- Author: Murray Leinster
Read book online «Creatures of the Abyss by Murray Leinster (fun to read txt) 📕». Author - Murray Leinster
[Transcriber Note: Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
A BERKLEY MEDALLION BOOK
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING CORPORATION
COPYRIGHT � 1961, BY MURRAY LEINSTER
Published by arrangement with the author
BERKLEY EDITION, AUGUST, 1961
BERKLEY MEDALLION BOOKS are published by
Berkley Publishing Corporation
101 Fifth Avenue, New York 3, N. Y.
Printed in the United States of AmericaOne
The moment arrived when Terry Holt realized that he was simply holding the bag for Jimenez y C�a.—Jimenez and Company—in the city of Manila. He wasn't getting anywhere, himself. So, painfully, he prepared to wind up the company's affairs and his own, and start over. It seemed appropriate to take inventory, consult the police—they'd been both amiable and co-operative—and then make new plans. But first it would be a good idea to go somewhere else for a while, until the problem presented by La Rubia and radar and fish and orejas de ellos had been settled. He was at work on the inventory when the door opened, the warning-bell tinkled, and the girl came into the shop.
He looked up with a wary eye, glancing over the partition separating the workshop area in which the merchandise sold by Jimenez y C�a. was assembled. There were certain people he felt should not come into the shop. The police agreed with him. He was prepared to throw out anybody who came either to demand that he build something or else, or to demand that he not build it or else. In such forcible ejections he would be backed by the authorities of the city and the Philippine Republic.
But this customer was a girl. She was a pretty girl. She was pleasantly tanned. Her make-up, if she wore any, looked natural, and she carried a sizable parcel under her arm. She turned to close the door behind her. She was definitely from the United States. So Terry said in English, "Good afternoon. Can I do something for you?"
She looked relieved.
"Ah! We can talk English," she said gratefully. "I was afraid I'd have trouble. I do have trouble with Spanish."
Terry came out from behind the partition marking off the workshop. The shop was seventeen feet wide and its larger expanse of plate glass said, "Jimenez y C�a." in large letters. Terry's now-vanished partner Jimenez had liked to see his name in large print. Under the name was the line "Especialidades Electr�nicas y F�sicas." This was Terry's angle. He assembled specialties in the line of electronics and modern physics. Jimenez had sold them, not wisely but too well. At the bottom corner of the window there was a modest statement: "Orejas de Ellos," which meant nothing to anybody but certain commercial fishermen, all of whom would deny it.
The girl looked dubiously about her. The front of the shop displayed two glaringly white electric washing machines, four electric refrigerators, and two deep-freeze cabinets.
"But I'm not sure this is the right shop," she said. "I'm not looking for iceboxes."
"They're window-dressing," said Terry. "My former business associate tried to run an appliance shop. But the people who buy such things in Manila only want the latest models. He got stuck with these from last year. So we do—I did do—especialidades electr�nicas y f�sicas. But I'm shutting up shop. What are you looking for?"
The shop was in an appropriate place for its former products. Outside on the Calle Enero there were places where one could buy sea food in quantity, mother-of-pearl, pitch, coir rope, b�che-de-mer, copra, fuel oil, Diesel repair-parts and edible birds' nests. Especialidades fitted in. But though it was certainly respectable enough, this neighborhood wasn't exactly where one would have expected to find a girl like this shopping for what a girl like this would shop for.
"I'm looking," she explained, "for somebody to make up a special device, probably electronic, for my father's boat."
"Ah!" said Terry regretfully. "That's my line exactly, as is evidenced in Spanish on the window and in Tagalog, Malay and Chinese on cards you can read through the glass. But I'm suspending operations for a while. What kind of special device? Radar—No. I doubt you'd want orejas de ellos...."
"What are they?"
"Submarine ears," said Terry. "For fishing boats. The name is no clue at all. They pick up underwater sounds, enabling one to hear surf a long way off. Which may be useful. And some fish make noises and the fishermen use these ears to eavesdrop on them and catch them. You wouldn't be interested in anything of that sort!"
The girl brightened visibly.
"But I am! Something very much like it, at any rate. Take a look at this and see what my father wants to have made."
She put her parcel on a deep-freeze unit and pulled off its paper covering. The object inside was a sort of curved paddle with a handle at one end. It was about three feet long, made of a light-colored fibrous wood, and on the convex part of its curvature it was deeply carved in peculiar transverse ridges.
"A fish-driving paddle," she explained. "From Alua."
He looked it over. He knew vaguely that Alua was an island somewhere near Bohol.
"Naturally a fish-driving paddle is used to drive fish," she said. "To—herd them, you might say. People go out in shallow water and form a line. Then they whack paddles like these on the surface of the water. Fish try to get away from the sound and the people herd them where they want them—into fish-traps, usually. I've tried this, while wearing a bathing suit. It makes your skin tingle—smart, rather. It's a sort of pins-and-needles sensation. Fish would swim away from an underwater noise like that!"
Terry examined the carving.
"Of course we think there's something special about the noise these paddles make. Maybe a special wave-form?"
"Possibly," he admitted. "But—"
"We want something else to do the same trick on a bigger scale. Directional, if possible. Not a paddle, of course. Better. Bigger. Stronger. Continuous. We want to drive fish and this paddle's limited in its effect."
"Why drive fish?" asked Terry.
"Why not?" asked the girl. She watched his face.
He frowned a little, considering the problem the girl posed.
"Oh, ellos might object," he said absently.
"Ellos," he repeated. "It's a superstition. The word means 'they' or 'them.' Things under the ocean who listen to the fish and the fishermen."
"You're not serious." It was a statement.
"No," he admitted, still eying the paddle. "But the modern, businesslike fishermen who buy submarine ears for sound business reasons call them orejas de ellos and everybody knows what they mean, even in the modernized fishing fleet."
"Which," said the girl, "Jimenez y C�a. has had a big hand in modernizing. That's why I came to you. Your name is Terry Holt, I think. An American Navy Captain said you could make what my father wants."
Terry nodded suddenly to himself.
"What you want," he said abruptly, "might be done with a tape-recorder, a submarine ear, and an underwater horn. You'd make a tape-recording of what these whackings sound like under water, edit the tape to make the whackings practically continuous, and then play the tape through an underwater horn to reproduce the sounds at will. That should do the trick."
"Good! How soon can you do it?" she asked.
"I'm afraid not at all," said Terry. "I find I've been a little too efficient in updating the fishing fleet. I'm leaving the city for the city's good."
She looked at him inquiringly.
"No," he assured her. "The police haven't asked me to leave. They're glad I'm going, but they're cordial enough and it's agreed that I'll come back when somebody else finds out how La Rubia catches her fish."
"The Redhead," he told her. "It's the name of a fishing boat. She's found some place where fish practically fight to get into her nets. For months, now, she's come back from every trip loaded down gunwale-deep. And she makes her trips fast! Naturally the other fishermen want to get in on the party."
"The bonanza voyages," Terry explained, "started immediately after La Rubia had submarine ears installed. Immediately all the other boats installed them. My former partner sold them faster than I could assemble them. And nobody regrets them. They do increase the catches. But they don't match La Rubia. She's making a mint of money! She's found some place or she has some trick that loads her down deep every time she puts out to sea."
The girl made an interrogative sound.
"The other fishermen think it's a place," Terry added, "so they ganged up on her. Two months back, when she sailed, the entire fishing fleet trailed her. They stuck to her closer than brothers. So she sailed around for a solid week and never put a net overboard. Then she came back to Manila—empty. They were furious. The price of fish had gone sky-high in their absence. They went to sea to make some money regardless. When they got back they found La Rubia had sailed after they left, got back before they returned—and she was just loaded with fish, and the market was back to normal. There was bad feeling. There were fights. Some fishermen landed in the hospital and some in jail."
A motor truck rolled by on the street outside the shop of the now moribund Jimenez y C�a. The girl automatically turned her eyes to the source of the noise. Then she looked back at Terry.
"And then my erstwhile associate Jimenez had a brainstorm," said Terry ruefully. "He sold the skipper of La Rubia on the idea of short-range radar. I built a set for him. It was good for possibly twenty miles. So La Rubia sailed in the dark of the moon with fifty fishing boats swearing violent oaths that they'd follow her to hell-and-gone. When night fell La Rubia put out her lights, used her radar to locate the other boats who couldn't see her, and sneaked out from their midst. She came back loaded down with fish. There were more fights and more men in the hospital and in jail. Some of La Rubia's men boasted that they'd used radar to dodge their rivals. And that's how the police got interested in me."
The girl had listened interestedly.
"Oh, Jimenez began to take orders for radar from other fishing boat owners. If La Rubia could dodge them by radar, they could trail her by radar even in the dark. So the skipper and crew of La Rubia promised blood-curdling things as Jimenez's fate if he delivered a radar set to anybody else. Then the skippers and crews of other boats made even more blood-curdling threats if he didn't deliver radar to them. So Jimenez ran away, leaving me to hold the bag."
The girl nodded.
"And therefore," said Terry, "I'm shutting up shop. I'll turn the inventory over to the police and go off somewhere until someone learns where La Rubia gets her fish. When things calm down again, I'll come back and start up business once more—without Jimenez. I'll probably stick to electric-eye doors, burglar alarms, closed-circuit television systems and things like that. Then I might make this underwater broadcasting device, if your father still wants it. I'd better not now."
"We heard about your problem," said the girl. "Almost exactly the way you just explained it."
Terry stared. Then he said politely, "Oh. You did?"
"Yes, I thought—"
"Then you knew," said Terry more politely still, "that I was leaving town and couldn't make the gadget you want? You knew it before you came here?"
"Why," said the girl, "your plans seemed to fit in very nicely with ours. We've got a sixty-five-foot schooner and we're sailing around. My father wants something like—what you described. So since you want to—well—travel around for a time, why not come on board our boat and make the thing we want there? We'll land you anywhere you like when it's finished."
"Thanks," said Terry with very great politeness indeed. "I think I made a fool of myself, explaining. You knew it all beforehand. I'm afraid I bored you horribly. You probably even know that Jimenez took all the funds when he ran away."
She hesitated, and then said, "Y-yes. We thought—"
"That I should have trouble raising steamer-fare to any place at all," he said without cordiality. "And I will. You had that information too, didn't you?"
"Please!" she said with distress. "You make it sound—"
"Did you have any idea what I'd charge to assemble the device you want?"
"If you'll name a price."
Terry named one. He was angry. The sum was far from a small one. It was, in fact, exorbitant. But he felt that he'd made a fool of himself, responding to her encouragement by telling her things she already knew.
She opened her purse and peeled off