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Chapter 2 A DARING CRIME

  • It was no part of Detective Clancy’s business to pry into the private affair_f Senator Meiklejohn. Senators are awkward fish to handle, being somewha_imilar to whales caught in nets designed to capture mackerel. But the Burea_s no respecter of persons. Men much higher up in politics and finance tha_illiam Meiklejohn would be disagreeably surprised if they could read certai_etails entered opposite their names in the _dossiers_ kept by the polic_epartment. Still, it behooved Clancy to tread warily.
  • As it happened, he was just the man for this self-imposed duty. Two Celti_trains mingled in his blood, while American birth and training had not onl_uickened his intelligence but imparted a quality of wide-eyed shrewdness to _aring initiative. When he and the bluff Steingall worked together th_alefactor on whose heels they pressed had a woeful time. As one blood-staine_ascal put it in a bitter moment before the electric chair claimed him for th_xpiation of his last and worst crime:
  • “Them two guys give a reg’lar fellow no chanst. When they’re trailin’ yo_very road leads straight to Sing Sing. The big guy has a punch like Jes_illard, an’ the lil ’un a nose like a Montana wolf.”
  • It was Clancy’s nose for the more subtle elements in crime which brought hi_o the small châlet on the private pier at the foot of Eighty-sixth Stree_hat night. He could not guess what game he might flush, but he was keen as _loodhound in the chase.
  • Meanwhile, Senator Meiklejohn encountered Ronald Tower the moment he re- entered the palatial club. By this time he seemed to have regained hi_ustomary air of geniality, being one of those rather uncommon men whos_pparent characteristics are never so marked as when they are acting a part.
  • “H’lo, Ronnie,” he cried affably, “I met Helen as she left for the theater.
  • She has an inquiring mind, but I headed her off. By the way, will you be a_his luncheon to-morrow?”
  • “Not I,” laughed Tower. “I’m barred. She says I have no head for business, an_ome deep-laid plan for filling the family coffers is in hand.”
  • The Senator obviously disliked these outspoken references to money-making. H_quirmed, but smiled as though Tower had made an excellent joke.
  • “Try and get the ukase lifted,” he urged. “I want you to be there.”
  • “Nothing doing,” and the other grinned. “Helen says I resemble you i_verything but brain power, Senator. I’m a good-looker as a husband, but _oor mutt in Wall Street.”
  • They laughed at the conceit. The two men were curiously alike in face an_igure, though a close observer like Clancy would have classed them a_pposite as the poles in character and temperament. Meiklejohn’s features wer_ast in the stronger mold. They showed lines which Ronald Tower’s placi_xistence would never produce. The Senator was suave, too. He seldom pressed _oint to the limit.
  • “Helen’s good opinion is doubly flattering,” he said. “She is a bright woman, and knows how to command her friends.”
  • Tower glanced at a clock in the hall.
  • “Time we were off,” he announced. “Come with me. I’m taking Johnny Bell, _hink.”
  • “Sorry. I have an important letter to write. But I’ll join before the crow_uts in.”
  • The Senator hurried up-stairs. He must take the journey alone, and snatch a_pportunity to attend that mysterious rendezvous while the _Sans Souci’s_ gi_as ferrying some of the bridge-players to the yacht.
  • Owing to a slight misunderstanding Tower missed the other man, and travele_lone in his car. On that trivial circumstance hinged events which not onl_ffected many lives but disturbed New York society more than any othe_ncident within a decade.
  • Few among the thousands of summer promenaders who enjoy the magnificen_anorama of the North River from the wooded heights of the Drive know of th_ier at Eighty-sixth Street. For one thing, the clubhouse itself is a_npretentious structure; for another, the narrow and winding stairway leadin_own the side of the cliff gives no indication of its specific purpose.
  • Moreover, a light foot-bridge across the tracks is hardly noticeable throug_he screen of trees and shrubs above, and the water-front lies yet fifty yard_arther on.
  • At night the approach is not well lighted. In fact, no portion of th_eautiful and precipitous riparian park is more secluded than the shor_tretch between the landing-stage and the busy thoroughfare on the crest.
  • That evening, as has been seen, Mr. Van Hofen was taking no risks for himsel_r his guests. A patrolman from the local precinct was stationed at the iron- barred gate on the landward end of the foot-bridge.
  • Clancy, on descending from the bus, stood for a few seconds and surveyed th_cene. The night was dark and the sky overcast, but the myriad lights on th_ew Jersey shore were reflected in the swift current of the Hudson. The super_Sans Souci_ was easily distinguishable. All her ports were a-glow; lamp_winkled beneath the awnings on her after deck, and a boarding light indicate_he lowered gangway.
  • The yacht was moored about three hundred feet from the landing-stage. He_raceful outlines were clearly discernible against the black, moving plain o_he river. Just in that spot shone her radiance, lending a sense of opulenc_nd security. For the rest, that part of New York’s great waterway was dim an_mpalpable.
  • Try as he might, the detective could see no small craft afloat. The yacht’_ig, waiting at the clubhouse, was hidden from view. He sped rapidly down th_teps, and found the patrolman.
  • “That you, Nolan?” he said.
  • The man peered at him.
  • “Oh, Mr. Clancy, is it?” he replied.
  • “You know Senator Meiklejohn by sight?”
  • “Sure I do.”
  • “When he comes along hail him. Say ‘Good evening, Senator.’ I’ll hear you.”
  • Clancy promptly moved off along the path which runs parallel with the railway.
  • Nolan, though puzzled, put no questions, being well aware he would be tol_othing more.
  • Three gentlemen came down the cliff, and crossed the bridge. One was Van Hofe_imself. Now, the fates had willed that Ronald Tower should come next, an_lone. He was hurrying. He had seen figures entering the club, and wanted t_oin them in the gig.
  • The policeman made the same mistake as many others.
  • “Good evenin’, Senator,” he said.
  • Tower nodded and laughed. He had no time to correct the harmless blunder. Eve_o, he was too late for the boat, which was already well away from the stag_hen he reached it. He lighted a cigarette, and strolled along the narro_errace between river and lawn.
  • Clancy, on receiving his cue, followed Tower. An attendant challenged him a_he iron gate, but Nolan certified that this diminutive stranger was “al_ight.”
  • It was on the tip of the detective’s tongue to ask if Mr. Meiklejohn had gon_nto the clubhouse when he saw, as he imagined, the Senator’s tall for_ilhouetted against the vague carpet of the river; so he passed on, and thi_inor incident contributed its quota to a tragic occurrence. He heard some on_ehind him on the bridge, but paid no heed, his wits being bent on notin_nything that took place in the semi-obscurity of the river’s edge.
  • Meanwhile, the patrolman, encountering a double of Senator Meiklejohn, wa_umbfounded momentarily. He sought enlightenment from the attendant.
  • “An’, for the love of Mike, who was the first wan?” he demanded, when assure_hat the latest arrival was really the Senator.
  • “Mr. Ronald Tower,” said the man. “They’re like as two peas in a pod, ain’_hey?”
  • Nolan muttered something. He, too, crossed the bridge, meaning to find Clanc_nd explain his error. Thus, the four men were not widely separated, but Towe_ed by half a minute—long enough, in fact, to be at the north end of th_errace before Meiklejohn passed the gate.
  • There, greatly to his surprise, he looked down into a small motor-boat, wit_wo occupants, keeping close to the sloping wall. The craft and its crew coul_ave no reasonable business there. They suggested something sinister an_urtive. The engine was stopped, and one of the men, huddled up in the bows, was holding the boat against the pull of the tide by using a boathook as _unting pole.
  • Tower, though good-natured and unsuspicious, was naturally puzzled by thi_pparition. He bent forward to examine it more definitely, and rested hi_ands on a low railing. Then he was seen by those below.
  • “That you?” growled the second man, standing up suddenly.
  • “It is,” said Tower, speaking with strict accuracy, and marveling now who o_arth could have arranged a meeting at such a place and in such bizarr_onditions.
  • “Well, here I am,” came the gruff announcement. “The cops are after me. Som_ne must have tipped them off. If it was you I’ll get to know and even thing_p, P. D. Q. Chew on that during the night’s festivities, I advise you.
  • Brought that wad?”
  • Tower was the last man breathing to handle this queer situation discreetly. H_ught to have temporized, but he loathed anything in the nature of vulgar o_riminal intrigue. Being quick-tempered withal, if deliberately insulted, h_esented this fellow’s crude speech.
  • “No,” he cried hotly. “What you really want is a policeman, and there’s on_lose at hand—Hi! Officer!” he shouted: “Come here at once. There are tw_ascals in a boat—”
  • Something swirled through the darkness, and his next word was choked in a cr_f mortal fear, for a lasso had fallen on his shoulders and was drawn taut.
  • Before he could as much as lift his hands he was dragged bodily over th_ailing and headlong into the river.
  • Clancy, forced by circumstances to remain at a distance, could only overhea_ower’s share in the brief conversation. The tones in the voice perplexed him, but the preconcerted element in the affair seemed to offer proof positive tha_enator Meiklejohn had kept his appointment. He was just in time to se_ower’s legs disappearing, and a loud splash told what had happened. He wa_ot armed. He never carried a revolver unless the quest of the hour threatene_anger or called for a display of force. In a word, he was utterly powerless.
  • Senator Meiklejohn, alive to the vital fact that some one on the terrace ha_iscovered the boat, hung back dismayed. He was joined by Nolan, who could no_nderstand the sudden commotion.
  • “What’s up?” Nolan asked. “Didn’t some wan shout?”
  • Clancy, in all his experience of crime and criminals, had never befor_ncountered such an amazing combination of unforeseen conditions. The boat’_otor was already chugging breathlessly, and the small craft was curving ou_nto the gloom. He saw a man hauling in a rope from the stern, and well did h_now why the cord seemed to be attached to a heavy weight. Not far away h_ade out the yacht’s gig returning to the stage.
  • “ _Sans Souci_ ahoy!” he almost screamed. “Head off that launch! There’_urder done!”
  • It was a hopeless effort, of course, though the sailors obeyed instantly, an_ent to their oars. Soon they, too, vanished in the murk, but, finding the_ere completely outpaced, came back seeking for instructions which could no_e given. The detective thought he was bewitched when he ran into Senato_eiklejohn, pallid and trembling, standing on the terrace with Nolan.
  • “You?” he shrieked in a shrill falsetto. “Then, in heaven’s name, who is th_an who has just been pulled into the river?”
  • “Tower!” gasped the Senator. “Mr. Ronald Tower. They mistook him for me.”
  • “Faith, an’ I did that same,” muttered the patrolman, whose slow-moving wit_ould assimilate only one thing at a time.
  • Clancy, afire with rage and a sense of inexplicable failure, realized tha_eiklejohn’s admission and its now compulsory explanation could wait a calme_oment. The club attendant, attracted by the hubbub, raced to the lawn, an_he detective tackled him.
  • “Isn’t there a motor launch on the yacht?” he asked.
  • “Yes, sir, but it’ll be all sheeted up on deck.”
  • “Have you a megaphone?”
  • “Yes.”
  • The man ran and grabbed the instrument from its hook, so Clancy bellowed th_larming news to Mr. Van Hofen and the others already on board the _San_ouci_ that Ronald Tower had been dragged into the river and probabl_urdered. But what could they do? The speedy rescue of Tower, dead or alive, was simply impossible.
  • The gig arrived. Clancy stormed by telephone at a police station-house and a_he up-river station of the harbor police, but such vain efforts were the mer_ecessities of officialdom. None knew better than he that an extraordinar_rime had been carried through under his very eyes, yet its darin_erpetrators had escaped, and he could supply no description of thei_ppearance to the men who would watch the neighboring ferries and wharves.
  • Van Hofen and his friends, startled and grieved, came ashore in the gig, an_lancy was striving to give them some account of the tragedy without revealin_ts inner significance when his roving glance missed Meiklejohn from th_istraught group of men.
  • “Where is the Senator?” he cried, turning on the gaping Nolan.
  • “Gee, he’s knocked out,” said the policeman. “He axed me to tell you he’d gon_own-town. Ye see, some wan has to find Mrs. Tower.”
  • Clancy’s black eyes glittered with fury, yet he spoke no word. A blank silenc_ell on the rest. They had not thought of the bereaved wife, but Meiklejoh_ad remembered. That was kind of him. The Senator always did the right thing.
  • And how he must be suffering! The Towers were his closest friends!