The Bootlegger | Chapter 47 of 59

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

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32

ISAAC BELL inhaled the intoxicating mix of fresh paint, clean oil, and gasoline of a just launched, brand-new express cruiser. New she was, and beautiful, a sleek, ghostly gray that seemed to hover more than float on Biscayne Bay. He nudged her throttles and she got lively. He engaged the mufflers and she was suddenly silent.

A fast Prohibition Bureau boat pulled alongside and signaled him to stop. Bell waved good-bye. He cut out the mufflers and hit the throttles and left the revenuers bouncing on his thunderous wake.

He tore around Biscayne Bay, twirling her spoked wheel to cut figure eights past the hydroplane landings, the towering McAllister Hotel, draped in striped awnings, the Boat Club, and the Biscayne Boulevard finger piers, where the fleets of lumber schooners that supplied the building boom were unloading cypress and yellow pine. In the middle of the bay, off the Miami River, floated the pylons that marked the Motor Boat Race Course. Isaac Bell set an unofficial record around the three-mile circuit at sixty miles an hour.

Lynch & Harding had done themselves proud. She handled like a dream.

He circled a long passenger freighter from Baltimore that was transferring people to a harbor launch. A flying boat approached from the east. Bell raced alongside it as it landed. Then he opened her up and headed for the ocean, tearing under the causeway that linked downtown Miami to Miami Beach and pointing her razor-sharp bow at Government Cut at the south end of the bay. He blasted through the shipping channel at top speed and roared down the Atlantic Coast.

In the ocean swells, she felt big and fast and sturdy. Beyond the settlements, along shores thick with jungle broken repeatedly by the raw scars of clearance and construction, a dark boat shot from a mangrove swamp and chased after him. Bell slowed down and let the boat pull alongside. Three men wearing revolvers on their hips looked him over. Any doubts they were hijackers vanished when they reached for their weapons.

Bell tugged a lever conveniently located in the cockpit. A hatch popped open on the foredeck, and a Lewis gun swiveled up within easy reach. The hijackers raced back to their swamp.

Bell turned around and sped back past Government Cut and along the white sand of Miami Beach. He cut figure eights for the swimmers. Then he thundered back into Biscayne Bay and, having drawn the attention of half of Florida to Marion, he raced back to the dock.

A crowd of boatmen, tourists, and hotel guests had gathered. Bell landed in an explosive flurry of reversed engines, propeller wash, and flaming straight pipes.

“Wonder what you all are going to use that boat for?” drawled an onlooker with a snicker that everyone knew meant rum.

Isaac Bell said, “I’m going to get rich winning boat races.”

“That’s a good story for the Dries.”

“Want to bet? I’m calling out candidates.”

“Heck, who’d race you? That’s more airplane than boat.”

Bell said, “I heard about a big black boat whose owner thinks he’s hotter than jazz. We’ll see if he’s got the nerve to put his money where his mouth is.”

“Where is he?”

“Lying low,” Bell grinned, “since he heard I’m here. Fact is, I’ll pay a thousand dollars to anybody who tells me where to find him.”

“A thousand dollars?”

“Call it a finder’s fee. Call it a reward. I intend to call him out.”

“Show us the money.”

Isaac Bell pulled a roll from the pocket of his white duck trousers and flashed a thousand-dollar bill, common currency among top-notch Florida bootleggers. “Tell your friends,” he said. “Share the wealth.”

He tipped his visored skipper’s cap to the ladies and sauntered up the boardwalk to make a public show of lunch on the veranda while the word got around about the thousand. Before he got ten feet, he was waylaid by a beautiful blonde who was wearing a big hat and dark glasses and a white linen sheath dress that the sea breeze shaped to her trim figure.

•   •   •

MARAT ZOLNER focused binoculars on the McAllister Hotel quay.

A long gray rum boat was tied alongside, sleek and muscular as a captured shark. Ten stories above Biscayne Bay, in a top-floor suite, he had watched her slice through Government Cut at sixty miles per hour, streak across the bay, and land just below. He had not been surprised to see Van Dorn Chief Investigator Isaac Bell vault out of her cockpit.

From razor bow to sturdy transom, the gray boat’s powerful lines were first cousin to Black Bird’s, realized by the same Lynch & Harding who had built his boat. And by now he knew that Isaac Bell was relentless.

The Comintern agent had no time for regrets. But for a moment he indulged in speculating what would have happened if he hadn’t shot Joseph Van Dorn. If not for that chance event—a twist of fate that the machine gunner he had shot on the Coast Guard cutter had not been an ordinary sailor—no one could have discovered his Comintern scheme until it was too late to stop him. Thanks to that twist of fate, Isaac Bell had thrown hurdles in his path, repeatedly, and showed no signs of going away.

The tall detective tipped the boat boys who tied his lines—lavishly, Zolner guessed by their bows and scrapes—then engaged the people hanging around the dock in banter. Suddenly, a girl took his arm. She was slim and blond but not his wife.

Zolner recalled that Marion Morgan Bell was taller. This girl was petite. He could not see much of her face under her hat and behind sunglasses, but she carried herself like a woman accustomed to being admired.

“What has caught your attention?” asked the woman who had summoned Zolner to the suite.

She was a Comintern courier, a forthright Italian Bolshevik who was sleeping with a man in Lenin’s inner circle and so trusted by Moscow that she could indulge in expensive hotels and speak her mind freely.

“Only a pretty girl.”

“I doubt that,” said the courier. “There is fury in your face. You look angry enough to kill.”

It seemed to Zolner that Bell and the girl were acquainted. Colleagues, he guessed by the familiar manner in which they faced each other. Maybe lovers, although he thought not. She was a colleague. Another Van Dorn detective.

“You misread my expression,” he told the courier. “I am happy enough to kill.”

“First things first, comrade. Your report.”

Couriers did not demand reports. Moscow had moved more quickly to replace Yuri Antipov than Zolner had predicted. The Italian woman with long black maiden’s hair and executioner’s eyes was his new overseer.

“One moment,” he said, snatching up her telephone without her permission. He gave the hotel operator the number of a speakeasy in a hotel on East Flagler and issued cryptic orders to the gangster who answered. Then he put down the telephone and asked Moscow’s woman, “Are you ready for my report?”

•   •   •

ISAAC BELL was very surprised to see Pauline in Miami. She must have landed in the flying boat he had run beside.

“You made quite a spectacle of yourself,” she greeted him.

He said, “I don’t expect Marat Zolner to accept a challenge to race Black Bird. But a thousand-dollar finder’s fee ought to turn up someone who’s seen where he keeps her.”

“I hope you’ll take me for a ride.”

“We should not be seen together, Pauline. Zolner’s comrades could be watching.”

“I’m sorry. I should have cabled my report. It was foolish of me . . .” Her almost negligible German accent was suddenly evident. “But I just vanted to come. Last minute. An impulse . . .”

Bell had never seen her flustered before, even as a young girl. Nor had he ever seen her so beautiful. He realized, belatedly, that she had dressed with unusual care, even for her, applying lipstick with an artist’s hand. And she had changed her hair from the boyish bob he’d seen in New York to stylish marcel waves.

“How’d you make out with Fern?”

“Fern Hawley is deeply unhappy,” said Pauline. “It seems that Zolner has somehow disappointed her.”

“That’s what Marion said. A man had disappointed her.”

“Well, good for Marion.”

“Any clue as to how?”

“No. Whenever I approach that question, she closes the iron door.”

“What are our chances of turning her against him?”

“Mine are nil. You would have a better chance.”

“How do you reckon that?”

“She likes men. She likes good-looking men. And she likes men who stand out from the crowd. In fact, she thinks such men are her due.”

“I gather you don’t like her.”

Pauline recovered her smooth demeanor. “I didn’t say that. And I don’t mean to give that impression. She is a woman who has never had to do anything in her life. If circumstances ever forced her to, she might shine. She certainly wants to.”

“Go back to Nassau,” said Bell. “I’ll get out there as soon as I can.”

“She’s on her yacht. She could leave any minute.”

“I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Having wrecked, or at least slowed, Zolner’s Detroit operation, Isaac Bell knew that the clock was running. It was vital not to give the Comintern agent time to set up in Florida as he had in New York.

“All right,” Pauline said, briskly. “I’m off.”

“How are things working out with young Somers?”

“He’s a bright boy. I was comfortable leaving him in charge of the office.”

“Glad to hear it,” said Bell. “I thought you’d like him.”

•   •   •

MARAT ZOLNER knew that Moscow would never accept the death of their new overseer so soon after Yuri’s. He could not kill her yet. He had no choice but to pretend to accept her authority. He said, “I can report that things are going swimmingly. Matters are in hand.”

“It does not look that way, to my eye. Nor to Moscow’s.”

“I will tell you what I told Yuri Antipov before he died. My scheme is the best strategy—the only strategy—to infiltrate the United States and subvert the government.”

“Moscow has come to understand that. Moscow agrees that America is a unique situation that requires a unique strategy.”

“Do they?” Zolner was amazed. “It sounds to me that certain comrades have been replaced.”

“That is not important. What is important is your failure to execute your strategy in Detroit.”

“A minor setback.”

“Minor? The loss of a liquor stockpile worth millions of dollars?”

His Canadian comrades had betrayed him.

“A regrettable loss,” Zolner admitted, “but replaceable.”

“And the drowning of your staunchest ally?”

There were no secrets.

He said, “There are plenty more where Weintraub came from. Detroit has no shortage of ambitious gangsters. He, too, is replaceable.”

Her next question came like a silken thrust of Yuri’s dagger. “And will you replace your stockbroker in New York?”

Zolner concealed his shock. He had underestimated the Comintern’s reach. It appeared that while he and Yuri had bombed Wall Street, some obscure branch of the Comintern had managed to infiltrate the stock exchange. Through an underpaid, envious clerk, was his first thought. But it could be higher up, inside a bank or brokerage house, through some privileged romantic “serving the cause” like Fern Hawley. Not Newtown Storms; there was not a romantic bone in the broker’s body. But someone with access to inside knowledge, in the finest Wall Street tradition.

He pretended he was bewildered.

“What are you talking about?”

“You have incurred enormous losses in the American stock market.”

“I salute you, comrade. I have no idea how you discovered it but your information is golden, if not a little out-of-date. The situation is temporary. Gains follow losses in the market. It is the nature of capitalism to—”

She cut him off.

“The loss of millions in liquor. The death of your staunchest ally in Detroit. Your stock market holdings all but wiped out. Please, comrade. Do you take us for fools? Nothing you’ve attempted has worked. How long before you’re beating on our door, begging for funding?”

Now it was relief, deep relief, that Zolner concealed. They did not know the truth behind the stock market losses. He said, “I don’t need a kopeck. I won’t ask for a kopeck.”

“I find that hard to believe. How will you save this situation?”

“Clear the decks and start over.”

“‘Decks’? What are these ‘decks’?”

“It’s an expression, comrade. It means that I will continue building our network as soon as I have cleared an obstacle out of my way.”

“Euphemisms are wasted on me, comrade. Who are you going to kill?”

“The one man making the obstacles.”

“Isaac Bell?”

Zolner laid on fulsome praise. “Your intelligence is golden, comrade.”

She was an idiot. Who else but Isaac Bell?

She said, “You have twenty-four hours.”

Zolner shook his head. “Absolutely not. I will not risk our mission by accepting an artificial deadline.”

“It’s not your deadline, comrade. It is the deadline Moscow has imposed on me.”

“For what?”

“To escort you home.”

“Home?”

“You’ve been recalled.”

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

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