The Box with Broken Seals - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Box with Broken Seals ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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The Box with Broken Seals” is a thrilling cat and mouse murder mystery following the narrative of Jocelyn Thew and the English Service. This skillfully written and an exciting espionage story of intrigue, unfolding in the Oppenheim’s best style. The reader will follow with avidity the daring moves of Thew from the time he sails from New York on the „City of Boston,” accompanied by a dying man and a special nurse in the person of Katharine Beverley, a society girl who is under special undisclosed obligations to Thew. The eventful trip across the Atlantic and the attempts of an agent to outwit his enemies in England lead to the climax which will surprise even the inveterate Oppenheim reader.

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Liczba stron: 366

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER I

James Crawshay, Englishman of the type usually described in transatlantic circles as “some Britisher,” lolled apparently at his ease upon the couch of the too-resplendent sitting room in the Hotel Magnificent, Chicago. Hobson, his American fellow traveler, on the other hand, betrayed his anxiety by his nervous pacing up and down the apartment. Both men bore traces in their appearance of the long journey which they had only just completed.

“I think,” Crawshay decided, yawning, “that I shall have a bath. I feel gritty, and my collar–heavens, what a sight! Your trains, Hobson, may be magnificent, but your coal is filthy. I will have a bath while your friend, the policeman, makes up his mind whether to come and see us or not.”

His companion treated the suggestion with scant courtesy.

“You will do nothing of the sort,” was his almost fierce objection. “We’ve got to wait right here until Chief of Police Downs comes along. There’s something crooked about this business, something I don’t understand, and the sooner we get to the bottom of it, the better.”

The Englishman pacified himself with a whisky and soda which a waiter had just brought in. He added several lumps of ice and drained the contents of the tumbler with a little murmur of appreciation.

“It will be confoundedly annoying,” he admitted quietly, “if we’ve had all this journey for nothing.”

Hobson moistened his dry lips with his tongue. The whisky and soda and the great bucket of ice stood temptingly at his elbow, but he appeared to ignore their existence. He was a man of ample build, with a big, clean-shaven face, a square jaw and deep-set eyes, a man devoted to and wholly engrossed by his work.

“See here, Crawshay,” he exclaimed, “if that dispatch was a fake, if we’ve been brought here on a fool’s errand, they haven’t done it for nothing. If they’ve brought it off against us, you mark my words, we’re left–we’re bamboozled–we’re a couple of lost loons! There’s nothing left for us but to sell candy to small boys or find a job on a farm.”

“You’re such a pessimist,” the Englishman yawned.

“Pessimist!” was the angry retort. “I’ll just ask you one question, my son. Where’s Downs?”

“I certainly think,” Crawshay admitted, “that under the circumstances he might have been at the station to meet us.”

“He wouldn’t even talk through the ‘phone,” Hobson pointed out. “I had to explain who we were to one of his inspectors. No one seemed to know a goldarned thing about us.”

“They sent for him right away when you explained who you were,” Crawshay reminded his companion.

Hobson found no comfort whatever in the reflection.

“Of course they did,” he replied brusquely. “There’s scarcely likely to be a chief of police of any city in the United States who wouldn’t get a move on when he knew that Sam Hobson was waiting for a word. I haven’t been in the Secret Service of this country for fifteen years for nothing. He’ll come fast enough as soon as he knows I’m waiting, but all the same, what I want to know is, if that dispatch was on the square, why he wasn’t at the station to meet us, and if it wasn’t on the square, how the hell do we come out of this?”

Their conversation was interrupted by the tinkle of the telephone which stood upon the table between them, the instrument which both men had been watching anxiously. Hobson snatched up the receiver.

“Police headquarters speaking? Right! Yes, this is Sam Hobson. I’m here with Crawshay, of the English Secret Service. We got your dispatch.–What’s that?–Well?–Chief Downs is on the way, eh?–Just started? Good! We’re waiting for him.”

Hobson replaced the receiver upon the instrument.

“Downs is coming right along,” he announced. “I tell you what it is, Mr. Crawshay,” he went on, recommencing his walk up and down the apartment, “I don’t feel happy to be so far away from the coast. That’s what scares me. Chicago’s just about the place they’d land us, if this is a hanky-panky trick. We’re twenty hours from New York, and the City of Boston sails to-morrow at five o’clock.”

The Englishman shook himself and rose from his recumbent position upon the sofa. He was a man of youthful middle-age, colourless, with pleasant face, a somewhat discontented mouth, but keen grey eyes. He had been sent out from Scotland Yard at the beginning of the war to assist in certain work at the English Embassy. So far his opportunities had not been many, or marked with any brilliant success, and it seemed to him that the gloom of failure was already settling down upon their present expedition.

“You don’t believe, then, any more than I do, that when a certain box we know of is opened at the Foreign Office in London, it will contain the papers we are after?”

“No, sir, I do not,” was the vigorous reply. “I think they have been playing a huge game of bluff on us. That’s why I am so worried about this trip. I wouldn’t mind betting you the best dinner you ever ate at Delmonico’s or at your English Savoy that that box with the broken seals they all got so excited about doesn’t contain a single one of the papers that we’re after. Why, those blasted Teutons wanted us to believe it! That’s why some of the seals were broken, and why the old man himself hung about like a hen that’s lost one of its chickens. They want us to believe that we’ve got the goods right in that box, and to hold up the search for a time while they get the genuine stuff out of the country. I admit right here, Mr. Crawshay, that it was you who put this into my head at Halifax. I couldn’t swallow it then, but when Downs didn’t meet us at the depot here, it came over me like a flash that you were right that we were being flimflammed.”

“We ought, perhaps, to have separated,” the Englishman ruminated. “I ought to have gone to New York and you come here. On the other hand, you must remember that all the evidence which we have managed to collect points to Chicago as having been the headquarters of the whole organisation.”

“Sure!” the American admitted. “And there’s another point about it, too. If this outsider who has taken on the job for them should really turn out to be Jocelyn Thew, I’d have banked on his working the scheme from Chicago. He knows the back ways of the city, or rather he used to, like a rat. Gee, it would be a queer thing if after all these years one were to get the bracelets on him!”

“I don’t quite see,” Crawshay remarked, “how such a person as this Jocelyn Thew, of whom you have spoken several times, could have become associated with an affair of this sort. Both the Germans and the Austrians at Washington had the name of being exceedingly particular with regard to the status of their agents, and he must be entirely a newcomer in international matters. From the dossier you handed me, Jocelyn Thew reads more like a kind of modern swashbuckler spoiling for a fight than a person likely to make a success of a secret service job.”

“Don’t you worry,” Hobson replied. “Jocelyn Thew could hold his own at any court in Europe with any of you embassy swaggerers. There’s nothing known about his family, but they say that his father was an English aristocrat, and he looks like it, too.”

“It was you yourself who called him a criminal, the first time you spoke of him,” Crawshay reminded his companion.

“And a criminal he is at heart, without a doubt,” the American declared impressively.

“Has he ever been in prison?”

“He has had the luck of Old Harry,” Hobson grumbled. “In New York they all believed that it was he who shot Graves, the Pittsburg millionaire. The Treasury Department will have it that he was the head of that Fourteenth Street gang of coiners, and I’ve a pal down at Baltimore who is ready to take his oath that he planned the theft of the Vanderloon jewels–and brought it off, too! But I tell you this, sir. When the trouble comes, whoever gets nabbed it’s never Jocelyn Thew. He’s the slickest thing that ever came down the pike.”

“He is well off, then?”

“They say that he brought half a million from Mexico,” Hobson declared. “How he brought money out of that country, neither I nor anybody else on the Force can imagine. But he did it. I know the stockbroker down-town who handles his investments.–Here’s our man at last!”

The door was opened by the floor waiter, who held it while a thin, dark man, dressed in civilian clothes of most correct cut, passed in. Hobson gripped him at once by the hand.

“Chief Downs,” he said, “this is my friend Mr. Crawshay, who is connected with the English Embassy over here. You can shake hands with him later. We’re on a job of business, and the first thing before us is to get an answer from you to a certain question. Did you send this dispatch or did you not?”

Hobson handed over to the newcomer the crumpled telegraph form which he had just produced from his pocket. The latter glanced through it and shook his head.

“It’s a plant,” he announced. “I’m sorry if the use of my name has misled you in any way, but it was quite unauthorised. I know nothing whatever about the matter.”

Hobson remained for a moment silent, silent with sick and angry astonishment. Crawshay had glanced towards the clock and was standing now with his finger upon the bell.

“Is it a big thing?” the Chicago man enquired.

“It’s the biggest thing ever known in this country,” Hobson groaned. “It’s what is known as the Number Three Berlin plant.”

“You didn’t get the stuff at Halifax, then?” Downs asked.

“We didn’t,” Hobson replied bitterly. “We’ve sent a representative over to sit on the box with the broken seals till they can open it at the Foreign Office in London, but I never believed they’d find anything there. I’m damned certain they won’t now!”

A waiter had answered the bell.

“Don’t have our luggage brought up,” Crawshay directed. “We are leaving for New York to-night. That’s so, isn’t it, Hobson?” he added, turning to his companion.

“You bet!” was the grim reply. “I’d give a thousand dollars to be there now.”

“The Limited’s sold out,” the man told them. “There are two or three persons who’ve been disappointed, staying on here till to-morrow.”

“I’ll get you on the train,” Downs promised. “I can do as much as that for you, anyway. I’ll stop and go on to the station with you from here. I’m very sorry about this, Hobson,” he continued, fingering the dispatch. “We shall have to get right along to the station, but if there’s anything I can do after you’ve left, command me.”

“You might wire New York,” Hobson suggested, as he struggled into his overcoat. “Tell ‘em to look out for the City of Boston, and to hold her up for me if they can. I’ve got it in my bones that Jocelyn Thew is running this show and that he is on that steamer.”

“Those fellows at Washington must have collected some useful stuff,” Chief Downs observed, as the three men left the room and stepped into the elevator. “They’ve been working on their job since before the war, and there isn’t a harbour on the east or west coast that they haven’t got sized up. They’ve spent a million dollars in graft since January, and there’s a rumour that the new Navy Department scheme for dealing with submarines, which was only adopted last month, is there among the rest.”

“Anything else?” Crawshay asked indolently.

The Chief of Police glanced first at his questioner and then at Hobson.

“What else should there be?” he enquired.

“No idea,” the Englishman replied. “Secret Service papers of the usual description, I suppose. By-the-by, I hear that this man Jocelyn Thew has stated openly that he is going to take all the papers he wants with him into Germany, and that there isn’t a living soul can stop him.”

Hobson’s square jaw was set a little tighter, and his narrow eyes flashed.

“That’s some boast to make,” he muttered. “Kind of a challenge, isn’t it? What do you say, Mr. Crawshay?”

Crawshay, who had been gazing out of the window of the taxicab, looked back again. His tone was almost indifferent.

“If Chief Downs can get us on the Limited,” he said, “and if we catch the City of Boston, I think perhaps we might have a chance of making Mr. Jocelyn Thew eat his words.”

The Chief smiled. The taxicab had turned in through the entrance gates of the great station.

“I have heard men as well-known in their profession as you, Hobson, and you too, Mr. Crawshay, speak like that about Jocelyn Thew, but when the game was played out they seem to have lost the odd trick. Either the fellow isn’t a criminal at all but loves to haunt shady places and pose as one, or he is just the cleverest of all the crooks who ever worked the States. Some of my best men have thought that they had a case against him and have come to grief.”

“They’ve never caught him with the goods, because they’ve never been the right way about it,” Hobson declared confidently.

“And you think you are going to break his record?” Downs asked, with a doubtful smile. “If you find him on the City of Boston, you know, the stuff you’re after won’t be in his pocketbook or in the lining of his steamer trunk.”

The three men were hurrying out to the platform now, where the great train, a blaze of light and luxury, was standing upon the track. Captain Downs made his way to where the Pullman conductor was standing and engaged him in a brief but earnest conversation. A car porter was summoned, and in a few moments Crawshay and Hobson found themselves standing on the steps of one of the cars. They leaned over to make their adieux to Chief Downs. Crawshay added a few words to his farewell.

“I quite appreciate all your remarks about Jocelyn Thew,” he said. “One is liable to be disappointed, of course, but I still feel that if we can catch that steamer it might be an exceedingly interesting voyage.”

“If you’re on time you may do it,” was the brief reply. “All the same–”

The gong had sounded and the train was gliding slowly out of the station. Crawshay leaned over the iron gate of the car.

“Go on, please,” he begged. “Don’t mind my feelings.”

Chief Downs waved his hand.

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