Three men stood on a hill. One pulled his overcoat tight.
“Christ, its cold.”
“Stop complaining, Hewes.”
“Leave him alone.”
Tatum automatically came to attention.
“Colonel, no disrespect, but this man’s a drug addict. I don’t think he’ll hold up.”
“I’ve had it, Tatum. You’re not in the Army anymore, you know. You can’t just insult people.”
“That’s enough from both of you.”
The Colonel’s tone was low, but peremptory. Both men fell silent. The Colonel reached into his trench coat and took a Dunhill cigarette from a gold case. He turned away from the bitter wind and lit it with his WWI lighter.
“I wouldn’t pick Hewes if he wasn’t capable. Any problems are long behind him. Right, Hewes?”
“Yes, sir. I won’t disappoint you.”
The wind’s piercing keen was broken by a train siren’s long, low, lonesome wail.
“Here it comes,” Tatum said.
“Are Stebbling and Mullins in their places?”
“Yes, Colonel. I checked before I came up.”
“What about the second charge?”
“Primed to detonate with the first bomb, sir.”
The lantern’s brilliant white beam heralded the train’s approach as it rounded the bend. A gleaming, all metal Pullman train came into view, the #2 National Limited, eastbound to New York. On a downgrade, the engineer balled the jack at over forty-five miles an hour. The train hurtled into the tunnel’s great open arch at the bottom of the hill.
“Brace yourselves,” the Colonel said.
Hewes’s face grew tight. An explosion went off beneath them. Muffled by tons of rock and dirt, the blast was still enormous, so powerful the ground shook under their feet. In the distance westward, there was an accompanying rumble and bright flash of light, the second explosion, detonated as planned.
They hurried down the steep, rocky, slippery path. Two men in flashy overcoats and derbies were at the bottom, each with a Thompson submachine gun.
“Nobody out yet, Blondie. Looks like youse gotta pay up.”
“Give it time, Al. Ain’t two minutes since she blowed.”
Al Stebbling pointed to the foul, black, poisonous smoke that poured from the tunnel’s mouth.
“Think anyone’s escaping that? Youse a real kidder, Mullins.”
“Quiet,” the Colonel barked. “Act like soldiers.”
Mullins and Stebbling shot the Colonel dirty looks, but nonetheless shut up. Amid flames’ roar and hissing smoke, screams and moans came from the tunnel, pitiful cries for help mingled with inarticulate, animal moans of pain.
“I still say ain’t nobody gets out,” Stebbling said.
“Never underestimate the survival instinct,” the Colonel said. “The strong always find a way.”
People staggered from the tunnel, clothes singed and ruined, coughing violently.
“I win,” Mullins crowed.
The Colonel pulled out a Webley Mk V .455 caliber revolver, and cocked the hammer. He fired repeatedly at point blank range. Stebbling and Mullins opened up also, a staccato chatter that cut the few survivors down. Bloody, bullet riddled bodies lay on the railroad tracks.
“The smoke’s abating. Get the breathing apparatuses.”
Stebbling and Mullins lugged over heavy cases with Hewes and Tatum’s help. Each case held an oxygen tank and a metal helmet with a face mask, the glass pane protected by a metal grille. The Colonel stripped off his trench coat. Tatum helped strap on the oxygen tank while he donned the heavy helmet, connected by tubes to the tank. He did the same for Tatum. Hewes, Mullins, and Stebbling also equipped themselves as the Colonel had trained them. Weighed down with burlap bags, stertorous breathing loud, the men entered the tunnel, the way lit by flashlights.
Wolves howled in the distance, alerted by the scent of freshly killed prey. The wind blew, sharp and unforgiving.
The phone’s clatter woke me. The clock’s radium hands gleamed 3:45. I picked up the handset.
“Haven’t you heard?” Beaumont roared.
“No. I’ve been sleeping, like people usually do at night. Tell me.”
“All hell’s broken loose.”
“I figured. What specifically happened?”
“Lunatics blew up the National Limited outside Cumberland. Hundreds are dead; trains are tied up along the whole East Coast. It’s the most godawful mess in history.”
I stayed silent.
“You still there?”
“Yes. That’s bad. How’s the Agency involved?”
“B.T. Adderbilt was on that train.”
“The steel tycoon.”
“The richest man in Pittsburgh and the Agency’s most important client. He was going to Washington. Every paper in the country is screaming about the massacre in foot high headlines. Everyone knows about it too from Hoover on down and they’re all howling for blood.”
Beaumont’s tone grew low and urgent.
“Get to Cumberland, fast as you can. Get to the bottom of this. No sleep or rest until you run in the damned savages that killed Adderbilt. The Agency’s honor is at stake. I expect you to uphold it.”
He hung up. I pushed down the phone button, let it up, and waited. The hotel switchboard operator answered.
“Room 402. Tell the front desk to bring my car around with ham sandwiches and a thermos of coffee.”
I shaved and took a quick bath before I dressed. Beaumont would have screamed if he knew, but I had a long, hard grind ahead and wanted to start clean. The car was running when I walked out into the cold, dark night. It was easy to leave Baltimore that early; the only other vehicles were delivery trucks. I took US-40 west to Cumberland. The Model T made good time until about ten miles outside of the small town. Lanes were crammed with fire engines, police squad cars, and ambulances, every emergency vehicle in a hundred mile radius, summoned to help with the crisis. Traffic stayed gridlocked until the eastbound lanes were cleared and opened for westbound vehicles. I cursed the authorities for not doing it sooner and drove on.
Police stopped me at a checkpoint. A heavy set man in a black Stetson with a Colt Peacemaker on his hip flashed a brass badge.
“Got any reason to be here?”
I showed my Agency buzzer. He went from stern to friendly.
“Vanduizen said to watch for an Agency man. I’m Ted Reichert, Allegany County Sheriff. Sorry to get tough, but we got our hands full turning away rubberneckers and the press. Let me get in so you don’t have any trouble getting to the tunnel.”
Reichert got in, his deputies lifted the barrier, and we drove past two more checkpoints. They waved us on when they saw Reichert. We reached the tunnel. The dirt service road that bordered the railroad was lined with ambulances, Black Marias, and hearses, brought in to carry the dead away. Corpses were laid out in rows on the grass, men, women, and children, blackened faces hideously contorted. Firemen and orderlies carried more bodies out on stretchers from the tunnel. Grim policemen went through pockets, searching for identification.
“I was at Bellau Wood. Never thought I’d see anything worse, but this just proves you can always be wrong.”
Several men stood near the tunnel’s mouth, locked in heated discussion.
We walked over, my legs stiff from driving four hours straight.
“Mr. Vanduizen, this is the Agency man you expected.”
Vanduizen was small, nervous, and emotionally destroyed by the catastrophe. He’d probably never seen a dead person before. The steadily accumulating bodies obviously distressed him.
“This is Agent Gassman with the U.S. Bureau of Investigation.”
I shook hands with a tall, young man in a gray three-piece suit, fresh and new like his fledgling agency.
“I’ve been sent expressly by Director Hoover to take charge. Under the Interstate Commerce Clause, this is a Federal matter. We’re glad to have the Agency’s assistance.”
“I agree, Gassman,” Vanduizen said. “As the Adderbilt family’s representative and an AdderCorp official, I have specific instructions to ensure the Agency is involved in every aspect of this investigation.”
“Let’s look at the train.”
We walked into the tunnel’s cavernous mouth. The locomotive’s mangled, charred remains were fifty yards inside, almost unrecognizable as machinery. Cars zig-zagged behind the locomotive, tossed every which way by the explosion. Broken glass lay everywhere. There was a horrible chemical reek mixed with the stench of death. Reichert wrinkled his nose.
“Most of the fumes have cleared out, but it’s still not perfume.”
“Somebody knew how to blow up a train. This looks like professional ordnance work, done by someone who was trained, probably during the war.”
“My thinking exactly,” Gassman said. “Another charge simultaneously destroyed a trestle twelve miles away. That delayed rescue attempts for hours.”
“Is this glass from broken tanks?”
“That’s correct. Filled with formaldehyde and other deadly chemicals. The explosion shattered the tanks and spread the fumes. It also ignited several hundred pounds of sulfur.”
“So people on the train were either suffocated or poisoned. They must have had another specialist who knew about chemistry and poisonous gases.”
“We found some folks shot just outside the tunnel’s other end,” Reichert said.
“They must have laid an ambush. Has Adderbilt been removed?”
“He’s still in his private car,” Gassman said.
“Let’s see him.”
The private car was next to the dining car. It lay sideways on the tracks at a crazy, tilted angle. We clambered inside. Dark, dusty air was pierced by flashlights. Adderbilt lay on his side where the crash threw him, a large, fleshy man in his late fifties, face bloated and dark blue. Vanduizen had been squeamish, but the sight of his old boss drove him over the edge. He nearly fainted.
“Pull yourself together, man,” Gassman said. “We need your help. The safe was found open. Do you know what was in it?”
“Fifty thousand in cash and a hundred thousand in bearer bonds,” Vanduizen replied, voice tremulous, but in command of himself.
I wondered why Adderbilt had so much money, but remembered Beaumont said he was going to Washington. Even with the Depression, legislation didn’t come cheap.
“Anything else missing? Jewelry or anything valuable?”
“No,” Reichert said. “Just cash. It’s the same with other passengers. Jewels or fancy watches, they left.”
“They knew not to take anything traceable.”
“That reminds me. I need to get Mr. Adderbilt’s jackanapes,” Vanduizen said.
“His what?” Reichert, Gassman, and I said simultaneously.
“His golden jackanapes. A monkey charm he kept on his watch chain. Mrs. Adderbilt will want it.”
He bent over the body.
“It’s not there. They stole it.”
“That might help track them down,” Gassman said.
“It may be the only thing that does. Sick as it is, this has the earmarks of a professional job. They knew to only take cash and other untraceable things like bearer bonds. They cleared a hundred and fifty alone with Adderbilt. They ransacked the mail car as well, I take it?”
“Thoroughly. That added twenty to thirty thousand more,” Gassman said.
“Plus what they got rifling wallets and purses,” Reichert added.
“I’ve seen enough. Let’s go outside where we can clear our heads.”
The March sun was weak but welcome. I drew in fresh air.
“So what do you think?” Reichert said.
“This looks like a military operation, particularly the coordinated explosions, planned to the last detail, down to oxygen tanks and breathing masks miners use in rescues. The man who leads this gang is probably an ex-military officer, maybe American, but still somebody with a grudge against the world and the knowhow to make it stick.”
“I’ll contact the War Department and have them check their records for dishonorably discharged officers,” Gassman said.
“Do that, but more importantly, send a bulletin to every police department on the East Coast to watch for Adderbilt’s gold monkey. Tell them to make it plain to every fence and pawn shop, anyone caught with that charm will be tried as an accessory to mass murder if they don’t turn in whoever they got it from. The man who engineered this was smart, maybe a genius in his way, but he had to hire degenerates to do his work. He probably told them to lay low until the heat dies down, but one might crack.”
“I sure hope so,” Reichert said.
Hewes paced the floor in his underwear. The apartment smelled of Chinese takeout. His coat and trousers lay on the floor. He turned on the radio, listened to Guy Lombardo for twenty seconds, then abruptly switched off. Hewes pulled back the shade. The day was gray and cold, the street filled with cars and pedestrians busy about their errands while he remained stuck in limbo. The Colonel had paid for the apartment and given money for food, even enough for a bottle and a woman, but that didn’t interest him. He didn’t have enough for coke.
Hewes tried to pass time fantasizing what he’d do with his share, emigration to Canada or South Africa where he’d become a pharmacist once again under an assumed name and live a respectable life with a wife and family. Yet that comforting dream palled compared to a paper packet with the white powder inside. One sniff would provide the old familiar jolt of pleasure to the brain, the sensation he’d slavishly followed to ruin.
He opened a drawer, took out a rolled pair of socks, and removed the golden monkey, mouth drawn back, fangs bared in a wild eyed grin. The Colonel had forbidden taking anything except cash, but when Hewes saw the bright, shiny charm, like a jackdaw he couldn’t resist and snatched it off the dead man’s watch chain. If he sold it to a fence and was discovered, the Colonel would kill him. Yet if he pawned it, he could use the money for coke, and redeem the monkey later.
Delighted and invigorated by his brilliant idea, Hewes put on a dirty shirt and his unpressed suit. He hustled five blocks to a pawn shop. The traditional three gilt balls loomed over the front door. The cavernous room was crammed to the ceiling with musical instruments, furniture, appliances, rolled carpets, and radios. Jewelry, guns, and knives gleamed in glass cases lined along the walls. The pawnbroker sat behind a wire mesh cage, bright eyed and friendly, bald pate topped by a green visor, around his neck a jeweler’s loupe on a chain. A bare light bulb burned brilliantly over his head.
“Hello, bub. Come to buy, sell or pawn?”
Hewes pushed the golden monkey charm through the slot in the cage.
“This belonged to my grandfather. It means a lot to me, but with the Depression-”
The pawnbroker picked up the charm and held it in his palm, eyes unreadable beneath the green visor.
“Ain’t that a cute little dingus? Heavy too. Want to pawn or sell?”
“How much either way?”
“Seventy-five as a pawn or one hundred if you sell. That’s better than anyone else in Delaney will offer.”
“I’ll take seventy-five. Like I said, it’s a family heirloom and I’d like to get it back.”
“Just as you like. Fill out the ticket while I count out your money.”
Hewes scribbled lies on the form, eyes fixed on the green bills the pawnbroker doled out with a rubber tip on his thumb. He handed the form to the pawnbroker who gave him his money. Hewes shoved the money into a coat pocket.
“Thanks, Pop. Expect me soon to redeem the pawn.”
“OK, kid. See you then.”
Hewes departed to the door bell’s jangle.
The pawnbroker waited a few minutes. He stood with a great clack of arthritic bones, left the cage, and shuffled to the front door, which he locked. Back inside the cage, he settled into his chair and picked up the telephone.
“Operator, give me City Hall. Hello, City Hall, Lieutenant Hardcastle, please. Yes, I’ll wait. Lieutenant? I think the guy you want came into my place…”
I huddled in the Packard’s back seat, trying to be inconspicuous, and kept an eye on Capitol Pawn across the street. Gassman crouched by me. The early spring weather was raw, wet, and cold. The sky purpled as twilight drew near. Gassman and I had watched the pawn shop for two days, right after the pawnbroker alerted the Delaney police. I read a telegraph typed on a yellow flimsy by fading light.
War Dep reports CPT Desmond Early, USA, dishon discharge 02/17/30, padded company accounts. Also LT Wesley Tatum, company XO, same charge, discharge date. Both expert ordnance.
“That sounds like a good match,” Gassman said.
A knuckle tapped softly on the left window. I rolled it down to see O’Guinn’s red, cheerful face.
“The old coot closes in ten minutes. He ain’t showing. What do you say to steak and whisky?”
“When he closes, we’ll talk about dinner.”
O’Guinn laughed quietly. “Ah, but you’re a hard one.” He went back to his post.
I was ready to give up myself when I spotted a young man in a new suit come down the street. He rushed past others, steps long and frantic, in his eyes the manic, self-confident gleam only seen in one drugged or insane. He was a snowbird, almost undoubtedly my man. My instinct was confirmed when he entered the pawn shop.
Hewes was once again master of the world, the hero who could only be brought out with cocaine. Once again, he congratulated himself on his ingenuity and industry. He’d bought ten grams of coke, taken two, and cut them with talc, using his pharmacist training. Ten paper packets with enough real coke to provide a jolt to an untrained nose earned him two hundred smacks. Flush and jacked on his remaining supply, Hewes bought a suit and returned to the pawnbroker.
“Hi, Pop. I’m back.”
“You’re a man of your word, kid. It’ll cost you ninety to get that monkey back.”
Hewes handed over the money with a big grin, sure he had the world by the ass. The pawnbroker carefully counted the bills, reached into a drawer, and handed him the charm.
“Hope that brings you luck.”
“It’s sure to, Pop.”
The snowbird exited minutes later and went the way he came. The pawnbroker pulled the shade down over a display window, the pre-arranged signal he was our man. I was already in the driver’s seat and gestured to O’Guinn to tail him. He moved quickly for a big man, but blended expertly with the crowd. O’Guinn was easy to spot by the phosphorescent white dot on the back of his black derby. I waited until he was a block away before I started the car and followed with my lights off. Another car came behind with five heavily armed Agency operatives.
Three blocks down, the white dot bobbed up and down to the right as O’Guinn waved his hat. I slowed and watched closely. A Model T’s lights turned on. It pulled out into the street. Once I had the car made, I turned my lights on and drove like a normal citizen, always careful to stay at least one block behind with two or three cars in between. Bryant, the man driving the second car, was experienced and also hung well back.
The subject drove through Delaney’s ugly industrial district and over the Pittagua River Bridge. Soon we were deep in the Pennsylvania countryside. There was still enough traffic from businessmen returning to their country homes to screen us. The subject kept driving, further from the city down meandering country roads and I dropped back more. In the darkness, I could just catch his lights each time he crested a hill.
“Be sure not to lose him. He’s the only lead we have.”
About fifty miles outside of town, the subject disappeared.
“I warned you to be careful.”
“We haven’t lost him. He killed his lights before he turned off. That was somewhere just ahead. I saw him pass the hill behind us.”
“That means he spotted us.”
I slowed to a crawl and carefully scanned both sides of the road. Gassman pointed out the window.
“Over there. A driveway.”
Bounded by thick hedges, a gravel road sloped sharply away from the road, easily missed at night. I parked away from the driveway. The second car pulled up behind us. We got out.
“He’s here to meet someone, probably connected to the crime. We should arrest them,” Gassman said.
“Let’s reconnoiter first.”
“That makes sense.”
“If we’re not back in ten minutes, come ahead,” I told Bryant.
We took out our pistols and walked along the road’s grassy edges to make no noise. Thick woods flanked us. The wind clattered leafless branches. My eyes slowly adjusted to near total darkness. The forest gave way to a broad clearing, shapeless and endless in the night. In the distance a light glimmered.
“That’s a cabin ahead.”
“Keep it low, Gassman. Come on.”
We tread softly on the long grass. I could make out tire ruts left by the subject’s car and others. Just ahead, a cabin lay at the bottom of a small dell. A kerosene lantern burned in a front window.
Something hard slammed into my head. I slumped into a black pit of unconsciousness, far darker than any country night.
Hewes strode in with a smile, derby jauntily canted, but only got hard, unfriendly looks from everyone.
“So, Hewes, how’s tricks?” Stebbling said.
“Not bad. Where’s Blondie?”
“Around. I hear you been getting around too, Cokey.”
“What’s that mean?” He stood with fists clenched, jaw outthrust, totally unconvincing.
“One of Stebbling’s friends says he saw you dealing cocaine, Hewes,” the Colonel said, stern and forbidding in his immaculate white trenchcoat. “Is that true?”
Things had taken an unexpected, horrible turn. Rather than get his cut of the take as expected, Hewes was getting the third degree. He laughed scornfully.
“That was just a short con. I filled some packets with talc and sold them to suckers for walking around money, that’s all.”
“Then why are you so agitated?” the Colonel asked. “The way you pace the floor, man, you’re about to jump out of your own skin. You’re under the influence of cocaine again, aren’t you, Hewes? Do you remember my direct order to you?”
“No, Colonel, no, I’m not. I wouldn’t do anything like that-”
The door crashed open. Mullins tottered in, an unconscious man draped over his shoulders, and dropped him heavily to the floor.
“Look what the cat dragged in,” Mullins said.
I came to when I hit the floor. My stiff derby had cushioned the blow from the thug’s pistol. Gassman hadn’t worn a hat. I lay limp like I was still out, but peeped around from the corners of my eyes. Five men were in the room. Four stared menacingly at the fifth, face pale and drawn, sweat beads on his forehead. The snowbird.
“Do you see what you’ve done, Hewes?” one said, the leader by his authoritative tone. “You’ve led them to us.”
“No, Colonel, it wasn’t me. I was careful. Nobody followed me.”
“Then how did he get here? Was anyone with him, Mullins?”
“Yeah, another mug, but I fixed him permanent.”
“The operation’s falling apart because of this drug fiend, sir,” a third man said, blue eyes bright with rage.
“I warned you, Tatum,” Hewes said. “Stop insulting me.”
“You’re right, Wes,” the Colonel said. “Take care of him.”
Tatum reached down to his right ankle. Bright steel flashed. Hewes fell to the floor, bright red blood agush from his freshly slit throat. Tatum held a razor sharp trench knife in his hand, the blade fouled with gore.
I decided to make myself known.
“Look at the mess you’ve made. For nothing too.”
The four men turned to glare at me. I got up and dusted myself off.
“Restrain him,” the Colonel said.
Mullins tied my hands behind my back with a length of rope.
“You’d do better to surrender.”
“At ease, you. You’re our prisoner.”
“This isn’t the Army. And you’re no Colonel, Early. That’s rich. You’re not even a Captain any more, not after the Army court-martialled you.”
The Colonel’s face went taut with rage, but before he could retort, a window broke and a bullet hit the ceiling with a deafening crash.
“That was aimed high,” Bryant shouted. “The next are coming straight at you. You’re surrounded. Come out peaceable.”
The Colonel went to the broken window’s edge.
“Don’t try anything. We have a hostage. One of your men.”
“The Agency doesn’t care about one operative,” I said. “Bryant’s orders are to run you in and he’ll do it or be damned.”
“Shut up and get down,” the Colonel snarled.
I did as he said. Things were about to get hot.
“Put out the light.”
Tatum extinguished the kerosene lamp. We plunged into darkness. The men crouched low by the windows and knocked glass out with their gun barrels to clear fields of fire.
“Open up,” Bryant roared.
Bullets poured into the cabin, an onslaught of lead from multiple directions. I ground myself into the dirty floor. The Colonel and his men returned fire. The shabby room was lit by Thompsons’ flickering blaze.
Mullins had been sloppy tying my hands. It was short work to get loose. They’d taken my .45, but hadn’t searched me. I still had a .25 automatic in a holster at the small of my back. Ignored in the chaos, I took out my piece and pulled back the slide.
A short distance away, the Colonel stood defiant, legs spread wide as he sprayed bullets, delight in his eyes at the thrill of battle. I laid on my back, took careful aim with both hands on the pistol, and fired two rounds. He collapsed.
Tatum howled like a wounded animal as he ran to the Colonel. He knelt over the dead man and wept. I fired two more bullets into him.
“You Goddamned rat.”
Mullins turned to shoot me only to catch a bullet in his back from outside. That left one man, the short one. Surrounded and outnumbered, his options were to fight and die or surrender. And I still had bullets in my magazine.
He threw away his Thompson and hit the floor.
“I surrender. I give up. Please don’t shoot me.”
“Quiet. Bryant, it’s me. Stop shooting and come in.”
“Everyone cease fire.”
The racket abruptly stopped. My ears ached in the ensuing silence. I went over to the prone man and handcuffed him. Bryant and the others entered the cabin. Their flashlights lit the room.
“You OK?” Bryant asked.
“I’m all right.”
“Are these the ones?”
“That’s them. We’ll only have to bring one to trial.”
Dead men lay everywhere. A pool of black blood had spread from the snowbird, slaughtered like a hog by his comrades. The Colonel sprawled ingloriously on the floor, trench coat ruined with blood, his faithful dog Tatum by his side. Bryant looked at the bloody carnage, obviously appalled.
“Jesus, what a mess. What the hell do you think drove them to this?”