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   Chapter 18 A RIFT IN THE CLOUDS

Aunt Jane's Nieces in Society By L. Frank Baum Characters: 6322

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

The Tuesday morning just referred to dawned cold and wintry. A chill wind blew and for a time carried isolated snowflakes whirling here and there. Gradually, as the morning advanced, the flakes became more numerous, until by nine o'clock an old fashioned snowstorm had set in that threatened to last for some time. The frozen ground was soon covered with a thin white mantle and the landscape in city and country seemed especially forbidding.

In spite of these adverse conditions Charlie Mershone decided to go out for a walk. He felt much like a prisoner, and his only recreation was in getting out of the hotel for a daily stroll. Moreover, he had an object in going abroad to-day.

So he buttoned his overcoat up to his chin and fearlessly braved the storm. He had come to wholly disregard the presence of the detective who shadowed him, and if the youthful Fogerty by chance addressed him he was rewarded with a direct snub. This did not seem to disconcert the boy in the least, and to-day, as usual, when Mershone walked out Fogerty followed at a respectful distance. He never appeared to be watching his man closely, yet never for an instant did Mershone feel that he had shaken the fellow off.

On this especial morning the detective was nearly a block in the rear, with the snow driving furiously into his face, when an automobile suddenly rolled up to the curb beside him and two men leaped out and pinioned Fogerty in their arms. There was no struggle, because there was no resistance. The captors quickly tossed the detective into the car, an open one, which again started and turned into a side street.

Fogerty, seated securely between the two burly fellows, managed to straighten up and rearrange his clothing.

"Will you kindly explain this unlawful act, gentlemen?" he enquired.

The man on the left laughed aloud. He was the same individual who had attacked Arthur Weldon, the one who had encountered Mershone in the street the day before.

"Cold day, ain't it, Fogerty?" he remarked. "But that makes it all the better for a little auto ride. We like you, kid, we're fond of you-awful fond-ain't we, Pete?"

"We surely are," admitted the other.

"So we thought we'd invite you out for a whirl-see? We'll give you a nice ride, so you can enjoy the scenery. It's fine out Harlem way, an' the cold'll make you feel good. Eh, Pete?"

"That's the idea," responded Pete, cheerfully.

"Very kind of you," said the detective, leaning back comfortably against the cushions and pulling up his coat collar to shield him from the wind. "But are you aware that I'm on duty, and that this will allow my man to slip away from me?"

"Can't help that; but we're awful sorry," was the reply. "We just wanted company, an' you're a good fellow, Fogerty, considerin' your age an' size."

"Thank you," said Fogerty, "You know me, and I know you. You are Bill Leesome, alias Will Dutton-usually called Big Bill. You did time a couple of years ago for knocking out a policeman."

"I'm safe enough now, though," responded Big Bill. "You're not working on the reg'lar force, Fogerty, you're only a private burr."

"I am protected, just the

same," asserted Fogerty. "When you knabbed me I was shadowing Mershone, who has made away with a prominent society young lady."

"Oh, he has, has he?" chuckled Big Bill, and his companion laughed so gleefully that he attracted Fogerty's attention to himself.

"Ah, I suppose you are one of the two men who lugged the girl off," he remarked; "and I must congratulate you on having made a good job of it. Isn't it curious, by the way, that the fellow who stole and hid this girl should be the innocent means of revealing her biding place?"

The two men stared at him blankly. The car, during this conversation, had moved steadily on, turning this and that corner in a way that might have confused anyone not perfectly acquainted with this section of the city.

"What d'ye mean by that talk, Fogerty?" demanded Big Bill.

"Of course it was Mershone who stole the girl," explained the detective, calmly; "we know that. But Mershone is a clever chap. He knew he was watched, and so he has never made a movement to go to his prisoner. But he grew restless in time, and when he met you, yesterday, fixed up a deal with you to carry me away, so he could escape."

Big Bill looked uncomfortable.

"You know a lot, Fogerty," he said, doggedly.

"Yes; I've found that human nature is much the same the world over," replied the detective. "Of course I suspected you would undertake to give Mershone his chance by grabbing me, and that is exactly what you have done. But, my lads, what do you suppose I have done in the meantime?"

They both looked their curiosity but said nothing.

"I've simply used your clever plot to my own advantage, in order to bring things to a climax," continued Fogerty. "While we are joy-riding here, a half dozen of my men are watching every move that Mershone makes. I believe he will lead them straight to the girl; don't you?"

Big Bill growled some words that were not very choice and then yelled to the chauffeur to stop. The other man was pale and evidently frightened.

"See here, Fogerty; you make tracks!" was the sharp command, as the automobile came to a halt. "You've worked a pretty trick on us, 'cordin' to your own showin', and we must find Mr. Mershone before it's too late-if we can."

"Good morning," said Fogerty, alighting. "Thank you for a pleasant ride-and other things."

They dashed away and left him standing on the curb; and after watching them disappear the detective walked over to a drug store and entered the telephone booth.

"That you, Hyde?-This is Fogerty."

"Yes, sir. Mr. Mershone has just crossed the ferry to Jersey. Adams is with him. I'll hear from him again in a minute: hold the wire."

Fogerty waited. Soon he learned that Mershone had purchased a ticket for East Orange. The train would leave in fifteen minutes.

Fogerty decided quickly. After looking at his watch he rushed out and arrested a passing taxicab.

"Ready for a quick run-perhaps a long one?" he asked.

"Ready for anything," declared the man.

The detective jumped in and gave hurried directions.

"Never mind the speed limit," he said. "No one will interfere with us. I'm Fogerty."

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