"That's right," agreed Hambleton. he was about forty years old, well-built and wearing a lightweight tropical suit, but even so the heat seemed to be proving too much for him. Or maybe it was something more than that. The man was red-faced and perspiring heavily, his eyes dark and slightly sunken, and he had a strange, faraway expression that suggested that he might be slightly feverish. Jake just hoped it wasn't anything catching.
He glanced round at Corky, sitting at the table with them and looking bored and uninterested, and at Sarah, looking serious and intent as she sat next to him. Jake didn't really know what to make of Hambleton, although Jack seemed to think he was alright. The man was apparently some kind of government agent, sent here to contact Sarah while on his mission. And Sarah seemed to think he might need the use of a plane, which was where Jake and Corky came in. But he wasn't sure he wanted to find out what they came into.
"I've picked up certain scraps of information," continued Hambleton, "which suggest that the island we want to take a close look at is Kopa-Ka..."
"Kopa-Ka?" exclaimed Corky in horror, and both Jake and Sarah made motions to him to keep his voice down. "The Island of Dead Souls?" carried on the mechanic in little more than a whisper. "Oh, no Jake...I ain't going there...not for love or nor money..."
Jake drained his beer-glass and looked furtively round the bar, hoping that no one had heard Corky's outburst. Most of the bar's other denizens were drinking and talking as normal...all except Bon Chance Louie, who was ambling almost casually toward them.
"Did I hear you just mention Kopa-Ka, mon ami?" asked the bar-owner coming to join them.
"Er, yeah, that's right, Louie," replied Corky nervously. "This guy here, Mister Hambleton..."
"Corky!" interrupted Jake suddenly. "Can I have some of your beer?"
"What?" asked Corky, then suddenly realizing he was being told to keep quiet. "Oh sure, Jake," he said, emptying half the drink into his partner's glass. But by then Louie had already turned to Hambleton.
"And what might be your interest in Kopa-Ka, Monsieur Hambleton?"
"The lost continent of Mu!" declared Hambleton, looking Louie full in the eye.
"Moo?" asked Corky uncomprehendingly. "Like in Moo Cow?"
"No, Mu," continued Hambleton animatedly. "Haven't you heard of the legend? How once there was mighty continent in the Pacific with a great civilization, call Mu. But thousands of years ago the whole place sank...and now the idea is that all the islands in the South Pacific are just the mountain tops of Mu, sticking out above the sea!"
Jake didn't know what the man was talking about, but Hambleton sounded convincing.
"I see," said Louie, smiling disarmingly. "And that's why you're here...looking for traces of the lost civilization?"
"Right!" declared Hambleton, suddenly pulling out his wallet and showing Louie a card. "Washington Archaeological Survey. I'm moving from island to island looking for sites to be excavated later..."
"Ah, I see why you're interested in Kopa-Ka then," nodded Louie.
"Well I don't!" put in Sarah, not prepared for this turn in the conversation, although she thought it was all probably just some sort of cover story that Hambleton was using.
"Kopa-Ka, dear lady," explained Louie, with all his suave French charm, "is divided by a shallow channel about half a mile wide from the island of the Kopa-Ri...and they're as uncivilized a bunch of murderers as you're ever likely to come across. But to the Kopa-Ri, Kopa-Ka is a sacred island, because they believe that the souls of the dead live there. No one ever goes to the island, not even the Kopa-Ri except to set up new grave markers or on special occasions, because they believe that the dead souls will take over the body of anyone who goes there without the proper protection. You know, possession, and all that sort of thing..."
"It doesn't sound a very pleasant place," put in Sarah, shivering in spite of the warmth of the Pacific night.
"It isn't," agreed Louie. "But the Kopa-Ri also have a legend that their ancestors came from Kopa-Ka, and that once the two islands were joined together...and that once their forefathers could walk across and talk to them, still alive..."
"And that sounds to me like just the sort of story you'd hear if there used to be survivors from Mu still living on Kopa-Ka, from before the time the waters rose up!" said Hambleton. "Just the story I need to check out..."
Louie smiled sourly. "As I said, Monsieur Hambleton, even the Kopa-Ri only visit the island on special occasions. One of those special occasions is when they think they have trespassers on Kopa-Ka. At least we think that's why they go there...no trespassers have ever actually come back alive to tell us. I'm afraid Kopa-Ka is quite off-limits to everyone, my friend..."
"Yeah, sure," agreed Hambleton. "But if we were to fly over there and make sure the Kopa-Ri didn't see us, who'd be to know?"
"I would, monsieur," said Louie emphatically. "And as I also happen to be the local magistrate," he continued, turning toward Jake, "I utterly forbid you to fly this man anywhere near the island. Do you understand?"
"Yeah, Louie, I understand," said Jake, forcing a crooked smile.
"And as I also happen to be the nearest thng we've got around here to a doctor," continued Louie, swinging back to Hambleton, "I'd say that you had a touch of fever, monsieur. I'll get you something from my bag, and then I suggest that you spend the next couple of days in bed..."
"Ah, it's nothing," said Hambleton, unconvincingly, but by then Louie was already moving across the room to talk to Gushie, who instantly rolled off in his wheelchair to find the medicine kit.
"But it's obvious, isn't it?" said Hambleton quietly, as soon as they were alone again. "If you were smuggling weapons, you'd naturally choose an island that no one ever goes to as a base, wouldn't you?"
"You heard what Louie said," shrugged Jake. "No flying to Kopa-Ka..."
"But..." Hambleton started to protest, then lapsed into silence as Louie returned and handed him a couple of pills.
"Straight to bed and take these in a couple of hours," said Louie, then smiled. "Doctor's orders..."
Hambleton gave in wearily and got to his feet. He held onto his chair for a moment, getting his balance, and then walked off slowly and unsteadily toward his room.
"Guy needs a good night's sleep," remarked Corky, watching him go.
"Say, Jake...can I have another beer?"
Jake turned to his mechanic sharply, then realized that he'd drunk half of Corky's last glass. "Yeah, sure, Corky..." he said, starting to think about a good night's sleep himself.
As soon as they walked into the bar next morning, Jake and Corky knew that something was wrong. Louie was pacing up and down worriedly, and a moment later Sarah burst through the door, out of breath with running.
"He hired a launch!" she gasped. "Last night, about midnight. Took on extra fuel and went off on his own...without telling anyone where he was going!"
"Who?" asked Jake, although he thought he already knew the answer.
"Your friend Hambleton," said Louie, annoyed. "Just vanished in the night, in spite of what I told him!"
"And I can guess where he's going," groaned Jake. "If he started off at twelve last night, he'll probably just be coming in sight of Kopa-Ka about now!"
"Ah, and he still owed me sixty francs for his room," sighed Louie wearily. "Ah, well...C'est la vie..."
"You mean he's going to be killed?" protested Sarah.
"Oui," agreed Louie sadly. "After all, who could rescue him now that I have expressly forbidden Jake to fly to Kopa-Ka...or was it Kopa-Ri...I forget..."
Jake instantly guessed what Louie as hinting at. "Well now, Louie," he said smiling disarmingly. "If I were to just get in the Goose and fly out of here without actually teling you that I was flying to Kopa-Ka, you wouldn't know where I'd gone, would you?"
"This is true," agreed Louie, smirking slightly.
"And if you didn't ask where I'd been when I got back, that'd be the end of it, wouldn't it?"
"If you get back," said Louie, straight-faced again; but by then Jake was already turning toward the door. "Oh, Jake," Louie added suddenly, calling him back. "Be careful..."
Jake smiled and headed for the jetty, pursued by Corky, Sarah and Jack. He would have preferred it if Sarah had stayed behind, but had long since given up arguing with her.
A few minutes later, Jake had the Goose's engines purring sweetly, and with everyone strapped in, he took her out from the jetty and headed for the open sea. They were soon airborne, and he settled back to enjoy the half-hour flight to Kopa-Ka. It was only when they got there that he'd have to start worrying.
Corky looked worried already however, sitting in the co-pilot seat deep in thought.
"Don't let that 'dead soul' stuff worry you, Corky," he said. "Kopa-Ka's just an island like any other..."
"Oh, it isn't thant," Corky replied grinning self-consciously. "I was just thinking...if this place is some kind of cemetery, did we ought to take Jack there? I mean, if there are all those bones lying about...and he is a dog, after all!"
"It isn't like that, Corky!" laughed Jake. "The Kopa-Ri don't actually bury anyone on Kopa-Ka...they just believe that that's where the spirits live. All htey do when someone dies is go over and put up a marker on Kopa-Ka...sort of saying 'Mister So-and-so now lives here'...that's all."
"Ah well, that sounds better," agreed Corky, still looking rather gloomy.
Eventually, Jake took the Goose down and started skimming low above the water, only a few feet from the surface, and a few minutes later the islands came into view as he flew in on the blind side, keeping Kopa-Ka between the plane and Kopa-Ri. With any luck, they might be able to make their arrival unnoticed.
Jake put the plane down half a mile from the shore and began to taxi in quietly. When they were halfway to shore, Jake looked ahead and saw a launch drawn up on a nearby beach, and started to steer toward it. It looked like Hambleton had come in on the blind side too, so there was still a chance that they might be able to get him out of this alive.
When the plane was moored and they'd walked along the beach, they found no sign of Hambleton by the boat, although Jake recognized it as one hired from Boragora. But there was a trail of footprints leading away in the sand toward the jungle; scuffed, unsteady prints of a man who looked like he might have been staggering.
"Great," remarked Jake, looking up at the steep, mountainous island, covered with jungle. "He could be anywhere up there!"
"So what now?" asked Sarah. "Do you think Jack could find him?"
Before she could say anything else, Jack raced off among the trees, following the footprints as far as they went and then bounding off into the trackless jungle. Jake and the others set off in pursuit.
"Is Jack good at tracking?" asked Sarah, looking ahead at the thick undergrowth they would have to struggle through.
"Sometimes," Corky told her. "Depends if he gets lucky or not..."
"And how often does he get lucky?" she asked.
"Sometimes," Corky repeated, and then started pushing his way through the bushes.
The wind began to rise as they climbed upwards, rustling the jungle foliage eerily, and it wasn't long before they came to the first Kopa-Ri marker. It was little more than a smooth piece of wood with some native symbols carved upon it, but it gave Corky the creeps, none the less. In the next half hour they passed hundreds of the things, but so far there was no sign of a living person at all.
Jack kept coming back to see if they were following, then bounding off again. "Are you sure he knows where he's going, Jake?"asked Sarah.
"No," replied Jake. "But I wouldn't know any other route anyway, so we might as well follow him..."
If nothing else, Jack at least managed to lead them to more open country eventually, above the line of jungle that surrounded the island's lower reaches. A gentle mountain slope stretched up before them toward another row of trees further up, and the area was covered in dry brown grass and dotted with bushes. Jack gave a bark and started to lead them on across the slope. There was still no sign of Hambleton.
A gunshot suddenly rang out, and Jack scurried back to join Jake and the others as they flattened themselves behind a bush.
"Hambleton?" asked Corky, but before anyone could answer, there was a volley of shots...far too many to have been fired by one man. Jake drew his pistol and peered round the bush, looking for a target. From some bushes further across the slope, Jake counted three or four gun-flashes, but no one was sticking their heads up. Bullets continued to whine around them, and in the far distance, Jake could see a number of crates piled up before a cove. It looked like they'd found Hambleton's arms smugglers, even if they hadn't found the man himself.
"No good," said Jake, firing in the direction of their assailants anyway, but without much hope. "They've got us pinned down..."
"Have you noticed how dry this grass is, Jake?" asked Corky, flat on his stomach and looking at the ground.
"Yeah, it's dry," agreed Jake, not sure what Corky was talking about.
"And have you noticed which way the wind's blowing?" continued Corky.
"It's blowing from us toward them..." Jake said, suddenly realizing what his partner was driving at. "Corky, when we get back to Boragora, I'll...I'll buy you a beer!"
"Aw, Jake, it was nothing," shrugged Corky, pulling out a box of matches and starting to set fire to the grass.
"But what if the Kopa-Ri see the smoke?" protested Sarah as the fire started to catch and race through the grass.
"Well, either we sit here and let these guys shoot us, or we smoke them out and then the Kopa-Ri will come and kill us," Jake explained. "Now, as I see it, the Kopa-Ri would take at least ten minutes longer to get here than these guys, so we can worry about them later! Besides, the wind might disperse the smoke before they see it..."
The flames were racing across the slope now, smoking thinly, fanned by the wind which drove them ever closer to the gunrunners' positions. The shooting suddenly stopped, and when Jake looked out in puzzlement, he could see the gunmen running off hurriedly. Then, as he saw the flames approaching the boxes outside the cave, he knew why.
"Down!" he yelled, flattening himself as he saw the flames reach the crates. And suddenly there was a deafening explosion as the boxes blew up, throwing a massive column of thick black smoke into the air.
"Uh, Jake, I think the Kopa-Ri are going to notice that," remarked Corky flatly.
"Yeah, I think they probably will," Jake agreed, getting to his feet and eyeing the smoke. "And there's still no sign of Hambleton..."
They moved on a little further up the slope, looking round in all directions, and then suddenly Hambleton appeared out of the trees above them, obviously attrracted by the explosion. He was haggard and sweating feverishly, and his eyes glowed with mad ferocity.
"It's okay, Hambleton, we've taken out your gun-runners," said Jake.
"Up there!" shouted Hambleton hoarsely, ignoring Jake. "I've found them! The temples of Mu! The lost palaces! The people...the princesses!"
"Yeah, sure," said Jake, grabbing him by the arm. "Come on, we've got to get back to the plane, fast!"
"But you've got to see them!" cried Hambleton, trying to pull away.
"I can see some Kopa-Ri canoes crossing the channel!" announced Corky, and when Jake looked back at the feverish American, he knew he had no choice. Jake thumped Hambleton roundly on the jaw, and then he and Corky hurriedly started dragging him away down toward the beach.
Hambleton was just starting to come round by the time they got to the Goose, but by then he seemed quite calm again. The first Kopa-Ri canoes were just coming round the headland as they got on board, and arrows clattered off the wings as Jake took the plane out of there.
"Hey, Hambleton, I thought all that stuff about Moo was just a cover story!" Corky called back from the co-pilot's seat.
"It was," groaned Hambleton sickly, confused.
"But back on the island, you said..."
"I don't remember what I said back on the island..." Hambleton interrupted, then flopped back into his seat weakly.
"Say, Jake," Corky continued, whispering quietly, "you don't suppose it was one of them dead souls on the island...y'know, possessing him?"
"No, it was just the fever, Corky," Jake smiled. "If he had that old story on his mind...well, he probably started having delusions about it..."
Corky nodded, and Jake fell silent for a moment before carrying on.
"Of course, I suppose it's just possible that somewhere up at the top of that island there might be something...
"Mu? No, it can't be...
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