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El Diablo
by Brayton Norton
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Dickie drew her revolver and sprang to the rail. Sweeping the darkness of the Fuor d'Italia's cockpit with the rays of her light, she drew back.

"Bandrist," she whispered to Gregory through whitening lips.



CHAPTER XXXII

FOR ALL THE WORLD TO KNOW

Silvanus Rock was at the Golden Rule Fish Cannery at an early hour on the morning following the raid upon El Diablo. When Blankovitch entered the office, he noted at a glance that the face of the capitalist looked drawn and worried.

"Any news, Blankovitch?"

The words tumbled eagerly from Rock's thick lips as he caught sight of the ruddy countenance of the manager.

Blankovitch shook his head.

"Only the broken message a little before midnight," he answered. "You got that. Gonzolez landed. That's all we know."

Rock fidgeted while his eyes roved about the room. "You don't suppose anything went wrong?" he hazarded after a moment.

Blankovitch did not think so. The wireless had failed for some reason or other. But it had done that before. He was expecting Rossi in at any moment. There was no occasion for worry. Would Mr. Rock care for a drink so early in the morning? The bank president gulped down the brandy, and under the stimulus of the fiery liquor his wavering courage rallied perceptibly.

"Had a bad night," he explained. "Didn't sleep a wink. Neuralgia."

The Slavonian nodded sympathetically and the two men lapsed into silence. After some time had passed a fisherman entered.

"Rossi's coming in," he announced.

Rock leaped to his feet with the youthful exuberance of a schoolboy.

"I feel like a new man," he confided to Blankovitch, when the messenger had gone out. "The brandy was just what I needed. Lack of sleep surely pulls a man down."

The manager agreed and together the two men went out to the receiving platform to await the arrival of the boat from El Diablo.

When Rossi drew alongside, Rock greeted him effusively.

"How is everything at the island?" he asked. "Have you plenty of fish?"

The fishing captain answered the bank president's greeting with his usual shrug.

"Bonne," he said shortly. "Everything's fine. I got some good fish."

Rock was jubilant. His fears had been groundless. Everything was quite all right. For had not Rossi given the accustomed signal to that effect?

Blankovitch had already taken the cue.

"If his fish are first-class, we might put them up special for those A-1 orders," he suggested.

Rock nodded as he noted the stolid faces of the fishermen peering over the rail. Rossi had his regular crew. Still, one could never be too careful. For a moment he appeared to deliberate. Then he said:

"Good idea, Blankovitch, we're short on high-grade stuff."

The manager moved at once to the receiving-vat and pulled the grating over the traveling conveyer which carried the fish into the cannery. Then he opened a valve at the bottom of the tank.

"All right, Rossi," he said. "Dump them in."

Rock stood by for a moment watching the fish slide into the vat. Then he walked away in the direction of the cannery office. Passing through the room where he had conferred with the Slavonian, he entered the manager's private sanctuary which lay beyond and closed the door.

In the far corner of the room was a small clothes-closet. To this Rock made his way hastily, and, fitting a key in the lock, passed within, slamming the door after him. In the darkness of the stuffy cubby-hole, his fingers found a small flash-light in the pocket of an old vest which hung from one of the hooks. Directing the rays of the light about him, he worked his way through the hanging garments and reached the end of the closet. For an instant his fingers slid along the inside wall. Then a cool draught of air fanned his face, strongly tinctured with the smell of the mud-flats.

Swinging the panel shut behind him, Silvanus Rock descended the narrow stairway. When he reached the bottom he paused and drew his coat collar closer about his neck. The air was damp and cold and the waters of the bay were lapping softly against the pilings which supported the building.

Grasping the wooden rail of the gangway which led away from the bottom of the stairs, the capitalist crept on through the darkness until he reached the base of a big concrete storage-vat. Groping for the lock which secured the outlet-cleaning-door of the big tank, he unlocked it and passed within.

With the water-tight door closed behind him, he switched on the electric light. The cement floor of the vat was already partly covered with the fish which slid downward from the receiving tanks on the platform above.

Rock listened intently. But only the soft slip of the fish through the chute and the drip of the water from the draining-table, disturbed the silence. Then he heard the murmur of men's voices from the platform. The valve was still open. When Blankovitch closed that, no sound would penetrate the vat from the outside world.

He turned his attention at once to the fish. Drawing one of the albacore to one side, his fat fingers delved carefully into the fish's belly. Then they brought forth a large aluminum capsule and laid it carefully on a tin-topped table which stood conveniently near a small capping-machine.

For some moments he repeated the operation until all the fish had been emptied of their contents and a double row of capsules covered the table.

The albacore, he noticed suddenly, had ceased to slip through the chute. He frowned at the observance. Surely Rossi had brought a larger cargo than this.

Walking again to the intake from the tank above, he listened. The valve was still open. There would be more or Blankovitch would close the chute and assist him below. Wiping his hands carefully on his handkerchief, he walked nervously about the tank. There was nothing he could do but wait. There would be no use to fill the cans at present or start the conveyer to carry the empty-bellied fish to the cannery floor. Both would necessitate the use of machinery, and even electric-driven power made some noise.

If the Slavonian was through, why didn't he close the valve and come down? The door of the storage-vat opened suddenly and Blankovitch's bulky figure staggered within. Rock drew back at the expression on the Slavonian's face. All color had fled from the manager's ruddy cheeks. His eyes were staring and his heavy jaw sagged.

Then Rock noted that the door was still open. As he made haste to close it before questioning the frightened Slavonian, he found the way blocked by three shadowy figures who sprang upon him.

"You are under arrest, Mr. Rock."

Silvanus Rock wriggled vainly in the arms of the men who forced him back into the tank. In the struggle the light fell full upon the open vest of one of the strangers. Then Rock collapsed.

For years he had suffered this nightmare. In his troubled dreams he had seen the glittering shield of the revenue men winking at him from the darkness. Now it was a tangible reality. He was caught with the goods through the Slavonian's treachery. Glaring in sullen anger at his trembling manager, he opened his mouth to speak but no word came. Then one of the deputies who had made a cursory examination of the vat, began to speak:

"Well, Mr. Rock," he said, "it kind of looks like we had the man higher up. At the point of a gun, Mr. Blankovitch showed us the way to your little office down here. And Signor Rossi brought us all the way over from Diablo hidden away among his fish so we could have the pleasure of finding out where he sold his cargo. The little ride was worth as much to him as it was to us."

Turning to the man who was standing by the Slavonian, he ordered: "Better put the steels on him, Jack. I'll take this one while Joe stays down here with the stuff."

* * * * *

When the Bennington entered Crescent Bay followed by the Richard towing the Fuor d'Italia, excitement was rife at Legonia. And as the boats came to anchor off the Golden Rule Cannery a large crowd of curious village-folk collected on the dock.

The consensus of opinion, in Silvanus Rock's absence, was expressed by the local postmaster. There had been another fight at El Diablo and "Uncle Sam had stepped in and 'pinched' the whole darned bunch." To that opinion, the crowd for the most part concurred though there were some who thought otherwise.

It remained for Silvanus Rock himself to upset the truth of the postmaster's statement. Scarcely able to credit their sight, the villagers saw the magnate of Legonia led forth from the Golden Rule Cannery in the custody of strangers. Strangers who spoke and acted with an air of authority and displayed shining badges to part the crowd as they walked with their prisoner to meet the small boat from the cutter. Then came Blankovitch wearing hand-cuffs.

It was some time before the truth leaked out through the lips of a newspaperman who was aboard the Bennington. Even then there were some who doubted.

Mascola killed by Bandrist? Impossible. Bill Lang and Richard Gregory murdered at El Diablo and Mexican Joe who had been with them, found on the island?

Silvanus Rock a smuggler? Why the very thought was absurd.

But the postmaster was gifted with more sagacity. With an ear trained to catch the slightest drift of public opinion, he declaimed after hearing all the evidence:

"I ain't much surprised. Kind o' had my suspicions of old Rock all along though I never said nothin'. But I allays did say that young Gregory was a comin' citizen."

* * * * *

Purple dusk settled closely about Legonia at the close of the most memorable day in the history of the village. For a time the streets were deserted as the fishermen sought their homes at supper-time to retail the latest bits of gossip which were current in the saloons.

Kenneth Gregory's name was upon every lip. No story was complete unless he figured in it. The Golden Rule Cannery had been closed until further notice. Gregory had bought all the fish brought in by the alien fleet. His wharves were piled high with fish-boxes. His vats were full of albacore. He was going to give everybody a chance if they "shot square" and became American citizens. Rock and Blankovitch had been taken with the men from Diablo Island to the jail at the county-seat. The body of Mascola was still in the custody of the local undertaker and Bandrist had been removed to a hospital. But of the men themselves little was said. An era of universal friendliness prevailed throughout the village.

At the Lang cottage Aunt Mary was striving vainly to assemble her guests about the table for the evening meal.

"The biscuits will be ruined," she pleaded. "Leave the talk go. You've all talked yourselves half-sick now."

Jack McCoy protested as Miss Lang led him to the table.

"Remember, I wasn't there," he said. "And I've got a lot to find out before I get caught up."

Hawkins slid into a chair by McCoy.

"Well that's about all there is to it, Mac," he said. "Except that the Gray Ghost made a clean get-away in the fog. You see the Custom House has been wise to her for a long time but they never could catch her with the goods. For some time there has been a lot of dope floating around in tuna cans so they kind of laid it to some fish cannery. In talking it over with Cap. I began to look this fellow, Rock, up. And I found among other things, that he didn't have a dollar until a few years ago. He made his money quick, and as far as we knew, right here in town. Then, this Diablo stuff gave me a hunch."

Gregory looked up quickly at the mention of the island.

"Easy on the Diablo stuff, Bill," he cautioned. "Aunt Mary doesn't know much about that."

When supper was over, Jack McCoy rose hastily.

"I must be getting back," he said. "We have a big night-shift and fish to burn. And they will burn unless I'm on the job."

Gregory followed him to the door.

"I'll be down pretty quick, Jack," he said. "I want to see Miss Lang a minute before I go."

A crooked little smile twisted the corners of McCoy's mouth and for a moment he looked deep into Gregory's eyes.

"I suppose congratulations are in order," he began somewhat uncertainly, and seeing that Gregory made no denial, he put out his hand. "I hope you'll both be happy," he said slowly.

Then he turned quickly and hurried out the door. Hawkins hurried after him.

"I guess I'll go down with McCoy," he explained. "I want to keep near a phone." Then he turned to Aunt Mary. "In to-morrow's Times you'll get the latest details of the secret of El Diablo," he said as he bade her good night.

When Hawkins had gone out and Aunt Mary had retired to the kitchen, Gregory exclaimed to Dickie Lang in a low voice:

"There's one secret she won't get in The Times. She won't have to wait that long. For I'm going to tell her now."

"You'd better not," answered the girl. "You would have to shout. She's unusually deaf to-night. All the neighbors would hear."

"That's what I want," Gregory cried as he walked to the kitchen with Dickie following close behind.

In the semi-darkness of the little pantry-closet he took the girl in his arms.

"It's the only secret I'd never be able to keep," he confessed. "And I want the whole world to hear it."

Pushing aside the swinging-door, he went into the kitchen to tell Aunt Mary.



THE END

[Transcriber's Notes: Punctuation errors have been corrected and hyphen usage made consistent. Illustrations (excepting frontispiece) have been moved from their original page locations to the paragraph which they illustrate. Printer's errors have been corrected as follows: Page 7: Dois amended to Dios (Gracious a Dios) Page 49: bare-booted amended to bare-footed (bare-footed fishermen) Page 67: speak amended to speck (speck on the horizon) Page 81: do amended to go (to go down anyway) Page 82: run amended to ran (He ran his boats) Page 148: be amended to he (he began to fall down) Page 171: slippel amended to slipped (slipped a hand into his pocket) Page 173: furinor amended to furrinor (bossed around by a "furrinor") Page 182: rememberance amended to remembrance (a sharp remembrance) Page 205: unimpeachible amended to unimpeachable (unimpeachable standing) Page 225: Back amended to Black (together off Black Point) Page 278: lose amended to loose (cut loose from the Pelican) Page 279: she's amended to she'd (she'd take it) Page 293: preceptibly amended to perceptibly (expenses mounted perceptibly) Page 313: jibbering amended to gibbering (gibbering with fear) Page 328: order amended to ordered (Smith ordered.) Page 331: extra "the" removed (darkness across the cave) Page 347: died amended to dyed (dyed red with his blood) Page 357: steals amended to steels (put the steels on him) Errors in foreign language spelling (Gracious a Dios and Sangre de Christo) have been retained.]

THE END

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