As first sentences go, that doesn’t exactly grab me by the lapels and scream “read the bejeebus out of me!”
Bob Barton is fishing on his cabin cruiser along with his wife Pamela and her sister Lucy, artist friend Wilson, business partner Forsythe and Captain Hawkins.
Wilson tells Barton the fish are biting and they go down to Mermaid Rock. In the water, they clearly see three mermaids with girl’s faces, “full white breasts” and “scaly, bluish, finned” tails. It seems strangely reasonable to Barton that they should be there, that he should cast his line into the water, and that he should hook one through the cheek. She screams in agony as he reels her in, pretty much as I suspect a trout would. As he removes the hook, she bites his wrist.
Wilson stabs her in the fishy area (. . . . . . er, nevermind), and stitches her mouth shut with wire. He intends to stuff her and mount her as an objet d’art. As Wilson strings the creature up and begins to gut it, Barton sees the scaly bottom half part to reveal a pair of human legs. Seeing this and the thrill the men are getting out of fishing for the other mermaids snaps Barton back to sanity.
He discovers that someone has drugged them all with “Scopolamine — the liquid hypnotism.” There actually is a drug called Scopolamine, which is used to treat nausea and vomiting according to Wikipedia.
It is also known as Devil’s Breath and can leave victims as zombies with no free will, assisting criminals, looting their own bank accounts, or being forced into prostitution. There is an article at the Daily Mail which I will not link because it has a LOUD ad not only auto-playing, but on a loop. Somebody should really go to jail for that. The story accurately recounts those side effects and also correctly notes that it prevents the formation of short-term memories. Basically, a Forget-Me-Now.
Barton searches for Pamela and finds Forsythe outfitting her with fins. Barton knocks him out, but Pamela still drugged up tries to bite him. Barton does manage to save her and also Lucy who was already suited up and swimming topless in the ol’ fishing hole.
There is a motive and a nice piece of misdirection based on the effects of the drug. It’s pretty goofy with an over-complicated James Bond villain revenge plan, but it does have a lot of fun elements.
- First published in Mystery Tales, December 1939.
- Also that month: Gone with the Wind premieres in Atlanta.
- I thought I had found a strange coincidence that there was a character named Bob Barton in two consecutive stories. I think it is just a Kindle X-Ray error as the first Bob (Bride of the Ape) seems to have no last name; which must have been awkward as the story had him getting married just the day before.