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?”
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!