THROUGH THE SKYLIGHT

Bill bent swiftly, caught up some of the dirty linen and flung it into
the hamper. He had to pull himself together. _That_—that was the
explanation, of course, for Slim Johnson’s cryptic remarks about the
laundry. They were coming back in an hour. Would they take the hamper
and all?

“Yes,” he decided. “It would mean just that. Not even a gangster beer
baron, or whatever role Slim Johnson plays in the criminal life of this
state would permit him to carry dead bodies through the public halls of
a hotel without causing comment! And possibly another police raid….
No—Hank was going out in the hamper. How many more,” he wondered, “had
traveled that route before and would travel it again….”

Like a flash the idea came to him. Of course, it would be necessary to
remove the body—

He went back to the bedroom and threw himself down on the chaise longue.
He was tired after his long hop, and felt nauseated from his experience
that evening. A glance at his watch showed that it still lacked a few
minutes to ten o’clock. He had been in Gring’s Hotel only an hour, and
in that short time, murder….

Resolutely he put the thought from him and the thought of what he soon
must do. His eyes closed and gradually he dozed off into light slumber.

It was a quarter to eleven when Bill awoke. Chimes on a church clock
somewhere in the neighborhood were striking the quarter hour. With a cry
of annoyance, he sprang to the locked door and listened.

No sound came from the sitting room. Hastily extinguishing the bedroom
lights, he hurried into the bathroom and switched on a single electric
bulb.

He began to work with feverish haste, lifting the limp body of Hank from
the hamper—_rigor mortis_ had not yet set in. He carried it to the bed,
removed the coat and waistcoat, slipped on the jacket of the pajamas,
turned down the rose-colored sheet and covered the body—all but the head
and one arm, which appeared above the coverlet in a natural position.

Bill was trembling like a leaf when that was accomplished. But the worst
was over. He had now only to switch off the bathroom light and take the
place of Hank in the clothes hamper.

He collected the linen he had scattered on the floor, turned off the
light and got into the hamper with his armful of shirts and pajamas,
arranging himself as comfortably as he could inside. The lid was hinged,
and fell back upon him when he had drawn a few pieces of clothing over
his head and assumed the position formerly occupied by Hank.

He crouched, half-stifled, in the hamper, listening for ages—it seemed.
At last—the bolt of the sitting room door clicked.

From within his hiding place Bill could hear almost clearly what was
happening in the room. There came the faint creak of a boot on the floor
boards.

“Keep to the rug, you fool!” hissed Johnson’s voice. “Do you want to
wake him!”

For several minutes there was no other sound. In his mind’s eye he
pictured the young gangster tiptoeing to the bed and looking down on the
rose-colored pajamas—

Suddenly they were beside him. The hamper was dragged away from the
wall, lifted and let down on the tiles again.

“Holy smoke! what a weight!” a voice whispered hoarsely.

“Shut up and come on!”

Again the hamper was lifted and carried from the room. Outside in the
corridor it was set down for a moment while its bearers locked the door.
Then the angle at which Bill was being carried shifted, the basket
rocked slowly up and down, as he descended the stairs. There were a
great many stairs—they seemed endless. Twice he was set down roughly,
while the men paused for breath.

He had a desperate impulse to thrust open the lid, tear away the
suffocating clothes and strike out for freedom. But the time was not
yet. He must be patient.

The air became cooler and he was able to breathe more freely. He thought
they must be in the open now. The hamper was banged down again.

“Slim,” a voice spoke somewhere above and he recognized it as Jake’s,
“doesn’t want the bulls to get onto this. You remember last time they
dug up Otto and raised an awful stink!”

“Well, what about this stiff?”

“Oh, Hank’s in luck. He gets a Christian burial. There’s one of them
private family cemeteries up Sulvermine way. Hank goes in there. The
tools are in the car.”

“It’s just too bad Slim can’t do his own diggin’,” growled Number Two.

“Not him—he’s got a heavy date. There he is now, watchin’ from the
lobby. When we’re out of sight, he’ll beat it. He ain’t even takin’ a
bodyguard tonight.”

“What is it—a skirt?”

“How should I know? But if we don’t get goin’ he will start raisin’ the
roof. Git hold of this thing again—she’ll go on the back.”

Again Bill was lifted. The basket swung violently, then landed with a
jar that shook his bones. He sensed that rope was being passed around
the hamper to secure it to the back of the car. There came the crisp
slam of a door, a continuous vibration, and a violent jerk. They were
off at last. The car was moving.

Bill waited until he felt the automobile swerve around the corner. Then
he thrust upward with all his might. The flimsy wicker catch snapped,
the lid flew back, and amid a cascade of soiled laundry, he crawled out
and dropped to the roadway. An instant later, he was strolling back
toward the hotel. His late conveyance had already disappeared around the
corner.

Swinging into the street upon which Gring’s Hotel fronted, halfway down
the block, he saw Slim Johnson run down the steps and enter a taxicab.
The car was headed away from him and started off directly. Bill at once
sprinted after it, hoping that the Boston Post Road traffic would hold
it up at the end of the block.

His hope was fulfilled. The cab slowed down, stopped and waited for the
green light. Bill had just time to grasp the spare tire on the rear and
take a precarious seat on the inner rim when it started up again.

Across the Post Road and under the raised tracks of the New York, New
Haven and Hartford it went, then into that network of mean streets
between the railroad and the shore like a frightened cat up a back
alley.

Near the harbor the car slowed down and drew up before an open lot. Bill
dropped off and hid behind a pile of rubbish. Slim Johnson got out, paid
off the driver and started away at a smart pace toward the docks. With
his weather eye open, Bill followed him, running swiftly across the
patches of light from the street lamps and seeking the shadow.

The gangster followed the harbor toward the sea front, wending his way
among the wharves. At length, by the side of a pier, he stopped, and
gave a shrill whistle. Bill stepped behind a small wooden hut and took a
survey.




Lying out among other vessels was the white prow of a large yacht. He
could just discern its lines in the dim moonlight. There was a lantern
at the bows, and a glimmer at one or two of the portholes.

Soon he heard the creak and dip of oars, and could see the silver
sparkle of flashing water. A small boat drew into the pier. Slim made
his way carefully down the steps, disappearing from Bill’s view. There
was the rasp of an oar on stonework as the boat was pushed off. Bill
could distinguish the man’s lisping tones as he talked. Then the boat
melted into the darkness, in the general direction of the yacht.

For a few minutes Bill gazed across the water at its outlines. Suddenly
there was a bright flood of light upon the deck. A door flung open, a
tall figure blocked it, and the light narrowed to a slit and winked out
as the door closed again. While Bill stood watching from the pier, he
would have given anything to know who the others were on board that
vessel. Still hot with anger and horror at being forced to witness the
dastardly crime, and sickened with the part he had had to play later,
Bill was not in the mood to forego an opportunity of evening things up.

It came to his mind that even to approach the yacht in a small boat,
keeping his eyes and ears open, might be of some help in learning who
was aboard her, or perhaps yield him a clue to the truth about Slim
Johnson’s business. But a small boat was not easy to procure at that
time of night, and in any case he did not want any inquisitive soul to
know what he was doing. As he walked slowly along the wharf his foot
struck a rope, and looking down, he saw it held a small dinghy that lay
in the water at the edge of the dock. It probably belonged to a
yachtsman who had come ashore. A find, if ever he needed one. No time
now to have any compunctions about its owner.

Bill looked across at the yacht, with its portholes showing dim glints
of light, and in a trice he was on his knees. He slipped the knot of the
rope and hurried down the wet steps.

The white yacht was farther out than he had thought, and when he reached
it, he was astonished at its size and magnificence. A shaft of light
burst from the door where he had seen the gangster enter. Johnson
appeared on deck, and Bill was actually so near that he could see the
pleased expression on his smiling face. The dinghy drifted under the
yacht’s bows, and he was shut out from view, but he could hear Slim’s
feet passing along the deck and clattering down the companionway. Then
there was the sharp slam of a door.

Softly Bill sculled along at the side of the yacht. Over the portholes
curtains were drawn, so he could see nothing of what was going on
inside. The moon was hidden behind clouds, and it was now so dark that
he nearly ran into a tiny wooden landing stage. As he paused with the
dinghy close under the narrow steps, he could hear the clink of dishes,
as if a late meal was being prepared; and a skylight nearby threw the
sound of excited conversation out on to the deck.

Each moment Bill kept reminding himself that he ought to be getting
back. What if the owner of the dinghy were to appear and send angry
halloos across the water? Still, having got so far, to retire without
finding out what Johnson was up to seemed stupid. He made up his mind he
would take a quick survey of the deck before moving off. He slung the
rope around the bottom rung of the ladder, and cautiously felt his way
upward.

The deck was empty so far as he could make out. If a hand was supposed
to be on watch, Bill could not hear or see any signs of him. The large
skylight came into view on deck, and the shimmer of its thick glass
indicated that the saloon below was lighted up.

Bill crouched at the rail, listening. The snatches of animated talk he
had heard from the water must have come from this saloon, for he could
see that one of the skylight windows was raised a couple of inches. Now
he could distinguish through the opening the clear tones of two voices
in particular.

With the utmost caution, Bill crawled a couple of yards forward and
looked down into the saloon. There was a white damask-covered table,
with shaded lights, at which sat two men, busy with supper and
conversation. He recognized the men at once.

Slim Johnson’s languid gestures emphasized his words, as he directed
them, between sips of coffee, to no less a person than Zenas Sanders
himself.

With a gasp, Bill realized that Sanders had come by plane, and that this
yacht must be the leader’s present headquarters. To go back now was out
of the question. He might be on the brink of a vital discovery. He
glanced up and down the deck. Still it was deserted. Pulling himself
close to the skylight, he lay listening, with every muscle taut.

Slim Johnson was speaking, and at first Bill could not pick up the trend
of his remarks. But when Sanders replied, he realized their talk had
been bearing on himself and the interview at Gring’s Hotel.

“You’re right, Slim,” said Sanders. “Young Bolton has practically broken
with Evans. All he cares about now is getting the kid back. He said so
over the phone.”

“Well, that darned Indian is sure to find your hideaway, Sanders. He’s
got plenty of guts and so has that Parker fellow by all reports. Between
them, they’ll get the boy before this yacht has a chance to reach Twin
Heads Harbor.”

Sanders laughed and shook his head in a nervous negative. “Oh, no, they
won’t,” he chuckled. “The boy isn’t up there. I brought him with me. At
present he’s sound asleep in a cabin not twenty feet from where we’re
sitting!”

“Well, that’s a good one!” Slim laughed. “What’s the orders now?”

“We sail in two hours. I want you to come along. Go back to the hotel
now and use your gentle persuasion on Bill Bolton to find out where
Evans is. We’ll hold them on board until the divers have brought the
stuff up from the bottom of the harbor up there. Then we can either make
all three of them pay heavy ransoms, or if they’re obdurate, tie them up
and drop them overboard.”

“But supposing torture won’t make Bolton tell?” argued Slim. “What shall
I do with him then? You aren’t giving me much time to persuade him, you
know.”

“Oh, use your air gun if you like. It’s all the same to me!”

“And let Old Evans go?”

“That’s right. He’s tired of trying to watch us up there. And that old
diver of his—Jim something-or-other, hasn’t located the stuff yet. Evans
thinks that he has a better bet in watching you. So mind your step when
you come back tonight. The longer Mr. Evans stops in Stamford the better
pleased I’ll be.”

“Okay. It’s a swell break, and the luckiest thing about it is that he
can’t bring in the bulls. He and his bank would pay a pretty fine if the
government found out that he was taking that gold to Europe in his yacht
when von Hiemskirk captured it. Nice of the noble baron to sink it in
Twin Heads Harbor, and then go to Atlanta for thirty or forty years!”

“We may be able to blackmail Evans later, after he’s paid his ransom,
and we’ve got away with the gold.—Listen!” Sanders dropped his voice and
began to whisper across the table.

Bill pressed closer to the skylight, and at the same time a door clicked
somewhere along the deck. In a second he was crouching on hands and
knees, peering into the darkness. The figure of a man swung up the
companionway and paused to light a cigarette. Bill could see his thin,
swarthy face, lined and scarred, as the tiny flame leaped within his
cupped palms. The match spun overboard in a luminous curve, and hissed
into the water. Then the man began to walk slowly along the deck toward
Bill.