The Bootlegger | Chapter 58 of 59

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

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THE BLACKJACK whistled through the air. It came from Bell’s left and Bell could not lift his left arm high enough to block the bone-crushing blow. He struggled to raise it anyway. Otherwise, he hardly moved.

The blackjack grazed his nose.

Bell had moved just enough to let the blackjack pass and draw Zolner’s arm across his torso. He concentrated one hundred seventy-five pounds of bone and muscle to crash a low right cross straight into Zolner’s rib cage. His reward was a soft crack of bone and a gasp.

The Comintern agent staggered.

Bell moved to finish him off.

Zolner was too fast and too strong. The body blow should have doubled him up. But before Bell could retract his right fist and cock it for another blow, Zolner charged with sudden fury, kicking, punching, swinging his blackjack. Another strike against Bell’s elbow took his breath away. They grappled. Zolner broke loose.

Bell swiped blood out of his eyes, vaguely aware that the blackjack had torn his brow. He felt as if the tanker’s deck was shaking under his feet.

Zolner circled. Hunched, favoring his side, he said, “None of this would have happened if your precious boss hadn’t blundered into a bullet.”

Three bullets.” Bell went straight at him.

Zolner sidestepped and jerked his thumb in the direction where Asa had fallen on the deck. “Is your vengeance worth it? The boy is dead. Your boss is crippled. And I’ll go home a hero.”

Bell stopped in his tracks.

He’s outfoxed me at nearly every turn, he thought. He’s outfoxing me now, but I don’t know how. Bell knew he was not thinking clearly. He was exhausted after two days in the storm. His arm was on fire. Something was going on that he didn’t understand.

Suddenly, it struck Bell why the deck was shaking.

The tall detective smiled. “The tanker is moving. You’ve got a man in the engine room and a helmsman steering. And I’m along for the ride because you told Fern you’ll make me sorry.”

“The boy is dead,” Zolner repeated.

Bell looked toward Asa, sprawled where he had left him at the back of the wheelhouse. He glanced over his shoulder at the deck cannon. Then he swept the foredeck with probing eyes.

“You’re a brilliant liar. But I heard only one shot from my gun. Asa shot at you and missed you. You slugged him as you swung past. And now you are stalling me while your fireship steams on.”

Bell turned as if to run to Asa. Zolner whirled to intercept him.

Bell spun the other way, darted across the ship, and scooped up the Thompson that Zolner had kicked out of his hands. By force of will, he closed his left hand around the forward grip, braced it against his body, and pulled the trigger. The recoil whipped it out of his weakened hand. All but the first bullet sprayed into the sky. The first struck its target.

Bell dived for cover.

A three-inch cannon shell exploded like thunder. A second detonated, and they all went off with a force that bucked the ship from end to end and lifted him five feet off the deck and dropped him like a sack of coal. He scrambled to his feet and ran for Asa. Zolner got there ahead of him. Bell pegged a wild shot that passed close to Zolner’s head. Zolner ducked. Bell slammed him out of his way, heaved Asa Somers over his right shoulder, ran to the side of the ship, and jumped.

He seemed to fall forever before they splashed into the water.

It closed over his head. He kicked as hard as he could to push the boy to the surface. Asa struggled. The cold water had revived him.

“Swim!” Bell roared at him. “Swim!” And the apprentice obeyed.

The hull was rushing past. Explosion after explosion shook the ship.

Jagged chunks of wood, steel rails, and burning canvas rained into the water around them. Ash fell like snow, oil splashed. Bell kicked his feet and paddled with his one good arm. The ship was past them now, drawing away, still hurtling toward the city. It disappeared into the murk of rain and fog. Bell thought all was lost. But just when it seemed that nothing could stop the fireship from steaming to Wall Street, a column of fire evaporated the rain and fog. Roaring from the ruptured hold, pluming into the sky, the fiercely burning alcohol blazed stark light on the Comintern’s tanker. It was sinking alone in the middle of the bay.

Isaac Bell saw Marat Zolner climbing a ladder up the back of the wheelhouse, racing the fires. He reached the flying bridge and stood for a long moment, a graceful shadow against the flames.

The wind bent the pillar of fire. An explosion blew the ship’s bow apart. Water rushed in and she settled rapidly to the bottom of the channel, disappearing except for the top of her tall funnel and a cloud of steam.

“Wow!” said Asa. He had a huge bruise over his eye.

“Think you can swim to shore?”

Brooklyn seemed closest. Bell tried an abbreviated backstroke with one arm. Before they got a hundred yards, a little boat with a big engine pulled alongside, and Isaac Bell looked up into the wrinkled face of Ed Tobin’s uncle Donny Darbee.

“I was coming by with a load of oysters,” he said. “Thought you could use a lift.”

“In return for which,” said Bell, “you want me to talk your so-called oysters past the cops.”

“That was Robin’s idea. She thinks we’ll get top dollar in Manhattan.”

•   •   •

A TAXI PULLED UP to the St. Regis Hotel.

Isaac Bell stepped out, soaking wet, his mustache singed, his face and hair glazed with ash and salt and grease and blood. Asa Somers staggered after him in dripping rags.

The doorman waved them away. Burly house detectives blocked the steps.

“Buzz my wife,” said Bell. “Tell her I’m coming up.”

“Wife? Who’s your wife?”

“Mrs. Isaac Bell.”

“It’s Himself!”

The house detectives escorted them solicitously to the elevator. Bell stopped dead when he saw a newspaper.





Bad luck? Or divine retribution? It seemed, Bell thought, harsh punishment for falling in with the wrong crowd.

“Poor Fern,” said Asa. “She was so nice.”

“I’m not sure Fern would like to be remembered as ‘nice.’”

“Fräulein Grandzau liked her.”

“So did I,” said Bell. “I’ve always liked characters.”

•   •   •

BELL LED ASA down the carpeted hall to Marion’s door.

He was suddenly aware that every bone and muscle ached. His left arm throbbed like a burning stick. He could feel the sea pounding, as if he had never left the boat, and could hear the Libertys roaring in his ears.

“Almost home, Asa.”

He squared his shoulders and knocked.

A peephole opened. A beautiful sea-coral-green eye peered through it and grew wide.

Bell grinned. “Joe sent me.”

Marion flung open the door. “You’re all right!”


She threw her arms around him.

“Look out, you’ll get dirty.”

“I don’t care . . . Who’s this? . . . Oh, you must be the brave Asa who saved Joe. Come in. Come in, both of you.”

Pauline was behind her, bright and perfumed in a thick terry robe.

“Asa, are you all right?”

Asa swayed and caught himself on the doorknob. “Yes, ma’am. Tip-top.”

“Go take a bath.” She pointed down the hall. “There’s a robe on the hook.”

Joseph Van Dorn was waiting in a wicker wheelchair. Dorothy stood beside him, her eyes at peace.

“You look like hell,” he greeted Bell in a strong voice.

“You look better,” said Bell. “Much improved.”

“Hospital sprung me. That’s something.” Van Dorn hauled himself to his feet, steadied himself on the arm of the wheelchair, and reached for Bell’s hand. “Well done, Isaac. Well done. I don’t know how to thank you.”

“Wait until you get the bill for my airplane.”


“And you’ll want a new bow and motors for the agency express cruiser. Don’t worry, you can afford it. Texas Walt is raking it in hand over fist out in Detroit.”

“He’s still in business?”

“At least until we get the Coast Guard contract back.”

Bell turned to Pauline. “Is Ed O.K.?”

“Ed’s fine. They stitched him up. It was a vein, not an artery . . . Isaac, I must speak with you.”

“What’s up?”

“Marion has given me a wonderful idea.”

Bell glanced at Marion. “She’s good at them.”

“I want to take young Asa for my apprentice.”

“To Germany?”

“With his parents’ permission, of course.”

“I believe he’s an orphan.”

“All the better. So am I. Isaac, make it so.”

The chief investigator of the Van Dorn Detective Agency turned to its founder.

Van Dorn said, “Your call.”

Bell locked eyes with Pauline and shared a private smile. “Based on how your apprentice handled a machine gun this afternoon, you might consider allowing him to carry a small pistol.”

“All in good time,” said Pauline. “Thank you, Isaac. And thank you, Marion.”

Van Dorn eased himself back down into his wheelchair and rolled toward the door. “We’re shoving off. Dorothy wants me home in bed.”

They agreed to talk in the morning. “Afternoon,” Marion corrected them. “Late afternoon.”

A freshly scrubbed Asa Somers appeared in a bathrobe with Band-Aids plastered on his brow. Pauline spoke quietly to him and they headed out the door.

•   •   •

“ALONE AT LAST,” said Marion. “Is your arm all right? You’re favoring it.”

“Just a little sore. Where are they going in bathrobes?”

“I got them a room upstairs.”

“One room?”

“The hotel’s packed because of the storm. It has twin beds, I think,” she added briskly. “They’ll work it out.”

“Good idea.”

“Now, what about you?” Marion asked. “What would you like?”

“I could use a drink.”

Marion said, “I’ll join you.”

“And a hot bath.”

“I’ll join you.”

•   •   •

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user comment image
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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