Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

El Diablo, Page 2

Brayton Norton



  John Blair was worried. Every line of his face, every movement of hisnervous body showed it. He turned quickly to the bare-footed fishermanwho blocked the doorway.

  "You combed the beach, you say? How far?"

  "San Lucas to Port Angeles."

  "No signs of wreckage; nothing?"

  The fisherman shook his head.

  Blair was silent for a moment. Then he asked: "How far out to sea didyou go?"

  "About three miles, 'Dog-face' Jones's workin' out San Anselmo way. BigJack left last night for Diablo."

  Blair started. "Diablo," he repeated. "They surely wouldn't have goneout there."

  Before the fisherman could reply there came an interruption. The dooropened quickly and a young man strode into the room.

  "Mr. Gregory? Is he in?"

  Blair looked up quickly at the sound of the voice and ran his eyes overthe clean-cut figure in the serge uniform. The impression, hastilyformed, of having met the man before, was strengthened by the rovingblack eyes which were expectantly traveling about the room.

  "This is the Legonia Fish Cannery, isn't it?"

  Blair nodded. "Yes," he said. "But Mr. Gregory is not here at present."

  "When will he be in?"

  The words came eagerly with the brusk assurance of an immediate answer.The crisp insistence had a decidedly familiar sound. Blair regarded theclean-cut face of the young officer intently as he answered:

  "I don't know. Will you call again or leave your name?"

  "I am Mr. Gregory's son."

  Blair came to meet him with outstretched hands.

  "I might have known it," he said. "I am Mr. Blair, your father'smanager. I'm glad to meet you. Your father did not expect you so soon,did he?"

  The young man shook his head and smiled.

  "No," he answered. "Dad thinks I'm still on the other side. I wanted tosurprise him. I wrote a letter saying I would be home as soon aspossible. I mailed the letter on the ship which brought me over." Aboyish look crept into his eyes. "Don't let on when dad comes back thatyou've seen me, will you, Mr. Blair? I have to go back to camp to-nightand arrange about my discharge. It may be a week before I can be back."

  The black eyes grew suddenly wistful.

  "Say, Mr. Blair, don't you think there's a chance of my seeing dadbefore I leave? I have until five o'clock to get my train."

  Blair was unable to meet the steady gaze of his employer's son. Shouldhe tell the boy of his father's strange absence? Voice his own fears andsuspicions for the safety of Gregory, Sr.? By the time the young manreturned the mystery might be solved. At least they would knowsomething.

  "What is wrong, Mr. Blair?"

  The question was volleyed with quiet insistence. It demanded an answer.The boy would not be put off. He was his father's son. Blair sought toput the matter in as favorable a light as possible under thecircumstances. In a few words he told of the disappearance of RichardGregory.

  Kenneth Gregory listened quietly, at times interrupting with rapid-firequestions.

  "When was he last seen?"

  "Three days ago."

  "You knew nothing of his plans?"

  "Nothing definite," Blair evaded. "He might have gone out with thefishermen scouting for albacore. One of Lang's boats turned up missingthe next morning. Lang himself is missing, too."

  "Who is Lang?"

  "Your father's fishing captain. He recently bought him a number of newboats. They might have gone to try one of them out."

  "Nothing has been heard of them since?"

  "Not yet. You see it has been very foggy lately all along the coast.That has handicapped our search."

  "Where can I get a boat?"

  Blair shook his head. Then he came closer and put his hand on KennethGregory's arm.

  "All of the Lang boats are out now, Captain. Everything is being done, Ican assure you. It would be no use."

  "Are there no other boats here than Lang's?"

  "Only the alien fleet."

  The man in uniform whirled about decisively.

  "Then I'll get one of them. Will you show me where they are?"

  "It would be no use. They wouldn't go. You see----"

  "Let's try."

  With some reluctance Blair consented.

  "We haven't been getting along any too well with Mascola's outfitlately," he explained as they walked along. "I'll stop at Lang's wharffirst. Maybe some of the boats are back."

  Turning on to a small wharf they walked in silence over the loose boardsdown the lane of ill-smelling fish-boxes. At the end of the dock anarrow gangway led downward to a small float which rocked lazily in thecapping swells thrown up by a passing fishing-boat. Close by, anotherwharf jutted out into the bay. Upon it were a number of swarthyfishermen, piling nets. Blair stopped abruptly at the head of thegangway, his eyes searching the water. The fishing-boat was swinging upinto the tide and edging closer.

  "Is that one of the Lang boats?" he heard Gregory ask.

  A paroxysm of coughing prevented Blair's immediate reply. The youngofficer looked eagerly at the approaching craft, upon the bow of which adark-skinned man leaned carelessly against the wire-stays. He noticedthat the man was tall and straight. Upon his head a gaudy red cap restedwith a rakish air. His eyes were upon the Lang dock as he stood withfolded arms and waited for the boat to nose up to the near-by wharf.

  Gregory admitted to himself that there was something masterful about thered-capped stranger, at the same time, repellent. The crowd of aliensmoreover, he noticed, fell away respectfully. The newcomer was evidentlya personage in the community.

  Gregory, watching him as he stepped from the launch, instinctivelydisliked him.

  "That's Mascola."

  Blair bit the words savagely.

  Gregory surveyed the newcomer with interest.

  "He has a boat," he said. "Let's go over and get it."

  Blair put out a restraining hand.

  "There would be no use," he said. "Mascola wouldn't let us have thatboat to save our lives."

  Gregory was already on his way to the Italian dock. Blair started toovertake him. Then he glanced down the bay and his face brightened.

  "Wait," he called. "Here comes one of Lang's boats now. Perhaps theywill know something."

  With the approach of the second fishing-boat came a crowd of curiousfishing folk of all nationalities. Men, women and children clusteredabout the dock, imbued with a lust for excitement and a morbid desire tolearn the worst from the latest mystery of the sea. All eyes were heldby the fishing-boat as it swung about and drew near the float.

  Blair shoved his way through the crowd and led Gregory down the gangway.Upon the covered hatch of the launch Blair's eye caught sight of tworolls of canvas, fashioned bundle-like. Nets most likely. He lookedeagerly at the fishermen aboard the incoming craft. Their faces causedhim to look again at the canvas bundles. Then he turned quickly to theman by his side.

  "Why not wait on the wharf until they come up?" he asked in a low voicein which he strove to conceal his agitation.

  Kenneth Gregory shook his head. He too had noticed the bundles on thehatch.

  In silence the launch tied up to the fleet. In silence two bare-footedfishermen lifted one of the bundles and carrying it carefully betweenthem, stepped out upon the gently rocking float. The salt-stiffenedcanvas unrolled as the men laid their burden down, exposing the body ofa huge fisherman. His face was battered and bruised and Gregory noticedthat his hair was red.

  Blair's hand on Gregory's arm tightened.

  "Good God!" he exclaimed. "It's Lang."

  Kenneth Gregory looked down into the face of the big fisherman. Then heremembered the other bundle. Blair sought to deter him. But he was toolate to check the onward rush of the young man across the float. Alreadyhe was boarding the boat. Blair watched him raise the flap of canvas.Saw his eyes searching the folds beneath. At length came voices. A manwas speaking.

  "Found them off Diablo
. Went on the rocks at Hell-Hole in the fog. Boatwas smashed. Bu'sted clean in two."

  Gregory scarcely heard them as he knelt on the hatch looking down intothe face of the one he had traveled seven thousand miles to see.

  Blair led him away. As the little procession moved silently down thedock the crowd parted respectfully. Eyes that were hard, softened.Fishermen took off their hats, holding them awkwardly in their redhands. Fisherwomen looked down at the rough boards and crossedthemselves devoutly.

  The cortege passed on. Turning from the dock they threaded their waydown the narrow street leading to the town. As they neared the aliendocks, the dusky fishermen uncovered and drew together, awed by thepresence of the great shadow.

  Gregory's arm brushed against a man leaning carelessly against thewharf-rail. Raising his eyes from the ground, he beheld the one man ofall the villagers who had remained unmoved, unsoftened by the spectacle.With his red cap shoved back upon his shining black hair the insolentstranger stood looking on with folded arms. Gregory noticed that Mascolahad not even taken the trouble to remove the cigarette which hung damplyfrom his lips.

  For an instant the two men looked deep into each other's eyes. Then theprocession passed on.