Bess shivered. “I don’t want to meet either one.”
George laughed. To tease Bess, she said, “Mr. Drew, tell us some more scary things about crocodiles.”
“They like to live in large bodies of shallow salty water,” Mr. Drew continued, “preferably in sluggish rivers, open swamps, and marshes that are brackish. They raise their heads when you go near them and—”
“Oh, stop!” Bess begged.
Mr. Drew grinned. “But I’m not finished. In this country crocs were formerly found around the southernmost tip of Florida, but because so many people went to live on Key Biscayne, the crocs moved into the Everglades. They have webbed feet and can walk on soft ground.”
“How fast can they run?” George asked.
“Very fast. Like horses!”
“Forget it!” Bess declared. “I’m staying home. Who wants to be eaten?”
“American crocodiles occasionally do attack animals and people,” Mr. Drew admitted. “A croc can twist a large animal to pieces by seizing one part of it, then turning rapidly in the water.”
George grimaced. “I think I agree with Bess!”
“Don’t worry,” Mr. Drew said. “You probably won’t meet any wild crocs. What I’m talking about is a farm where they’re bred in captivity. There’s a mystery connected with the place that I hope you girls can solve.”
“What kind of mystery?” George asked.
“I’ll tell you in a minute.” Mr. Drew looked at the shoe box, “I see you did the errand, George, Thank you very much. I thought you girls might want to study a rubber crocodile to get acquainted with its looks.”
He rose and walked over to the table and removed the lid. George suggested that he lift the box and tap the bottom. He did, and once more the baby crocodile wiggled its tail and opened and closed its jaws.
“This is certainly a good imitation,” Mr. Drew remarked. He sat down again and went on with his story. “Mr. Gonzales has stock in the crocodile farm, which is called Crocodile Ecology Company. He doesn’t live or work there, however. He’s a silent partner, so to speak.
“Recently he has become suspicious that the business arrangements on the island are not what they should be, and that his partners are up to something dishonest.”
Nancy asked, “And this Mr. Gonzales has requested that we investigate Crocodile Island?”
“That’s right,” her father replied. “However, he doesn’t want his partners to know it, so you girls are not to visit his home or his office, or even phone him. Roger Gonzales is afraid his partners are spying on him, and in some way may find out he’s starting an investigation.”
Mr. Drew told the girls they should pretend to be just tourists. “I’d even suggest that while you’re there you act like silly young girls, so that the Crocodile Ecology people won’t catch on. The last thing you want them to know is that you all have high detective IQ’s,”
Bess laughed. “That’ll be easy enough for me. I can act silly any time, but Nancy will really have to play the part.”
Mr. Drew asked to be excused, “I must get back to my office for another case.”
After he had gone, the telephone rang and Nancy hurried to answer it in the hall.
“Is this the Drew home?” a man’s voice asked.
“Yes. Who is this?”
“The River Heights Trick Shop. I want to speak to the girl who bought the crocodile.”
Nancy motioned to George and handed her the receiver.
“Hello?” George said.
“Are you the girl who bought the crocodile?”
“You’re in great danger!” the man told her. “The boy who was working here gave you a live one by mistake.”
“What!” George cried out.
“Bring it back right away,” the man ordered. “If you don’t, the police will arrest you!”
George was aghast. She could be put in jail for five years or be fined twenty thousand dollars!
Nancy, who had overheard the conversation, looked toward the box on the table. Her father had not bothered to put the lid on after examining the crocodile. Now the reptile was climbing out of the container!
It opened its jaws wide. Though the crocodile was only a baby, there was no doubt about its viciousness. It could easily snap off someone’s finger!