The Clue of the Gold Coin
THE CLUE OF THE GOLD COIN
THE VICKI BARR FLIGHT STEWARDESS SERIES
THE CLUE OF THE GOLD COIN
BY HELEN WELLS
GROSSET & DUNLAP
© BY GROSSET & DUNLAP, INC., 1958
All Rights Reserved
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
|II||A Strange Trip||21|
|III||An Odd Offer||35|
|V||The Fbi Takes Over||49|
|VI||New York Interlude||66|
|VIII||Mr. Quayle Again||97|
|IX||Skull and Crossbones||104|
|X||The Torchlight Parade||114|
|XI||The French Sand||121|
|XIV||The Third Man||157|
|XV||The Mystery Solved||169|
SWIRLS OF HEAVY SNOWFLAKES, DRIVEN BY A BRISK wind that whistled acrossthe vast expanse of concrete runways that is New York City’s IdlewildAirport, dashed against the big picture window in the Personnel Loungeand spiraled back into the murky whiteness of the winter morning.Inside the comfortable room, four girls, all dressed in the trim, blueuniform of Federal Airlines stewardesses, sat in soft leather armchairs.
“Of all the luck!” One of the girls, a tall brunette, grinned as sheshook her head in mock despair. “Here it is, the middle of the worstwinter we’ve had in years, and what do I draw as my new assignment? NewYork to Chicago! The two coldest towns in the world! And you two, youlucky kids, get the Florida run!”
Vicki Barr tucked a strand of her ash blond hair2 in place, and herlaugh tinkled like Chinese chimes stirred by a gentle breeze.
“Your trouble, Sue,” she said, “is that you don’t wish on stars. Nowthe other night, flying down from Boston, I looked out the window andthere was Venus hanging up in the sky as bright and pretty as youplease. So I just said, ‘Star light, star bright, first star I’ve seentonight, I wish I may, I wish I might get the wish I wish tonight ...’”
“Oh, now, go away!”
“No. I really mean it. I said, ‘I wish I am assigned to the Floridarun.’ And the next morning the Chief Stewardess called me into heroffice and told me that my new assignment was New York to Tampa.”
Sue chuckled. “Vicki, you little vixen, I don’t know whether to believeyou or not. But just the same I envy you. When I think of Chicago inthis weather ...” She shuddered. “B-r-r-r-r! And I do mean B-r-r-r!”
“I envy you,” one of the other girls spoke up. “You kids are reallygoing to have fun! I was reading the other day about the big piratecarnival they have every year about this time down in Tampa. It’ssupposed to be as gay and giddy as the New Orleans Mardi Gras.”
“That’s the Gasparilla Pirate Festival,” the fourth girl, Vicki’sco-stewardess, volunteered. Cathy Solms was a tall, slender girl aboutVicki’s3 own age, with flaming red hair that contrasted sharply withthe pale blue of her perky cap. “And you’re right. Vicki and I aregoing to have buckets of fun.” She winked at her flight partner andgrinned. “By the way, Vicki, I wonder what big things are happening outin Chicago this winter.”
“Don’t rub it in,” Sue said. She glanced at the pattern of snowswirling up against the wide window. “If this keeps up, it doesn’t lookas if any of us will get away from New York.”
“Maybe not you,” Vicki replied. “But we go out on schedule. I checkedwith operations as I came in, and south of Washington there’s not asnow cloud in the sky. Remember, it’s the weather at landing, not attake-off, that counts.”
At that moment, Johnny Baker, copilot on Vicki’s flight, stuck hishandsome, crew-cut blond head in the door.
“Let’s go, kids. No day off for you two,” he said with a wide grin.“We’re taking off on the nose. Meet you in five minutes at Gate Five.”
Vicki and Cathy picked up their flight bags and topcoats, and headedfor the door that Johnny had closed after him.
“Give our love to the ice on Lake Michigan,” Cathy said over hershoulder.
“And don’t slip on the ice when you walk away from your ship,” Vickiadded with a smile.
“Get out,” Sue said, “before we throw you out.4 And oh, yes,” sheadded, a smile twinkling in her eyes, “give our best to that piratefellow!”
Four hours later the big DC-6-B four-engine plane put up its port wingas the pilot banked to swing into his landing pattern. Vicki, strappedin the stewardess’s jump seat for the landing, looked out the windowat the tropical vista spread all around her. To her left, as the pilotbanked, the window was filled with bright blue sky, cloudless exceptfor a few white wisps that floated high overhead. Through the windowacross the aisle, she could look down on the sand of the beaches,gleaming golden in the early afternoon sun, the vivid aquamarine blueof the waters of the Gulf, and the crisp green of the lawns and gardensthat surrounded the glistening white houses.
Then the plane straightened, passed over the busy streets of the oldcity, over the scattered houses in the suburbs, and at last the hangarsand runways of Tampa International Airport swept into view over theleading edge of the wing. The big plane shuddered as Captain March, thesenior pilot, lowered his wing flaps to check the landing speed. Thenthe runway rushed up to meet the ship, and there was a shrill whine asthe tires hit the concrete strip.
In her natural element, the air, the huge plane was as effortless andgraceful in flight as a soaring gull. But on the ground, her wingsvibrated5 and seemed to droop, and she shook all over like some great,tired clumsy beast as she lumbered forward to the unloading gate.
The instant she felt the ship land and steady on its taxiing course,Vicki unfastened her seat belt and got to her feet, ready to help herpassengers collect their things and get ready to disembark. Ten minuteslater she and Cathy were standing in the open plane doorway sayinggood-by to the last of them, three small children, who, with theirmother, had been making their first trip by air. The little girls hadbeen fascinated by the flight, and Vicki had spent all of her spareminutes—which on a short flight like this one, and with hot lunches tobe served to eighty passengers, were very few—answering their eagerquestions.
Then, rapidly, the two stewardesses checked through the big cabin forany belongings their passengers might have left behind.
“I hope our hotel is on the beach,” Cathy said, stopping for a momentto gaze out at the warm sunshine. “I can’t wait to start working on aFlorida tan.”
“I’m staying with Louise Curtin’s family,” Vicki said. “At least forthe first few trips.”
“She was in my class at the University of Illinois,” Vicki explained.“Her family lives down here. When I wrote that I was going to be on theTampa run, she phoned me the minute she got6 the letter and insistedthat I absolutely must stay with them on my layovers.”
“It’s nice to have friends,” Cathy sighed. “Much better than a hotelroom.”
Federal, like all other airlines, provided hotel accommodations fortheir crews when they were away from home. In New York, Vicki shared anapartment with several other Federal Airlines stewardesses.
“That reminds me. I have another friend in Tampa,” Vicki said. “I’llhave to look him up.”
“Ah!” Cathy said, brightening. “Do I smell romance in the air?”
Vicki laughed. “I hate to disappoint you, Cathy. But Joey Watson is aboy who works here in the Federal warehouse. He’s an orphan, poor kid,a cousin of Bill Avery, the pilot who taught me to fly.”
Cathy’s eyes widened. “To fly? Don’t tell me you’re a pilot as wellas a stewardess!”
“I’ve had my private license for two years.” Vicki smiled. “But Idon’t have a chance to get in much flying time when I’m in New York.Anyway,” she went on, “Joey was dying to learn to fly, and Bill askedme if I’d mind putting in a good word for him with Federal’s personneldepartment. There happened to be an opening here, and Joey got the job.So, you see, there goes your romance. I’m afraid Joey thinks of me moreas a mother.”
Cathy surveyed Vicki’s slim, trim figure, looking7 her up and down withan expression of exaggerated appraisal on her face.
“You don’t look like the mother type to me, gal.”
“All right.” Vicki chuckled. “Make it big sister if that suits youbetter.”
At that moment the door to the flight deck opened and Captain Marchentered the main cabin, followed by Johnny Baker, the copilot. Thecaptain had a leather brief case tucked under his arm and both mencarried blue canvas overnight bags stamped with the name and insigniaof the airline.
“How did it go, girls?” the captain asked.
“Smooth as silk,” Vicki answered. “Everybody seemed to enjoythemselves, and one or two went out of their way to say so.”
“Fine,” the captain said briskly. “That’s good. Now let’s check in andget out to the hotel. I could use a swim.”
As the four crew members walked from the plane to Federal’s operationsoffice in the airport building, Vicki explained to Captain March abouther invitation to stay with the Curtins.
“And oh, yes,” she continued. “A young friend of mine works as a cargohandler in the freight warehouse.” She told the captain briefly aboutJoey Watson and how she had helped get him his job. “Do you suppose itwill be all right if I go over and say hello?”
“I don’t see why not,” the captain replied.8 “Just be sure to checkwith the foreman first. They don’t like to have unauthorized personnelwandering around.”
A few minutes after they had made their routine check-in, Vicki saidgood-by to her fellow crew members and strolled leisurely in thedirection of the big warehouse building.
A heavy-set man lounged in the warehouse doorway, holding ahalf-consumed bottle of coke in his hand. He looked quizzically atVicki as she approached.
“Can you please tell me where I can find the foreman?” Vicki askedpolitely.
“You’re talkin’ to him,” the man said. His square-cut face wasexpressionless, neither friendly nor unfriendly.
“I’d like to see Joey Watson for a minute. Is he on duty thisafternoon?”
“Yep. You a friend of his?”
Vicki put on her prettiest smile. “Well, sort of,” she said. “I haven’tseen him for some time, and if I may, I’d like to say hello.”
“Just a second,” the foreman said. “I’ll go get him.” He turned anddisappeared into the huge building.
Vicki looked in through the open door. Piles of boxes, cartons, andbulky sacks stood stacked like islands on the big expanse of floor.Cargo handlers were busy sorting these, loading some on small motorcarts and unloading others that had just been taken off incomingplanes. Backed9 up at a long platform that ran the length of theopposite side of the building were half a dozen trucks waiting to pickup the cargo for local delivery. Other workmen weighed outgoing boxesand bales, and nailed cartons up more securely. The whole place had anair of quiet efficiency.
A tall, young figure dashed out of the dimness of the big room and ranup to Vicki, a big smile spread all across his eager face.
“Miss Vicki!” he cried breathlessly, holding out his hand. “I neverexpected to see you here!”
“Swell, Miss Vicki! Just swell!”
Joey Watson was eighteen, tall,