Ride the Scorpion

Ride the Scorpion

by Lyndall Baker Landauer

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At a time when she has no job and no prospects, Christy Ogden receives an invitation to join an old friend on a sailing trip around the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California. It is 1939 and the world is on the brink of war, but Christy needs a break. She knows little about sailing and does not know Jean Dryden very well, but she is determined to take


At a time when she has no job and no prospects, Christy Ogden receives an invitation to join an old friend on a sailing trip around the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California. It is 1939 and the world is on the brink of war, but Christy needs a break. She knows little about sailing and does not know Jean Dryden very well, but she is determined to take the opportunity to get away from home. Her mother died a year before, but her father has not recovered from it. He has been laid off from work even though the Depression is supposed to be over.  Christy feels guilty, but at least her father will not have to worry about feeding and clothing her for two weeks.  It is a fateful decision.

In Santa Barbara, Christy meets Jean and they take off in her beautiful sailing yawl, called the Queen, to sail to Santa Cruz Island almost immediately. For several days, Jean teaches Christy to sail, they anchor in several coves and get to know each other. Christy notices that Jean has many ways to avoid direct questions. Christy wonders why Jean asked her, a very slight acquaintance, to come along on this trip. Slowly, it comes out that Jean has a mission. She thinks that the Japanese are about to invade the mainland of the United States. As proof, she mentions a number of transmission she has heard on the marine band radio. When she hears another, she will discuss it with Christy.

Meanwhile, they meet a number of men and women on other boats and are invited to dinner on a yacht, picnic on a beach and to the boat of  a man that Christy instinctively dislikes. Al Melrose is traveling with Matt Price, whom Christy likes immediately and cannot understand why he is with Al, the crude boor. Discovering that Al is a Harvard graduate and an expert in International relations, makes him more curious, but no more likable.

While Jean is still away from the boat at a picnic, Christy discovers a book on the shelf in the boat's salon. Called Riddle of the Sands and published in 1903, she begins to read this fascinating story. It does not take her long to realize that the plot is similar to the trek Jean and Christy have been living. In light of the evasions and half-truths Jean has told her, Christy does not mention the book yet.

Jean finally reveals that the broadcasts she has heard are in Japanese and Christy is the only one she knows who is familiar with the language. When Jean asks why Christy learned the language, Christy tells her the story of her own great grandmother who came from Japan. When she finally hears a message, she is puzzled by the fact that it is spoken in stiff, poor Japanese.

Their boat is searched one night when they are asleep and they leave the next morning to sail east to Catalina Island. Jean is sure that an old flame of hers, whom they met their first night out, is behind it all. Christy is not so sure. After a day at the west end of the island, they decided to go to Avalon, the only town on the island. It is on the east end and they sail along the south shore to get there. Soon they discover that their engine does not work and they are nearly smashed on the rocks at Little Harbor. Jean's superior knowledge of sailing techniques saves them. The next day they set out again to sail to Avalon. In the meantime, there has been another broadcast and Christy tries to translate it. Christy asks Jean if she has deliberately created this trip and this danger to follow the plot of the Riddle of the Sands, the book she found in the Queen,. Jean denies it vehemently.

As they round the east end of Catalina, they are nearly knocked down by a Santa Ana wind blowing forty knots from the east. Again Jean's knowledge saves them and they are able to sail up to a dock without mishap, watched by a gaggle of tourists and locals on the dock. They hire a local mechanic to work on the engine and he reveals that it has been deliberately sabotaged. Just as they should be trying to find out who has done this, Jean is no longer interested. Her brother, Harry Davidson, is coming to the island to take the boat, which really belongs to him.

At her first glimpse of Harry, Christy is stunned into silence. She has never seen him before, but he affects her in a way she does not welcome. They sail off to San Clemente island because Harry says he is being followed and is in danger. After several days of curious and restless repose in a cove at the north west end of the island, and several treks across the land, Christy knows no more than she did before. She does know that she is  smitten with Harry whether she likes it or not. How he feels, she cannot fathom.

The weather worsens and there are warnings of an imminent storm, the first Pacific hurricane ever to come this far north. Harry goes for a stroll on the island and does not return. Christy takes the dingy through a driving rain to find him, and discovers that he has boarded a fast cruiser anchored in a cove on the south side of the island. It takes off to the west. Returning to the Queen, two men assault her and cut the boat loose in the teeth of the coming storm. The next 18 hours are chaos and hell for Jean and Christy, but the boat survives and so do they. They fetch up on the sand in Long Beach.

They are towed to a boat yard, amid much destruction and disarray caused by the  hurricane. At a hotel that Jean has paid for, Christy opens her purse and finds a note from Harry directing her to a dock and a freighter called Khota Maru. When she and Jean go to the place, they find nothing. Jean gets bored and goes off to tell an old reporter friend of her fears of imminent invasion by the Japanese. Christy eavesdrops on a meeting of several very nasty men and is shocked to find that Harry is one of them. Captured and thrown into a very dark hole on the old, tired freighter, she is in despair until she realizes that Matt Price is also there. Beaten savagely when he would tell them nothing, he reveals that he is working undercover to find out what these men are doing. She explains what she has   heard and why she is here. Certain they are slated to go down with the ship when it is scuttled, they are surprised to be rescued by Harry.

They manage to get back to the hotel, Christy calls an ambulance for Matt just as Jean returns. She is livid that Christy has stolen Matt from her, though Christy never heard her mention him at all. It is the first inkling that the woman she sailed with for several weeks may not be very stable. Jean goes off again and while she is gone, Christy receives an offer of a job in San Diego for a firm that deciphers codes. She accepts. Harry appears at the hotel and, as he is professing his tender feelings for Christy, his sister returns and flies into a rage revealing a very unhealthy affection for her brother.  Harry sends her off to be taken care of by her aunt. He and Christy sail to Catalina in the Queen which, to Christy's amazement has been completely repaired.

At Catalina, Harry goes to the meeting of the group, called Scorpions by Matt Price, for the last time. There is a disturbance, the police are called to the yacht where the meeting was held and Harry does not return. The person who boards the Queen, where Christy has been waiting for Harry, is the leader of the group. He forces Christy to take the boat out, raise the sails and get away from Avalon. Then he hits her and when she wakes up , he is gone. Now she is alone on the Pacific Ocean with only two weeks of sailing experience. Nevertheless, she manages to find her way into San Diego.

At the time the war begins in Europe, September 1, 1939, the Scorpions seem to be out of business. But their leader is missing and so is Harry. Matt Price is transferred to the Navy, along with the whole Coast Guard  and Harry gets in touch with Christy before he is off to find the Scorpion leader. By the time the United States is attacked at Pearl Harbor,  he has visited Christy in San D

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