(The Hotspur Homepage)


Complete Story, taken from The Hotspur issue: 1034 September 1st 1956.


A deep sea detective seeks a fleet of stolen ships!


A few days after he had brought the s.s. Condor safely to port, through the wildest Atlantic storm for years, Captain Thomas Jameson received the following cablegram from the owners—


“Request you come New York at once.

Need special investigator. Dangerous proposition.

Wire reply—John Somers, general manager,

American Steam Transport Company.”

Captain Jameson was a man who could never resist a challenge. His reply was both short and to the point. “Catching first train,” he wired.

A few days later Captain Jameson was ushered into the presence of John Somers. “Captain,” the magnate said. “I am very glad you accepted my invitation to call here, and I very much hope that you’ll accept my proposition.” Somers leaned back in his chair and placed his fingertips together and stared at Jameson. “Tell me,” he said, “did you ever hear of the s.s. Pittsburgh?” Jameson nodded. “One of the boats,” he said. “She disappeared on the high seas nine months ago, and nothing has been seen or heard of her since. Is that correct?” The other nodded. “Maybe you’ll remember the s.s. Kentucky, also?” he went on. “She disappeared about six months ago, didn’t she?” asked the skipper. “Also the s.s. Tarpon?” went on the other. “She disappeared about ten weeks ago,” was the reply. John Somers leaned forward. “Anything peculiar strike you about the case of those three ships?” he asked. “Well,” said Jameson, “it’s strange that all three ships should disappear in the same year, and—” “Just so,” nodded the other. “And each of them was engaged in the South American trade. Each, of them, as far as we know, disappeared in approximately the same longitude and latitude. It’s also a strange coincidence that there should be an interval of about three months between each disappearance.”


Captain Jameson’s frown had deepened. “What exactly do you suspect?” he asked. “Nothing definite yet,” said John Somers quietly. “But something which happened quite recently may give us a lead. “As you know in each case, the crews disappeared with the ships. Well, a few weeks ago, down in the South American port of San Marlino an American sailor was found murdered. The papers in his possession showed him to be Jack Prest—and Jack Prest was a member of the Pittsburgh!” Somers glared at Captain Jameson. “Now,” he demanded, “if the Pittsburgh disappeared with all hands, how did Prest come to be found in San Marlino?” Jameson studied the ash on his cigar. “Maybe the Pittsburgh was not lost at all,” he said. The other banged his fist upon the desk. “That’s what I think,” he snapped. “Ships have mysteriously disappeared before today, and, later on, they had reappeared on the high seas, complete with structural alterations and under different names. I’m convinced that something of that kind has happened to the Pittsburgh and the other missing ships.” “But I’m still at a loss,” Jameson said. “Where exactly do you expect me to come into this business?” John Somers regarded him steadily. “Captain Jameson,” he said, “I want you to become our special investigator. I want you to go to San Marlino and find out all you can about the murder of this man, Prest. I am convinced that the mystery of the Pittsburgh is somehow connected with that murder.” He handed over a typewritten sheet. It was headed— “Mystery of the s.s. Pittsburgh.” Our readers will be interested to know the American Steam Transport Company are not content to allow the disappearance of the Pittsburgh to become one of the unsolved mysteries of the seas. It seems that recently they have come upon a clue, which is leading them to a different line of investigation. In connection with this clue, they have engaged the services of Captain Thomas Jameson as their special investigator. The captain is at present on his way to San Marlino.


The skipper frowned, and then he read the typescript through again. “What’s behind all this?” he demanded. “Just this,” said John Somers quietly, “if you undertake this work I shall cause this paragraph to be published exactly as you see it here in all the San Marlino newspapers. If, as I fancy, the men concerned in this mystery have their headquarters at San Marlino, they will become alerted at once. In all probability, Captain Jameson, they will lay themselves out to murder you as soon as you set foot on shore. That’s why I told you my proposition was dangerous.” He spoke now with great distinctness. “Don’t you see,” he said, “if these men attempt to murder you, and you’re able to outwit them, you’ll at once obtain a line of their identity.” He relit his cigar. Jameson heaved his hefty frame up and adjusted his peaked cap. “I reckon you can sign me on,” he said. Two days later Captain Jameson boarded a ship for San Marlino.



When his arrived at San Marlino, Jameson made no attempt to disguise himself. He went down the gang-plank, carrying his small suitcase and attired in his usual double-breasted suit of navy blue, with his peaked cap clapped firmly on his head.


He strolled slowly along the quayside, and finally came out into the streets of San Marlino. It appeared he was having trouble in lighting his pipe, for several times he stopped and applied a match to it. Each time he lit a match Jameson turned round as if to shield the flame from the wind, so that he was looking back the way he had come. On each occasion he noticed a tall, comparatively well-dressed man who was strolling along behind him. When Jameson entered the first hotel he came to, the tall man was not far behind him. As the ship had docked early in the afternoon, the skipper decided to explore San Marlino that evening. When he left the hotel he had effected several changes in his appearance. First of all, the suit he was wearing was very old and ill-fitting, while his peaked cap had given way to an old, battered felt hat. Jameson made his way towards the docks, and he hadn’t walked the length of three streets before he realised that his shadower was again behind him. Moreover, the latter was rapidly overtaking him. Reaching Jameson, he touched him on the shoulder. “Pardon me,” he said, “but you’re a Britisher, aren’t you?” “Yes,” said Jameson shortly. “I’m British all right. Name’s Captain Tom Smith. I’m trying to get a job in this blinkin’ hole.” “I’m English myself,” said the other casually. “I’ve got a job ashore here. But I like to help a fellow countryman whenever I get the chance. You’d better come along with me to Pete’s Saloon. Pete’s is a kind of clubhouse for all the men in the coastal shipping services. If there’s any jobs going you’ll hear about them there. What d’you say?” Jameson shrugged his shoulders. Pete’s Saloon it is,” he answered.


Pete’s proved to be a dirty-looking den in a very dingy side street. There was no doubt about it being popular with seafaring folk, however. The place was crowded with them. The stranger piloted Jameson to a corner alcove, inside which were a table and a couple of chairs. “What’ll you drink?” he invited. “Anything that’s cool,” Jameson said. The other nodded, crossing to the bar, and after a short time he returned with two glasses, one of which he placed in front of Jameson. “Swig that over,” he invited. The captain made to pick up his glass, and then he suddenly stopped. “Why,” he exclaimed, “don’t tell me that’s old Ted Phillips, from Bristol?” He leaned forward as if to obtain a better view of a man seated in a far corner. As he did so, he swept his companion’s hat off the table. “No,” he said, shaking his head, “it’s like him, but it isn’t old Ted.” The other bent down to pick up his hat, and when he sat up again he saw Jameson in the act of draining the glass. But the sailor hadn’t tasted a drop. When the other had bent down he had swiftly poured the contents of his glass into the flower-pot standing on the table. Jameson’s well-dressed companion turned and began to talk about the men in the room. He went on talking, and at first Jameson made grunted answers and nodded his head in agreement. Gradually, however, he seemed to be falling asleep. He made to rise to his feet, but instead, he slumped forward across the table. His companion jumped to the curtains, and drew them so that the rest of the room was cut off. Then he rapped sharply upon the table. Instantly a sliding door in the wall at the back of the alcove slid open, and a very fat, very dirty-looking man appeared. At a signal from the well-dressed man. He caught hold of Jameson’s inert form and lugged the captain through the secret door. There followed a journey in some kind of motor vehicle, and then once again Jameson was lifted up. He was carried up a gang-plank on to a ship. Finally he was flung into a bunk. Silence followed, and when Jameson opened his eyes he found himself lying in one of the bunks of a ship’s fo’c’sle. He had only pretended to be drugged.


Suddenly the engines began to thump, and the ship began to move. Climbing out of the bunk he listened, but the forward part of the ship seemed to be deserted. It was towards the fo’c’sle bell that Jameson made his way, for he knew that the name of the ship would be written on it. When he reached it, there was jut sufficient light for him to make out the letters. The name inscribed upon the bell was the name of the s.s. Pittsburgh, the ship which had disappeared nine months ago!



The lights from the docks illuminated the ship fairly well, and Jameson could see that most of the crew were congregated at the rails. Looking across at one of the ship’s boats, he read the name written on the side. It was the s.s. Raltone.


But as far as Jameson was concerned, the mystery was solved. The ship he was standing on was actually the s.s. Pittsburgh! “No doubt about it,” he told himself. “This is the Pittsburgh, all right. When they reconstructed her and altered her name they must have overlooked the fo’c’sle bell.” Once the ship was clear of the harbour she ran into heavy weather. She had been to sea about an hour when one of the crew saw a figure go racing by him. Spinning on his heels, he obtained a glimpse of its face. It was the face of the man who had been lying unconscious in the fo’c’sle. “Hi!” he yelled. “Stop him, somebody, stop him!” He burst into a run, and at that moment the ship dipped steeply, and the crest of a huge wave came foaming aboard. Then, as the wave passed, he obtained a glimpse of an indistinct shape standing on the rails. Next moment it had gone toppling overboard, and to his ears came the faint sound of a splash. “Man overboard!” he hollered, racing to the rails. “Man overboard!” There came a bellow from the bridge, and the ship shuddered violently as her engines were reversed to stop her. The big figure of Captain Buck, the master of the ship, came leaping down from the bridge. “Who was it?” he rapped. The staring deckhand pointed vaguely out to sea. “That guy we shanghaied,” he gasped. Captain Buck swung on his heels. “Well,” he snapped, “we’ve been saved a job. We were supposed to bump him off.” He stamped back to the bridge, and a minute later the s.s. Raltone was continuing on her voyage. Meanwhile, Jameson had been creeping along the deck. The wily captain had deliberately raced past the deckhand and attracted attention to himself. The wave had helped his scheme, for the indistinct shape which had gone overboard had not been a man at all—it had been a bundle of ropes tied up in a blanket. Making his way behind the bridge, Jameson came to an iron ladder. Climbing this, he found himself facing a door. He opened it, and stepped into a passage. The first door he came to had the one word, “Captain,” written across it. He had found the captain’s cabin, and the next moment he was inside.



His watch done, Captain Buck handed over the wheel to the mate, and made his way to his cabin. He seated himself at the table, and, taking out what was obviously a kind of log book, he began to write in it.


Behind him, the lid of a locker gradually lifted until it was wide open and resting against the wall. Out of the locker crept Captain Jameson. Jameson coughed. Buck spun round in his chair. He stared as if he were looking at a ghost. Poised in his hand, Jameson held a gleaming knife he had taken off the cabin wall. Buck gasped. “It—it was a trick! You—you didn’t go overboard at all?” Next moment Captain Buck had been thumped behind the ear. Jameson tied and gagged his victim, lifted him into the locker, and closed the lid. He proceeded to search the cabin, and in one corner he found something that made his eyes gleam. This was an ex-Army tommy gun—with a few magazines of bullets. Shortly afterwards the door of the captain’s cabin opened, and a figure clad in oilskins came out. The hat pulled down well over his face, and the big collar was turned up. So attired, Captain Jameson set out to explore the ship. In particular, he wanted to find the wireless cabin. Entering it, he saw that the operator was seated inside. “Come out of it,” snapped Jameson. “I want to send a message.” The operator looked puzzled. “But—but you know nothing about wireless!” he cried. Then he stared wide-eyed. “Why, you’re not Captain Buck!” he gasped. “You’re—” Jameson’s big fist took him on the point of the jaw, and he went down in a heap. A few minutes later, Captain Jameson was seated in the operator’s place sending out a message. He spent nearly half an hour inside the wireless cabin, and at the end of that time he chuckled. Leaving the operator bound and gagged, Jameson came out of the cabin and locked the door. Then he began to stroll back to the bridge. Suddenly somebody let out a yell. “Here he is Cap’n!” came the shout. “Here he is.” Instantly from the bridge sounded the bull like roar of Captain Buck. “Get him, men,” he raved. “Make sure of him this time.” A bullet whizzed past Jameson’s head. He realised what had happened. In some fashion Captain Buck must have escaped from the locker. From underneath Jameson’s oilskins came the tommy-gun. Ready to swing the weapon into action at a moment’s notice, the special investigator came along the deck to not far from the fo’c’sle.


Here quite a number of the crew were waiting for him. But before they could rush forward the tommy-gun had swung into action, and a hail of bullets was whining over their heads. Swinging the gun round, Jameson fired half a dozen shots at the bridge, and then he raced for the bows. It was here, behind a big capstan, that he meant to make his stand. From this point he could command the ship’s deck. All through the night, the deck was lit by quick gun flashes as Captain Buck and his crew made attempt after attempt to storm Jameson’s position. Each time a stream of tommy-gun bullets forced them back. Then, far to the east, Captain Jameson saw the sky begin to lighten. Dawn was breaking. Then his eyes narrowed, for, coming along the deck was a queer-shaped object. As it drew nearer, Jameson saw it was a great square of sheet metal. It must have been pushed along by men hiding behind it. Jameson turned his tommy-gun upon it. But the bullets failed to penetrate the metal. It still moved steadily forward. Jameson saw something else then. Behind the metal a long, snake-like object was moving. It was a hosepipe! A booming voice reached him from the bridge “You with the gun,” it yelled. “We’re giving you a last chance to surrender.” “I’ll see you sunk first,” bawled back Jameson. But he realised that against a powerful jet of water he would be helpless. Already6 the men behind the steel plate were close. Then from the bridge came a roar— “Let ‘er go!” Next moment a jet of steaming water came over the top of the iron plate, and descended in a cascade upon the capstan behind which Jameson had taken cover. The shanghaied skipper had not guessed that Buck would use hot water. He leapt for the rails. For one moment the crew of the Pittsburgh saw him against the dawn sky, and then he had gone overboard. Captain Buck bellowed his satisfaction.


A cheer went up from the crew. They were still chortling among themselves when a few moments later, a brilliant beam of white light suddenly appeared in front of the ship. Slowly it swung back towards them, and then it focused directly upon the ship. Next moment a shell came screaming overhead, to splash into the sea in front of the bows. The astounded crew, from the captain downwards, gaped. They were suddenly silent as ghosts as they saw the long, grey shape of a cruiser. Quarter of an hour later an American naval lieutenant had boarded the ship. “We received a wireless message from a man on board this ship,” the lieutenant snapped. “A Captain Jameson. He declared that he had been shanghaied, and that he was being taken out to sea in order to be drowned. He told us that he had obtained proof that this ship is really the s.s. Pittsburgh—a ship which mysteriously disappeared about nine months ago. Where is Captain Jameson?” Captain Buck laughed. “I never heard such nonsense,” he snapped. “There’s no Cap’n Jameson aboard this ship. This vessel is the s.s. Raltone. No wireless message has been sent to you from this ship. Some practical joker has been pulling your leg. Why he should pick on this ship, I don’t know.” “That’s where you make a mistake,” said a quiet voice behind them. “You see, Captain Jameson happens to be aboard.” Buck swung round. “You thought I had gone overboard?” Jameson chuckled. “Well, so I did. But before I went overboard I was careful to tie a rope round my waist. When the cruiser made you heave to, I climbed back on board.” The American sailors took command of the ship, and for the next half hour Captain Buck was cross-examined by the Naval lieutenant and Jameson. He admitted that the Raltone was really the s.s. Pittsburgh, which he explained, had been originally manned by a gang of crooks. During her last voyage they had run her to a small island off the coast of South America. There her name had been erased and that of the Raltone substituted. She had been entirely repainted and her superstructure altered. The same crew had gradually obtained berths aboard the s.s. Kentucky, which had also been taken to the island and converted into the s.s. Argentina. Then the crooks had been absorbed upon the s.s. Tarpon, and the Tarpon, according to Captain Buck, was still at the island undergoing reconstruction.


Two days later the American cruiser nosed into the almost land-locked harbour of a certain small island off the coast of South America. She arrived in the dead of night, and when dawn came the island was thrown into panic. In a small dockyard lay the missing Tarpon. Her superstructure was already a mass of ruin, and already the name s.s. Pampas had been inscribed on her stern. When the cruiser left the island she took with her as prisoners the whole population. Immediately her wireless became busy. A few hours later, the agents of a certain shipping company in San Marlino were placed under arrest. At the trial it was discovered that these men had made quite a business of reconstructing stolen ships. It also came out that the seaman, Jack Prest, had been murdered because he had threatened to talk. When the whole case was cleared up, Captain Jameson reported back to John Somers. He was offered an important executive’s job on shore, but when the s.s. Condor left port again, the stalwart Captain Jameson was on the bridge in his usual place.



© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2007