“How dreadful!” Bess said. “Why would anyone do that to you?”
“Because I didn’t clean the pits to suit the boss. Oh, he has a terrible temper!”
Nancy wound a bandage around the man’s left leg, while George attended to the right one.
Danny looked back to see if they were being followed, then asked, “Where do you want to go?”
“To Key Biscayne,” the fugitive replied.
The young people heard the sound of an engine and noticed a fast motorboat coming up in the deep channel toward the island.
Just then a man appeared at the shore, yelling at the top of his lungs. “Colombo! Colombo, where are you? You can’t run away! Where are you, Colombo?”
The runaway lay down in the bottom of the skiff, well protected by the three girls. He trembled with fright.
Danny put on extra power, and the Pirate skipped speedily across the bay. The man on shore continued to yell for Colombo, but suddenly he addressed the skipper of a passing motorboat.
“Follow the Pirate!” he ordered, pointing.
“The water’s not deep enough,” the skipper replied, much to the relief of Danny and his passengers.
The fugitive sighed, and Nancy asked him who he was and what had happened on Crocodile Island.
“My name is Colombo Banks. I’m from New Orleans, but I came here to get a job. I was hired to work on Crocodile Island. At first I liked it, but then the bosses became very cruel.”
“In what way?” Nancy asked.
Colombo said that although he had requested permission to make a trip into Biscayne Bay on his free days, he had always been refused.
“I began to wonder why, and finally decided that the members of the Crocodile Ecology Company were doing something underhanded. Perhaps they didn’t want me to leave and tell people what I had seen or heard.”
“What did you see and hear?” George spoke up.
Colombo told them that a speedboat called The Whisper came and went mysteriously.
“Mysteriously? How?” Nancy asked.
“Often it docks or leaves in the middle of the night, and I was never allowed to watch what was going on. The bosses made me sleep on the far side of the island with one other man named Sol. He’s black and a great guy. We were friends, but four other fellows who work there stay in the main house with the bosses.”
“How mean!” Bess exclaimed.
Colombo went on, “I decided to find out what was going on. At night I would sneak out of my cabin and go to the main part of the island. Many times I saw Mr. Sacco and Mr. Gimler at the landing dock, but usually they whispered and I couldn’t overhear anything.
“Once, however, Gimler spoke loud enough to a man I’d never seen. ‘They want five hundred,’ the boss said. ‘Can you carry that many?’ Unfortunately I couldn’t make out the answer.”
“Whom was he talking to?” George inquired.
“The skipper of The Whisper.”
“Do you think they were referring to crocodiles?” Danny asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Do they ever transport crocs in The Whisper?”
“No,” Colombo replied, then added, “I was scolded a good deal, mostly for no reason. It seemed as if the bosses had a grudge against me. I think they figured I knew more than I really do.”
“That’s possible,” Nancy said thoughtfully.
“I wanted to leave the job,” Colombo went on, “but they would never let me. A few times I tried to sneak up to the visitors and ask for a ride. But one of the workmen who lived with the bosses always chased me away.”
“Did Sacco and Gimler ever have anything delivered to the island, or did they do the shopping themselves?” Nancy asked.
Colombo said that as far as he knew all supplies were brought in by The Whisper, and whenever any of the men left, they used that boat.
“You mean,” Nancy asked, “that they do not use any other means of transportation?”
“Not as far as I know. But then, I wasn’t around to see everything. I just worked and ate and slept.”
The young people felt sorry for the man, and his story made them more suspicious than ever of the partners in the Crocodile Ecology Company. By now they had reached Key Biscayne. Danny pulled into a public dock to let Colombo off, and asked him if they could be of any further help.