BILL BLOWS UP

Clocks in New Canaan were striking seven next evening when Bill turned
the switch on the _Loening’s_ instrument board which released the
retractable landing gear of the plane. Five or six seconds later he
spiralled down on the level field back of the Bolton place, and taxied
toward the hangar.

Wheelblocks in hand, he was climbing out of the cockpit when a man ran
up from the direction of the Bolton garage.

“Evening, Master Bill,” he greeted. “Glad to see you back again.”

“Hello, Frank! I’m glad to get home myself, even though I won’t be
staying long. Has my father returned home from Washington?”

“No sir. That is, he ain’t back in New Canaan.”

“After I get something to eat, I’m taking the Buick down to Stamford. It
may be that I’ll come back tonight, but if not, I’ll need the _Loening_
tomorrow.”

“Very well, sir. I’ll fill her and give her a thorough looking over.
Some doin’s there were here the night you left. By the time I waked up
and got the cops on the phone, them guys had beat it. There was a
wrecked car what had run into a rope, stretched out yonder, but they’d
took the license plates with ’em. The cops think they can trace the car,
though.”

“Well, that won’t get them anywhere. I’ll bet a hat the car was stolen.
Anyway, I know who the men were. I’ve got a date with one of them
tonight.”

“Is that so, sir? Better let me go with you, sir!” Frank was all
eagerness. “There’s them what says I ain’t so worse in a scrap.”

Bill laughed and shook his head. “Thanks just the same, Frank. Some
other time maybe. There won’t be any scrapping where I’m going this
evening. This is just going to be a quiet conference.”

Frank looked disappointed. “Well, you never can tell, sir. If it looks
like somethin’ interestin’, I hope you’ll give us a ring, an’ I’ll be
wid yer in three shakes of a lamb’s tail.”

“I’ll remember, but don’t be too hopeful. So long now. I’m off to get a
bite at the house before I start off again.”

“So long, Master Bill. I’ll have the Buick ’round front for you, soon as
I wheel this crate into the hangar.”

“Thanks,” said Bill again, and marched off toward the house.

In the kitchen he encountered the cook. “Well, if it isn’t Master Bill
home agin’,” beamed that buxom female. “Sure as I’m a sinner it’s yer
dinner ye’ll be wantin’—an’ divil a bit av it cooked yet. I give the
help theirn an hour ago!”

“Oh, that’s all right, Annie. But would it be too much trouble to rustle
me a couple of sandwiches—or maybe three?”

Annie, hands on hips and arms akimbo, looked indignant. “It’s no
sandwiches ye’ll be gettin’, Master Bill. In half an hour I’ll have
something hot and tasty dished up. Can’t ye be waitin’ that long?”

“Gee, I sure can, Annie. But don’t bother too much. Anything will do.
I’m hungry enough to eat shoe leather!”

“Now you leave that to me,” he heard her say as he went toward the front
of the house and then up the stairs to his room.

He shut the door and picked up the French phone from a night table by
his bed. As soon as central answered he called a Stamford number.

“Mr. Evans there?” he asked when a man’s voice answered.

“Evans speaking. It sounds like Bill Bolton?”

“Bill Bolton is right, Mr. Evans. I’m home—in New Canaan—just got here
by plane. Deborah gave me your number.”

“Then it must be important. Spill the story, boy. Tell me why you’re not
up in Maine looking after my interests.”

Bill told him, and it took him more than ten minutes to do so. “You
see,” he ended, “while Deborah was giving us a midnight lunch on Pig
Island, the five of us, Deborah, old Jim, Osceola, Ezra and myself, went
into a session of the ways and means committee. After some argument, it
was decided that on Charlie’s account, I must come down here, and at
least pretend to follow Sanders’ orders—to report to Johnson at Gring’s
Hotel, anyway.”

“Yes,” concurred Mr. Evans, “I’m afraid there’s nothing else that you
can do.”

“I thought that perhaps you might have some men about, rush the joint
and capture this Johnson. Kind of tit for tat, you know. We could swap
him back to friend Sanders for Charlie. That would even up things a bit.
Just now it seems to me that they have the bulge on us.”

“There’s no doubt about it, Bill—they have. Your plan’s a good one, but
it is impossible.”

“But why?”

“In the first place, although Slim Johnson is a very young man, he is
one of the cleverest gangsters outside Sing Sing. Secondly, if he didn’t
have an A No. 1 organization of cutthroats and gunmen behind him, I’d
have kidnapped that young gentleman long ago. But tell me,” he went on
anxiously, “what are you fellows up there doing about my boy?”

“Just this: after it was arranged that I should come on here, Osceola
elected himself a committee of one to locate Sanders’ hide-out, and to
get his hands on Charlie. Parker decided to stay on the island to guard
Deborah, for it seems that Jim is away most of the time on special duty
for you, which he wouldn’t divulge.”

“And quite right, too,” murmured Mr. Evans. “Jim’s work is a most
important factor—most important.”

“Well, it’s all Greek to me. And although you’re running this show, sir,
and with all due apology, I must say it’s my opinion that you make a
mistake in not putting more confidence in the people who are helping
you. Look at me: Charlie blows in here and we beat it up to Maine as
fast as my plane and good lead bullets will get us there. All kinds of
hush stuff when we arrive, then you beat it off during the night,
leaving us in a house that’s a warren of secret passages and what
not—and to make it worse, you leave us absolutely no instructions.
Consequently, one of us gets kidnapped, and the other all but loses his
life, first by airgun bullets—and some airgun it must be to shoot that
distance—and later, by drowning. Then I mistake the people on Pig Island
for your enemies, make a fool of myself and darn near get kidnapped into
the bargain. As a direct result, instead of being able to make myself
useful in your interests around Clayton, I have to chase off down here
to placate the chief of your enemies.”

“There’s a lot in what you say,” replied Mr. Evans. “But you must
understand that this is an extremely serious affair—in which an enormous
sum of money is involved.”

“Oh, you make me tired,” snapped Bill. “Why, I’ve had a sweet chance to
sell you out—lock, stock and barrel. Money, money, money—that’s all you
so-called big business men think of—and at that, you’re the guys we have
to thank for the depression. Is any amount of money worth Charlie’s
life?”

“They wouldn’t dare—”

“They dared with poor little Charlie Lindbergh. Are you any better than
our national hero?”

“But I don’t like the way you’re talking—”

“And I don’t care a tinker’s hoop what you like. You’re not paying me
anything. Listen to me—just as soon as we can find Charlie for you, I’m
through! You want those who are helping you to trust you and your
judgment, yet you won’t trust them, and seem to have as little respect
for human life as did the German High Command during the war!”

“Anything else?” inquired an angry voice at the other end of the wire.

“Yes,” said Bill, “there is. A slight error on my part, or what might be
construed as an error. When I inferred that you willingly risked human
life in order to obtain money, I naturally made an exception.”

“And that is?”

“Your own valuable life, Mr. Evans!”

With this Parthian shot, Bill slapped on the receiver and switched off
the telephone extension to his room. “I guess that’ll hold him,” he
muttered. “Gosh, I’m glad I got that off my chest!”

He was under the shower in his bath when there was a knock on the door.

“You’re wanted on the telephone, Master William,” called a maid’s voice.
“It’s a gentleman—wouldn’t give his name.”

“You tell the gentleman,” called back Bill, “that I’m busy. If he is
insistent, say that I suggest he can go where snowballs melt the
fastest.”

He dressed in a leisurely manner and went down to the dining room, where
he found a hot meal awaiting him. He did full justice to it, and about
eight-thirty he went out the front door, climbed in his car and drove
off.

It was a twenty-minute drive down through the ridge country to the city
of Stamford, where he parked his car in a garage off Atlantic Street.
From there he walked down back streets and eventually came to Gring’s
Hotel.

He had passed the place many times, and knew that it held an unsavory
reputation. The building was a five-story frame structure, and back in
the early years of the century, it had been a famous hostelry. The
neighborhood had gradually deteriorated, until now the once-fashionable
tavern reared its ornamental façade amid slums of the worst type. The
police department had raided the place so often that newspapers no
longer regarded that sort of thing as news. The hotel still had a
reputation for excellent food and service, but it drew its patronage
almost entirely from the rough element, sometimes criminal, sometimes
merely tough, with which every New England manufacturing town is more or
less cursed.

Bill ran lightly up the steps to the long veranda, a relic of better
days. Paying no attention to the stares of the loungers in the lobby he
crossed to the desk and caught the clerk’s attention.

“’Phone up to Mr. Harold Johnson,” directed Bill. “Say that Bill Bolton
is down here and would like to see him.”

“One moment, sir,” returned the clerk and spoke a few low words into the
phone at the rear of the desk.

“Mr. Johnson will see you,” he announced a moment later. “Take the
elevator to the fourth floor and turn left. The room number is 49.”