The Bootlegger | Chapter 40 of 59

Author: Clive Cussler | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 4850 Views | Add a Review

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27

COLD-EYED MEN who traveled light arrived from Cleveland, Toledo, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Pittsburgh, and jumped to the Michigan Central platforms before their trains stopped rolling. They hurried on their way, across town to a former Wells Fargo Express office that Isaac Bell had rented on Woodbridge Street.

The building was in the freight district between the Michigan Central and New York Central depots, a block from the Detroit River. Thick walls, small windows, and steel doors made for a fortified headquarters. The out-of-town detectives—valuable men who knew their business whom Bell had summoned from the Midwest field offices—were greeted by the sobering sight of workmen wiring mesh over the barred glass to keep out hand grenades. What even the sharpest-eyed did not see were the snipers James Dashwood had installed atop a water tower that overlooked the approaches.

•   •   •

HAVING HOUSED an express company, the new Detroit headquarters, which the detectives nicknamed Fort Van Dorn, was wired for a variety of telephone and telegraph lines. Within hours of taking possession, Bell had local and long-distance telephone connections, private telephone and telegraph lines to the rest of the field offices, a Morkrum telegraph printer, and an overseas cable link.

“I underestimated Marat Zolner,” he reported to Joseph Van Dorn at Bellevue Hospital by long distance. “And I overestimated the effect of what I thought was a body blow we gave them in New York. The Comintern did not flee from New York. Zolner expanded to Detroit.”

“Interesting hunch,” said Van Dorn.

“It’s more than a hunch.”

“But you could just as easily conclude that Zolner machine-gunned the boss of the Purple Gang out of desperation.” Van Dorn’s voice was stronger, and Dorothy told Bell when she answered the telephone that he was sitting up in a chair. “You drove him from New York and he’s desperate to start over in Detroit.”

“No,” said Bell. “Zolner is fighting from strength, not weakness. We bloodied his nose in New York, but we did not break up his alliances. The profits from his New York bootlegger partners are funding the expansion.”

“If bootlegging made him that rich, why didn’t he buy his way into Detroit? Why’d he pounce with all four feet?”

“No one can buy Detroit. It’s too volatile. He has to beat the gangs to control the bootlegging.”

“That has a greater ring of fact than your expanding from New York theory for which you have no evidence.”

Yes, thought Bell. The Boss is sounding a little more like himself. He was marshaling his arguments when the Morkrum printer clattered. James Dashwood ripped a message off the paper roll and handed him the curly sheet.

“Hold the wire, Joe.”

The New York office had forwarded a long overseas cable from Germany. Bell decoded the familiar Van Dorn cipher in his head.

Pauline Grandzau had discovered that Comintern agents had chartered the twelve-thousand-ton tanker Sandra T. Congdon and loaded it with two-hundred-proof pure grain alcohol. The tanker had sailed from Bremerhaven bound for Nassau, The Bahamas.

Bell whistled in amazement.

“What?” Van Dorn growled into his phone.

“Proof,” said Bell. “A shipload of two hundred proof.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Proof that Marat Zolner is not only still operating in New York but expanding. The Comintern is gearing up to supply Rum Row on a whole new scale.”

He read Pauline’s cable aloud to Van Dorn.

They discussed its ramifications. Possession of grain alcohol was a not to be missed opportunity to dilute genuine liquor. Such a big ship could carry well over a hundred thousand barrels—five hundred railroad tank cars—easily stretched to fifty million bottles.

“Enough liquor,” said Van Dorn, “to plaster the adult population of the East Coast through the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.”

“And pour a hundred million dollars into the Comintern’s treasury.”

“That is fifty times the federal budget for enforcement of Prohibition,” said Van Dorn. “Good for Pauline. Will you send her to Nassau as she asked?”

“Absolutely.”

“Even long-distance, I can hear a gleam in your eye, Isaac. Just don’t forget that Zolner has proved himself a mastermind. And he’s got the entire Comintern on his side.”

“I’m not sure about that,” said Bell. “I have a hunch he’s a one-man show.”

“They’re making a great success of getting away with every crime in the book,” Van Dorn countered drily.

“But nothing that he’s built so far can last without him. When we stop Zolner, we stop the Comintern.”

“Nothing’s stopped him yet.”

“The way to stop him is to use against him the one thing I admire about him,” said Bell.

“Admire?” Van Dorn’s explosion of indignation spiraled into a coughing fit.

Bell listened to the wracking cough, praying for it to ease, but it knocked Joe breathless. Bell waited, gripping the phone. The doctors had warned there’d be setbacks, and he’d just set one off.

A woman spoke into the phone. “Mr. Van Dorn will telephone you back when he is able.”

“Marion?”

“Isaac!”

“Is he O.K.?”

“I don’t know. I just walked in. Here’s a nurse . . . And a doctor . . . They’ve got him . . .” She lowered her voice. “Oh, the poor man. It breaks your heart. He’s better one moment, then falls back. They’ve got him now, Isaac. Don’t worry. How are you?”

“Tip-top,” Bell lied, gingerly rubbing his itching stitches. He pictured her lighting up Joe’s room in a smart suit and hat. “And how are you?”

“They gave me another movie. I’m having fun filming all day and missing you at dinner.”

“How about after dinner?”

“Worse. The New York papers said there was a shooting in Detroit.”

“It’s the national pastime out here. Bigger than baseball.”

“This one sounded like a war.”

“I will tell you all about it when I see you.”

“Can’t wait. Here’s Joe . . . He claims he’s ‘tip-top.’ Where do you suppose he learned that expression? Good-bye, darling. So lovely to hear your voice.”

Van Dorn did not sound much recovered. He took a few shallow breaths and wheezed, “How could you possibly admire a murdering, thieving, treacherous, bomb-throwing, godless Bolshevik who slaughters innocents?”

“He leads from the front. In the thick of the fight. He is no coward.”

“Neither is Satan.”

“It’s his Achilles’ heel. I’ll find him where the lead is flying. And that’s where I’ll finish him.”

Van Dorn fell silent.

Had the long-distance connection broken? Or something worse? “Are you O.K., Joe?”

“I was just wondering if a villain weren’t a villain, would he be a hero’s best friend?”

Isaac Bell was in no mood for philosophy. “I would not be one bit surprised that Marat Zolner manned the Lewis gun that shot you. And I have absolutely no doubt he was there when Harry Warren was killed and personally loaded his body—dead or dying—into that wagon.”

“All right,” Van Dorn whispered. “I know what you’re saying. What’s your next move?”

“Drive Zolner out of Detroit.”

“How?”

“Find out who Zolner installed in place of Rosenthal. Question his girlfriend, Fern Hawley. Send Pauline to Nassau to throw a monkey wrench in whatever he’s up to with that tanker. And find that whisky tunnel, because if the Comintern doesn’t own it already, it will soon. When they do, they will be so rich it could be impossible to stop them.”

•   •   •

PAULINE’S CABLE HAD ENDED:

REQUEST ASSIGNMENT NASSAU.

LIQUOR IMPORT-EXPORT GUISE,

WHISKY AGENT FOR GLASGOW DISTILLERY.

EAR TO GROUND.

During the war, Bell recalled, she had smuggled a downed Scottish flier out of Germany. The pilot’s grandfather had founded a distillery. Bell cabled back.

GO NASSAU SOONEST.

The reply he received was not from Germany but from France, where Archie Abbott remained in temporary command of the Van Dorn field office.

YOUR CABLE FORWARDED PARIS.

I’M COVERING FOR BERLIN.

PAULINE SAILED YESTERDAY,

SS AQUITANIA,

CONNECTING NASSAU.

Isaac Bell laughed. So much for “request.”

“Fräulein Moxie” was off to the races—Cunard express liner Aquitania from Le Havre to New York; Havana Special, overnight train to Miami, Florida; and the new flying-boat service to Nassau. Pauline would be across the Atlantic and in The Bahamas in seven or eight days. While a war-weary, ten-knot tanker was still on the high seas, she would have time before it landed to establish a business front in Nassau with a Market Street import-export office under a shingle that read:

PAULINE GRANDZAU

LICENSED TO SELL

WHOLESALE SPIRITS & LIQUORS

•   •   •

THE WOLVERINE, the express train that connected with the 20th Century in Buffalo, brought photographs of Fern Hawley that Van Dorn Research had clipped from the New York society pages. That the one shot of the heiress gallivanting included Prince André doubled Bell’s suspicion that the Russian and Marat Zolner were the same man. His picture was out of focus, blurred by motion. It looked to Bell as if, caught by surprise climbing out of a limousine, he was trying to turn his face from the camera.

Bell wired Grady Forrer.

PRINCE ANDRE CAMERA SHY.

SHOW PICTURE TO LYNCH & HARDING MARINE.

Bell armed his detectives with Fern’s photographs and sent them to query desk clerks and managers at Detroit’s top hotels. In none of the fancier places where he would expect her to stay was the Connecticut heiress recognized. Nor was Prince André. They polled second-rate hotels, and garages that rented limousines, with no results.

The society reporters wrote, repeatedly, that she had served as a volunteer war nurse in France. Bell cabled Archie Abbott to inquire about her and Prince André.

At Michigan Central Station, Bell’s detectives found no evidence of her arriving recently on any of the extra-fare limited trains like The Detroiter or The Wolverine that a wealthy woman would ride. On the other hand, thought Bell, she was uncommonly wealthy. He went personally to the private sidings. New York Central Railroad detectives, always eager to help a Van Dorn executive in hopes of future employment, had no memory of Fern Hawley arriving by private car from New York.

“What about New Haven?”

A rail dick recalled that a car from Connecticut had parked for several days on a private siding. “Left yesterday at noon.”

Only hours after the machine-gun attack on Rosenthal.

“Where did it go?”

They questioned dispatchers. The private car had been coupled to a New York Central passenger train bound for Cincinnati that connected with the Southern Railway’s “Royal Palm” to Jacksonville, Florida.

With an idea forming of where she was headed, Bell asked, “What line does the Southern connect to in Jacksonville?”

“Florida East Coast Railway.”

Isaac Bell slipped him a double sawbuck and his card. “If you need something from the Van Dorns, drop me a line.”

The tall detective returned to the main passenger terminal and found a coin telephone to call James Dashwood at Fort Van Dorn.

“She’s gone to Miami! I’m booking you a through ticket on the Royal Palm. Get down to Florida and find out what she’s up to.”

“Is Zolner with her?”

“He can’t leave Detroit until he’s installed his replacement for Rosenthal and they finish that tunnel.”

“Do you think Zolner sent her away to keep her out of danger?”

“Possibly. Or she could be fed up with him and gone south early for the winter. Except I’ve got a very strong feeling that Fern Hawley’s gone on ahead to lay the groundwork for his next move.”

Dashwood played the devil’s advocate as Bell had taught him to. “Based on what?”

“Based on Pauline’s report that the Comintern sent a shipload of grain alcohol to The Bahamas. Nassau is only a hundred eighty miles from Miami, Bimini’s even closer, and Florida is a booze funnel into the entire South. He’ll have New York in the East, Detroit in the Midwest, and Florida in the South.

“At that point, he can paste a new label on millions of bottles—‘Genuine Old Cominterm, America’s Favorite.’”

•   •   •

ISAAC BELL PACED IMPATIENTLY.

“Whisky haulers have heard about a booze tunnel under the Detroit River. Strong-arm men have heard about this tunnel. The cops have heard about this tunnel. Crooks have heard about this tunnel. Gangsters have heard about this tunnel. Wouldn’t you think that Detroit newspapermen have not only heard about this tunnel but would also have some inkling of where it is?”

“It’s a big story,” Scudder Smith agreed. He was toying with his hat and looked like a man who was reconsidering not drinking.

“You’re picking up bar tabs for every reporter in town,” Bell reminded him. “One of them must be writing the big story.”

“No editor would run it. It would get the reporter shot—which wouldn’t trouble most editors excessively—but it could get the editor himself shot, too, and that possibility would trouble him.”

Isaac Bell did not smile.

“Funny enough,” said Scudder. “You know who’s really looking for the tunnel?”

“Volstead officers,” said Bell. “The payoffs would make them rich men.”

“Or dead.”

Bell said, “Go back to the pressrooms, go back to the blind pigs where newspapermen hang out. There must be some cub reporter out there scrambling for a scoop that would make his name.”

•   •   •

SCUDDER SMITH came back much sooner than Bell had expected.

“Now what?”

Scudder grinned ear to ear. “I have redeemed myself.”

“Did you find a reporter who found the tunnel?”

“No. But I found several reporters who know who might have shot Sam Rosenthal.”

Might have?”

“I don’t know who actually pulled the trigger, but I definitely know who replaced him. Abe Weintraub, like we guessed. Admiral Abe.”

“I thought he disappeared. I thought he was dead.”

“So did I. So did they. But then I caught a rumor that the admiral was seen gumming his supper at the Hotel Wolverine.”

“‘Gumming’?”

“Apparently someone—an amazingly formidable someone—knocked Abe’s teeth out. I checked. I found a Wolverine waiter who said he ate sweetbreads. Sweetbreads and champagne. Sweetbreads are expensive. A meal you eat when you’re celebrating. As if you became the new Purples’ boss.”

“And easy to chew,” said Bell. “Any idea who knocked his teeth out?”

“Everyone agrees that whoever did it must be dead by now.”

“Was he dining alone?”

“That’s the best part. I showed the waiter Prince André’s photograph. He thought Prince André might be the guy Abe was eating sweetbreads with.”

Bell thought that this was too much to hope for. The most that Bill Lynch and Harold Harding had conceded, when shown the out-of-focus photograph, was a dubious “maybe” that it was the bootlegger who had commissioned Black Bird.

He asked, “Why was the waiter so talkative?”

“He needed money to leave Detroit.”

“Why?”

“I persuaded him, after I suggested that Abe might be the new boss of the Purples, that any association with Admiral Abe could be dangerous for his health. Including—or especially—witnessing who he eats sweetbreads with. Rightly or wrongly, the waiter decided to start over a thousand miles away. I—or, strictly speaking, Mr. Van Dorn—provided the means.”

“But it’s not impossible that the waiter told you what he thought you wanted to hear,” said Bell.

“May I suggest,” said Scudder, “that we have a field office full of valuable men to follow up on this?”

•   •   •

JAMES DASHWOOD telegraphed on the private wire that he had traced Fern Hawley’s railcar to a Palm Beach, Florida, siding that served an oceanfront estate seventy miles north of Miami. Neither the car nor the estate was owned by her.

PALACE CAR RENTED.

ESTATE RENTED.

FERN FLOWN.

There was nothing innately suspicious about renting cars and estates. She could, indeed, be setting up early for the winter in Florida, where more and more of the rich headed when the weather got cold. Typically, though, society people of Fern’s means were building elaborate homes in Palm Beach and Miami. She could be testing the waters. But for what? Winter holidays or Marat Zolner’s empire?

The answer came in a contrite wire from Dashwood.

MISSED BLACK BIRD FLATCAR YESTERDAY MIAMI.

•   •   •

“COUPLE OF PROHIBITION DICKS asking to see you, Isaac,” said Texas Walt.

Bell looked up from the sandwiches he was sharing at the kitchen chopping block with Leon Randolph, the Texas Walt’s Roadhouse cook whom he knew from the days Leon had cooked on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe’s Overland Limited.

“How did they know to find me here?”

“I wondered, too. I persuaded them to leave their artillery with the hatcheck.”

The bar was empty at this hour but for a bartender who was polishing a sawed-off shotgun.

Bell’s stern features darkened with such anger when he recognized the Volstead agents that Texas Walt’s hands would have strayed toward his Colts if the bartender didn’t already have them covered.

“We got to talk, Mr. Bell.”

Tom Clayton and Ed Ellis, the former Protective Services house detectives Bell had fired from the Hotel Gotham, looked prosperous. Their cheeks were pink from the barbershop, their hair slick. They wore signet rings on their fingers and remained somewhat handsome, despite imperfectly healed broken noses.

“We’ve already bribed your superiors,” Bell answered coldly.

“We know,” Ed Ellis said. “Bureau chief told us Texas Walt’s is hands-off.”

“It should be for what it cost us. Did you inform your chief that we’re Van Dorns?”

“No!” cried Clayton.

“We wouldn’t squeal on you!” said Ellis.

“Why not?”

“We don’t want to gum up your case.”

“Mighty big of you,” Bell said, more than a little puzzled.

“Can we talk in private?” asked Clayton.

“How’d you happen to land in Detroit?”

Clayton ducked his head.

Ellis rubbed his nose. “We knew we weren’t welcome in New York anymore.”

Clayton immediately said, “Hey, no hard feelings, Mr. Bell. We got what we deserved.”

“We just thank God they didn’t kill that little kid.”

“Detroit,” said Bell. “I asked how did you two end up in Detroit?”

“We figured the Detroit Prohibition Bureau had to be a gold mine, with all the booze coming from Canada.”

“Came out to wangle jobs,” said Clayton, and Ellis explained matter-of-factly, “Government doesn’t pay much, but the salary’s only a start, if you know what we mean.”

“You mean graft,” said Bell. “Hush money, payoffs, protection.”

“We ain’t lying to you.”

But their story didn’t add up. Congress had organized the Prohibition Bureau to be exempt from Civil Service regulations. As a result, its system of hiring agents was completely corrupt, and the bureau was hobbled by cronyism, nepotism, and patronage.

“How did you manage Volstead jobs? Nobody gets in the bureau without some bigwig pulling wires.”

“We know a bigwig,” said Ellis.

Clayton explained. “A Michigan politician staying at the Gotham was getting in a jam with his missus over a manicure girl.”

“We fixed it for him—arranged for a onetime gift—and he was mighty grateful. ‘If you boys ever need anything in Detroit, look me up.’”

“We looked him up.”

“Presto!” said Ellis and patted his badge.

Isaac Bell turned to Walt Hatfield. “I can handle them.”

The bartender put away his shotgun.

Bell took Clayton and Ellis to the cellar where he had interrogated Tony. “It better be good, boys. I’m in no mood to play.” Which was putting it mildly. Harry Warren was dead, and Marat Zolner was getting stronger every day.

Clayton and Ellis exchanged significant looks. They nudged each other. Then they chorused, “We heard you’re looking for a tunnel.”

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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