Tom Swift and His Giant Telescope/5
Upon inspection, it was found that three half-inch holes had been drilled into each pontoon. It was evident that only an enemy of Tom or of the Swift Company could have done such a thing.
"Ned, that proves it!" declared the young inventor gloomily.
"Proves what?" Ned asked.
"Can't you see? It all ties in with Mr. Damon's so-called relatives, and their knowledge of my formula for a bendable glass. Someone in our shops is a traitor--or worse!"
"But what has a damaged hydroplane to do with that?" objected Ned.
"If we had landed on water with these damaged pontoons, we'd have drowned most likely," replied Tom. "That would have suited the villains who want my formula, and no one would have been the wiser as to what caused the accident."
"Admitting you're right, the thing's a pretty serious mess," said Ned. "But of course crooked people will go to long lengths for money, and if your formula is a good one, it certainly will bring a lot of money to someone or something."
"And that something is going to be the Swift Company!" declared Tom.
"Since we can't take off in the hydroplane today," said Ned, "let's go back to the office. I suppose it'll require some time to patch up those holes."
Tom immediately sent for one of his skilled mechanics, a man whom he knew to be trustworthy. He set the fellow to work welding patches over the holes. After cautioning his employee to maintain strict silence, he and Ned drove away.
"Don't say anything to Dad about this," warned Tom as the two left the field. "It would only worry him and could do no good. You and I must work out this mess by ourselves."
After dinner that evening Tom went to his private laboratory to check the thermostat controlling the temperature of the annealing oven in which his batch of new glass was being slowly cooled. Then he spent some time at his desk over certain intricate formulas. The room was in semi-darkness, lighted only by a shaded reading lamp.
"Well, that's that," yawned the young inventor at length, locking up his desk. "Guess I'd better put the valuable disk back in the vault before I go home," he decided, switching on the ceiling lights and glancing toward the corner where Koku had placed the telescope.
With a start he saw that his invention was gone!
Quickly examining the instrument, he found that the green disk had been jerked roughly from its clamps by someone who evidently had been in too great a hurry to bother unscrewing the bolts which had held it in place.
"Ho!" suddenly boomed a deep voice. Tom became aware of a commotion outside the laboratory. "You no get 'way fum me! How you like 'nother knock on top head?"
"Don't hit me again!" whined someone. "I won't try to escape!"
Tom flung open the door and saw his giant servant dragging a man up the steps. A feeling of tremendous relief swept over young Swift as he discovered his precious green disk in Koku's left hand.
"Ha, Master Tom! Catchum bad mans tryin' to sneak through gate! See green thing stick out of pocket and grabbum--bringum here. Want me hittum again?"
"Please don't let him hurt me, Mr. Swift," snivelled the man. "He hit me an awful blow back there."
"You had it coming to you," retorted Tom sternly. "Besides, you're not hurt very much. Koku, bring him in here. You certainly did a good piece of work when you nabbed this fellow. Take him into the office and we'll have a word or two with him before I call the police."
"I ain't talkin'," muttered the man, shifting uncomfortably and looking rather uneasily at the giant. "You ain't got nothin' on me. I just found that chunk of green glass in the field."
"Don't lie to me, unless you want to be mussed up some more," said Tom grimly, glancing at Koku. "I think I'll just take a look through your pockets. Perhaps you found a few other little things when you broke in here."
Under the menacing eye of the giant, the man submitted sullenly to the search. There was nothing in his clothes to identify him. Apparently he had stolen nothing else from the laboratory. He refused to answer any questions, however. Tom gave up and summoned the police by telephone.
"O Master, here other thing in man's pocket!" exclaimed Koku, after the thief had been carted away to jail. "It stuck to round green thing when I yank away from um." He handed Tom a bit of pasteboard from which the lower third had been torn.
"It's a business card of the Apex Glass Works with the representative's name ripped off!" exclaimed young Swift aloud. Then to himself he added, "I wonder? Maybe Ned was right after all and they ARE after my formula for bendable glass!"
Tom immediately called the home of Mr. Stern, head of the glass works, to whom he related the occurrence. The executive was shocked and very indignant at the thought of there being a criminal among his employees and promised to investigate thoroughly.
"I hope you don't think I had anything to do with this, Mr. Swift!" the man exclaimed.
"Not in the least, sir. But if you turn up any clues, I hope you'll let me know."
"I most assuredly will. You may count on my help."
An early hour next day found Tom and Ned flying south over the sandy coast of New Jersey. Every inch of the "Winged Arrow" had been thoroughly inspected, but no other signs of damage had been discovered. Even so, the young business manager sat a bit uneasily in his seat as he peered out anxiously at the broad wings.
"Afraid they'll drop off, old man?" grinned Tom. "Don't worry. We X-rayed 'em and no struts have been filed nor any time-bombs planted!"
"Huh, I was just looking at the weather," grunted Ned indignantly. He was secretly relieved, for he had been pondering how easily a charge of dynamite could have been secreted aboard ship. "How soon do you think we'll reach Delaware Bay?"
"Within the next twenty minutes," answered his chum, glancing at the instrument board. "Mr. Britten is to meet us at a dock near Lewes."
Less than half an hour later the pontoons of the "Winged Arrow" were plowing through the waters of Delaware Bay toward a near-by pier. A wharf attendant caught the line Ned threw him and the ship was moored securely to a stout post.
As Tom and his companion climbed up, a grizzled-looking old man hailed them in a voice that seemed well able to travel from quarterdeck to fo'c'sle even in the teeth of a hurricane.
"Ahoy there!" he bellowed, though scarcely twenty feet away. "Are you young Swift and company?"
"Right you are. Captain Britten, I take it?"
Vastly flattered by the title, the red-faced old seaman warmly shook hands with the boys. "Correct ye are, me lad. Your good father tells me you need a bit o' salvagin' done an' I'm the man as'll do it proper!"
"Good for you, Captain!" said Tom. "That's exactly what my father said. And now, have you your equipment handy? If it's not too heavy we can load it aboard the plane right away. Oh, and I want to introduce my good friend here, Ned Newton."
"Glad to meet ye, shipmate! As for my salvagin' outfit, it's aboard ship. We'll pick up my old barge, the 'Elizabeth B.,' but I calls her the 'Betsy B.,' at Key West, where I keeps her anchored. She's in a manner o' speakin' my winter home." Captain Britten picked up a huge, battered old suitcase. "If your flyin' machine is ready, so am I!"
The old man was obviously a trifle eccentric, but both boys were warmly attracted to him by his sincere and friendly manner. Besides, as Tom noted, there was a certain air of competence about him, as if he was well able to tackle and solve the hardest of problems in his line.
"Let's go, then!" proposed Ned, motioning to the attendant to cast off and handing him a coin at the same time.
Listening to a number of quaint seafaring expressions from old Captain Britten, who was starting his first voyage into the upper air, Tom sent the big craft roaring above the smooth water toward Shopton.
"How do you like flying, Captain Britten?" Ned asked. "Ever been up?"
"Well, I guess it's all right," rumbled the salvaging expert, looking down at the sea dubiously. "But to tell you the truth, I'm more at home ON the water than OVER it!"
In a short time the nose of the "Winged Arrow" turned inland as Tom set his course direct for home. When they were nearing Shopton, the young inventor, intending to come down on solid ground, grasped the device which lowered the landing wheels. It seemed to work very stiffly, he thought, so he leaned over farther to exert more force. Suddenly there came a snapping noise.
"What's up, Tom?" called Ned, hearing the noise and seeing his chum fumbling with the now useless mechanism.
"Landing gear out of commission. But there's no need to worry as we can descend on Lake Carlopa easily with the pontoons."
"By George!" exclaimed Ned Newton, banging his fist on the instrument panel. "Ten to one this is the work of the same scoundrel who bored holes in the floats. If I could get my hands on--"
"I hope you'll be in a condition to do so," cut in Tom in an oddly strained voice. "Take a look at the fuel gauge."
"It--it says zero! But that's impossible. We saw the tanks filled last night.
"Sure, and when we took off this morning the gauge showed they were still full. Someone tampered with the pointer of the instrument and all but drained the gas containers when they wrecked the landing gear. Just now you dislodged the jammed needle when you struck the instrument board with your fist."
"Then we're in a pretty bad way, eh, Tom?" asked Captain Britten calmly.
"I'll say," replied young Swift grimly. "We can't hope to reach Carlopa and there is nothing beneath us now but thick woodland. No question about it. A crack-up is the next thing on the program!"
As he finished speaking, the starboard motor emitted a groaning cough and stopped. The port engine might run for another five minutes or it might give out within the next five seconds!