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   Chapter 6 THE RED MENACE

The Radio Detectives By A. Hyatt Verrill Characters: 24525

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


During the weeks while Tom and his friends were busy at their work on the under-sea radio, grave and sinister events were taking place, of which the boys knew little or nothing, but which kept Mr. Pauling, Mr. Henderson and their men in a perpetual state of worry, and of sleepless nights and unceasing work.

Close upon the heels of the unprecedented influx of contraband liquor, which despite every effort continued undiminished and which had completely baffled the officials, came a flood of Bolshevist propaganda of the most dangerous and revolutionary character. Suddenly, and without warning, it had appeared throughout the country. Every town, city and village was filled with it and so cleverly were the circulars, booklets and handbills worded, so logical were the arguments and statements they contained, so appealing to the uneducated foreign element and the dissatisfied army of the unemployed that they were greedily read, accepted and absorbed until the country was menaced by a red revolution and officials went to bed never knowing what bloodshed and destruction the morrow might hold in store.

Almost coincident with this came a wave of crime. Hold-ups, burglars, murders, kidnaping and incendiarism swept like an epidemic through the big cities. Scarcely a day passed that the daily papers did not bear glaring headlines announcing some new and daring crime. Bank messengers, paymasters, cashiers and business men were held up at the point of revolvers or were blackjacked on the public streets in broad daylight. Stores and shops were boldly entered by masked bandits who held up and robbed the clerks and customers alike. Taxis and motor cars were attacked, their occupants beaten into unconsciousness and robbed and the vehicles stolen under the noses of the police. Homes of the rich, banks and business houses were entered and ransacked despite electric burglar alarms and armed guards. Each day the daring criminals grew bolder. From thugs they were changing into murderous bandits; where formerly a man was knocked down or blackjacked the victims were now shot in cold blood. Murders and homicides were of daily occurrence. Even on crowded thoroughfares within sight of hundreds of passers-by men were killed and the bandits escaped and no one felt that life and property were safe. The police seemed powerless and at a loss. Now and then a bandit was captured. Occasionally one would be shot down, wounded or killed by an officer or by some prospective victim, but still the crimes continued unabated. Indeed, the more the police strove to check the bandits the more they appeared to thrive and increase and the bolder they became. Lawlessness was rampant and, while the public wondered, criticized, clamored for protection, and countless theories were put forth, those in the inner circle, the secret agents of the government and the trusted ones, knew that, back of it all, the underlying cause and the root of the evil was the red propaganda which they were powerless to check.

Many were the secret meetings, the closely guarded conferences held between the untiring officers detailed to run the menace to earth, to stamp the venomous Bolshevist serpent underfoot, to bring the country to its safe and sane law-abiding state of the past. And prominent in all such closely guarded, mysterious councils were Mr. Pauling and Mr. Henderson.

"There is some one mind directing it all, in my opinion," declared Mr. Pauling. "Some arch criminal-a Bolshevist emissary-some man with a tremendous brain, marvelous executive ability, immense personal magnetism, but whose mind, heart and soul are warped and twisted. One who is such a criminal as the world has fortunately never known before. If we can lay our hands on him the rest will be easy. Without a leader, without a directive brain, these common criminals will be lost. They are arrant cowards, mere tools and yet, by some almost superhuman power, are controlled, directed, moved like pawns on a chessboard, by an unseen, mysterious being who so far has completely baffled us."

"I agree with you perfectly," said Mr. Henderson. "I believe the same man, the same arch fiend, is back of the rum-running; that this is merely a tryout, a test, to see if we can detect him and that through it all is a deep-laid, dastardly plot to inflame the people and at the same time enrich himself. To my mind, it savors of some one far greater in brain power, in intrigue and in ability than those unshaven, misguided Russians. It looks far more as if it were German work-perhaps some high officer of the Prussian army or navy-who, afraid of his own republican countrymen and filled with a fiendish desire for revenge, is devoting himself to the destruction of law and order in the United States."

"That is very plausible as a theory," remarked another man, "but it does not get us anywhere. If this is so, where does this master mind stay? Where are his headquarters? Surely he must have underlings,-lieutenants and trusted emissaries and some place, some headquarters, from which his nefarious schemes are sent forth. Nothing comes in by mail or by passengers we know. Every alien who enters is known. Not a word that tends to bear out your theories had been wrung from the men captured even though they were on the verge of death or were about to go to the electric chair. No, I do not agree with you. It's merely the aftermath of the war. Men were taught to handle firearms and to kill their fellow men. They were fed up, encouraged and lived with excitement and constant peril. The war ended; they were out of work, they pined for the thrill of danger and their viewpoint of life, of property and of right and wrong was distorted. Banditry offered an easy way of securing funds; it filled their desire for excitement; it satisfied their grudge against society and their country and, like all crimes which succeed, it became contagious and got a grip on more and more men. It's all the logical outcome of the war and in my opinion the red propaganda has nothing whatever to do with it."

Mr. Henderson smiled. "Perhaps I may be able to change your views, Selwin," he remarked. "I wanted to know your ideas before I came out with it. As you all know, I was on special work during the war-detailed to decode all suspicious messages that came in by radio or cable and to use my vivid imagination to try to find hidden meanings in apparently innocent messages. You all know the result, and there is no need of recalling specific cases, such as the famous sugar shipment to Garcia and the announcement of a baby's birth but which, thanks to my 'hunch' or imagination or whatever you wish to call it, led to the apprehension of the most dangerous female spy of the time and the confiscation of those incriminating documents which saved the Leviathan from destruction, prevented several thousand of our boys from going to the bottom of the sea, kept Brooklyn bridge from being blown to bits, thus blocking the Navy Yard, and prevented countless women and children from being widows and orphans. But perhaps you do not all know that, back of that stupendous plot, that greatest attempted coup of the enemy to terrorize and cripple the United States, that supreme effort of a dying, beaten nation to turn the tide of war and transform her from the vanquished to the victor, was the work of one man. To him was entrusted this almost superhuman task. The reward, if he succeeded, was to be honors and riches beyond conception. Had he won he would to-day be seated upon the throne of England-the despotic, iron-handed governor of a German colony with his feet upon the neck of the British people and with the colossal indemnity, which it had been planned to exact from our country, as his monetary reward. If he failed, his life was to pay the forfeit. Not only his life was to be sacrificed, but his lands and property were to be confiscated, his family imprisoned, degraded and exiled. It was, I think, the greatest, the most stupendous gamble ever known. And the gambler lost! By the merest chance, by pure accident, by a coincidence which no human being could have foreseen, his messages-the vital message-came into my hands and, through a tiny mistake, an error which might have passed a thousand eyes unnoticed, the conspirator-this gambler in nations and life-was betrayed and all his efforts, his widespread plots, his carefully organized plans came to nothing. But yet he escaped. Evidently he considered a gambling debt one that could be disregarded. His country, or rather his emperor, had overlooked a most important matter. He had failed to provide for getting hold of the gambler to collect his debt. No doubt, had Germany been victorious, some emissary of the Kaiser would eventually have found this man and would have exacted payment in full. But with Germany's downfall he was safe-at least as long as he remained out of Germany-and so completely did he efface himself that we came to the conclusion that he had committed suicide. But, gentlemen, I am willing to wager my reputation that he still lives. I have evidence which to my mind is absolutely conclusive that he is at the bottom of this Bolshevist propaganda, this influx of liquor, this wave of crime."

Amazed, the others gazed at Mr. Henderson as he paused after this surprising announcement.

"Jove! That's some statement!" cried one. "If you're right, Henderson, we've got our work cut out for us. I can see why he might do it though. I know who you mean-there's no use mentioning names even here. And if it is he I can understand why he has picked on Uncle Sam. But, by Jove, old man, if 'tis he, then watch your step! He's no man to forgive or forget. He'll have his eye on you and mark you for a come-back, I'll wager."

Henderson smiled grimly. "He has already," he remarked dryly. "That's my proof that he's the man. Like all of his kind he's so confoundedly conceited, so cocksure of himself, so puffed up with his own importance that, sooner or later, he's bound to overdo himself. He cannot resist the temptation to let some one know what a big toad in the puddle he is. He must boast or bust and such men always hang themselves if you give them rope enough. Here's the rope he's hung himself with!"

As he finished, Mr. Henderson tossed a sheet of paper on the table and the others crowded close to examine it.

To the casual observer, it would have meant little. A sheet of ordinary note paper with a single line written by a typewriter across it. There was no date, no signature, merely the words: "Remember Mercedes and Garcia." But to these keen-eyed, square-jawed, quiet men those words carried grave import. To them, it meant more than pages of writing might have carried.

"I guess you're right," exclaimed Selwin. "That is, as far as his being alive and this coming from him is concerned. But why do you think he or this has any connection with the other matters?"

"Another coincidence-or perhaps you'll say imagination," replied Mr. Henderson. "Examine this pamphlet-the latest effusion of our red propagandists. Do you notice anything peculiar about it?"

Each man shook his head as the flimsy pamphlet passed from hand to hand.

"Very well," commented Mr. Henderson. "You notice that it's not printed-that is, with type. It's a zincotype impression from typewriting. And if you look closely you'll also see that the small "a" has a broken tail, the capital "T" has a little twist in one arm of the top, the small "e" is flattened or battered and the "B" always shows a tiny smudge above it where the character on the same key struck the paper owing to the type bar being bent slightly. Now, kindly examine this terse note I showed you and see if you do not find the identical defects in the same letters."

"By Jove, yes!" cried one, as they again studied the paper. "Henderson, you're a winner. The machine that wrote one wrote the other. Not a shade of a doubt of it. But how about the rest of these dirty sheets and how about the bandits and the liquor?"

"I've examined several thousand circulars and pamphlets," replied Mr. Henderson, "and all that are typewritten are the same. Our friend is doing all the writing on one machine. I imagine he is hanging out some

where and takes no chances by entrusting his work to outsiders. A man could do all the typing and could make zinc photo plates in a single small room. As for my hunch that the rum-runners are connected with the same gang, it's based on this."

As he spoke, he placed a small metal object on the table, a bit of lead about half an inch in diameter and resembling a small coin. The others picked it up and examined it curiously.

"Well, what's this to do with the matter?" asked one.

"This note," replied Mr. Henderson, "was left at my door and to prevent it from blowing away this bit of lead was placed upon it. You don't see anything suspicious about it, but you may when I draw your attention to the fact that this is a metal seal from a particular brand and make of an extremely high-priced French West Indian liquor. Until the day after I received this reminder of Mercedes and Garcia, there was not, to the best of our knowledge and belief, a single bottle of that Pére Kerrman liqueur in the United States-except possibly in the private stock of some millionaire or exclusive club. Two days later, the country was flooded with it."

"You win!" cried Selwin. "Now about the bandits. Have you got them dead to rights, too?"

"Ask Pauling," replied Mr. Henderson. "He's the next witness."

"Here's my exhibit A," said Mr. Pauling, as he drew a creased paper from an inside pocket and placed it before the assembled officials.

"H-m-m, another threat, eh?" remarked the first one who examined it.

"Yes, commanding me to drop investigation of that hold-up gang that the police nabbed on West 16th St. last week. Nothing was said while the police were at it, but as soon as I took hold I received this."

"And written with the same old machine!" exclaimed Selwin. "All right, Pauling, I may be from Missouri, but you and Henderson have shown me. Now let's plan a campaign."

"If these two notes were sent by the same man, as they appear to have been," remarked a quiet man who heretofore had said nothing but had been steadily consuming one black cigar after another by the process of chewing them between his strong white teeth, "then our game is right underfoot, so to speak-right in little old Manhattan probably."

"Bully for you, Meredith!" cried a small, wiry, nervous man, clapping the other familiarly on the back. "'The mills of the gods,' etc., you know. Where did you fish that idea from?"

"From some place you lack-a brain," retorted Meredith continuing to bite savagely at his cigar. "But, fooling aside," he went on, "it's a cinch he is. Henderson and Pauling get their notes only two days apart and, what's more, Pauling gets his within twenty-four hours after he starts that investigation. No time for word to get any other place and have a bit of typewritten paper get back."

"Huh! Then, according to you, all this red rubbish is also written right in the old home-town, eh?" snorted the thin man.

"Yep," replied Meredith. "Expect that's why we haven't nailed its source yet. Fact is, I believe there isn't any rum being smuggled in. Been stored here and just being distributed now. Bet we've all been walking over the trail star-gazing. So darned sure it was all coming in from outside we never thought of it being right alongside of us."

"That's a possibility," admitted Henderson and then, dropping their voices, the half dozen men earnestly discussed plans, offered suggestions, examined mysterious documents stored in a hidden and massive safe in the wall and pored over maps and diagrams which no one, outside of this inner circle, would ever see.

At the end of two hours, the conference broke up. The papers and documents were replaced in their secret vault, the maps and diagrams were locked in a steel box and thrust in another safe and the men chatted on various matters, discussing the latest news, arguing the respective merits of motor cars, expressing opinions as to the next pennant winner, telling jokes and thoroughly enjoying themselves as if they had not a care in the world and were not literally carrying their lives in their hands day and night.

"What's that boy of yours doing in radio now?" asked Meredith, addressing Mr. Pauling when the conversation finally turned towards wireless. "Henderson was telling me about their 'radio detective' stuff. Great kid-Tom."

"Oh, he and Frank Putney are working on a submarine radio scheme. I met a young chap at Nassau with a new-fangled diving suit and he and the boys are trying to work out a radio outfit to use under water. Say, they're succeeding, too."

"Jove! that's a great scheme!" exclaimed another. "Under-sea wireless! Well, I'll be hanged, what won't our kids be up to next!"

"Wish we'd had anything as good to tinker with when we were kids," declared Selwin. "I remember how every one laughed at Marconi when he first started wireless. My boy's crazy over it now. Well, I must be getting on."

Rising, Selwin slipped from the room, sauntered casually about the corridor, noted the seemingly inattentive janitor brushing imaginary dust from a window frame, knew that the lynx-eyed guard was on his job, and without a sign of recognition made his way to the elevator and the street. At intervals of half an hour or so the others left, some by the same corridor, others through an outer room, where an office boy seemed dozing in a chair over a lurid, paper-covered novel-but upon whose boyish, freckled cheeks a closely-shaven, heavy beard might have been detected by a near examination-while still others took a roundabout route and descended to the street on the opposite side of the building. At last, only Mr. Pauling and Henderson were left and the two friends, glad of a chance to have a quiet smoke and to be free from care for a short time, sat chatting and talking over Mr. Pauling's last trip to the West Indies.

"It was positively baffling," stated Mr. Pauling in reply to a question. "I knew they were filled to the gunwales with liquor and I knew as well as I wanted to that the cargo was going to the States and yet, when they got here and our men boarded them they were either empty or carried legitimate cargoes or else they never touched our ports and came back empty. It's common talk that the stuff is going to us, but no one has given away how it's done yet. Why, I even had one trailed-shadowed by a disguised cutter-and they kept her within sight for days and then I'll be hanged if she didn't come back without a sign of cargo. Now where did they land it? Only solution is they got cold feet and heaved it overboard."

"More likely they met some other craft during the night and transhipped," suggested Mr. Henderson. "I imagine that's how they get it in. Have some prearranged signal and spot and ship the stuff in at another port while they sail boldly into harbor. Of course we're watching for them and let up on other places and while we're boarding the suspect the other craft gets in on some unfrequented bit of coast and meets a truck or car. It's not hard. We can't guard all the coast with our force and I'm sure that game's played sometimes, if not always. We've taken a lot of stuff that afterwards proved to be colored water or cane-juice and of course they didn't bring that from Cuba or the Bahamas just for the sake of getting our goats."

"And then there were the Chinese," resumed Mr. Pauling. "Of course there we've another difficulty because, once set ashore or near shore, John can look after himself and doesn't need a truck to carry him out of our sight. Just the same I'd give a lot to know the secret of their putting it over on us."

"I've often wondered if those boys-Tom and Frank-weren't right about that strange conversation they overheard," ruminated Mr. Henderson. "I'm morally certain they were all right in their cross bearings with their loops, although I didn't tell them so-and yet we found nothing there. Have you asked the boys if they've heard anything more of it lately?"

"No, but I will," Mr. Pauling replied. "They've been so busy with this new idea I expect they've forgotten all about it. I promised I'd go down to see their- Hello, there's the phone. Wonder who 'tis."

Leaning forward, Mr. Pauling drew the extension phone towards him, lifted the receiver and placed it at his ear.

"Yes, this is Mr. Pauling speaking," he said. Then his face blanched, his cigar dropped from his fingers and in anxious, frightened tones he cried, "What's that you say? Frank! What's that? Tom under water! Calling for help! Having a fight with-with what? Never mind! Calling through the radio! Yes, I'll be down instantly!"

Slamming the receiver on its hook Mr. Pauling leaped to his feet.

"It's Frank!" he cried. "Says Tom's calling for help from under water. Lord knows what's up! Send Jameson and a bunch of men. Order a patrol down. Rawlins' dock, foot of 28th. You know the place. Come yourself, too!"

Jerking open a drawer, Mr. Pauling grabbed up a heavy revolver, shoved it into his pocket, dashed through the door and as he passed the supposed janitor gave a terse order. "Get inside!" he exclaimed, "Henderson needs you." The next instant he was plunging down the stairs. With a bound he cleared the last few steps, hurtled like a football player through the pedestrians on the sidewalk, leaped into his waiting car and the next instant was violating every traffic law as he drove madly through the streets. Once only did he slacken speed when, as he rounded the corner, he caught a glimpse of one of his men and with a gesture summoned him. Instantly, the man obeyed, leaped on the running board and as the machine again darted ahead clambered in beside Mr. Pauling.

Before Mr. Pauling's footsteps had sounded on the stairs, before the secret service man in the janitor's overalls could dodge inside the room, Mr. Henderson was talking over a private wire to the nearest police station. Ten seconds later, he was rushing downstairs with the erstwhile janitor at his heels and hard on the wake of Mr. Pauling's car his runabout went tearing in the same direction.

As they swung from Fourth Avenue into 28th St., gaping crowds lined the sidewalks craning their necks and peering down the street where, far ahead, the police patrol was startling the neighborhood with its clanging bell as it followed the lead of Mr. Pauling's car.

What had happened, what danger was menacing his boy, Mr. Pauling could not guess. But that Tom was in deadly peril he felt sure. Frank's agonized tones proved that, and while his incoherent, stammering words carried no explanation Mr. Pauling knew that his son was calling for aid from under the water, that something terrible had occurred. Through his mind had instantly flashed the threat of the bandit chief, the threat to make him sweat blood if he continued his investigations. Could it be that? Had the thugs captured or attacked Tom to injure his father? And where was Rawlins? With nerves already strained from overwork and failure to accomplish what the government demanded of him, Mr. Pauling, who was noted for his self-possession, his calmness and clear-headedness in the most trying and perilous moments, was now mad with fear and his teeth actually chattered with nervousness. His car, racing at break-neck speed, seemed almost to crawl. Every corner seemed to be purposely blocked by traffic. He thought he had never seen so many persons crossing the streets, so many slow-moving, horse-drawn vehicles impeding his progress. He cursed aloud, handled his levers with savage jerks, gritted his teeth and mentally prayed he would not be too late. Now, behind him, he could hear the clanging, oncoming patrol truck-he knew Henderson had lost no time. Before him lay the end of the street, the river and the docks. With a reckless twist he swung the car into the waterfront street, took the turn on two wheels, drove it diagonally, regardless of cursing truck-men, across the cobbled road, and with squealing brakes, brought it to a skidding stop by Rawlins' dock. Before it had lost headway he had leaped out, the detective at his side, and as he burst into the boys' workshop a crowd of blue-clad policemen were jumping from the still moving patrol and were crowding at his heels.

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