stretch of flying country in the United States!"

He turned back, his eyes on the rapidly decreasing altimeter gauge. When it read 1,000, he eased the plane up from its glide slightly, then started to drop more gradually. After five minutes he grunted exultantly.

"The Gulf!" he said. "I'm guessing at this thing; and a cross wind might have blown me north over the land. There she flows!"

Dan Fowler looked, saw the white caps that dotted the water visible under the fleeting wings. The pilot snapped his throttle wide open and jolted the plane to a higher speed across the barren stretch. The white caps showed larger, formed into breakers. The Guard aviator watched intently, snapped to the left in a slight turn, suddenly.

A small island marked his position for him, off-shore. He nodded his satisfaction and edged to the right again, making a gradual contact with the coast line. He thundered on, his eyes keened on the palm-fringed beach only a hundred yards from his right wing tip.

The land fell away abruptly, on the right; but the Coast Guardsman tagged after it.

"Lake Ponchartrain," he told Fowler. "Shushan Airport is on the south shore of it—but I don't want to muff it and crack up in Canal Street; nor in the Viéux Carre—the 'Old Quarter,' as they call the original settlement."



Dan Fowler nodded; and despite the hazardous search for the landing, looked down with interest.

Some small surface craft flashed by under them. The pilot bent to the right, throttling down slowly. And with the suddenness of light the neat outlay that was Shushan Airport, the finest air terminal in the world, bloomed before them.

A slight drizzle of rain was starting when the Guard plane taxied to the landing and Dan Fowler and Kendal climbed down. In a few minutes a fast automobile was winging them along the streets of the still-drowsy city to the offices of the F.B.I.

WHEN the two entered the working base of the New Orleans' field office, they were met by a tall, slender, alert man with crisp curly hair and quick, dark eyes.

"Inspector Fowler!"

"Hello, Smaley." The star investigator shook hands. "You know Larry Kendal, of course?"

The man nodded his head. "I know you both! Who doesn't?" His face was drawn, weary. "I got as much of that information as I could. How was your trip? Bad?"

"So-so," Fowler answered. "Call the Customs people, Smaley, and ask them who is the top man we can see in New Orleans, at this hour. I want to go into the Reina Mercedes angle as thoroughly as possible, and now!"

"Right!"

The young F.B.I. agent went to the telephone and called a number.

"Agent Smaley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, speaking," he said. "Inspector Fowler is here, and wants to talk with someone in authority about the Reina Mercedes. We—" The man broke off, frowned. "What's that?... It's gone... Gone where, man? It was under guard!"

Dan Fowler swung his eyes to Kendal, reached over and relieved Smaley of the telephone.

"Inspector Daniel Fowler, speaking," he said crisply. "What's the story on the Reina Mercedes?"

He listened for some few minutes, making notes and jotting down an address. He hung up, stared at his knuckles for a moment, then shook his head in baffled wonder. He spoke to the other two.

"The Reina Mercedes was put under a guard of five armed men yesterday, four of them aboard her, the fifth in the watchman's shack on the wharf. At daylight this morning, the Reina was gone—vanished! And the guards were found in a stupor in the watchman's shack!"

Kendal gasped. "But—how could it get away? It must be in the river!"

The F.B.I. ace shook his head in denial.

"A freighter cleared in the fog last night and took one of the many passes through the delta to the Gulf."

"We can go after it, turn it back!"

"With the fog that's over the Gulf? And with the short time we have to get to the bottom of this thing? No, Larry; we know what the Reina carries. The job for us is to find out what connection this has with Key West—just how those men were knocked out!"

Dan Fowler grabbed up the compact, leather- covered case that held his tommy gun and started for the door.

"We'll hit for Customs Headquarters, over on Canal Street and the waterfront. That's where they have the men, now, under arrest! I'm taking this gun along just in case!"

THE three men made their way quickly to the street and to the armored, low slung, closed car that stood at the curb. Smaley slipped behind the wheel and kicked the motor into a smooth, purring drone. Dan Fowler nodded approvingly.

"I'm beginning to feel at home, now."

The car sped down broad Canal Street and screamed to a stop in front of the imposing Customs Building, on the waterfront at the edge of the Vieux Carré.

The F.B.I. men identified themselves to the guard on duty and went along the hall to an indicated room. There, they knocked. Two armed guards came to the door and unlocked it. The government agents went in. An official sat at a desk, his eyes weary, his face drawn.

"I'm Inspector Fowler," the investigator introduced himself.

The man jumped up. "Oh! Glad to know you, Inspector. You want to see those rats who got drunk on the job?" He jerked his head to a door near his desk. "They're in the inner room."

Dan Fowler blinked. "They were drunk? You're sure?"

"They all reek of whiskey!"

"You had a doctor see them?"

"No. I didn't think it necessary."

"Get one. Tell him to bring along a haemoglobin test set." He said to Kendal: "We'll look at them immediately, ourselves. I want to see what their eyes look like."

Inside, they found five very sick men. Two of them had been actively ill. Fowler stepped to the closed window and jerked it open. Then he stooped to rip the men's shirt collars open, to give them more air.



He found the eyes normal—but bloodshot and sickly. There was an unmistakable reek of whiskey in the room.

A medico hurried in, a laboratory assistant trailing in his wake.

"Test these men for carbon monoxide poisoning," Fowler said. "I think you'll find that the whiskey is just superficial, has been poured on their clothes. Check them for any signs of opium, too."

The Customs official was stunned when the G-man dropped into a chair to await the report.

"What's up?" he asked, in an awed whisper. "We—we thought they had been bribed, or had just hit the bottle while they were on duty!"

"Maybe you're right," Fowler said shortly.

But as he sat and considered the thing, the daring of the plan, the cunning, the cleverness of execution, he was baffled.

"Ghost ship!" he thought, his eyes fathomless. "Twice—a ghost ship! At Key West, when the CG-0412 was taken over—and again here! What is it all about? What's the connection? Where is this thing leading and what are the forces behind it?"

WHEN the doctor came out of the room, his eyes were curious.

"You're Inspector Fowler, aren't you? I recognize you from a picture I saw of you once." Dan Fowler came to his feet. "What did you find, Doctor?"

"Just what you thought I would, Inspector. The haemo tests show monoxide poisoning. And the blood is negative to alcohol tests."

The G-man turned to the Customs official.

"You're to keep this thing quiet. If there's one word leaks out about this, in the next forty-eight hours, I'll know who to hold responsible."

"Mum's the word, Inspector," the official said hurriedly. "I'm glad that the Customs Service is cleared of this thing—whatever it is."

"Come on, Larry," Fowler said. "We have a hard day ahead of us. First, we have some checking on this to do. We'll go back to the Bureau office and work from there."

In the street, Fowler turned up his coat collar against the rain and went to a newsstand. He got a copy of a morning paper, and read the screaming headlines:

PARAZILLA MOBILIZING
SHIPS AND TROOPS

EUROPEAN DICTATORS
RELUCTANTLY BACK EL JEFE

He walked to the car and climbed in. While it got under way again, he scanned a column.

The Parazillan forces, called in the crisis of Don Pedro's death, are amazingly well equipped with ordnance and munitions of all kinds. Their roads are without equal for military movements, American nationals are calling on Ambassador Harmiss of their country for protection in face of growing hostility. Experienced observers see other Latin American Republics backing El Jefe. Only a miracle of statesmanship can save the trade, good will and prestige of the United States.

Another article announced the passing of the Parazillan cruisers through the Yucatan Strait, and El Jefe's sarcastically expressed hope that "our powerful neighbors in the North will not attack or intern our ships going to escort the remains of the distinguished Don Pedro Mario Cortez del Val y Llantanao to his sorrowing friends and his devoted countrymen..."

Back at the F.B.I. offices, Fowler said:

"Smaley. Check the ownership of the Reina. Get a report from the Investigating Division, Division of Customs, Treasury Department, on the ship, on its past invoices of 'plows' carried to Parazilla, and check also on 'plows' sent to other South American countries. It's a big order, but I want it fast!" He turned to Kendal.

"Larry! Contact the Bureau of Manufactures, Department of Commerce, and get a complete and reliable report on the Continental Plow Company." He paused, ran through some pages of the telephone book. "Here it is! I see Continental Plow keeps a warehouse here in New Orleans. When we get our information, I want to make a thorough inspection of that place—and I want to check on those centrifugal gunpowder wringers!"

CHAPTER XIV
Mystery Warehouse

SMALEY'S report was in first. Fowler shook his head when he looked at it.

"Hmm. 'Owner of the Reina Mercedes is one Juan Lopez, of Parazilla. Absentee owner; at present residing in Europe.'" He bit his lip. "That's about as informative as saying, 'John Doe, U.S.A.'" He read further, sat straight.

"The agents for the ship are The Latin- American Steamship Company! That's one of the largest shipping firms in the world! Check the background of that company, Smaley, and give me a report."

He scanned the detailed information gained from the Customs Division.



The Reina Mercedes has handled practically all of farm implement shipments of heavy type for three years to South American republics. Its principal cargoes are plows, tractors, etc., for its first port of call, Rio Paulo, Parazilla.

The report set forth some other South American Republics, and gave a complete listing of the plow shipments to each of the South and Central American countries.

"Hondagua is about the only republic that gets no farm implement shipment," Fowler noted. "Continental Plow isn't doing any business there. The Reina Mercedes doesn't even stop there on its way to Parazilla."

He thought again what he had heard of the poverty of the Central American republic—of the abject poverty of the mestizos, whose condition was one of serfdom. A few cents a week was the average earning power of these people. He frowned over his inability to call something to his mind—some slight article in the news columns about Hondagua that had come to his attention a while back.

"Street paving?" he wondered. "What was it?" Through force of habit, he persisted with the thing, trying to extract from the million facts he had at his command that one, small item.

"Road building!" he remembered. "A road being built through the swamps and the jungles of the tropical country—from the Caribbean to the Pacific! A sort of vehicular Panama Canal."

Satisfied that he had located the thing, slotted it correctly, his orderly brain picked up the thread of his thoughts again.

"But—what connection is there between the crew of CG-0412, and the Reina Mercedes? What connection is there between a faked smuggling of dope, and an actual smuggling of munitions machinery to some other country? Why is Parazilla concerned both times? Or—is it Parazilla? Maybe it is some other South American Republic that is getting the munitions machinery to arm against Parazilla?"

Smaley was back with the report on the Latin- American Steamship Company, agents for the Reina Mercedes.

"There's a long list of financial hook-ups, Inspector," he said. He dropped the typed paper in front of the crack investigator. "But—it all heads up with the Burbury Bank for Development."

"What?"

Fowler's mind was on that scene in Rappleyea's office, remembering Gray Burbury's strangely peevish temper at Marshton's goading words—

"I have no shipping lines that the government would take over, at a large profit, in the event of war."

He remembered, also, Marshton's saying, "Who knows what benefits might have resulted from my meeting with Don Pedro?"

Fowler considered, his eyes narrowed. Burbury had resented the mention of his shipping interests.... Burbury's line had been agents for the Reina Mercedes.... Burbury was apparently not friendly with Marsh-ton....

"If Continental Plow is a Burbury company, too! If Burbury—" He turned when Kendal came into the room. "Well, Larry?"

"Continental Plow has a record clean as fresh air," Kendal told him. "It is substantially backed by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, and the Commerce department knows its every plant and operation."

DAN FOWLER ran his fingers through his hair. "I can't see any connection, yet; but, the same methods were used to knock out the men in both the Key West and the Reina case. Both concern Parazilla, strangely. And Burbury is linked, indirectly, with both." He outlined his findings to Kendal.

"Maybe Marshton can give us a tip," Kendal suggested. "He ought to know the workings of South American politics, even if he is merely a Central American promoter."

Fowler reached for the telephone. "Right! I don't like to take anyone into my confidence on this—but Marshton struck me as pretty straight- forward, and probably he can give me some information on Burbury that I haven't got." He shook his head. "If only we had a bit more time, Larry! But the President is waiting, you know. And then there's that note—with the encouragement: 'Sit tight for fireworks.'"

He reached for the telephone, got long distance, asked to be connected with the home of Jay B. Marshton in Washington, D. C.

"It's probably a private, unlisted number, operator," Dan Fowler said. "But don't let that stop you! This is Inspector Fowler, of the F.B.I."

After a short wait, he had his number, his man.

"This is Inspector Fowler, of the F.B.I., Mr. Marshton. Remember me—from yesterday morning, at Mr. Rappleyea's office?... I just wanted to ask you a few questions, confidentially...."

* * * * *

In his luxurious apartment in a fashionable section of the national capital, Jay B. Marshton, promoter-extraordinary, adventurer in the realm of finance and business, sat on the edge of a priceless antique chair and spoke to the ace investigator of the F.B.I. over the telephone.



"Of course I remember you, Fowler! How are you, old man? The papers say there was an accident of some kind, to that Guard boat, at Key West. ... What's that?... You're in New Orleans?"

Marshton reached for a cigarette and lighted it while he listened, his eyes amused. When Fowler paused a moment, he said:

"You chaps certainly get around! What's that about Burbury?... The Reina Mercedes, you say?... Of course I know the ship! She stops at Calaya, in Hondagua, on her way up coast from Parazilla.... Oh, I see. Well, make yourself comfortable, old man, and I'll give you the story...."'

IT was five years previous, and the scene was the Palacio of El Presidente Ramos Ignacio Dyaz, leader of the victorious military junta that had elected its candidates to the highest office in the land—the highest until Dyaz, himself, made it higher yet, as El Jefe, "The Chief."

That the election was decided with bullets rather than ballots was merely a technicality which was better overlooked if you lived in the countries that lay south of the Twentieth Parallel of Latitude, North. In fact, you had to overlook it—if you lived!

Not a small factor in that election had been the strategy and advice of one Jay B. Marshton. One of the latter-day soldiers-of-fortune, of the Richard Harding Davis-Johnny Poe-General Christmas type, Marshton had contributed of his money and of his energy. But when the end came, as it had, in the Palacio, it was another gringo who stepped smoothly into the picture after the danger of blood-letting bad passed.

At the moment, he sat at the right hand of El Jefe, a powerful man of many ships and of much gold; both of which commodities were notable by their scarceness after El Jefe's election. If it was with sorrow that he decreed the parting of a sworn brotherhood-of-blood, El Jefe restrained any show of emotion admirably.

"Mi amigo," he had explained smoothly, "all my gratitude is yours for the help which you have given me. But, alas—the time for more serious matters than the march and the counter-march has arrived. The foemen give way before the brave soldier—and the soldier gives way before the diplomat and business man."

El Jefe broke off to bow to his newly acquired man-of-affairs in the Republic of Parazilla.

"Amigo," he had broken the news gently, "myself and Mr. Gray Bur-bury wish you the best of good fortune in whatever new venture you pursue—in whatever country to which you are going—now!"

* * * * *

Marshton laughed as he concluded telling of his hurried departure from Parazilla.

"It was just one of those things," he said. "I gambled—and in spite of appearances at that time, I didn't do badly. El Jefe paid me a bit of the money I had earned, and I came back to the U.S.A. and managed to steer it down a hill, like the proverbial snowball."

He paused, snapped his fingers twice, and his Hondaguan valet appeared with a cup of steaming, black coffee. He sipped it, then spoke again.

"But El Jefe has been more than considerate. I conceived the idea of building a road through the jungle of Hondagua—Oh, you've heard of it? ... Well, El Jefe ships me his worn-out road building materials when he is through with them, which I purchase at a junk price. Thanks to Bur-bury, El Jefe buys new road building materials—for his incomparable military roads—and he buys new tractors, new plows, new trucks, new everything! They are shipped to him from—from New Orleans, I imagine—and my junk comes to me on the return trip, up coast." He paused, chuckled.

"People laugh about my Canal Highway, as I call it, but I think I'll do all right, in the long run.... Don Pedro?... I imagine El Jefe has a sneaking idea that Hondagua will be a real factor in South American trade, some day. So why not have the old gentleman offer me some 'peace' concessions, so long as he was up this way?... Well, that's a vanished dream now!... Oh, not at all, Fowler, not at all! A pleasure to hear from you. Good-by!"

Marshton put down the telephone, yawned loudly, finished his coffee.

"My clothes are laid out, Jose?"

"Si, señor."

"I must be prompt for Mr. Rappleyea's automobile," he murmured. He picked up the telephone and clicked it to signal operator.

TWO hours after midnight three furtive figures stood close to a darkened, gloomy warehouse near the waterfront. One of the three turned his head to look down the deserted street, and the light of a nearby lamp fell on the strong face, the steady, alert, gray eyes and the powerful body of the man.



"The road's clear now, Dan," one of the others whispered. "That car has pulled away from the comer below!"

Dan Fowler turned back again, went slowly but without hesitation to the great doors of the place. After a scrutiny of the lock, he tried a ring of pass keys he was carrying.

The door swung to his pressure with a loud creak. A flashlight jumped alive in Fowler's hand and queried the inner darkness. A series of packing cases lined the walls, a strong hoist obviously used to swing them hanging suspended from the ceiling. The ceiling was reinforced with iron ribs.

"Okay," Fowler said in a low voice. "Come on, Larry. Smaley? You stand watch here, at the door, inside." The three slid into the inky stillness and the door shut gently.

"Let's work fast on this," Fowler said, as they stood in the darkness. "There are certain cases and crates we are to look for, only. Not one of us knows how much assorted junk is in here! Continental Plow tells us that usually the Reina is anywhere from one to six days late in making port -and that the Parazillan orders are delivered to this warehouse on orders from the ship's agents.

"Now—if there's anything going on here, it'll be only with the Continental Plow cases, and probably with some other sort of farm implements -maybe the same size, approximately. Understand?"

"I understand, Dan," Larry Kendal said. But Smaley was puzzled. "You think they'd have the guts to make this change right here? Right under the noses of everybody looking on at them?"

Fowler laughed grimly. "Did you ever hear of the cruiser Emden? The German raider ship during the World War? She sailed right into Hong Kong's harbor—a British armed port, and full of English war vessels—disguised as a merchantman. It wasn't until the Emden had opened up and sunk two of the British ships and fled that the defenders realized what was up.

"Yes, Smaley! The best place in the world to pull a daring job is right under the nose of the man who's looking at it! I think we've got something here—something that's going on right under the noses of the Customs people and getting by every time! Up to the time the chain slipped from that 'plow' case."

Fowler and Kendal drifted from the man's side. At the packing cases, Fowler snapped his light on, flashed it over the stenciled lettering. It read:

CONTINENTAL PLOW COMPANY

"Let's try this one," Fowler whispered. He swung his light, poked the ray around until it fell on a pinch bar, nearby. Kendal stepped over and picked it up. He broke the metal bands on the case, then inched the lever into a crack. He grunted with the effort, but nothing came.

"Let me try," Fowler said. He located the opening with his light, snapped it off, strained his great muscles on the bar. There was a resounding crack and the thing came open. Fowler made quick work of holding the strong piece of wood wide from the side while Kendal peered in.

"Plows, all right!"

They moved to another case; and another; and another—All plows.

FOWLER turned with an impatient clucking of his tongue. He snapped the ray alive again, searched the place. A long ladder stood in a far corner.

"Now, what do you suppose that's for?"

The ray of light flashed to the ceiling of the place. It was dropping away, after a fruitless search, but it stayed, suddenly—and concentrated on that corner near the ladder. Then it flashed back and forth, back and forth.

Fowler grunted. "Damned near missed it," he said. "There's a little difference in sheen there!" He went over, swung the ladder into position, went up it fast. He stood on the top rung and pushed. A trap door opened under his pressure.

"Ah! Come on, Larry. We'll see what's in this mystery warehouse that is supposed to be only one floor—and has trap doors up to the second flight!"

He flashed his ray around, was able to see just above the flooring. A great mass of crates and packing boxes of all sizes were lined around the walls. He set his flash on the floor and grabbed the ledge made by the open trap and swung himself up. Then he turned and shoved down a hand, gripped Kendal by the wrist, lifted him through the opening.

"We'll have a look at what's up here," he said. He swung his light to a door that was at the rear of the place. "Does this run through to the other street?" He puzzled a moment, swung his light front again. "There it is," he said softly. "There's the stunt, Larry!"

He trained his flash on the hoist that hung from this ceiling, too. There was a ring in the floor, beneath it.



"Get the idea? The hoist that hangs downstairs is a dummy! Those reinforcements cover the cracks in the floor that are made by this big trap door."

Kendal whistled softly. "Then the cases are brought here from Continental, left downstairs, dragged up here, and the switch made? With what? Where is the switched stuff?"

"Probably in the building behind this, that lets out onto the other street. The plows are taken out here, the ammunition manufacturing machinery put in its place, and the plows substituted for the machinery."

"Let's have a look," Kendal suggested. "I don't quite—" He stopped. Fowler was clutching his arm. There was a blast of cold air from somewhere near... a shuffling step... and the crash of something heavy smashing to the floor.

Dan Fowler hurled Kendal to the right and knocked him flat, snapping his flash off as he moved. He threw himself down just as a roaring chatter of machine-gun fire started. Streaks of orange-red flame raked the spot where they had been standing.

"That crash was the trap door being slammed down," Fowler whispered. "We're cornered!"

CHAPTER XV
The Fireworks

FOR a full thirty seconds, the chatter of the tommy gun held, then stilled. But Fowler had been creeping silently for one of the packing cases that his trained mind had mentally photographed as he looked around the place. He was behind it, now; and Larry Kendal at his side.

Fowler was about to move when he heard a creak, felt another cold blast of air, heard a hoarse voice whisper:

"Did you get them?"

There were others there, over near that door. Fowler thought quickly, decided on a ruse that might reveal the gun fire to some advantage, now that they had coverage. He held his flashlight tight against his leg to hide the light of it, and snapped the thing on. It didn't show so much as a glimmer. He tensed his muscles, snapped his arm out with a flip and let go of the flash.

The light blazed bright as the thing skittered across the floor. A gasp of surprise came from the darkness near that door—and the crash of gunfire sounded again as the startled gunners opened up on the flashlight. The electric lamp was shattered by the first burst.

A fountain of orange bloomed in that darkness. Fowler, his automatic clear of his shoulder holster and ready, fired carefully, spotting his shots in back of and to right and left of that flame. There was a sudden scream of pain that choked off in a gurgle, the thud of a body on the floor.

A voice cursed heavily and another gunner took up the job, aiming at Fowler's revealed position. The F.B.I. ace ducked low, scuttled back from the slugs that were hammering through the case, He felt for a corner, got it, peered warily around. He raised his gun to fire—then held it.

A new tommy gun had added its horrible chatter to the din. It came from low to the floor, and in the far corner—was aimed up and toward that door, toward that gunner who searched for Fowler and Kendal with his body-smashing lead.

There was a strangled cough, the sound of footsteps staggering, and the spurts of flame from the door stopped. But the newcomer held his fiery nozzle steady and glowing for another twenty bursts.

Then it was over.

"Nice work, Smaley," Fowler called. "But watch it! There may be more of them in that other room there!"

There was a loud pounding from below, and somewhere in the distance a police siren raised its wailing racket.

"The police!" Fowler said. "Slide your tommy gun over here, Smaley. Can you locate me, from the sound of my voice? I'll take the gun, and you drift down and let the police in. Tell them to send some men around to cover the warehouse in the other street, behind this one."

"Thanks, Fowler," Smaley said coolly. "But you're too valuable a man to lose, for the Bureau." His flashlight came on and Smaley held the gun in one hand to rip a burst through that open door.

He dropped it, scrambled up to the floor level, picked up his gun and walked into that other room, a wall of lead spraying before him to clear the way of anybody who might be lurking in ambush, Fowler and Kendal rushed the place behind him. Kendal's light joined Smaley's.

More cases greeted their eyes; but there was no sign of life in the place. Larry Kendal stepped back, trained his light on two huddled forms that were sprawled on the floor of the 'plow' warehouse.

"There are two more rats who won't lay another ambush," he said harshly.

UNDER the blaze of lights that the police provided, the F.B.I. men found the switches and snapped the dark warehouse's current on. Fowler watched the police check the corpses, examine the men for identification.



"You won't find any," he told them. "print them, too; but you won't find any fingerprints that you recognize."

The ranking police official frowned.

"They're Americans," he said. "Look like it, anyway."

Fowler nodded. "Tough-looking boys, all right. Browned, smooth men. Know how to shoot and handle guns, too." He shook his head slowly. "It's a mystery to me," he said, "but this warehouse isn't. Not any more."

He pressed some of the policemen into service and they helped to pull the cases out. Fowler examined them, then broke them open, studied their contents, made notes.

Some were, of course, marked Continental Plow. These contained molds far making small arms' frames... powder driers... stamping machines for cartridge cases, and an assorted dozen different devices used in the manufacture of ammunition.

Some cases marked to Atlas Stove and Furnace Company, Chocto, Texas, contained plows and were marked "boilers."

Understanding dawned on the F.B.I. star when he saw a number of cases marked from Atlas Stove Company, and directed to Atlas Stove Warehouse, New Orleans.

"Break those open and there's your munitions machinery," he guessed.

"You hit it that time, Dan," Kendal said admiringly when the stunned policemen jumped to it and proved him right.

Fowler took his two agents aside.

"Here's the layout," he said. "This gang has worked out a very simple and exceedingly clever trick to get munitions machinery out of the country to some unknown destination. I say unknown because we haven't proved anything yet! But the plan is simple—

"Here are two warehouses, back to back, both apparently having only one floor for their operations, the second floor of each having no apparent connection with the first floors. Continental Plow's honest, above-board product is taken in the front building, on one street, hoisted to the second floor, the plows pulled out and taken into the second floor of the building on the other street."

"Ouch!" Kendal said. "Working the two- addresses racket for a cover-up, eh?"

"Right. Now, we'll probably find this 'Atlas Stove of Chocto' is the bunk. Maybe they do make a few stoves. Maybe they do get old boilers and the like as junk metal to use. But their main and secret output is munitions machinery. The plows are rammed into the boxes the munitions have come in, and sent back to the factory to be melted up for new munitions machinery.

"The rest is simple. The munitions are stuffed into the old plow cases, nailed up, dragged to the Reina wharf and loaded on." He snapped his fingers. "It's that easy—once you get the lowdown."

Kendal frowned. "That's all very fine," he said. "But I still don't see the connection between this and the murder of Don Pedro."

Fowler thought a moment. "I'm—not so sure I do, myself," he said. "But I'll know a little more about it when I talk with Chocto. Let's get back to the office and give orders for the plant to be raided, and all hands held. I'm following this trail to the finish!"

He turned to the policeman in charge. "Have a guard put on this place, and hold anyone who comes around. Leave the bodies of those men as they are. We'll send a detail over from the F.B.I. to make a thorough check on them."

"Very well, Inspector," the man answered with a salute. "It's hell what can go on right under your nose and you'll never realize it, eh?"

Dan Fowler laughed, but there was a tinge of hardness to his laughter.

"We find out eventually—if we have time!"

AT the F.B.I. offices, Fowler dropped the telephone instrument and turned to Kendal and Smaley with a sour grimace.

"The Atlas Stove folded up a few weeks ago," he said. "It had been running only three years and was never very popular in Chocto. Every one of the laborers and workers there was an outside man, a non-resident of Chocto!"

He thought for a time, then looked up.

"'Sit tight for fireworks,'" he quoted the cryptic message that had brought him to New Orleans on this strange hunt. "We had fireworks tonight, right enough. But I think that we got off the track, somehow. Sure, we found evidence of contraband shipments. We found plenty to face a certain group of men with. But those men are either dead, or have skipped—as in the case of Atlas Stove.

"So—where are we? We have proved to ourselves that Parazilla has been secretly arming herself for about three years. And what does that lead to? The answer from all the other nations will be, 'Lucky Parazilla!' They're all doing it, getting arms where they can and when they can. Another thing: Who'll blame them—when they think our men killed Parazilla's envoy in cold blood?"

Kendal and Smaley sat silent, revolving the thing and trying for a solution. Fowler's face was haggard, his eyes dull. He looked at his wristwatch.



"It's nearly five o'clock now," he said. "The Director will be looking for a report when he gets to his office. It's six o'clock up there now, in Washington. I—"

He broke off when the telephone rang.

"Hello? Yes; Fowler speaking—" He sat straighter and the deadness of his eyes faded. "Yes, Mr. Director. But—what are you doing at Key West?... What?... And the head of the Secret Service is with you?... Yes, sir. Go ahead, I'm listening."

Kendal and Smaley looked at one another in astonishment. Alarm came into Kendal's face when he saw the color draining slowly from Fowler's cheeks, saw the pin-points of fire that came into his eyes, then saw those eyes go flat, opaque. When Fowler spoke again, his voice was vibrant with emotion.

"Six hours before an announcement will be made, sir?... It'll take that long to check all sources, and effect necessary precautions? What precautions?... Oh, my God!... The Parazillan battleships have arrived off Key West?... I'll be there within four hours, sir—or be dead in the attempt!"

He clicked off, swung to Kendal. "Larry! Jump to another phone and call Shushan Airport. Commandeer the fastest plane there, for a flight to Pensacola, Florida!"

Fowler got the operator on his own phone, snapped, "Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida! Hurry, operator!" In a short time, he was speaking to a sleepy-voiced Navy commandant; but his tense, vibrant voice and his few words brought the man to life in a flash.

"Hello?... Inspector Daniel Fowler, Federal Bureau of Investigation! Speaking from New Orleans—I am calling in the interests of the United States Government. I want the fastest ship at your air base to relay me from there to Key West. I'm leaving Shushan as soon as I'm through talking to you...

"Right! I'll accept full responsibility—I give you my word that this is the greatest crisis the government has faced since—" He choked, couldn't go on with it.

"Thank you, sir!" he whispered huskily. "We're on the way!"

He dropped the telephone, sat with his head bowed, his eyes tragic.

"The greatest crisis since the assassination of Lincoln," he said heavily.

He pushed himself to his feet—faced Kendal and Smaley.

"You, Smaley—carry on here. Check that warehouse for fingerprints, check the guns, try to trace them back to source. Get a crew over to Chocto and search the Atlas works. Have the Coast Guard shoot out planes as soon as the weather clears, to grab the Reina."

He passed his hand over his eyes.

"Routine. But it's got to be done. We've got to carry on with our gobs despite hell or high water."

Kendal was at his side, his hand anxiously on his shoulder.

"Dan! It's—that bad? The Parazillan battleships?"

The F.B.I.'s crack investigator shook his head, reached for his hat, and lifted his heavy suitcase.

"Some time during the night and under guard of a U.S. destroyer, the yacht with the President of the United States and his full conference aboard— disappeared—vanished into the fog off Key West!"

"Great God!" Kendal gasped. "But,—it can't be! It's impossible!"

"The impossible has happened," Fowler said, his eyes stricken. "No report is to be given out until the Director so orders. Remember that, Smaley! Not a word of it to anyone—in this office, even!"

"Yes, sir," the man answered in an awed whisper. "The—President!"

Fowler's face was grim when he strode through the door and made for the waiting car.

"This is the fireworks, Larry! This—and not the finding out about the Reina—not the fight at the warehouse—but this! It's the fireworks that will blast the lid off all Parazillan negotiations!"

CHAPTER XVI
To Prevent Bloodshed

BACK at Key West—at the time that Dan Fowler and Larry Kendal were tracing the warehousing operations concerning Continental Plow and the Reina Mercedes—the Presidential yacht nosed for shore and a rendezvous with a special plane from Washington.

It was late afternoon, and the sky was overcast, with a gentle ground swell running. A plane droned out of the east and circled to a landing in the water off the Key West waterfront.

A strong detachment of guards had been patrolling the area for more than two hours. Coast Guard patrol boats ferried up and down the shallows, nudging small craft back ashore. One of the new Coast Guard cruisers—a 328-foot boat of the airplane-carrying type—supervised the patrol.

The Navy destroyer accompanying the low- set, sleek, fast yacht aboard which the President had been taking a much needed vacation at the time of the murder of Den Pedro, signaled the Press boat to come near. An officer and a detachment of sailors put off in a small boat and took over the Press craft.



"All observation glasses, cameras, to be surrendered for a few hours," the young lieutenant said crisply. "Everybody into the main saloon, too!"

"Hey! What is this," one scribe squawked. "Who's that landing out there, Garbo?"

"Don't get funny. Come on, now!" The gobs stepped forward and went through the camera—and binocular-carrying drove of newsmen like locusts. Then they herded them below deck. The officer in charge grinned.

"The President is entitled to some privacy, isn't he?"

A fast boat put out from shore, its weather hood concealing the crew. A Navy boat chugged up with two Secret Service men, examined the speed boat, watched a file of men come aboard her from the nearby plane. The covered boat snaked out to the waiting yacht and six men went quickly onto the Presidential yacht.

They were met at the entrance to the main saloon by a tall, erect figure whose face was known in every land in the world—but it was a face that was haggard, the eyes ringed by sleeplessness, mouth tight and cheeks pale and drawn.

"Welcome, gentlemen! And thank you for coming in this hour of our national crisis. God grant that we may find some solution to this—this problem."

He nodded his head and extended his hand as he called each by name.

"Don Julio Mercante! .... Don Raimondo Correro!.... How are you, Marshton?... Good to see you, Rappleyea... Mr. Secretary of the Treasury.... How do you do, Mr. Burbury."

Two other men followed those six into the saloon—two men whose alert eyes took in every detail of the men who came aboard, weighed with knowing eyes any least bulge in the clothes they wore.

"Weigh anchor, Captain," the Chief Executive ordered the yacht's commander. "We'll just cruise about slowly, as we talk this, thing over. I am keeping this conference secret in the interests of peace between our two countries"—he turned, bowed to the Parazillan Ambassador—"Don Julio Mercante"—he nodded to the other Parazillan— "and you, Don Raimondo Correro."

South America's greatest newspaper publisher answered with a courtly bow.

"To our amistad," he said with sincere emotion.

IN the Press boat the newsmen glowered at the destroyer that kept a respectful distance between them and the yacht of the President, when they got under way again to the west.

"Nice racket," one of them grumbled, after they had been allowed up on deck again. "'President plays hide-and-seek fishing game while country rocks in throes of crisis!'" he quoted visionary headlines.

A Navy officer walked near, felt the man's arms and legs.

"You know, mister, I think you'd make fine barracuda bait!"

The newsman quickly left the rail of the Press boat for a safer stand.

A fog drifted in as night settled. The Presidential yacht came to anchor east of Tortugas. The destroyer crept close, and the Press boat anchored over to the windward of it, the Navy boat separating the scribes from the President's yacht.

A double watch was set on the destroyer, and as the fog increased, and the outline of the Presidential yacht faded into the shroud of it, a buoy painted with a shimmering, white, phosphorescent coating was tossed overside the conference boat.

The destroyer watch eyed this vigilantly through the night....

Gray dawn broke over the waters and the buoy's visibility decreased with the coming of light. One of the faithful watchers of the marker straightened suddenly aboard the destroyer, rubbed his eyes, stared again at that marker, peered for the hawser that should stretch from it to the yacht.

"Lookout Post Number Three," he sang out his position in a frightened voice.

There was a barked command and a detail of gobs and an officer came on the run.

"What is it, Green?"

The man was speechless, but he could point— and he was pointing now, with a trembling hand.

"I—it isn't my fault, sir! I've been doing as I was told, watching that buoy, and listening, sir."

The lieutenant blinked, rubbed his eyes— stared.

Where the Presidential yacht had been stood that lone, white marker. The conference boat had vanished.

Hoarse shouts broke from the destroyer's decks. A command was snapped and a bugle blared. Feet pounded below deck, swarmed up companionways, powerful searchlights blazed into the murky morning fog.

The sound of booming guns crashed out somewhere in the distance—great, heavy boomings that shook the destroyer and the Press boats. The Navy men stared at one another incredulously, until the report came to them from the operator in the radio room.



"The Parazillan cruisers are here—are firing a salute in honor of the dead Don Pedro!"

The eyes of officers and gobs went hard. Their mouths were straight lines in taut faces. Not a word was spoken, not even in the radio shack where the radio man flashed coded messages to the mainland. But in the hearts and brains and souls of them all pounded a grim refrain!

"Don Pedro—and the Coast Guard! The President—and the Parazillan cruisers!"

DAN FOWLER was grappling with the problem mentally as he and Larry Kendal soared through the misty dawn on wings of steel.

Low over the wind-swept gulf, through intermittent squalls of rain, the pilot from Shushan Air Port fought the elements in a grim, relentless battle to the Pensacola Air Base of the U. S. Navy.

A snap landing at the base, with water cascading in twin streams, and the plane snorted its way to the landing. A wide-eyed crew of officers and men jumped to help, stumbling out of the way of the hard-eyed men who leaped down from the amphibian and plunged to the waiting Navy speedster.

A flick of the new pilot's hand when the men were aboard, the roar of a power that counted more than that of a thousand horses, and a screaming take-off...

The plane slashed on through the mist, as Fowler told the grim tale to Larry Kendal—now only 10 feet above the Gulf waters, again zooming high to seek some bole in the weather that would give the pilot his bearings.

A lighthouse flashed into view, then was whipped away under the fleeting wings. The misty shroud thinned, went from gray to white, to blue- white.

Ten miles on, the plane droned over the smooth sapphire waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and the sun shimmered brightly on the wings of the fast stepping ship.

Dan Fowler barked, "OK to the left! There they lie!"

A squad of small boats patrolled the blue inside a circle of larger Navy and Coast Guard ships. Four airplanes circled in wide arcs, high above Dan Fowler's ship.

A close knit ring of destroyers made a yet larger circle around the busy inner ring of ships. Inside this outer fence of boats were two strange cruisers, several small yachts, an old tub of a boat with high, rusty sides, some speed boats, at anchor--

"There are the Parazillan cruisers!" Fowler said, pointing the strange ships out to Kendal. He called to the pilot, "Set her down as near to that destroyer as you can!"

The motor snapped off and the plane lost altitude at a fast clip. The tail surfaces dropped lower and lower as the seaplane speared a line through the conglomeration of surface craft that dotted the area. Officers and gobs stared down overside their ships; the crew of the old sponge- fishing tub quit noxious work with the dead and dying sponges that littered the deck of their ship, and were watching the excitement.

Wide-eyed civilians who had been spending their night on the water and had been caught in the encircling net of Navy boats were open-mouthed with wonder.

Near a single, white buoy that floated on the water a divers' raft and platform rode the gentle lap of the Gulf.

The speedy plane from Pensacola reared beck as its pontoons dug into the water and slid to a stop alongside the destroyer.

Fowler went upside and was met by the Director of the F.B.I.

"Anything new, sir?" he asked, his eyes anxious.

"Nothing," the granite-faced Director told him. "No news, that is, of the yacht. We've had divers down. The water is shallow here, the floor of the Gulf smooth. What we did find was that the hawser of the phosphorescent float had been cut with a knife—and an anchor hooked to it!"

Dan Fowler's eyes drifted to the Parazillan cruisers.

"We've been aboard," his chief said grimly. "No ship similar to the Presidential yacht has been seen by them! But one of the officers made a slip! Nobody is supposed to know who is aboard that yacht—yet this officer expressed hope that Don Julio and Don Raimondo Correro were safe!"

"What?"

THE Director nodded. "The Press has been stepped on—until we can get some idea as to how to handle this thing. But the Parazillans have until tonight to give a satisfactory story of that slip the officer made. Failing that—" The Director shrugged. "The Navy is r'arin' to get their hands on those two ships and their crews," he said softly. "It may mean war!"

Fowler's eyes were alive with the train of thought that was screaming through his brain, clicking at details of his frenzied manhunt and his seemingly pointless clues throughout the past forty-eight hours—clicking like the well-oiled, straight-tracked mechanism.



"War again!" he said. "War, when Don Pedro died; war when it couldn't be established that the Guard was innocent; war again, now, when the two Parazillan cruisers show up to take Don Pedro's body home—and the President of the United States disappears!"

Kendal stirred. "But Dan—it's so pointed! The cruisers arrive, with the officers and men raging mad and their government and people calling for revenge! And if the President is gone— they have it!"

Dan Fowler smiled tightly. "The pattern is beginning to come clear," he said. "There's been a tang of war in this thing from the start. The situation was awkward, when Don Pedro sailed for our country to effect trade agreements that would benefit us and them, that would bring our two countries together once again. What happened? He was murdered, with a trumped-up 'dope' alibi— but the thing laid squarely to the door of our Navy!"

"The Coast Guard," Kendal said.

"In time of war or whenever the President so directs, the Coast Guard works as a part of the Navy," Fowler reminded him. "You can bet your bottom dollar that the whole, wide world thinks of the Coast Guard as the Navy!

"Then what? We find a clue—we follow it. We know there has been a leak, on two occasions, don't we? Somebody, watching, fears that this thing will be shifted from the Navy. Then, when the Parazillan Navy puts in an appearance, and a situation not only similar to but far graver than the murder—if possible—follows: And the same methods used!

"I'm beginning to see daylight in this thing! Someone—someone powerful, someone rich, someone crazed with the idea of staggering wealth —is going to see that there is war!"

"The European dictators!" Kendal suggested.

"No. They have their hands full over there, without coming four thousand miles to tackle something too big for them to digest!"

The Director frowned. "You think, Dan, that a South American alliance of republics would go that far—"

"I don't think anyone is going that far," Fowler told him, "not to the killing of the President! But what would a week's disappearance of the Chief Executive mean?"

"It would force us to assume that he was dead, had been murdered in retaliation," the Director followed his thought. "I see, Dan." But he paused, his eyes doubting again. "Still, Don Pedro was murdered."

"Right! Don Pedro wasn't to reach these shores, sir! If he did, the war would be averted. If he made a lasting peace agreement with us, there would be no market for gigantic sales of munitions —for munitions sold at terrific profit—for hundreds of millions of dollars to be gained by someone, while the Americas and half of Europe battled one another to a standstill."

The Director shook his head slowly. "Dan, I respect your judgment, your ideas. I know how logically you think, how sure you are before you speak your mind. But what of the outside world? What of the United States citizens, even? Why, they'd come out here in canoes, rowboats, sailboats, anything—for the chance to get at the Parazillan cruisers, if word of this thing so much as reached their ears from your viewpoint, with your ideas set forth! They'd never believe it!

"You've got only a matter of hours, Dan. That's all. Hours—or there will be a war started right in these waters where we stand talking!"

"Right, sir. Maybe, if you keep the strict censorship we have clamped down on this matter, I can exact this thing," Fowler said.

"Jump to it! What's your first step?"

"Radio ashore to have Carlos Agramonte, secretary to the late Don Pedro, await me aboard the Oro Del Mar. I want to have a talk with him."

Five minutes later, the Navy plane was winging for Key West with the F.B.I.'s ace special agent and his assistant.

CHAPTER XVII
Death Strikes Again

CASEY, the Jacksonville agent, met Dan Fowler at the plane landing. There was excitement in his eyes and voice.

"One of the patrol boats found a queer, flat raft floating around near the Key and dragged it in. It's high, sort of, for a raft; and it's got airtight pontoons."

"Well? What do you make of it?"

"We dried it down and found tire tracks on it, and the tracks match those of the tires worn by the car that burned up here, the mystery car."

Fowler blinked. He considered a moment.

"Wheel chocks on it?"

"Right."

"Where was it found?"

"Between here and Tortugas."

Fowler nodded. "They towed the car ashore, probably during a dark night. That explains the automobile, but we still haven't explained the reason for all this expensive and clever manipulation. What's behind it all—and who?" He shrugged and turned away. "I've got to see young Agramonte about something important."



Fowler and Kendal hurried through a line of grim faced Coast Guards and F.B.I. men, and up the wharf in the basin where the funereal Oro Del Mar was moored. Her sides were covered with black bunting, her flag at half-mast, a guard of honor of Parazillan and American sailors standing at stiff attention in the main saloon.

Young Agramonte met them, his face grief stricken but his eyes cold and hard.

"Well, Señor Fowler?"

"I regret intruding on your sorrow," the F.B.I. ace said slowly, "but urgent matters give me no alternative. May I see you—alone?"

Agramonte turned on his heel without a word and strode down the deck. Fowler and Kendal followed. As they came past the main saloon, they could see a further guard of honor within, posted about a casket that was flanked with great, tall candles and banked high with flowers.

The F.B.I. man raised his hat in a gesture of respect. Agramonte, chancing to turn his head, saw; and for a moment genuine thanks were expressed in his dark eyes. But he froze again, instantly. He led the way into a small saloon aft, a sun deck that was glassed in, but whose windows were open now.

There was a high, intermittent singing of the radio receiving set down the deck. Fowler stopped at the saloon entrance and looked back, wondering if it could be a message for him. But the sounds were choked off abruptly.

He saw a man start from the shack, stare at him with expressionless, flat eyes and impassive face; then step back into the shack again. The man was in officer's uniform. Fowler shrugged and went in, faced Agramonte with his back to the door. Larry Kendal strode nervously to a far window, turned and waited.

"Mr. Agramonte?" Fowler opened bluntly. "I want you to tell me with no hedging, with no evasion, if there were any Parazillan enemies of Don Pedro who might have wished him dead?"

The man started, then dropped his eyes. "All great men have enemies, senor." He seemed about to speak, but paused slightly, then clamped his lips firmly shut. Fowler frowned.

"Maybe—you?" the G-man suggested, his eyes alert.

THE Parazillan gasped his astonishment, then broke into a torrent of imprecations in Spanish. Fowler smiled tightly and held up his hand.

"I believe you," he said. "But I also believe you know something, Mr. Agramonte, that you have not told me. For instance—the man whom you saw dead, at the jail! You knew him, recognized him! But he was not the man who killed Don Pedro, was he?"

The secretary's eyes were unfriendly. But he didn't speak—didn't have to. Fowler saw, from the way the man's throat moved suddenly that he had been startled by the question.

The F. B. I. man sighed. "I'm going to tell you a few things, Mr. Agramonte—because I believe you are faithful to Don Pedro, because I believe you wish peace between our countries, as you have said Don Pedro did. I am going to tell you, first, that Don Pedro was not killed by our Coast Guards." He watched closely, but the man didn't speak, didn't move.

"Next," Fowler said slowly, "I am going to tell you of a certain ship, of the Reina Mercedes."

The young man's eyes didn't change, until Fowler got to the part about the overcome guards. Then, perceptibly, he was startled. But he held his silence.

Dan Fowler shot the works. Briefly, clearly, he described to him the situation near Tortugas, watched the youth's eyes blaze alive, heard the increased tempo of his breathing.

When the stunning news of the President's disappearance was told him, Agramonte gasped. "And people will think it the Parazillan Navy! So! It is for that the American bodyguards of El Jefe were attempting your life."

Fowler came closer. "So you did recognize that man!"

The secretary nodded his head. "Yes," he whispered. "It was my belief that they had turned traitor to—to—" His voice faltered.

"To—El Jefe!" Fowler finished it for him. "I see. You thought that these bodyguards, whoever they are, or were, had gone Americano and were traitors to Parazilla and her president?" He turned to Larry Kendal.

"No wonder those men looked hard-bitten and had a world of savvy!" he said. "Get Casey. Tell him to check those prints and photos with the U. S. Army and Navy! I should have thought of it, when I saw that the six-shooters were Army issue. But, remembering the Kansas City massacre, I thought they had been stolen by gangsters!"

When Kendal had gone, he turned back to Agramonte.

"You have had a change of your heart about this, now? You know I am working to get the murderer of Don Pedro, and to keep peace between us?"



"Si," the man whispered, "I know it now, senor. But"—he shrugged—"it was all so clever, so cunningly devised. The sending of Don Pedro by El Jefe—"

Fowler looked around at the sound of a step. But there was no one in sight.

"Probably a visitor," he thought. "Let me have your story as briefly and as fully as possible," he asked the young secretary.

AGRAMONTE paced the saloon for a moment. Then, turning to Fowler, he said:

"You will understand, senor, that Don Pedro was of an old and proud family in Parazilla, and that when El Jefe came into power, be turned his face from government affairs. But always he has loved Parazilla, and always he has worked for peace, pleading with his friends in the government and with El Jefe, himself, not to listen to the foreign governments who wished to work against the amistad of our two countries."

Fowler nodded grimly. "An elder statesman who was a thorn in the side of the ambitious El Jefe! And El Jefe finally gave in—or seemed to give in?"

The secretary nodded. "Yes! Yes, it was so! That was several years ago. But with Parazilla arming heavily and building military roads and purchasing trucks and other equipment, Don Pedro became alarmed again. And then came the pressure of the foreign groups, to throw over the trade pacts with the United States."

Fowler's face was tense. "I think I know the rest! And so do you! He sent Don Pedro on a mission and his financial backer had him killed— by agreement—to get him out of the way, and to make it look as if the United States were responsible! But did you know that Parazilla was manufacturing all her own munitions, and probably has manufactured enough to supply all the warring countries of the world for several years to come? That they will keep doing so, supplying anybody, everybody, until El Jefe and his backer have amassed a billion or more dollars—wrung from the sweat of the peons and the blood of your countrymen and mine?"

The secretary shook his head. "But no!" he said. "There is not the manufacture of munitions in Parazilla! And the costs of bringing them into the country are terrible. It is the truth!"

Fowler frowned slightly. "That's what you think!"

"Ah, but señor"—Agramonte fished his notebook from his pocket—"I can tell that you are mistaken. That is one of the things Don Pedro came here for. Look, amigo, I shall—"

He paused, his eyes on the door behind Fowler. Those eyes widened slowly with surprise and his face paled swiftly, drained of its blood. The F. B. I. man turned suddenly, his face going hard.

A man—a Parazillan—stood in that doorway, his hand flat and his arm swinging in an arc. There was a flash of something bright and shimmering even as Dan Fowler went for his gun, had it, pressed the trigger. The man in mate's uniform staggered when the slug of that .38 hit him, went down with his hands at his stomach and his lips coughing blood.

The F.B.I. man turned to Agramonte, saw the secretary swaying on his feet and tugging at the hinted blade that had been thrown with unerring aim for his jugular vein. A torrent of blood was pouring down on the youth's shoulder and spattering on the floor. The vein had been severed —the wind-pipe all but sliced through.

Feet pounded along the deck and a dozen sailors in Parazillan and American uniforms swarmed into the room. F.B.I. men hustled aboard and quickly cleared the place. Fowler put his arms around the dying youth and lowered him gently to a divan.

The Parazillan's eyes were agonized as they met Fowler's; but the man was beyond speech. The ace G-man leaned close.

"We'll get that gang!" he promised the fast- awakening youth, "We'll get them—and everything will be as Don Pedro wished it, between Parazilla and the United States. There will be peace—eternal peace between us, because of what we have suffered, both our countries!"

A smile eased the drawn features of the faithful servant of Don Pedro. His eyes flicked understanding.

He moved no more.

DAN FOWLER stared down at the dead mate. "This man was getting a message when we came past the radio shack," he said. "Find out what it was, if you can." He looked back, saw the notebook that Agramonte had dropped. He went over and picked it up, put it into his pocket. "As soon as Kendal—"

He stopped. There was a shout from down the wharf. Larry Kendal was racing for the Oro at top speed.

"Dan!" he roared, without pausing in stride. "Dan!"

The dapper G-man came aboard with a rush. He thrust a bit of paper into Fowler's hand.

"This message," be panted. "It was— intercepted—by the boats at the scene of action! One of the radio men on the destroyer who understands Spanish figured it out and sent it to his commander.



Fowler took the note, opened it out. There were three words in Spanish and then the translation:

Assassinate the secretary.

Fowled looked up grimly. "It's too late," he said slowly. "The job has been done, the orders carried out. Agramonte is dead."

Kendal came close. "The Director is questioning the Parazillan cruiser men about the message," he said. "That's the only logical place it could have come from. The signals were plenty strong—must have come from nearby!"

"Let's get out there," the F.B.I. ace snapped. "This thing is narrowing down. We've got the motive, we've got an idea of part of the gang, and we've got more than an idea as to who the 'financial power' behind El Jefe is. But this message makes things worse than ever, puts the Parazillan cruisers in a worse spot than ever. And I don't think they had a thing to do with it!"

They went down the wharf and over to the plane. Rumor of something amiss out at sea had a dense crowd milling at the gate to the basin. One of the younger Coast Guard officers came over.

"Well, Inspector—I guess it won't be long, now, eh?" He pursed his lips. "How many shots do you reckon those cruisers will need to lay them at the bottom of Davy Jones' locker?"

"You see?" Fowler said to Kendal, as the Navy plane roared along to a take-off. "The 'Grapevine Telegraph' is working, as usual. Another day and it'll take the whole U. S. fleet to keep the cruisers from being attacked! Every moment, the situation becomes tenser!"

CHAPTER XVIII
Strange Errand

FOWLER, on the destroyer again, listened to his chief s recital of the facts on the mysterious radio flash that had brought about the killing of Carlos Agramonte by the mate of the Oro.

"The queer part of it is, Agramonte recognized that fellow who attacked us here at Key West—but none of the others on that faked Coast Guard patrol," he said, after he had told his story. "My hunch is that this was a gang of adventurers gathered together by El Jefe and 'his man Friday' and sent here, after careful planning, to do the trick. We've sent to Army and Navy Identification Units in Washington for a check of the prints."

"What makes you think that'll help?"

"The army guns," Fowler said. "Too, they're the soldier type. And Americans. They're not the usual type we deal with."

"But Agramonte agreed it was a Parazillan plot? Then, why aren't the cruisers in on it? Remember—one of those officers made a fatal slip!"

"It's a Parazillan plot insofar as El Jefe is a Parazillan," Fowler explained. "But by and large, the country isn't behind El Jefe, is merely under his domination. The mate on the Oro was in on it— and doubtless some others. And it's entirely possible that the Parazillan Embassy radioed the Ambassador's whereabouts."

"That's right," the Director agreed.

The commander of the destroyer came over, with a young officer who had just conducted a search of the boats in the waters, looking for radio sets.

"Three yachts found with radios which might have sent that message," the commander announced. "We're taking them ashore for a full inquiry."

Fowler pondered. "We sent a message ashore that we wanted to see Agramonte," he said. "Obviously, the message was intercepted and orders sent to that mate—in cahoots with the gang —to kill the lad."

"It took a long time to send that, didn't it?" the Director pointed out. "You heard the message as you went along deck with the man, didn't you?" Fowler remembered that head sticking out from the radio shack.

"I'm positive it was then," he said. "The reason Agramonte wasn't killed instantly was probably that Kendal had been with me, was facing the door. The man didn't have a chance to do his work until Larry had left to carry out my instructions."

"Dan," Larry Kendal said, "figure it this way: whoever sent the message did it after getting our flash and consulting a superior—or, in desperation!"

Fowler took out the little notebook that Agramonte had been referring to when the assassin's blade had cut him off. He turned some pages, staring at the neat figures and notations on them. He came to a section that listed the high export duties on munitions that Parazillan had paid over the past three years. He shook his head as he stared at the staggering totals.

"I've run through this three times," he said, "trying to find what it was in here that Agramonte wanted to show me. He thumbed the book again. "This confirms that munitions imports were high, all right, and that they were coming from outside. But it doesn't prove that Parazilla wasn't beginning to manufacture her own munitions!" He eyed the young Naval officer who had made the search for ships' radios.



"You searched every boat in the waters?"

The youth smiled. "Even the old sponge tub. There's no radio on that, no room for one. The holds are full of those smelly sponges, some of them dead, some half dead. The fishermen thought we were going to pull them in for violation of the fishing laws!"

"How's that?" Larry Kendal asked.

"Diving is against the law, now," the lad answered. "They made too much of a good thing of it, and threatened to ruin Florida for sponge grounds. Now, they have to go for the sponges in the shallows, where they attach to rocks. But we found two diving helmets and suits while we were looking for a radio."

The officer inquired if he could help further, saluted his commander and went down deck. Fowler stood staring at the notebook in his hand, his eyes far away. After several minutes, he stirred.

"Mr. Director?"

"Well, Dan? Any suggestions?"

"Yes, sir. That lad talking about the diving suits reminded me of something. We've had divers down here, today?"

"Right. They're still on hand. Why? Want to talk with one of them?"

Fowler nodded, his eyes burning. "I do. Two of them, in fact. I want them to work under my orders, at my directions. And they are to report their work directly to me, and no one else!"

THE two Navy divers stared in astonishment when Dan Fowler finished his instructions to them. One of them shook his head, as if doubting the F.B.I. man's sanity. The other merely shrugged and stood while his helmet was screwed into place.

When the men went overside and down from their platforms, a small patrol boat put out from the destroyer and went over to one of the Parazillan cruisers. An officer mounted the South American ship and talked with the commander of one of the visiting boats.

Dan Fowler watched the deck of the visiting ship with interest, and his eyes narrowed when he got the signal that was flashed to him from there.

"All right, sir," he said slowly to the astounded commander of the destroyer. "Have Sparks radio all Navy ships at the scene to surround those two cruisers!"

The ring of boats in the adjacent waters came alive with a sudden wigwagging of signal flags, flashing of radios, and a scurrying of activity on the part of the crews. Machine-guns were manned, the larger guns were stripped for action. The Press boat went into a babbling uproar and screamed imprecations at their guards when they were denied the privilege of communicating the scene to their papers.

On every boat that wasn't in the encircling action, the men rushed to watch the surrounding of the Parazillan cruisers. The Director of the F.B.I. shook his head, dazed.

"I hope you know what this means, Dan," he said. "Only you and that officer and two divers know what you're about! Every man on those American ships firmly believes that we have struck something that shows the Parazillans' guilt! What if some hothead flared up, fired a rifle, or pistol, or machine-gun at a Parazillan?"

"I'm staking everything on my idea," Dan Fowler said. "It's so fantastic that I won't even tell it to Larry Kendal, sir. Everything depends on this!" His face was grim when he added, "I expect there will be some firing, sir! That officer is making his rounds, giving his instructions to the commanders of the American vessels."

The Director nodded. His eyes were serene again.

"I trust you, Dan. It's in your hands entirely!"

Fowler walked to the off side of the destroyer, away from where the activity was taking place. He waited for what seemed to he hours, but he forced himself to be calm. He took out the notebook and read it, page after page, through the neat notations made by Don Pedro's efficient and thorough secretary.

Larry Kendal stood at his side, his eyes troubled. He started suddenly when Fowler read an item, jerked his head up and stared in disbelief at him.

"What is it, Dan?"

"Oh, my God," the ace G-Man murmured weakly. He shut his eyes a moment, then opened them slowly. "It's—it's that! It all fits in!"

He paced the deck of the destroyer nervously, his eyes blazing, and every now and then he paused to consider something, nod his head in satisfaction, and stride on.

The men at the diving platform called out, "They're set, Inspector. We're getting the signal to bring them up!"

"Take your time," Fowler cautioned them, fighting down his impatience to hear from the men. "Whether I'm right or wrong, this thing is too important to take a chance with these men! I don't want them to have the 'bends,' from bringing them up too fast. I may need them again, later."



"It's not deep enough for bends," the officer in charge told him. "About fifteen fathoms—ninety feet—is all she is here. Anyway, we use a helium mixture of air now, and that helps plenty."

QUICKLY the men were brought up, were lifted to the platform, their helmets unscrewed. Dan Fowler's heart jumped at the look of stupefaction he saw in the eyes of the first of the two.

"Not a word," he snapped. "Wait until your partner gets up top, then we'll check on it—just the three of us!"

When the other man was brought up, he stared at Fowler strangely and nodded his head. The F.B.I. man smiled slowly, his eyes pin-points of light. He turned to the commander.

"I wish, sir, that you would see to it your divers do not have an opportunity to talk with anyone. It isn't that I don't trust them," he said. "But what we've hit on is so tremendous, so staggering, that it's enough to unnerve them, send them babbling."

The commander nodded. "Anything else?"

"Yes, sir." Fowler took two slips of paper from his pocket and passed them to the man. "Please radio these orders to your other ships."

The Naval officer read the messages, frowned. "Are you insane, Inspector? Do you know what this means?"

"Perfectly!"

"Why not send this by semaphore, by manual signal? Remember, the sender of that order to kill Don Pedro's secretary has not been discovered yet. This will be overheard!"

The Director stepped up. "What is the message?" he asked quietly.

The destroyer's commander read:

Crews of Parazillan men-of-war will be placed under instant arrest. The cruisers are hereby ordered interned as first act of war. The Director met Dan Fowler's look of inquiry with a calm face.

"Send it, Commander," he said slowly. "Inspector Fowler is handling this matter."

Small boats with boarding crews put out for the two cruisers the instant the flash was sent. There was a slight commotion on the deck of the flagship of the two. An American officer drew his automatic and blasted four shots, and two Parazillans fell to the deck of the cruiser.

There was an instant uproar from the deck of the Press boat and the other small craft that were still under orders to stay at anchor. But Dan Fowler was calm.

"The second order, now, sir," he asked. He turned to the Director. "This is the good-by, for a while, sir. The investigation is in its last lap—as soon as the commander sends my second message —by radio."

The Navy officer read it to the Director: "All Americans in these waters will be armed for defensive purposes by the Navy boats. Small boats will put out from this destroyer for that purpose, and will equip every boat in the area with sufficient arms and ammunition to defend themselves against a surprise attack."

"Send it," the Director said. "Those are orders!" He turned to Fowler. "What next, Dan?"

"Larry and I will take the arms around to the boats," he said. "I want to be sure this is done properly." He lifted his hand in a slight salute.

A gleam came into the eyes of Fowler's chief.

"I think I understand, Dan! Good luck to you!"

"Thank you, sir," Fowler said as he went down to the ready small boat.

CHAPTER XIX
Desperate Stand

HURRIEDLY, the center of all eyes in the vicinity, Fowler and Kendal put off for the Press boat, as first stop. The newsmen crowded to the rail and shouted down to him angrily.

Fowler ignored them while he passed a bag to the Navy man in charge.

"Here are your instructions," the G-Man said, his face grim. When he was pulling away, he looked up at the scribes.

"I told you fellows you'd be sorry if you printed that story of yours." He smiled slightly. "But there's still a little excitement in store for you! Keep your eyes peeled!"

"I understand war is declared!" one of the writers shouted as the boat pulled away, under the guidance of the sailor crew.

Fowler looked at Larry Kendal. "There's the answer to why I've kept this thing to myself," he said, "In some uncanny way, news spreads. And if what I've hit on ever got out—even one word of it —" He gestured significantly.

He turned to call to the helmsman; "See that black yacht away off there?" He pointed. They were in the lee of the old sponge tub. "I'll give them theirs last of all." He turned, saw the crew of the high-walled, rusty tub peering down at him.

"Hold it," he shouted to the helmsman. "We might as well leave the guns for this ship now." The prow of the boat swung and the craft came alongside the big tub. The F.B.I. man shouted up through cupped hands. "You men carrying arms?"



"O' course not," came the answer. "It's agin' the law."

"Not now, it isn't," Fowler told the men. "Navy orders. Lower a ladder and we'll outfit you.

There was a moment's hesitation; then a rope ladder came overside, Fowler passed Kendal a bag, small, closely wrapped, heavy.

"I'll go first," he said. "You follow me." He went up the rope affair agilely and stopped at the rail, his eyes on the slippery, slimy deck of the big sponge ship.

As was customary, the liverish and still alive sponges were stretched out across the ship, the killing of them done partially by sun and the air, and partially by the treading of the crew upon them. Wreaths of the skeletal matter were hung overside, graded for color and strung out on string to dry out and to wash any remaining particles of the animal matter away.

"Pretty slippery footing," Fowler commented mildly, as he stepped overside. He eyed the crew of hard-bitten sailors and singled out a man who had "leader" stamped on his strong, calm face.

"You the captain?" he asked. "Get all your men above deck. We have some orders to issue them before we leave these tommy guns and go on to the next boat."

THE man stared, then called, "George! Harriss! Brayden! Front and center to get your orders. C'mon, step on it!" He explained to Fowler, "We're processing sponges in the hold, now. Got those men working at it."

The F. B. I. ace nodded and moved to the bow of the boat.

"Set the guns down here, Larry," he said. He stared around him, "Your men up on deck yet?"

Two individuals, husky and unshaven, came out of a cabin. Fowler looked at them, waited. The crew of the sponge fisherman was gathered in a tight knot behind their captain, There was a silence as Fowler waited—and as the crew waited. Finally, the leader spoke.

"Well? You were going to tell us something?"

"When all your men get here. You called three, but only two came out."

The man turned his head and stared back at the group behind him. He stood easily, hands on his hips.

"Harriss!" he called. He turned front again when a man came out of that cabin aft the ship.

"Okay," Fowler said. He turned to Kendal. "Unwrap those guns, pick up two of them, and I'll pass them out with instructions."

Kendal stooped, rolled the gunny wrappings loose, came up with a gun and passed it to Dan Fowler.

"Now," the G-man said, holding the unloaded gun aloft, "this is a sub-machine-gun, a tommy gun, in the parlance of our trade. The magazine fits on here—" He reached out, took a loaded drum from Kendal, snapped it into place. "See?"

He held it for the silent group to see. Before he went on, he kicked some of the slimy sponges clear of his feet and turned to Kendal.

"Show them with yours, Larry." The agent slapped his drum into place.

"All right," Fowler said. "You see how the magazine goes on?"

The men nodded, silent and wide-eyed. Fowler pulled the gun sideward. "This is the trigger. See it?"

The group nodded. There were about eighteen of them.

"And this is the muzzle!"

Another nod told him that his childishly clear explanation was getting through to their supple minds.

"All right," Fowler continued with it. "Now— just as the last and final words: We're F.B.I. men. When we give orders, we want them carried out! Everybody understands?"

"Yes... Okay... Right you are," came a chorus of answers.

"Fine! The guns are loaded... you know where the trigger is... and if you'll look closely, you'll see that my finger is on it right now!"

His voice cracked into a whiplash of command.

"The first man to so much as move his finger will be blasted right off the deck of this would-be sponge fisherman! Stand still, all of you!"

Fowler was never to forget what followed.

THE leader of the crew stared at the G-man and the agent in blank astonishment. Around the fisherman were Navy craft, destroyers, patrol boats, cruisers, airplanes. Every eye in the area was on the tense group and the two men of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The leader of the "fisher crew" sighed.

"It's been a great show, boys," he said clearly. "This is the last stop. Let's go!"

Fowler grunted as the big fellow jammed his hand inside his shirt. He jammed his finger down, hard, and sprayed a smashing fountain of lead into the man. That for Don Pedro, he thought grimly; for, from the looks and build of the leader, Fowler had a strong hunch that this was the man who had taken Dobsen's place.



Others were breaking for cover, drawing guns as they went, taking pot-shots at the A.B.I. agents. Kendal smothered his astonishment and stepped to the left, hosing one small group of men away from the cabin door.

"Hold your shots higher," Fowler shouted. "We don't know how thin this flooring is!"

The roar of gunfire brought excited shouts from the surrounding boats. Three Navy speed launches jumped away from ships and dug a trail of spray for the embattled sponge boat.

A slug from one of the sponge boat gang creased Dan Fowler's scalp. He lost his footing when he jumped clear of the range of fire, slipped and crashed headlong on the slimy sponges. But he managed a half turn to bring himself flat on his stomach, got his gun into range again in time to cut the feet out from under a man who was racing for that cabin.

A dozen of the men were down now; but some of them tried desperately to crawl to cover, firing as they went. Four, standing near a hatch, threw their guns over into the water and held up their hands. The rest were all down. The Navy boats were alongside now, and under the command of the young officer who had taken Fowler's message to the other ships, a boarding party swarmed up the high side of the tub.

Dan Fowler saw that the men were all out of action. He pushed himself to his feet, his gun at ready.

"Keep 'em covered, Larry! I'll see where the entrance to this set-up is!"

He started forward, stepping gingerly across the dead and dying men who were sprawled on the deck, their blood turning the dark mass of sponges a brighter red. Near the cabin, he was quickening his pace; but a sudden movement inside that doorway caught his eye. He ducked as a hand flashed out and a gun crashed so close to his face that the powder burned him.

A short burst from his tommy gun brought out the man who had been lying in hiding, brought him out in a crazy dance across the sponge and body- littered deck, to plunge against the rail. His feet shot out from under him and he struck the water below with the splash of a dead, inert body.

Fowler walked over to the four who had given up. One of them grinned impudently.

"We're not yellow," he said. "We just couldn't carry out this racket of blasting down our own flesh and blood."

The F. B. I. man said flatly, "How do you open this thing up?"

"What do you mean?"

"Come off it!" the G-man snapped. "Are you going to open up for us? Or do we open you and the boat both! Your radio flash to shore gave you away. And I had two divers under your 'pontoon ship' taking a look."

"You're a liar!"

"Why? Because you didn't see them, down below you? The water isn't so clear, after the recent storm. Besides, you were too busy watching the little show I staged on the Parazillan cruisers."

The man gaped. Fowler looked at him, his eyes flecked with fire.

"Well?"

"We're licked," the man shrugged.

FOWLER followed him into the cabin, watched him press a board in the wall of the place, saw the panel give. The man twisted a handle that came into view and the whir of a motor started. Then he jerked a ring device and stood away.

There was a shuddering movement to the high-walled ship. Fowler stepped out, looked aft, saw the false rear and sides of the ship swing open like a gate, snapping the wreaths of concealing sponges and dropping them into the water.

A roar of astonishment came from the entranced audience on the surrounding boats. One of the Navy speed launches nosed into the huge opening at the stern of the ship, and a man clambered to the low, rakish yacht that floated in the hollowed-out, pontoon-supported sides of that "sponge" boat—snug as a nut in its shell.

The launch reversed at the waved signal of the gob.

A thundering cheer broke from watchers on the ships. On one of the American boats, a voice that was breaking with emotion started the Star Spangled Banner. A salvo of "Vivas" came from the Parazillan cruisers. And a quickly assembled corps of musicians on the American destroyer broke into the Presidential salute—"Hail To The Chief!"

The Presidential yacht slid out of its cunning prison and back into a world that was tottering on the precipice of a destructive war—but that was yanked back again to sanity by the brilliant work of the world's most daring man-hunters.

Fowler skinned down the ladder and into a Navy launch, Kendal in his wake.

"The job is not quite over," he said grimly. At Kendal's alarm, he shook his head. "No. Not that! The President will be alive and unharmed. And so, I think, will be the rest of the party' But the show isn't quite over!"

He paled when he saw a still form stretched out on the deck of the Presidential yacht—a form in civilian clothes.



"I'm afraid one of the Secret Service men got it, defending the President with his life." He shook his head. "This has been a tough siege on the Treasury Department, all around. First the Coast Guard—then the Customs Service—and now, the Secret Service!"

He climbed up the side of the boat and ran along the deck. In the main saloon, tied to their chairs and gags over their mouths, sat the entire conference that the President had called—and the two secret service men who had remained to guard the Chief Executive!

There was the wail of a speed boat's siren. Fowler swung, saw a Navy launch tearing through the water for the yacht with one of the Director's F.B.I. men standing in the stern and waving a sheet of paper over his head.

He waited impatiently as others crashed into the saloon where the President and his party were imprisoned. The boat came alongside.

"For you, sir! The photo and finger print information we phoned to Washington for. F.B.I. Headquarters checked them directly with Army files."

Fowler looked, ran through some sheets hurriedly, stopped at one, then at another. There was a hard smile on his face when he put the things in his pocket—but a gleam of triumph shone in his eyes.

"I think this just about clinches things," he said, as he stepped into the saloon of the yacht.

CHAPTER XX
An Empire Crumbles

PROMPTLY released, the President and his party were stretching their aching bodies. The Chief Executive tottered weakly when he tried to stand, was asked by the Director at the F.B.I. and the released Secret Service men to remain quiet until one of the medical officers from the Navy ships examined him and his party, administered restoratives.

"Very well," the President smiled wanly. "But I want to shake the hand of the man who was responsible for our rescue. I would have been saddened, indeed, had my hospitality to the gentlemen seated here been the cause of injury to them."

"Inspector Fowler is your man," the Director said, his face relieved of its lines of anxiety. The President waved his advisers aside and came to his feet.

"Inspector Daniel Fowler," he said gravely, his eyes glinting with pride. "Once again your country is in your debt for your brilliant and capable performance of the duty of your office. Believe me, sir—I shall not let this service pass unrewarded."

Dan Fowler blushed as he took the President's extended hand.

"It's only my sworn duty, sir. I—I really should have figured it out a bit sooner."

"Nonsense!" the President boomed, the strength flowing back into his body. "Now, if we can weigh anchor and get ashore—"

Fowler was troubled; but determined.

"Mr. President," he said in a respectful voice, "you have one guest among your conference members who is going ashore under custody of the F.B.I."

There was a murmur of surprise from the men —from Raimondo Correro; from the Parazillan Ambassador; Don Julio Mercante; from Jay R. Marshton, and Rappleyea of the State Department; from the Secretary of the Treasury, and from Gray Burbury.

"The man who is responsible for the outrageous murder of Don Pedro Mario Cortez del Val y Llantanao—the one man, more than any others, mind you!—is in this saloon aboard your yacht, Mr. President!"

A hush fell over the group that crowded the deck and the saloon. The President stared at Dan Fowler keenly.

"You mean," he said shrewdly, "that when I called this body to meet with me and to discuss ways and means of avoiding war, I was, in reality, placing the date for the war? Is that it?"

Fowler nodded. "You couldn't have known, sir! The men behind this were far too clever in the laying of their plans to be caught by any ordinary work. It was, in the long run, science—science and the playing of a hunch I had when I thought of the old Emden, the famous German raider of the World War.

"This group has been so clever that they have seen the wisdom of doing things in an aboveboard manner—of perpetrating their crimes in the open, and actually letting us see the details of them, as they unfolded."

The President stirred. "Then, Fowler, the Coast Guard is absolutely absolved? They had no hand in it, as—"

Fowler made it easy, saved the asking of the question.

"Not one executive of this government nor any of its employees was in any way concerned with this outrage, or with what lay behind it!"

The Chief Executive sat back. "Thank God for that. Now, who is the man on this yacht, the man you accuse?"

Fowler considered a moment, his eyes taking in the entire group in turn, They halted on Gray Burbury.



"Mr. Burbury?" he asked. "When you stepped into the affairs of the Parazillan government, you had great plans to increase your wealth, didn't you?"

The banker's eyes narrowed and he started an angry retort, but Dan Fowler's eyes quieted him. "Do you deny that you cleared the track of your rivals in Parazilla, sent Jay Marshton, for instance, packing off to poor Hondagua after he had helped El Jefe to the top?"

"Well?" Burbury growled.p

"Do you deny that you started the secret 'coalition' movement that brought South American republics together, under cover, and that you made possible the building of the military roads, made possible the arming of those countries?"

Burbury jumped to his feet, "Yes, I deny that!"

Fowler waved him back to his seat and continued:

"Do you deny that the Reina Mercedes is one of the ships managed by your Latin-American Line?"

"I don't own it!"

"The line?"

"No. The boat."

"I know you don't. One Juan Lopez owns it— whoever he is. Do you deny that you shipped plows to Parazilla on it, and other 'farm' implements? And do you deny that these 'farm' implements were in reality not farm implements— but actually machinery to manufacture munitions of all kinds, and to start a great war and sell the munitions to all comers?"

"That's a lie!" the banker barked. He wiped the perspiration from his forehead. "Prove it!"

FOWLER smiled thinly; but he was tense.

"Thank you, Mr. Burbury. I was hoping you would say that." He fumbled in his pocket, brought out Agramonte's notebook, brought out sets of fingerprint negatives, and a photo of a dead man.

He stepped to Kendal, jammed his free hand into his pocket, then turned with the collection of things in his two hands. He looked around the conference group, stepped forward toward Rappleyea, changed his mind and stopped in front of Marshton's chair.

"Here. You hold these proofs that I have, will you?"

The red-haired man started, dropped his nervously plucking fingers away from his tie and held out his hands, palms cupped upward. There was a sharp, metallic snap, and a brief, sharp struggle which Fowler quieted with a surge of his powerful shoulders. Then another snap of metal. Dan Fowler stood back, his hands trembling.

"That was close," he said, looking into the maddened eyes of Jay B. Marshton. "I didn't think you'd keep a gun on you—in an armpit holster. It wasn't until you started fingering your tie that I realized the danger to the President. Burbury gave me my out by calling me a liar. But"—he paused, his head cocked on one side and a hard light in his eyes—"do you call me a liar, too, Marshton?"

The little, stocky man glowered a full minute longer. Then he said:

"I call you one of the greatest actors in the world, Fowler."

"Coming from you, that's praise," Dan Fowler smiled. "That scene you and El Jefe put on for Burbury's benefit, when you were 'kicked out' of Parazilla, was a honey!"

Burbury gaped. "What? Why, of course he was kicked out."

"By arrangement," Fowler said drily. "You were the fall guy for a confidence game. El Jefe bled you for money, and promptly passed it on to Marshton, who was 'making money in the Street.' Then, when the boys had enough for a starter, they thought up a swell one to cover up their operations and make a still bigger sucker of you."

Burbury flushed and dropped his eyes.

Fowler looked over at Don Julio Mercante. "You must have wondered a bit when the clever fellow who organized El Jefe's 'Foreign Legion' for him made what seemed a crazy play by discovering that he could build a road through Hondagua. Certainly,you knew better than that!"

The Ambassador shrugged. "In my native Parazilla, it is often best not to see beyond the end of one's nose."

"And yours is short!" Fowler said. He turned back to Burbury. "It is true that the plow shipments were faked. The plows were snaked out, the ammunition machinery shoved in, and off they went for Hondagua. It was a neat trick."

Marshton said, "You're crazy. Plows aren't used in Hondagua, and the Reina passes Calaya without stopping."

Fowler grinned. "Sure. You told me that once. You knew I'd find out a lot of things that I might wonder about, so you thought you'd allay any suspicions by being frank. You also told me that you bought old road-making machinery from El Jefe. And that's a bit of an untruth. What happened was, El Jefe promptly took the plow crates and— well, the stuff that was in them could be put into the crates and cases which were used to build those military roads, couldn't they? And weren't they?"



MARSHTON stared at Fowler long and steadily.

"Were they?" he asked softly. "Can you prove it?"

The G-man smiled. "I'll have conclusive proof within forty-eight hours. Undercover men are already at work in Parazilla and Hondagua, and we expect the Reina Mercedes to be picked up any hour now. Your domination in Hondagua is definitely known, and the factory that you have built there, the destination of the munitions machinery smuggled out of this country, will be discovered and seized. No war, Marshton, no huge profits from the sale of arms all over the world, as you had planned." He paused and looked coldly at Marshton.

"If you don't think you'll be implicated sufficiently," he said crisply, "you're mistaken. But to reassure ourselves, you won't mind if I have a comparison made of your fingerprints and certain latent fingerprints on a note found in the possession of a man definitely involved in this affair? A cryptic note that ended with, 'Sit tight for fireworks.' Found on a man, incidentally, who could only have secured his instructions for an attack on Kendal and me from one of the men in the conference at Mr. Rappleyea's office, who knew we were bound for Key West!"

Marshton's jaw tightened perceptibly. Fowler grinned and tapped the papers in his hands.

"Hits you hard, doesn't it? Well, here's some more: We traced those guns and fingerprints of the men who were running your show for you. Soldier-of-fortune types, they were. Three of the prints we got were of men who were 'kicked out' of Parazilla at the time you were. Here they are— names, dates, the whole works. All former buddies of yours, Marshton!"

Marshton was obviously wilting, but the G- man wasn't through with his show. He turned to Burbury.

"By the way," he asked casually, "do you remember Marshton, in Mr. Rappleyea's office, saying: 'I came as soon as my valet gave me the shocking news of Don Pedro's death, at eleven o'clock?'"

The banker frowned. "Yes, yes," he said, recollection coming into his eyes. "I remember that —but what has that got to do with it?"

Fowler wagged the notebook that Agramonte had taken out to show him.

"It's got a lot to do with it. There's a note in Agramonte's book here that among other appointments Don Pedro had was one with Marshton—at the Embassy, at ten o'clock in the morning!"

Don Julio nodded.

"That is right."

Fowler shrugged. "So, if Marshton was still in bed at eleven, then he must have known that Don Pedro was never to reach these shores!" He looked down at the notebook. "Agramonte was going to tell me something about munitions, referring to his notes. I'm sure now that Don Pedro didn't intend to see Marshton about 'peace concessions' as Marshton would have had us believe.

"In some way, Don Pedro must have had a hint of the munitions manufacture in Hondagua— and Marshton's natural connection with it. Importing munitions from other countries was bad enough, but the high costs meant that Parazilla couldn't easily do too much of that. However, with Hondagua doing the manufacturing, Parazilla could do all the arming it wanted to, cheaply! To prevent that was what Don Pedro wanted to see you about, Marshton!"

A grudging gleam of admiration came into the adventurer's eyes.

"Fowler, you wizard, why didn't we hook up, the two of us? With my ideas and your brain, this little world would be our own, private olive!"

Rappleyea of the State Department said:

"I think we'll be able to look after El Jefe. The sunshine of enlightenment will once again warm the mestizos and dons of Parazilla."

THE Director stepped forward to turn Marshton over to his men. Two of them took charge and led the red-haired little adventurer from the saloon.

The Secretary of the Treasury looked at Fowler curiously.

"Then you knew from the first it was not my men?"

Fowler nodded. "Practically, sir. Although we weren't sure why they had been used until we ran into the clue of the munitions. With the aid of science, we found out how the Coast Guard boat was overcome, but my guess about the use of a small boat was wrong. I wasn't entirely satisfied with the idea of a boat drifting up unseen. It wasn't until I thought of diving suits that it came to me in a rush. The method of using a diver who walked the bottom of the Gulf at night and located the anchor, then shinnied up the boat to thrust a hose with knockout fumes through the port opening, was the one sure way of reaching any boat unseen!"

The G-man turned at a word from the President.

"Do you mind, Fowler, telling me how they could have kidnapped my yacht while men were on guard, how they could possibly have brought our yacht into that high-sided, camouflaged set of walls they passed off as a boat?"



"His crew located your convoy quite simply," Fowler replied. Probably through radio signals that were flashed out from time to time or from the fog horns. A diver located the hull of the yacht, cut the buoy marker and anchored it. Then, with everybody aboard knocked out by carbon monoxide—which was applied in their usual manner—your anchor was cut away and a cable attached to the anchor chain.

"The crew just gently towed your yacht into the hollow interior, and closed the trap door again."

A Navy officer in the doorway shook his head. "You tell it as accurately as if you had planned and directed the thing! You haven't even looked at the anchor, have you, to see if it was gone?"

Fowler shook his head. "I didn't have to. My divers found the drag marks of the yacht's anchor, where it was lugged along bottom before the diver could cut it. And they found a long cable length, as well. While the faked fight with the Parazillans was being staged, they tracked along and were able to see the hull of the yacht from the bottom," He smiled. "Science again!"

The Director of the F.B.I. put his arm around Fowler's shoulders.

"Dan! I want you to have a good rest before you go back on the job. We'll handle the rest of it."

The President looked interested. "Fine! Fowler, you'll take your rest with me, on my boat."' He smiled. "I want an able man in the event that I am kidnapped again."

The F.B.I. ace moved from one foot to the other, and was visibly embarrassed. "The F.B.I. can't rest until every offender against the law is tracked down and brought to justice, sir." He gestured with his hands. "I am working on another case, sir."

The President raised his eyebrows knowingly. "Mr. Director. Can't you do something about this?"

Dan Fowler's chief boomed to a Navy man: "Radio to F.B.I. Headquarters, Washington, D.C.— 'Sally Vane, Special Agent: Report for duty at once aboard Presidential yacht, Key West, Florida.'"

Dan Fowler blushed!

THE END