Guest Art Courtesy of Mogodore J. Bivouac
Chapter Three: “Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat”
Despite the rough weather over the Mediterranean, the seaplane successfully touched down and cruised near the traditional island where “old” Venice jutted out from the new industrial center by the shores like an island.
Fred could see why Velma always talked about how it would be her ideal romantic location. Black gondolas moved in and out of narrow canals. The architecture was something out of an art history book. But there was no time to take in the local atmosphere. A meeting with his country’s agents in Italy took priority. He spotted Velma changing her expression from dreamy to dead serious and gave her a knowing nod.
As she had done in their previous adventure, Daphne brought the plane to a perfect landing in the closest dock. As the group departed from the plane, Fred frowned. There was no sign of the three agents. Though it was dark and a fog began to creep in, the streetlights provided some illumination. Then it hit him; they were supposed to meet their contacts on the “old” Venice. This was “new” Venice.
“I say we rent a gondola and head across the bay,” whispered Velma.
Fred nodded. But where would the find someone to take them across the bay? There were many gondolas tied by the docks, but hardly any individual nearby.
Daphne pointed. “Hey…maybe that guy can help us.”
A man with black and white-striped shirt and blue pants waved them to join him in his gondola. He wore the traditional gondolier’s hat with a thin brim and snappy scarf, which was tied around the top. The remainder dangled from behind. “May I be of service?” he said, sounding somewhat like an actor playing a Transylvanian vampire.
Shaggy and Scooby cowered at the sound of his creepy voice, but Fred made up for their lack of courage and stepped forward. “My friends and I would like you to take us to old Venice,” he said confidently.
The man did not respond, but made a slight bow and gestured them to board the boat. The five slowly made their way onto the now-crowded gondola.
“How come there aren’t any other gondoliers?” asked an inquisitive Daphne.
The gondolier let out a throaty chuckle. “That is because of the ‘Ghostly Gondolier.’ Legend has it that the gondolier prowls the waterways of Venice on dark foggy nights like this one, seeking revenge upon the Venetian leader who had him thrown in the dungeon for life.”
Velma’s facial expression tightened. “So why aren’t you afraid of this ‘Ghostly Gondolier?’”
Now the gondolier’s chuckle turned into howling laughter. “That is because….I AM IN LEAGUE WITH THE GHOSTLY GONDOLIER!!”
At that moment, a dark hooded figure leapt into their boat. His purple hood hid his dark face, save the glowing yellow eyes and mouth. “Now, you are all prisoners of the ghostly gondolier!” he hissed.
Velma gasped. Daphne shrieked. Shaggy and Scooby flung themselves to the bottom of the boat, in a parody of fear-worship. Yet Fred threw off his surprise and drew his revolver. “Now, you’re our prisoner!” he responded triumphantly.
Unfortunately, the boat was too small to have much distance between the famed archaeologist and his adversaries. The Ghostly Gondolier cackled evilly and pounced. As the two wrestled for the pistol, the other gondolier swung his pole. Daphne jumped back to avoid being hit. Her movement caused the gondola to rock sharply and throw the other gondolier off-balance. The pole struck Velma, but only with a glancing blow. Had she been struck with the blunt object with full-force, she would have been knocked unconscious. As it was, the diminutive scholar was bumped off her feet and her glasses flew from her face. “Ow! Hey…my glasses! I can’t see without my glasses!”
Meanwhile, Daphne’s rocking of the boat threw the Ghostly Gondolier off-stride. Unlike the hooded creature, Fred had seen Daphne jump and anticipated the boat shake. He braced himself, dropped the gun, and punched the Ghostly Gondolier hard. His enemy flew backwards into the Venetian bay.
The other gondolier cursed, having missed his primary target. But rather than swing his pole back in the opposite direction, he spun on one foot for maximum velocity. This time, he would not miss the redhead. While delivering such a blow would have erased her memory, the move did require him to turn his back to her momentarily while preparing a Joe DiMaggio-like swing.
It was all the reporter needed. Spotting her friend groping around the base of the boat for her glasses behind the gondolier’s legs, Daphne came up with a risky plan on the spur-of-the-moment. Rushing forward, she reached her adversary just as he was beginning his swing. Having turned his back to her, the gondolier did not expect such a bold move. He had expected her to cower, just as the young man in green and his dog were doing in the center of the boat. Instead, he was face-to-face with the grinning redhead while his arms were behind his back, grasping the pole, poised for a massive swing. She shoved him hard. He might have warded off the blow, or remained in the gondola, had his legs not tripped over the blinded girl beneath him. With a foul oath, he fell over the side and into the murky water below.
“All right Daphne!!” Fred yelled out, as if he were a rabid Red Sox fan at Fenway Park.
“Not bad yourself,” Daphne replied slyly.
“Uh….guys? My glasses? Has anyone seen them?” said Velma, one hand holding the side of her head, the other fumbling around uselessly along the bottom of the boat.
Scooby removed one paw from his eyes, saw Velma’s glasses in front of him, and handed them to her.
“Thanks Scooby” said Velma with relief. “I guess that gondolier must have tripped….Oh no, look!!!”
The Ghostly Gondolier and his ally were rapidly swimming toward their boat.
“I got a plan…let’s split up!” Fred yelled. “Velma, you and Daphne stay with me in the boat. Shaggy, you and Scooby get into that gondola next to us,” he said as he gestured toward a nearby black boat. “It’ll be harder for them to get us both.”
“Like no way man!” Shaggy said in a quivering voice.
“Would you do it for a ‘Scooby Snack?’” Velma begged, holding up a strange multicolored box.”
“Like, what’s a Scooby snack?” said Shaggy, but Scooby was already crouched in a begging position. Velma tossed two small nuggets in their direction, which the boys eagerly chomped. If there was any fear in the young graduate student and his dog, it immediately disappeared. A certain yellowish glow seemed to surround them as they jumped into a nearby gondola and hurriedly paddled South. Fred and Daphne stood stunned for a second, before picking up poles and paddling in the opposite direction.
The Ghostly Gondolier and his confederate, having missed their opportunity to recapture the boat, jumped into another tied-up gondola and paddled hard. They followed after Shaggy and Scooby.
Velma, who had been watching the two gondoliers chase after Scooby and Shaggy, called out “Fred, Daphne, stop paddling! The gondoliers are chasing the other boat!”
Both Fred and Daphne stopped paddling, then turned the boat around to watch the action, to see if they could help their friends. “Say, Velma, what did you give those guys to make them so…fearless?” said Fred, as if using the word in the context of Shaggy and Scooby were somehow grammatically incorrect.
“Do you remember our last adventure in Mexico, when the two of them went berserk, attacking the Nazis and Quepoyans?”
Fred nodded vigorously. The action was so out of character for the boy and his dog that he had almost forgot it. “Well, they had some of that Mayan artifact,” Velma continued. “I found some crumbs at the bottom of the box and made a replica on the boat back to the United States.”
“It seems to be working okay!” beamed Daphne, with her hands clasped together in admiration.
“There’s only one problem,” Velma said, facing her female friend. “It only works for a very short time. We have to help them before the stuff wears off and the gondoliers catch them.”
Shaggy and Scooby were vigorously paddling their way around the Venetian bay. Though the gondoliers lacked their energy, they made up for the deficit with skill with the poles in the water. In fact, they appeared to be gaining on the other boat, because Shaggy and Scooby began to paddle in opposite directions. What was worse was that Shaggy and Scooby were so focused on paddling hard that they failed to notice an oil tanker moving toward a docked passenger ship, as if to help with a refueling process.
Fred barked out a warning. “Shaggy! Scooby! Don’t go between those ships!”
But the distance between the boats garbled the message. “Go between those ships? Are you crazy?” Shaggy shouted. But he ‘obeyed’ his leader’s suggestion and paddled furiously toward the rapidly-closing distance between the huge ships. Fred smacked his forehead in dismay.
“They’ll never make it!” whined Daphne.
“Maybe, it’s just the advantage they need,” Velma observed. “Look!”
Shaggy and Scooby seemed to actually double their original time, paddling so hard that water flew in all directions. If they only allowed dogs in the Olympics, Fred wondered, they’d take the gold in a rowing event. Incredibly, their gondola just had enough speed to slip between the tanker and the passenger ship. The pursuing boat was not so lucky, however. The pair initially paddled harder, then slowed and tried to reverse course, to no avail. With a sickening crunch, their boat disappeared between the two hulking ships.
Fred and Daphne paddled over to where their friend’s gondola had stopped. Shaggy and Scooby were leaning over their poles. It was hard to tell who was panting harder. “Great job boys!” Daphne crowed. “You got away from the Ghostly Gondolier and his pal.”
The two looked up at Daphne with gratitude, then slumped over the side of their boat. One by one, Fred pulled them into their gondola.
“Let’s look for our contacts,” Velma suggested.
As the group’s gondola headed toward Old Venice, they spotted three shadowy figures, waiting for them near a closed café. One was a fairly young man, with dark looks and thick curly hair. He gave a friendly grin. Next to him was a younger man who was more of a teenager. Unlike his friend, he had shorter, red hair and a less cheerful expression. Rounding out the group was a taller, older man with a gaunt expression. He didn’t smile.
||“That guy looks creepy, man,” said Shaggy in a frightened whisper, given that the Scooby snacks had worn off. “Like a regular Boris Karloff.”
“Rankenstein!” Scooby said, cowering in the back of the boat.
“I’ll bet he’s the bad guy” Shaggy said in a quivering voice.
Daphne turned on the young graduate student. “Oh, Shaggy, looks aren’t everything!” Then she said to herself, well, maybe they do count for quite a bit.
“Hello!” said Fred in a cheery voice. “Are you…”
“We’ve been expecting you,” said the gaunt, older man. “I am Professor Solari of the Art Institute here in Venice. These are my students Antonio Malvolio and Mario Tomari,” he intoned deeply, gesturing towards the dark-haired man and his red-haired companion, respectively.
“You were late,” said Mario sharply. “Our enemies nearly captured you out on the bay.”
“And how do you know what happened out there?” said Daphne in a skeptical voice.
“We, uh, saw the whole thing from here,” Mario proclaimed. “You were lucky to survive.”
“Sorry,” said Daphne, “we had a little turbulent weather over the Mediterranean Sea….”
“And a turbulent pair of gondoliers!” Shaggy said with a mild shiver.
“You saw the ‘Ghostly Gondolier?’” asked Antonio.
“And how do you know about this ‘Ghostly Gondolier?’” Velma responded with a suspicious tone.
“Uh…he is the sworn enemy of my father, the former ruler of Venice, ‘Doge Malvolio IV,’ who had him imprisoned for treason,” Antonio replied with nervous tone. “I just assumed he was responsible for all of the trouble tonight.”
“The ‘Ghostly Gondolier’ is merely a legend, nothing more,” insisted Professor Solari with a deep voice implying knowledge.
“Well, he seemed pretty real to us tonight!” Fred snapped.
Professor Solari whirled upon Dr. Jones. “The night was dark and foggy. Perhaps you were just seeing things. The lack of light plays tricks on one’s eyes. Come, let us go to my home where we can discuss our plans.”
As the aged educator led the group through the narrow streets of Venice, Fred, Velma and Daphne huddled together. “We have to figure out which one is the spy,” Fred said in a definitive tone.
“It’s difficult because all of them are acting suspiciously,” whispered Daphne. “Velma, do you have any thoughts?”
“I’ve got my suspicions based on their answers,” Velma admitted. “But I need more evidence for this investigation.”
Fred nodded in assent. “Let’s keep these suspicions to ourselves for now. Our first goal is to find out from these three where the missing Americans are. We’ll watch these three pretty close, so one of them won’t make us disappear.”
* * *
Had a night watchman been positioned along the docks, he would have been shocked to see a cloaked figure with a black mask for a face, with yellow eyes and mouth help another man dressed as a gondolier from the water. The masked man dragged his companion roughly as they departed the water, then shoved him on the ground in disgust and began to walk away.
“I’m sorry, Biscia” the man said to the cloaked figure.
The cloaked figure tore his mask away, revealing his relatively reptilian features.
“You let them get away Graffanino,” he hissed.
“We were outnumbered!” pleaded the Italian intelligence agent. “You should have brought more men.”
I could kill him right now for saying that, Biscia thought. But he needed the man for his connections to the Mussolini government. His own plans involved only a small clique of individuals, which was why he had not turned the captured American over to the blackshirt thugs. If he discovered the mysterium, he would have no need of the pompous dictator, or his ally to the North. That was why he had to keep the operation small. Besides, there weren’t that many people he trusted anyway.
“I thought the element of surprise and the legend of the ‘ghostly gondolier’ would be enough to frighten them into submission,” Biscia admitted. “Besides, too many agents might have frightened them off,” he lied. He would not reveal his plans to Graffanino until he was ready to strike. The only people he could really trust were family. He smiled to himself. Machiavelli would have approved of his general distrust of others.