In the days that followed, the method to Professor Stewart's "madness" soon became clear. He had contacted his ex-wife's lawyer in order to get the name of the private detective who had done most of Doug Naughton's leg work for "Stewart v. Stewart!" The reason?
The professor wanted to hire that guy to do a little genealogical research.
You see, it had occurred to him that Olaf "Cookie" Gunderson might have eventually married one of his fellow circus performers, back in the early 1900's. If so, he probably had one or two grandchildren still with the circus. And, if so, they might have been told the "bedtime story" of how their grandfather acquired his dwarfism.
And, as it turns out, the professor was right.
Cookie's granddaughter, Olivia Gunderson, had married a third-generation French trapezist named Eugene Saucier back in 1953. The two of them eventually becoming the parents of three children of their own. All five of whom now performed on the trapeze as (I'm dead serious here)...
...The Flying Sauciers.
That was why Professor Stewart and I went down to the amusement park called Circus World, near Sarasota, Florida. Though the place has gone out of business long since, back then, that was where circus families kept their skills sharp during winter break. By performing for tourists escaping all the ice and snow up north! In other words, the Flying Sauciers were putting on a pre-season exhibition of their newest routines. And, I had to admit, they were very good. Especially, the oldest of the three children.
Twenty-five year-old Celeste Saucier!
Because, in addition to the moves and leaps she did with the rest of her family, she also had a solo routine involving "the web" (circus slang for a rope with a hand-hold noose tied in the middle of it). And the slow-motion gyrations she performed on it were...well, let me put it this way.
The professor smilingly accused me of not blinking. Even once! I told him it was because I hadn't wanted to miss a single second of her routine. He countered by saying:
"I'm sure her bikini-like costume had nothing to do with it."
"Well, I'm no fashion expert. But, even I have to admit that blondes look great in red!"
He nodded (with a sarcastic gleam in his eye): "Oh, yes. Of course!"
Anyway, we made our way to the base of the web, which had been grounded by Steve Saucier (the first-born of her twin younger brothers).
"Sorry, gents," he told us the moment he noted the gift-wrapped box I was holding: "No autographs, and no fattening chocolates for my sister."
Professor Stewart smiled once again.
"We are neither autograph hounds nor seeking to throw off your sister's dietary restrictions. What my young colleague and I are actually here for is a discussion about your great-grandfather. I believe his stage name was 'Norbubu the Missing Link?' "
Celeste--who had, by this time, descended to the base of the web and donned a pink bathrobe--looked at the both of us after removing her red scrunchie and shaking loose her long hair.
"What are you doing?" she bluntly asked us: "Writing a book about him?"
"Not quite. We wish to know if he left behind any personal papers after his passing in 1930. In particular, anything that might give us the co-ordinates of a certain island in the South Pacific."
Celeste and Steve looked at each other. Making me realize that Professor Stewart's bedtime-story hypothesis might have been right!
"Sorry, gents," Celeste finally replied (in imitation of her brother): "We don't know what you're talking about."
"We could make it worth your while!" I impulsively called out: "By giving your circus five of the most unusual animals your menagerie has ever exhibited."
Whereupon, I tore off the white gift wrapping (which had been micro-perforated with air holes) in order to show her the surviving shrunken gators. All of whom we had placed in a thermoplastic casserole dish filled with an inch of water.
"Baby gators?!" exclaimed Steve: "Big deal!"
"They're not babies," I corrected him: "They're full grown. They're merely in this condition because they
shrank. In fact, they were shrunken the same way your great-grandfather was!"
That last part really grabbed their attention. And, Professor Stewart took advantage of it.
"If you doubt our veracity (and it's quite understandable that you would), why not have these reptiles examined by your own resident veterinarian? If he or she confirms that they are abnormally small adults, then may we have roughly an hour of your time?"
Needless to say, they soon had that confirmation. And Professor Stewart was soon making his sales pitch for the "Cookie Gunderson Papers."