CURLIE CARSON LISTENS IN
ROY J. SNELL
The Reilly & Lee Co. Chicago
Printed in the United States of America Copyright, 1922 by The Reilly & Lee Co. All Rights Reserved
Curlie Carson Listens In
I A STRANGE MESSAGE 9 II SOMETHING BIG 20 III A WHISPER IN THE NIGHT 34 IV A GAME FOR TWO 46 V IN THE DARK 55 VI A REAL DISCOVERY 64 VII CURLIE RECEIVES A SHOCK 75 VIII CURLIE MEETS A MILLIONAIRE 84 IX A MYSTERIOUS MAP 95 X THE FIRST LAP OF A LONG JOURNEY 107 XI "MANY BARBARIANS AND MUCH GOLD" 117 XII OUT TO SEA IN A COCKLESHELL 126 XIII A GHOST WALKS 134 XIV THE COMING STORM 141 XV S. O. S. 151 XVI A CONFESSION 160 XVII A BLINDING FLASH OF LIGHT 170 XVIII THE STORMY PETREL GETS AN ANSWER 177 XIX THE MAP'S SECRET 185 XX A SEA ABOVE A SEA 194 XXI THE BOATS ARE GONE 203 XXII THE WRECK OF THE KITTLEWAKE 211 XXIII THE MIRACLE 219 XXIV THE STORY OF THE MAP 227 XXV OFF ON ANOTHER WILD CHASE 234
CURLIE CARSON LISTENS IN
A STRANGE MESSAGE
Behind locked and barred doors, surrounded by numberless mysterious-looking instruments, sat Curlie Carson. To the right of him was a narrow window. Through that window, a dizzy depth below, lay the city. Its square, flat roofs formed a mammoth checker-board. Between the squares criss-crossed the narrow black streets. Like a white chalk-line, drawn by a careless child, the river wound its crooked way across this checker-board.
To the left of him was a second narrow window. Through this he caught the dark gleam of the broad waters of Lake Michigan. Here and there across the surface twinkled the lamps of a vessel, or flashed the warning beacon of a lighthouse.
A boy in his late teens was Curlie. Slender, dark, with coal-black eyes, with curls of the same hue clinging tightly to his well-shaped head, he had the strong profile and the smooth tapering fingers that might belong to an artist, a pickpocket or a detective.
An artist Curlie was, an artist in his line—radio. Although still a boy, he was already an operator of the "commercial, extra first-class" type. So far as license and title were concerned, he could go no higher. A pickpocket he was not, but a detective he might be thought to be; a strange type of detective, however, a detective of the air; the kind that sits in a small room hundreds of feet in air and listens; listens to the schemes, the plots, the counterplots of men and to the wild babble of fools. His task was that of aiding in the capture of knaves and the silencing of foolish folks who used the newly-discovered radiophone as their mouthpiece.
"Foolish people," Major Whittaker, Curlie's superior, who had called him to the service, had said, "do quite as much damage to the radio service as crooks. Fools and knaves must alike be punished and your task will be to help catch them."
Wonderful ears had Curlie Carson, perhaps the most wonderful ears in the world. In catching the fine shadings of diminishing sounds which came to him through the radio compass, there was not a man who could excel him.
So Curlie sat there surrounded by wire-wrapped frames, coils, keys, buttons, switches, motors, dry-cells, storage batteries and all the odds and ends which made up the equipment of the most perfect listening-in station in the world.
As he sat there with Joe Marion, his pal, by his side, his brow was wrinkled in thought. He was reviewing the events of the previous night. At 1:00 a.m., the witching hour when the crooked ones, the mean ones, come creeping forth like ghosts to carry on doubtful conversations by radio, a strange thing had happened. A message had gone crashing out through space. Wave lengths 1200 meters long sped it on its way. There was power enough behind it to carry it from pole to pole, but all it had said was:
"A slight breeze from the west."
Three times the message had been repeated, then had come silence. There had been no answer though Curlie had listened long for it on 1200 meter wave lengths and five other lengths as well.
Sudden as had come the message, fleet as had been its passing, it had not been too fleet for Curlie. He had compassed its direction; measured its distance. On a map of the city which lay before him he had made a pencil cross and said:
"It came from there." And he was right for, strange as it may seem, an expert such as Curlie can sit in a hidden tower room such as his was and detect the exact location of a station whose message has set his ear drums aquiver.
The location had puzzled him. There was not a station in the city licensed to send 1200 meter wave lengths. The spot he had marked was the location of the city's most magnificent apartment hotel. The hotel possessed a radiophone set. Its antennae, hung high upon the building's roof, were capable of carrying that 1200 meter message with all that power behind it, but the radio equipment of the hotel had no such power.
"Something crooked about that," he had mumbled to himself.
His first impulse had been to call the police. He did not act upon it. They might blunder. The thing might get out. This law-breaker might escape. Not five people in all the world knew of Curlie's detecting station. He would work out this problem alone.
Now, as he sat thinking of it, he decided to confide this new secret to his pal, Joe Marion.
"Yes," he told himself, "I'll tell him about it at chow."
At this moment his mind was recalled to other matters. New trouble was brewing.
"A slight breeze from the west," his mind went over the message automatically, "and the wind was due east. Don't mean much as it stands, but I suspect means a lot more than it seems to."
Just above Curlie's head there hung a receiver. To the right and left of him were two loud-speakers. Before him ranged three others. Each one of these was tuned to a certain wave length, 200, 350, 500, 600, 1200 meters. Each was modulated down until sounds came to Curlie's delicately tuned ear drums as little more than whispers. A concert was being broadcast on 350. The booming tones of a baritone had been coming in as softly and sweetly as a mother's lullaby. But now Curlie's ear detected interference.
Instantly he was all alert. The receiver was clamped down over his ears, a half dozen switches were sent, snap, snap, snap. There followed a dead silence. Then in a shrill boyish voice, together with the baritone's renewal of his song, there came:
"I want the world to know that I am a wireless operator, op-er-a-a-tor. Hoop-la! Tra-la!"
Curlie smiled in spite of his vexation. He acted quickly and with precision. His slender fingers guided a coil-wound frame from right to left. Backward and forward it glided, and as it moved the boyish "Hoop-la" rose and fell. Almost instantly it came to a standstill.
"There! That's it!" he breathed.
Then to Joe Marion, "It's a shame about those kids. They won't learn to play the game square. Don't know the rules and don't care. Think we can't catch 'em, I guess."
His hand went out for a telephone.
"Superior 2231," he purred.
"That you, 2231? Just a moment."
He touched a key here, another there. He twisted a knob there, then: "That you, Mulligan?" he half whispered. "Good! There's a kid on your beat got a wireless running wild. Yes. Broke in on the concert. Don't be hard on him. No license? Yes, guess that's right. Take away his sending set. Give him another chance? Let him listen in. What's that? Location? Clarendon Street, near Orton Place; about second door, I'd say. That's all right. Thanks, yourself."
Dropping the receiver on its hook he tossed off his headpiece, snapped at five buttons, then settled back in his chair.
"These kids'll be the death of me yet," he grumbled. "Always breaking in, not meaning any harm but doing harm all the same. I don't feel so very sore about them though. It's the fellows that go in for long wave lengths and high power, that break in on 500, 1200 and 1800, that do the real damage. Had a queer case last night. Looks crooked, too." He was silent for a moment then he said reflectively:
"Guess that's about all till midnight. It's after midnight that the queer birds come creeping out. I'm going to tell you about that one last night, over the ham sandwich, dill pickle and coffee. No use to try now—we'd sure get broken in on."
Joe Marion, who had been taken on as an understudy by Curlie, was at the present time working without pay. At times when trouble developed on two different wave lengths at once, he took a hand and helped out. For the most part he merely looked, listened and learned.
His pal he held in the greatest admiration. And who would not? Had he not, when this great big new thing, the radiophone, came leaping right into the world from nowhere, been able to take a hand from the very beginning and become at once a valuable servant of his beloved country? Had he not at times detected meddlers who were endangering the lives of men upon the high seas? Had he not at one time received the highest of commendations from the great chief of this secret service of the air?
To Joe there was something weirdly fascinating about the whole business. Here they were, two boys in the tower of the highest building in a great city. Five people knew of their presence. These five were high up in the radio secret service. No message sent out by them could ever be traced back to its source. They did not use the air. That would be dangerous, easily traced. They did not use the telephone alone. That, too, would be dangerous. But when a radiophone had been connected to the telephone wire and tuned to a certain wave length, then they talked and not even the person they talked with would ever know whence came the message. This was a necessary precaution for, from this very tower, dangerous bands of criminals, gangs of smugglers, and all other types of law-breakers would ultimately be brought to justice. And if these but knew of the presence of this boy in his tower room, some dark night that tower would be rocked by an exploding bomb and the boy in his room would be shaken to earth like a young mud-wasp in his nest.
"I'll tell you," said Curlie, as he rose to answer a tap on the door, "I believe that affair last night was some big thing; but what it was I can't even guess."
He opened the door to let in Coles Masters, his relief, then motioning to Joe he took his cap and left the room. Down the winding stairs which led to the elevator several stories lower down they made their way in silence, at last to enter a cage and be silently dropped to the ground hundreds of feet below.
"You see," Curlie began as he crossed his slim legs beside a small table in an all-night lunch room, buried somewhere in the deep recesses of this same skyscraper, "that fellow sent the message about the easterly breeze that blew west and I located the station at that hotel. This morning I went over to see how the place looked. It's a wonderful hotel, that one; palm garden in the middle of it, marble columns, fountain, painted sheet iron ceiling that'd make you dizzy to look at, and the finest dressed people you ever saw walking around everywhere.
"Well, I found my way to the sending room of the radiophone and right away the operator wanted to throw me out; said I was a fresh kid and all that. But when I showed him my papers, he calmed down a lot and showed me everything he had.
"I saw right away it wasn't his equipment that had sent that message—that'd be like sending a Big Bertha bomb into Paris with a twenty-two caliber rifle. He just naturally didn't have the power, that's all. So I didn't tell him anything about it; just walked out and went around back to where I could see the way his wires ran from the sending room to the antenna.
"I hadn't any more than got there and had one look-up when along strolls a man who wants to know what I'm looking at. I saw right away that he wasn't a hotel employee for he didn't wear either a bandmaster's uniform nor a cutaway coat, so I just smiled and said:
"Got a girl friend up there on the sixteenth floor. She's leaving this morning and arranged to drop her trunk down to me so's not to have to tip the porter.
"Well, sir, I hadn't more than said that than a girl did pop her head out of a sixteenth floor window and stare straight down at me.
"The fellow actually dodged. Guess he thought the trunk was due any minute.
"Funny part of it was the girl actually seemed interested in me, just as if she had met me somewhere before. Of course she was too high up for me to tell what she was like, but it made me mighty curious. I counted the windows to right and left so I could find that room if I wanted to. The window was only the third to the right from where the lead wire to the antenna went up.
"Well, then, that fellow—"
"Mr. Carson?" a voice interrupted Curlie. "Anyone here by the name of Carson?" It came from the desk-clerk of the eating place.
"That's me," exclaimed Curlie, jumping up.
"All right. Be back in a minute, Joe." Curlie was away to answer the call.
"'Lo. That you, Curlie?" came through the receiver. "This is Coles Masters. Got a bad case—extra bad. Can't understand it. Fellow's sending 600 meter waves, with enough power to cross the Atlantic."
"Six hundred!" exclaimed Curlie in a tense whisper. "Why, that's what they use for S.O.S. at sea! It's criminal. Endangers every ship in distress. Five years in prison for it. Get him, can't you?"
"Can't. That's the trouble. Every time I think I've got him spotted he seems to move."
"That's queer! I'll be up right away."
"Come on," exclaimed Curlie, grabbing his hat and dragging Joe to his feet. "It's a big one. Moves, he says. Sends 600; big power. Bet it's that same hotel fellow. Gee whiz! Supposing it turned out to be that sixteenth story girl and she caught me spying on her. I tell you it's something big!"
Impatient at the slowness of the up-shooting elevator, Curlie at last leaped out before the iron door at the top was half open, then two steps at a time sprang up a flight of stairs. Out of breath, he arrived at the final landing, sprang through the door to the secret tower room, then seizing his headpiece, sank into a chair.
By a single move of the hand, Coles Masters indicated the radio-compass he had been listening in on.
"That's where he was, last time he spoke," he grumbled, "but no telling where he'll be next. He's been dodging all over that stretch of country."
Curlie's fingers moved rapidly. He adjusted the coil of a radio-compass here, another there and still another here. He twisted the knob of each to the 600 mark, then, twisting the tuning knobs, lined them all up to receive on the same wave length. The winding of each was set at a slightly different angle from any other.
"That about covers him," he mumbled. "Get the distance?"
"Near as I could make out," said Coles Masters, "it was from ten to fifteen miles. He moves toward us, then away at times, just as he does to right and left."
"Hm," sighed Curlie, resting his chin on his hands. "That's a new dodge, this moving business. Complicates things, that does."
For a time he sat in a brown study. At last he spoke again, this time quite as much to himself as to the other:
"Folks don't move unless they have a way to move. That fellow has some means of locomotion. Anyway," he sighed, "it's not our friend of the big hotel unless—unless he or she or whoever it is has taken to locomotion, and that's not likely. Not the same side of the city. Out near the forest preserve."
"Yes, or a little beyond," said Coles.
"What do you think," asked Curlie suddenly, "has he got an automobile or an airplane?"
"Can't tell," said Coles thoughtfully. "You can't really judge distances in air accurately. There are powerful equipments which might be mounted on either automobiles or airplanes."
"The thing that puzzled me, though, was his line of chatter. All about some 'map, old French,' and a lot of stuff like that. I—"
Suddenly he broke off. A grinding sound had come from one of the loud speakers. There followed in a clear, strong voice:
"Map O.K. Old French is amazing. Good for a million."
Curlie's fingers were busy once more as a tense look drew his forehead into a scowl.
"About fifteen miles," he whispered.
Then the voice resumed:
"Time up the bird. When?"
A tense silence ensued. Then, faint, as if from far away, yet very distinctly there came the single word:
"Wednesday." This was followed by three letters distinctly pronounced: "L.C.W."
A second later came the strong voice in answer: "A.C.S."
"That," said Curlie as he settled back in his chair, "in my estimation ends the night's entertainment. But the nerve of the fellow!" he exploded. "Sending that kind of rot on six hundred. Why, at this very moment some disabled ship might be struggling in a storm on the Great Lakes or even on the Atlantic, and this jumble of words would muddle up their message so its meaning would be lost and the ship with it. The worst I could wish for such a fellow is that he be dropped into the sea with some means of keeping afloat but with neither food nor drink and a ship nowhere in sight."
If Curlie had known how exactly this wish was to be granted in the days that were to come, he might have experienced some strange sensations.
He straightened up and placed a dot on the map before him.
"That's where he was. I'll motor out in the morning and have a look at things. May discover some clew."
Curlie was a bright American boy of the very best type. Like most American boys who do not have riches thrust upon them, when he wanted a thing he made it or made a way to get it. Three years previous he had wanted an automobile—wanted it awfully. And his total capital had been $49.63. He had been wanting that car for some time when an express train hit a powerful roadster on a crossing near his home.
Having flocked in with the throng to view the twisted remains of the car, he had been struck with an idea. This idea he had put into action. The railroad had settled with the owner for the car. They had the wreck of it on their hands. Curlie bought it for twenty-five dollars.
To his great delight he had found the powerful motor practically uninjured. The driving gear too, with the exception of one cog wheel, was in workable order. The remainder of the car he sold to a junk dealer for five dollars. It was twisted and broken beyond redemption.
He had next searched about for a discarded chassis on which to mount his gears and motor. This search rewarded, he had proceeded to assemble his car. And one fine day he sailed out upon the street with the "Humming Bird," as he had named her.
"Better call her 'Gravel Car,'" Joe had said when he saw that she had no body at all and that he must ride with his feet thrust straight out before him in a homemade seat bolted to a buckboard-like platform.
But when, on a level stretch of road, Curlie had "let her out," Joe had at once acquired an immense respect for the Humming Bird. "For," he said later, "she can hum and she can go like a streak of light, and that's about all any humming bird can do."
No further messages of importance having drifted in to him from the outer air, Curlie, an hour before dinner, made his way down to the street and, having warmed up the Humming Bird's motor, muttered as he sprang into the seat: "I'll just run out there and see what I see."
A half hour later, just as the first gray streak of dawn was appearing, he curved off onto a gravel road. Here he threw his car over to one side and, switching on a flashlight, steered with one hand while he bent over the side to examine the left-hand track.
There had been a light rain at ten that night. Since that time a heavy car with diamond-tread tires had passed along the road, leaving its tracks in certain soft, sandy spots.
"Maybe that's him," Curlie murmured.
A little farther on, stopping his machine, he got out and walked along the road. Examining the surface closely, he walked on for five rods, then wheeled about and made his way back to the car.
"He was over this road three times last night. That looks like a warm scent. Can't tell, though. My friend might not have been in a car at all; might have been in a plane.
"We'll have a look at the very spot." He twirled the wheel and was away.
A half mile farther down the road, he paused to look at a map. "Not quite here," he murmured. "About a quarter mile farther."
The car crept over another quarter of a mile. When he again came to a halt he found himself on a stretch of paved road. "This is the spot from which the last message was sent. Tough luck!" he muttered. "Can't tell a thing here."
Glancing to his right, he sat up with a start. He had suddenly become aware of the fact that he was just before the gate of the estate of J. Anson Ardmore, reputed to be the richest man of the city.
"Huh!" Curlie grunted. "Car must have stood about here when that last message was sent. Maybe it went up that lane. Maybe it didn't, too. J. Anson's got a son, about my age I guess. Vincent they call him. He might be up to something. There's a girl, too, sixteen or so. Can't tell what these rich folks will do."
He stepped down the rich man's private drive, but here the surface of crushed stone was so perfectly kept that no telltale mark was to be seen.
He did not venture far, as he had no relish for being caught trespassing on such an estate without some good explanation for his conduct. Just at that moment he had no desire to explain.
As he turned to go back, he caught the thud-thud of hoof beats along the private drive.
Fortunately the abundant shrubbery hid him from view. Hardly had he reached the machine and assumed the attitude of one hunting trouble in his engine when a girl rounded a corner at full gallop.
Dressed in full riding costume and mounted on a blooded horse, she swung along as graceful as a lark. As she came into the public highway she flashed Curlie a look and a smile. Then she was gone.
Curlie liked the smile even if it did come from one of the "four hundred."
"Gee! Old Humming Bird," he exclaimed as he patted his car, "did she mean that smile for you or for me? So there might be a girl in the case, same as there seems to be in that one over at the hotel? Girl in most every case. What if she sent those messages and I found her out? That would sure be tough.
"But business is business!" He set his mouth grimly. "You can't fool with old Uncle Sam, not when you're endangering the lives of some of his bravest sons at sea."
He threw in the clutch and drove slowly along the road. Twice he paused to examine the tracks made the night before. Each time he discovered marks of the diamond tread.
"That radiophone was mounted on a car," he decided; "I'll stake my life on that. Now if he keeps it up, how am I to catch him?"
A WHISPER IN THE NIGHT
The next night found Curlie in the secret tower room alone. Joe Marion was away helping to run down a case of "malicious interference."
It was curious business, this work of the radio secret service. Though he had been at it for months, Curlie had never quite got used to it. A detective he was in the truest sense of the word, yet how different from the kind one reads about in books.
He laughed as he thought of it now. Then as his tapering fingers adjusted a screw, his brow became suddenly wrinkled in thought. He was troubled by the two cases which had lately developed: the one at the hotel and that other, the station that moved. How was he to locate that powerful secret station in the hotel? How was he to discover the owner of that mysterious moving radio? He could not answer these questions. And yet somehow they must be answered. He knew that.
The operator in the hotel was sending on 1200 meter wave lengths. State messages were constantly being sent across the Atlantic on 1200; messages of the greatest importance. There was a conference of nations at that moment going on in Europe. America's representative must be kept in constant touch with the government officials at Washington. If this person at the hotel persisted in sending messages on 1200 meter wave lengths an important message might at any moment be blurred or lost.
Not less important was the breaking in of this moving operator on 600. This was the wave length used by ships and by harbor stations. Great steamships sometimes waited for hours to get a message ashore on 600. If this person were to be allowed to break in upon them they might wait hours longer. Thousands of dollars would be lost. And then, as we have said before, the message of some ship in distress might be lost because of this person's interference.
"When, oh, when," sighed Curlie, "will people become used to this new thing, the radiophone? When will they learn that it is a great, new servant of mankind and not a toy? When will they take time to instruct themselves regarding the rights of others? When will they develop a conscience which will compel them to consider those rights?"
The answer which came to his mind was, "Perhaps never. But little by little they will learn some things. It is my duty not alone to detect but to teach."
He shifted uneasily in his chair, then held his ear close to the loud speaker tuned to 200. A message came floating in to him across the air, a mysterious whispered message.
"Hello, Curlie," it said. "You don't know me, but you have seen me—"
Automatically Curlie's fingers moved the radio-compass backward and forward while his mind gauged the distance. His right hand scrawled some figures on a pad, and all the time his ears were strained to catch the whisper.
"I have seen you," it went on, "and I like your looks. That's why I'm talking now."
For a second the whisper ceased. There was something awe-inspiring about that whisper. As he sat in his secret chamber away up there against the sky, Curlie felt as if some spirit-being was floating about out there in the sky on a fleecy cloud and pausing now and then to whisper to him.
"I saw you," the whisper repeated. "You are in very grave danger. He is a bold and treacherous man. It's big, Curlie, big!" The whisper rose shrilly. "But you must be careful. You must not let him know the place where you listen in. I don't know where it is. But I do know you listen in. Be careful—careful—careful, c-a-r-e-f-u-l-" The whisper trailed off into space, to be lost in thin air.
Wiping the beads of perspiration from his face, Curlie sat up. "Well, now," he whispered softly to himself, "what do you know about that?
"One thing I do know," he told himself. "I'd swear it was a girl's whisper, though how you can tell a girl's whisper is more than I know. Question is: Which one is it—hotel station or the one that moves?"
For a moment his brow wrinkled in thought. Then with an exclamation of disgust he exclaimed:
"That's easy! I've got their location!"
He figured for a few seconds, then put a pencil point on a certain spot on his map.
"There!" he muttered. "It's the hotel, the exact spot."
Suddenly he started. There came the rattle of a key in the door.
"Oh!" he exclaimed as Coles Masters shoved the door open, "it's you. I'm glad you're here. Got something I want to look into. Want to bad. Mind if I take an extra hour?"
"All right. See you later." With a bound he was out of the door and down the stairs.
"That boy," muttered Coles Masters, with a grin, "will either die young or become famous. Only Providence knows which it will be."
Curlie did not leave the elevator at the first floor. Dropping down to the sub-basement, he wound his way in and out through a labyrinth of dimly lighted halls, at last to climb a stair to the first basement. Then, having passed into his accustomed eating place, he paused long enough to purchase a Swiss cheese sandwich, after which, with cap pulled well down over his eyes, he made his way up a second flight of stairs into the outer air.
He shivered as he emerged into the open street. Whether this chill came from the damp cool of the night or from nervous excitement, he could not tell. The memory of the whispered warning bore heavily upon his mind.
Turning his face resolutely in the direction of the hotel, he walked three blocks, then hailed a passing taxi. When the taxi dropped him, a few minutes later, he was still four blocks from the point of his destination. Covering this distance with rapid strides, he came to the rear of the hotel. There, dodging past a line of waiting taxis, he came at length to a dark corner where a stone bench made an angle with the wall of a building directly behind the hotel.
Crouching in this corner, he glanced rapidly from right to left to learn whether or not his arrival had been detected. Satisfied that for the moment he was safe, he cast a glance upward to where the aerials of the radiophone glistened in the moonlight. From that point he allowed his gaze to drop steadily downward until it reached the windows of the sixteenth floor. There it remained fixed for a full moment.
There came from between his teeth a sudden intake of breath.
Had he seen some movement at the window to the right of the wires that led to the aerials? He must see, no matter how great the risk.
Drawing a small pair of binoculars from his pocket, he fixed them on the spot. He then turned a screw at the side of the binocular and suddenly there appeared upon the wall of the building a round spot of brilliant light. The size of a plate, this mysterious spot moved rapidly backward and forward until it at last rested upon the wires by the window.
"Ah!" came in an involuntary whisper from the boy's lips.
A hand, the slender, graceful hand of a girl had been clearly outlined against the wall. Quickly as it had been withdrawn, Curlie had seen that between the thumb and finger of that hand was the end of a wire.
"Been tapping the aerial. A girl!" he muttered incredulously. "And it was she who whispered to me out of the night."
He had been crouching low. Now he rose, stretched himself, pocketed his instrument and was about to make his way out of the yard when, with the suddenness of a tiger, a body launched itself upon his back.
So unexpected was the assault that the boy's body closed up like a jack knife. He fell, face down, completely doubled up, with his face between his knees.
"Now I got yuh!" was snarled into his ear. The weight on his back was crushing. He could scarcely breathe.
"You—you have," he managed to groan.
"You'll come along," said the voice.
Curlie did not speak nor stir. The weight was partly lifted from his back. The man had dropped one foot to the ground.
Now Curlie, had he been properly exercised for it when he was a child, might have turned out a fair contortionist. He was exceedingly slim and limber and had learned many of the tricks of the contortionist. He had done this merely to amuse his friends. Now the tricks stood him in good stead.
He did not attempt to rise by straightening up, as most persons would have done. When the pressure grew less, he lay still doubled up, face down upon the ground.
This gave him two advantages. It led his assailant to believe him injured in some way and at the same time left him in position for the next move.
When the pressure had been sufficiently removed for his purpose, he took a quick, strong breath, then with a rush which set every muscle in action, he thrust his head between his knees, gripped his own ankles and did a double turn over which resembled nothing so much as a boulder rolling down hill.
The next instant, finding himself free, he sprang to his feet, dodged behind a taxi, shot past three moving cars, leaped to the pavement, skirted a wall, then dodged into an alley.
Down this alley there was a doorway. Into the shadow of this doorway he threw himself. There was a hole in the wooden door. A hook could be reached through the hole. The hook quickly lifted, he found himself inside a narrow court at the back of a large apartment building. There was a driveway from this court into the street beyond.
Assuming a natural pace, he made his way down this driveway and out into the street where, with a low whistled tune, he made his way back toward the heart of the city. Five blocks farther down he paused to adjust his clothing.
"Wow! but that was a close one," he muttered. "Don't know who my heavy friend was but he sure wanted to detain me for some reason or other. But say!" he mused; "how about that girl? Hope I didn't get her in bad by flashing that light on her hand.
"But then," he thought more soberly, "perhaps she is the principal bad one. Perhaps she is whispering on 200 just to mislead me. Who knows? You've got to be wise as a serpent when you play this game, that's what you've got to be. There's just two kinds of radio detectives, the quick and the dead." He chuckled dryly.
"Well, I guess Coles Masters will think I'm one of the dead ones if I don't rush on."
Hurrying to the next street, he boarded a car to make his way back to the secret lower room.
During his absence things had been happening in the mysterious radio world that hangs like a filmy ghost-land above the sleeping world.
A GAME FOR TWO
As Curlie slipped noiselessly through the door into the secret tower room, he was seized by the arm and dragged into his chair.
"Man! where have you been?" It was Coles Masters. He spoke in an excited whisper. "Listen to that! It's the second message. He'll repeat it again. They always do."
As Curlie listened, his face grew grave with concern. The message came from the head station of the radiophone secret service bureau. That station was located in New York. The message was a reprimand. Kindly, friendly but firmly, it told Curlie that for two nights now someone in his area had been breaking in on 600. Coast-to-ship messages had been disturbed. Once an S. O. S. from a disabled fishing schooner had barely escaped being lost. Something must be done about it at once! By Curlie! In Chicago!
With parted lips and bated breath Curlie listened to the message as it came to him in code. Then, with trembling fingers, he adjusted a lever, touched a button, turned a screw and dictated to a station in another part of the city his answering O.K. to the message.
"Of course," he said to Coles, as he lifted the receiver from his head, "that means that this fellow that races all over the map has been at it again to-night."
"About an hour ago," said Coles, wrinkling his brow.
"What did you do about it?"
"What was there to do? I tried to locate him. He danced about, first here, then there. I marked his locations. They were never the same. See," he pointed to the map. "I numbered them. He spoke from five different points."
"What did he say?"
"It's all written down there," Coles motioned to a pad. "Can't make head nor tail to it. Something about a map, an airplane, a boat and a lot of gold."
"What kind of voice?"
"Sounded young. Some boy in late teens, I'd say. Though it might have been a girl. She might have changed her voice to disguise it. You can't tell. Had two cases like that in the last three weeks. You never can tell about voices."
"No," said Curlie, thoughtfully, "you never can tell. That's about the only thing you can be sure of in this strange old world. You can always be sure that you never can tell. Thing that looks like one thing always turns out to be something else.
"Point is," he continued after a moment's deep thought, "somebody's getting past our guard. Slamming us right in the nose and we're not doing a thing about it. Don't look like we could. I've got a theory but you can't go searching the estate of the richest man in your city just on theory; you've got to have facts to back you up, and mighty definite facts, too."
"Yes, that's right," agreed Coles. "But what do you make out of all that babble about airplane, map, ship and much gold? Do you suppose it's some smuggling scheme, some plan to get a lot of Russian or Austrian jewels into the country without paying duty or something like that?"
"I don't make anything out of that," said Curlie rather sharply, "and for the time, I don't jolly much care. The thing I'm interested in is the fact that we're being beaten; that the air about us is being torn to shreds every night by some careless or criminal person; that we're getting a black eye and a reprimand from the department; that sea traffic is being interrupted; that lives are being imperiled and we can't seem to do anything about it. That's what's turning my liver dark black!" He pounded the desk before him until instruments rattled and wires sang.
"But how you are going to catch a fellow when he goes tearing all over the map," said Curlie, more calmly, "is exactly what I don't know. You go down and get a bite of chow. No, go on home and go to bed. I'll take the rest of the shift. I want to think. I think best when I'm alone; when the wires sing me a song; when the air whispers to me out of the night; when the ghosts of dead radio-men, ghosts of operators who joked with death when the sea was reaching up mighty arms to drag them down, come back to talk to me. That's when I think best. These whispering ghosts tell me things. When I sit here all, asleep but my ears, things seem to come to me."
"Bah!" said Coles Masters, shivering, "you give me the creeps."
Drawing on his coat, he slipped out of the door, leaving Curlie slumped down in his chair already all asleep but his wonderful ears.
For a full hour he sat lumped up there. Seeming scarcely to breathe, stirring now and then as in sleep, he continued to listen and to dream.
Then suddenly he sat up with a start to exclaim out loud:
"Yes! That's it. Catch a thief with a thief. Catch a radiophone with a radiophone. A radiophone on wheels? That's a game two can play at. I'll do it! To-morrow night."
Snapping up a telephone receiver he murmured:
A moment later he tuned an instrument and threw on a switch; "Weightman there?" he inquired. "Asleep? Wake him up. This is Curlie Carson. Yes, it's important. No, I'll tell you. Don't bother to wake him now—have him over at the Coffee Shop at five bells. The Coffee Shop. He'll know. Don't fail! It's important!"
He snapped down the receiver. Weightman was the radio mechanic assigned to his station. He would have unusual and important work to do that day.
He slumped down again in his chair but did not remain in that position many minutes.
From one of the loud speakers came a persistent whisper:
"Hello. Hello, Curlie, you there?" the girlish voice purred, the one that had whispered to him before. "I saw you to-night. That was dangerous. Why did you do it? Nearly got me in bad. Not quite. He almost got you."
The whisper ceased. Adjusting the campus coil Curlie sat at strained attention.
"I wish I knew you were listening," came again. "It's hard to be whispering into the night and not knowing you're being heard."
Curlie's fingers moved nervously over a tuner knob. He was sorely tempted to tune in and flash an answering "O.K.," if nothing more.
But, no, he drew his hands resolutely back. It was not wise. There was danger in it. This might be a trap. They might locate his secret tower room by that single O.K. Then disaster would follow.
The whisper came again: "You're clever, Curlie, awfully clever. The way you doubled over and turned yourself wrong side out was great! But please do be careful. It's big, Curlie, big!" again the whisper rose almost to speaking tone. "And he is a terribly determined man; wouldn't stop at anything."
The whisper ceased.
For a moment Curlie sat there lost in reflection, then he muttered savagely: "Oh! get off the air, you little whispering mystery, you're spoiling my technique. Your very terrible friend didn't send any message to-night and the one he sent before hasn't got us into any trouble. I've got to forget you and go after this moving fellow who sends 600."
As if in answer to his challenge the loud speaker to his right, the one tuned to 1200, began to rattle. Then, in the full, determined tones of a man accustomed to speak with authority there came:
Three times, over five thousand miles of air, this great voice bellowed its message.
The silence which followed was ghostly. Cold perspiration stood out on Curlie's brow.
It was not necessary for him to calculate the location from which this message was sent. He knew that it had come from the hotel. And it had.
"Next thing," he told himself with a groan, "the International Service will be on my back for letting that lion roar. I ought to turn that over to the police; but I won't, not just yet."
IN THE DARK
As the clock in a distant college tower struck the hour of eleven the following night, a flat looking car with a powerful engine stole out into the road that ran by the Forest Preserve. It was the Humming Bird. Joe Marion was at the wheel. Curlie sat beside him.
On the back of the car was a miscellaneous pile of instruments all securely clamped down. Above there hung suspended between two vertical bars a square frame from which there gleamed the copper wires of a coil.
To catch a radiophone on wheels, Curlie had reasoned, one must mount his radio compass on wheels and pursue the offender. How well it would work, he could not even guess, but anything was better than sitting there helpless in the secret tower room listening to this person tearing up the air in a manner both unwise and unlawful.
So here they were, prepared to make the test.
"Of course," Curlie grumbled, "now we've got the trap set, the ghost may decide not to walk on this particular night. That'll be part of our rotten luck."
"Most ghosts, I'm told," chuckled Joe, "prefer to walk when there's someone about, for what's the good of a ghost-walk when there's no one to see. So our radio ghost may show up after all."
Curlie lapsed into silence. He was reviewing the events which led up to this thrilling moment. When the message on 600 came banging to his ears with great power on that first night, he had carefully platted the various locations of the person who had sent the messages. There had been some criss-crosses shown but, in the main, a line drawn through these points had formed an oblong which on the actual surface of the ground must have been some ten miles in length by six in width. One interesting point was that the first and last messages of that night had been sent at points not a quarter of a mile apart.
"Which goes to show," he reasoned, "that this fellow started from a certain point and made his way back to that point, just as a rabbit will do when chased by a hound. And those two points, the start and the finish, are close to the driveway into the million dollar estate. But of course that doesn't prove that the car came from there. Any person could drive to that point, begin operations, race over the square and return to the point."
Coles Masters had platted the points for the second night. A line drawn through these points made a figure quite irregular in form, which was, however, composed of rectangles.
"Which proves," he told himself, "that our friend, the lawless radio fan, drives an auto and not an airplane. An auto follows roads, which for the most part in this section form squares. He passed along two or three sides of these squares and this makes up the figure.
"There's only one thing in common in the two night journeys," he continued. "The start and finish are at almost exactly the same spot, near the entrance of that great estate."
He tried not to allow these facts to cause him to hold undue suspicion against the inhabitants of that mansion, but in this he experienced some difficulty.
"The thing for us to do," he had said to Joe, "is to run out there and back our car into an unfrequented, wooded road running into the forest preserve. We don't dare go too near the original starting place. If we're seen with this load of junk it will give us dead away. Thing is to be ready to move quickly when he lets loose with his message. Ought not to be more than a mile away, I'd say. He's got a powerful car. You can tell that by the fact that he sent a message at this corner, then raced over here, four miles distant, and got another message off in eleven minutes, which is quick action."
They backed into the grass-grown road of the Forest Preserve, then settled down in their places to wait.
The night was dark. There was no moon. Clouds were scurrying overhead. Only the rustle of leaves and the startled tweet-tweet of some bird surprised in his sleep disturbed the utter silence of the woods.
"Ghostly," whispered Joe, then he lapsed into silence.
With his slim legs stretched out before him, Curlie was soon asleep, all but his ears. Joe insisted that those ears never slept.
A half hour, an hour, an hour and a half dragged by. Joe had gone quite to sleep when Curlie suddenly dug him in the ribs and uttered the shrilly whispered warning:
"Hist! There she blows!"
A flashlight was snapped on. Curlie's fingers flew from instrument to instrument. The voice of the mysterious operator could be heard. Now rising, now falling, it filled the woods with echoes, yet the speaker was more than a mile away, as near as the boys could guess.
The words spoken by him were now of no importance. Location was everything.
"Same place," exclaimed Curlie, "exactly the same! You know where! Drive like mad!"
Instantly the car lurched forward. Coming out of the bush on two wheels, she sent a shower of gravel flying as she rushed madly down the road.
Quick as they were, the quarry had been quicker. As they rounded a corner, they caught the red gleam of a tail-light disappearing at the next turn.
"Heck!" said Curlie, then, "Let her out! Show him some speed."
The motor of the Humming Bird sang joyously. Fairly eating up the road, she took the corner with a wide swing. But when they looked down the long stretch of highway there was no red tail-light to be seen.
"Heck!" said Curlie again, "he's reached the next crossroad and turned the corner. Can't tell which way he went. It's a hard, dry gravel roadbed—won't tell a thing. Best we can do is to rattle along up there, then sit it out for another listen-in."
Disappointed but not disheartened, Curlie adjusted his instruments, then sat in breathless expectation.
He did not have long to wait, for again the voice in the loud speaker boomed out into the night.
"Huh," he grumbled a few seconds later, "he's got three miles lead on us. To the right. Quick, give her the gas."
Again they were off. For two miles and a half straight ahead they raced. The Humming Bird quivered like a leaf, instruments jingling in spite of their lashings.
"Make it all the way," said Curlie, as Joe slowed up. "He's not there. Given us the slip again."
Six times this program was gone through with. Not once in all that time did they catch sight of that tail-light.
"Some car he's got!" said Curlie when the farce was ended. "Bet he never even guessed he was being chased. But you wait; we'll get him yet."
When they were once more in the secret tower room Curlie plotted the route of the mysterious operator.
"Only significant thing about that," he commented, when he had finished, "is that he starts and finishes within a quarter of a mile of the same place as on the other two nights."
"And that place—" suggested Joe.
"Is near old J. Anson's driveway."
"Looks mighty suspicious to me," said Joe.
"Does to me, too; but, as I have said before, you can't raid a man's private castle on any such flimsy proof as that. You've got to have the goods.
"Tell you what," he said after a moment's silence, "sometimes our natural ears and eyes are better than all these instruments and wires. I'm going out there to-morrow night alone and on foot."
"Might work," said Joe thoughtfully, "but whatever you do, you must be careful."
"Careful?" said Curlie scornfully. "There are times when a fellow can't afford to be careful. This thing's getting serious." He glanced over a second message from the head office of his bureau. It was couched in no gentle terms. He was told that this intruder must be caught and that at once if he, Curlie Carson, wished to hold his position as chief of the secret tower room station.
A REAL DISCOVERY
Darkness found Curlie again on the edge of the Forest Preserve. This time he was on foot and alone. Apparently he carried nothing. His right hip pocket bulged, the handle of a flashlight protruded from his coat pocket, that was all.
He did not pause at the spot where they had hid their car the night before, but continued down the main road for a half mile farther. There he plunged into the forest, to continue his journey under cover. Eleven o'clock found him concealed in a clump of bushes in the woods that lay opposite the millionaire's driveway.
"If they come to-night," he whispered to himself, "I'll know whether they belong on that estate or not, and if they do I'll know who it is. Anyway, I'll know it's one of J. Anson's folks. And we'll see if it is a boy or the girl?"
The question interested him. He had no relish for getting a girl into trouble, especially that frank-faced, smiling girl he had seen on horseback.
"But the thing must stop," he told himself sternly, taking a tight grip on something in his hip pocket.
The night was clear. He could see objects quite plainly. The trees, the shrubbery, the stone pillars at the entrance to the driveway, stood out in bold relief. For a time he sat staring at them in silence. At last he closed his eyes and slept, as was his custom, all but his ears.
He was startled from this stupor by a sudden flash of light which made its presence felt even through his eyelids.
As his eyes flew open, he found himself staring at two glowing headlights. The next instant he had flattened himself in the grass.
"Wow! Hope they didn't see me!" he whispered.
A low-built, powerful car had come purring so quietly down the driveway of the estate that it had rounded a sudden curve before he had been aware of its presence.
Now, with undiminished speed, it turned to the right, entered the public highway and sped straight on.
As Curlie rose from the grass to stare after it, a low exclamation escaped his lips. Supported by high parallel bars, which were doubtless in turn supported by strong guy wires, were the aerials of a radiophone. The whole of this rose from, and rested upon, the body of the powerful roadster.
"And I missed them!" he exploded, then:
"No, I didn't. They're stopping."
It was true. Some eighty rods down the road the car had slowed up. He had no means of telling what they were doing but felt quite warranted in supposing they were sending a message.
Like a flash he was away through the brush. Speed and the utmost caution were necessary. If a limb cracked, if he fell over a hidden ditch, the quarry would be frightened away. He must see what was going on, see it with his own eyes.
Fairly holding his breath, he struggled forward. Now he had covered a third of the distance, now half, now three-quarters and now—
His lips parted in an unuttered groan. He leaped out of the bush. Something flashed in his hand. For a second that thing was pointed down the road where the speedy car had suddenly resumed its journey. Then his hand dropped to his side.
"No," he said slowly, "it won't do. Too risky. Guess they haven't seen me. If not, they will be back. And next time," he shook his fist at the vanishing car, "next time my fair lad or lady, you won't escape me."
Turning back, he again disappeared into the brush.
In the meantime things were happening in the air. Coles Masters, who was in charge of the secret tower room, had his hands full. He switched on this loud-speaker and lowered that one to a whisper. He tuned in this one and cut that one out.
"Whew!" he exclaimed, mopping his brow, "what a night! Wish Curlie were here."
To start the night's entertainment a boy had broken in on the radio concert. Then a crank had come shouting right into the middle of a speech by a politician. A few moments later a message on 1200 had fairly burst his ear-drums. The message had been short, composed of just three words:
"Dark, cloudy night."
"Regular thunderbolt behind that!" he muttered as he measured the location and found it to come from the city's great hotel. "Enough there to send it round the world. Shouldn't be surprised to get the echo of it in a few seconds myself. The nerve of the man!"
In strange contrast to this was the whisper which followed within five minutes. It was sent on 200.
"Hello, Curlie. Did you get that? Terrible, wasn't it?" came the whisper. "But, Curlie, I don't think you need to bother about him. He's leaving in a day or two. He's going, far, far away. He's going north; out of your territory entirely. I know you'd love to catch him, Curlie, but it would be dangerous, awfully dangerous! So don't you try, for he is going far, far away."
Coles Masters' fingers had worked rapidly during this whispered message. Not only had he measured the distance and taken the location, but he had written down the message word for word.
"Well, I'll be jiggered!" he muttered. "That was a girl, a young girl and a pretty one too, or I miss my guess. Anyway she has an interesting whisper. She's at that same hotel and seems to know Curlie. She must have broken in on my 1200 friend. So he's going north? Can't go any too soon for me. Mighty queer case. Have to turn it over to Curlie. It's all Greek to me."
"Hello, there! What—"
He wheeled about to snap a button. A message was being shouted out on 600.
"That's the chap Curlie's after. So he hasn't got him yet? Well, here's hoping he hurries." His pencil began rapidly writing the message.
Meanwhile Curlie in his woods retreat had moved silently over to the other side of the driveway.
"Probably will come back the other way," he concluded.
He did not remain behind the fence this time but threw himself into the shallow depths of a dry ravine. He remained keenly alert. His eyes were constantly on the road, which lay like a brown ribbon a full mile straight before him.
He was thinking of his various cases. Equal in interest to the one which he was now hunting down was that big hotel case. He was thinking of the girl. Why had she whispered those messages to him? Was she merely a tool of the man behind the powerful radio machine? Was she simply leading him on? He could not feel that she was. Somehow her whisper had an accent of genuine interest in it.
"Wonder what she's like," he asked himself. Then, with a smile playing about his lips, he tried to guess.
"Small, very active, has dark brown hair and snappy black eyes." After a moment's thought he chuckled: "Probably really a heavy blonde; something like two hundred pounds. You can't tell anything by a voice. You—"
Suddenly he braced himself up on his elbows. His keen ears had caught a distant purring sound. Two yellow balls of fire were rapidly approaching—the headlights of a fast-moving automobile.
"He comes! Now for it!" He prepared to spring.
In an amazingly short time the car was all but upon him. Leaping to his feet, he let out a wild whoop and, brandishing his automatic threateningly, stood squarely in the middle of the road.
His heart beat wildly. There could be no mistake. He saw the wires and rods swaying above the car.
For a second the car slowed up, then, with a snort it leaped right at him. Nimble as he was, he barely escaped being run down.
As the car flashed past him, he wheeled about and almost instantly his automatic barked three times. Simultaneous with the last shot there came a louder explosion.
"Tire! Got you," he muttered.
Instantly the car swerved to the side of the road. A tire had gone flat. The car had skidded.
The rods which carried the aerials caught in a tree top. The car, jerked back like a mad horse caught by a lariat, reared up on its hind wheels, threatened to turn turtle, then crashed over on its side with its engine still racing wildly.
Sudden as had been the catastrophe, it had not been too quick for the driver. Just as the car crashed over, Curlie caught sight of a figure in long linen duster and with closely wrapped head, dashing up the bank, over the fence and into the brush.
"Go it," he exclaimed, making no attempt to catch the fugitive, "you know the country better than I do. I'd never catch you in that labyrinth of trees. Besides, I don't need to. Your equipment is pretty well smashed up and you've left me enough evidence to make out a beautiful case."
Walking over to the machine, he reached over and shut off the engine. After that, in a very leisurely manner he collected various odds and ends from the radiophone equipment. Having stuffed these into his pockets, he wrenched the back number plate from the machine and tucked it under his arm.
"Guess that's enough," he murmured. "Now I can take my own time in springing the thing. He probably thinks I was a hold-up man, but even if he guessed the truth he couldn't escape me and couldn't get his equipment back in shape short of a week, so that's that."
Turning, he started toward the nearest interurban line a good five miles away.
When he had walked a mile, he stopped suddenly in his track.
"Say!" he exclaimed. "Was that the son or the daughter? All muffled up that way I couldn't tell."
"Ho, well," he resumed his march, "that'll come out in time. Only I hope it wasn't the girl. I sort of liked her looks."
CURLIE RECEIVES A SHOCK
Having boarded an interurban car, Curlie slept his way into the city. Once there he hurried over to the secret tower room, where the news of his night's adventure was received with great joy.
"So you got him!" exclaimed Coles Masters. "Smashed him up right? Bully for you. That's great!" He slapped Curlie on the back.
Dropping into his chair, Curlie dictated a message by secret wire to headquarters in New York. The message stated in modest, concise terms that the nuisance on 600 in the secret tower region was at an end; that the station had been effectively broken up and that the offender would no doubt soon be in the hands of the law.
A half hour later he received a highly commendatory message, congratulating him on his achievement and bidding him keep up the good work.
After glancing over Coles' reports for the evening and making mental notes from them, Curlie prepared to seek his bed and indulge in a good, long sleep, the first in several days.
"There isn't a bit of hurry in going after that rich young fellow or girl, if it is a girl," he said to Coles. "That'll keep. We've got plenty of proof." He jerked a thumb toward the corner where was a box into which he had tossed the various small parts of a sending set and the number plate of the car. "All we need to do now is to saunter out there some fine morning and have a heart-to-heart talk with J. Anson himself."
Had Curlie but known it, there was to be a great deal more than that to it. There was to be an adventure in it for him such as he had never before experienced, an adventure which was destined to take him thousands of miles from the secret tower room and which was to throw him into such dangers as would cause the bravest to shrink back in terror.
Since he was blissfully ignorant of all this he was also blissfully happy in the consciousness of having achieved success in the thing he had undertaken.
"This," he laughed as he said it, "is going to bring me face to face with one of America's greatest millionaires. It's like going before a king in some ways. In others I fancy it's more like meeting a lion in the street. Anyway, I've always wanted to meet a king, a lion and a millionaire and here's where I meet one of them. Ever meet one?" He turned to Coles.
"Meet which?" Coles smiled. "King, lion or millionaire?"
"No, can't say that I have, though I doubt if we'd either of us recognize one if we should meet him on the street. Someone has said that humanity is everywhere much the same and I fancy that's true even of very rich folks. They may try to bluff you with their power but if they find they can't do that, I guess they'll turn out to have the same dreams, the same hopes and fears, the same joys and sorrows as the rest of us."
"Do you think so?" said Curlie thoughtfully. "I hope that's true. It would be a good thing for the world if it were true and if all the people in the world knew it.
"Well, good night." He drew on his cap. "See you in about sixteen hours. Guess it'll take me that long to catch up my sleep. After that I'm going after that fellow who's breaking in on 1200, that fellow over at the hotel with the whispering friend, or enemy, whichever she may turn out to be."
Had he but known it, it was to be many days before he was to go after that offender on the 1200 meter wave lengths and then it was to be in ways of which he had not yet dreamed. And so he slept.
When he awoke after fourteen hours of refreshing sleep, it was to hear the newsies crying their evening papers. For some time he lay there listening to their shrill shouts and attempting to catch what they were saying.
"Ex-tree! All about—" He could get that far, probably because he had heard it so often before, but no further could he go. The remainder was a jumble of meaningless sounds.
Suddenly, as he listened, a shrill urchin shouted the words out directly beneath his very window:
"Wul—ex-tree! All about the mur-der-ed millionaire's son!"
"Here! Here!" exclaimed Curlie, thrusting his head out of the window. "What millionaire's son? Give me one of those papers." He tossed the boy a nickel and received a tightly wrapped paper. Sent through the window as if shot from a catapult, it landed with a bump on the floor.
His hand trembled so he could scarcely unroll the paper. His head whirled.
"Murdered?" he said to himself. "Millionaire's son murdered? Can it be Vincent Ardmore? Did a bullet from my automatic, glancing from the wheel, inflict a mortal wound?"
He saw himself behind prison bars in murderer's row.
Cold perspiration stood out on his brow as he read in staring headlines:
"J. ANSON ARDMORE'S SON BELIEVED MURDERED."
"Believed?" He caught at that single word as a camel in a desert snaps at a straw. So they were not sure.
Hastily he read the column through, then dropped limply into a chair.
"Oh! What a shock!" he breathed.
He was vastly relieved. The article stated that the car belonging to the millionaire's son had been found by a laborer employed on the estate as he came to his work very early in the morning. The car, which was badly smashed up, bore the mark of a bullet in a rear tire and one in the lower part of the body. It was believed that the young man, being pursued by bandits and having attempted to escape, had had his car riddled by bullets and had been thrown into the ditch.
"There are grave reasons for supposing," the article went on to state, "since no trace of the young man has yet been found, that he has been either kidnapped for ransom or, having been killed by a stray bullet, has been buried somewhere in the forest preserve.
"Bands of armed men are searching the woods and every available police officer and detective has been put on the case. A reward of $5,000 has been offered by the father for any information which may lead to the discovery of the whereabouts of his son."
"Whew!" exclaimed Curlie, mopping his brow. "What a rumpus!"
Suddenly he sat up straight. "Doesn't say one word about that wireless apparatus in the car. How about that?"
He sat with wrinkled brow for a moment.
"Ah!" he slapped his knee, "I have it! The laborer of course came directly to his master. The shrewd old millionaire, guessing that his son had been breaking radio laws, had all of that equipment removed before the public was let in on the deal. He bribed the laborer to secrecy on that point and there you are."
Again his brow wrinkled. "Five thousand dollars!" he whispered. "That's a lot of money. I could supply some valuable information which might entitle me to the five thousand. Question is, do I want to risk it? The thing that's happened is about this, far as I can figure it out: Our young amateur radio friend, when his auto turned turtle, hiked off into the woods. For a time he stayed there. Then, when nothing happened for some time, he came sneaking back. When he found I'd taken his number plate and some parts of his radio equipment, he guessed right away that I was connected with the radio secret service. He's hiding right now, unless I miss my guess, with some of his rich young friends.
"I might tell all that and I might get the reward, but supposing something really had happened? Oh, boy, what a mess!
"And yet," he mused, after a moment, "I've done nothing to be ashamed of. I'm an officer of the law. I did what I did because a fellow was resisting arrest. Ho, well, I'll just let things stand and simmer. Something may come to the top yet."
CURLIE MEETS A MILLIONAIRE
It was a tense situation for Curlie. He spent an uneasy night and that in spite of the fact that the air was particularly free from trouble.
"Hang it all," he exclaimed once as, dashing the receiver from his head, he sprang from his chair to pace the floor of the secret tower room, "I'd welcome something in the line of trouble. This eternal thinking—thinking—thinking, drives me wild. What to do, that's the question. Suppose I'd ought to go out and tell Ardmore what I know. If a millionaire father's like any other father, I guess he's pretty well wrought up by now. But if I go, and if I tell him the whole truth, I'm as sure as I am of anything that it will get me into a mess and that's the sort of thing I don't like."
Glancing down, his eye was caught by Coles' report of the night before. Dropping once more into his chair, he began going through the messages written there. When he came to the one sent out by the boy whose car he had wrecked, he pondered over it for a long time.
"'Island, airplane, map, much gold; airplane, map, island, gold,'" he repeated. "What does one make out of that? It might be that this boy has been planning a secret voyage with some other chap. Certainly sounds like it. Other messages were the same kind. By Jove! Perhaps he's skipped out and gone on that trip and is not hiding out at all! Let's see."
Taking down a file he drew forth a bunch of message records clipped together. They were those sent by the moving operator on 600, the millionaire's son.
A long time he studied over these.
"Seems to sort of prove my theory," he muttered once. "Can't be sure though."
Then, suddenly he sat up straight. "That's the idea." He slapped his knee. "The very thing! Why didn't I think of that before? If he doesn't shew up by morning I'll do it. I'll just take these records over to Ardmore and suggest to him that they may shed some light on the subject. Don't need to tell him I was in on the wrecking of the car at all. That wouldn't help any. These records might. And if I can help to find him and bring him back, then, oh, boy! Oh you baby fortune! Five thousand big, red, round dollars!"
He sat back trying to measure the meaning of the possession of five thousand dollars which did not have to be spent for bed, board and clothing. At last he gave it up in despair.
The morning papers assured the interested city that the son of their money king was still missing. To make sure that this report was correct, Curlie called up the mansion and inquired about it. When he learned that it was indeed true, he requested the servant who answered the telephone to inform the millionaire that a representative of the Secret Service of the Air would arrive at his residence with copies of certain radiophone messages sent out by his son previous to his mysterious disappearance, which might shed some light on the subject.
Shortly after that he leaped into the driver's seat on the Humming Bird and motored away to the west.
Arrived at the Forest Preserve, he backed the car into the deserted roadway in the forest at the very spot where he and Joe had concealed themselves the night of the race.
"Have to leave you here, old thing," he whispered. "If a fellow were to pull up that driveway in such a rakish craft as you are, they might think him crazy and throw him out.
"Well here goes," he whispered to himself, as, having rounded the last clump of decorative shrubbery, he came in sight of the red stone mansion.
"Whew! What a stunner!" whispered Curlie to himself.
The sun was tipping the parapets of that mansion with gold; the dew sparkled on the perfectly kept green. It was indeed a beautiful picture.
Tiptoeing up the steps, he was about to lift the heavy bronze knocker when a porter opened the door and motioned him to enter.
"Are you the man?" he asked in a low tone.
"I'm the boy who wired about the messages."
"Step right this way. He's waiting."
Curlie's heart beat fast. Was he to be ushered at once into the august presence of the magnate? He had pictured to himself hours of waiting, interviews by private secretaries and all that.
And yet here he was. In a large room furnished in rich mahogany, seemingly the rich man's home office, he was being greeted by a stout, broad-shouldered, brisk and healthy-looking man who was assuring him that he was speaking to J. Anson Ardmore himself and inviting him to sit down.
With his head in a whirl, he managed to get himself into a chair. And all this while he was telling himself things; things like this: "Curlie, old boy, this is going to be strenuous. This man is powerful, magnetic, almost hypnotizing. He will find out as much as he can from you. He will tell as little as is necessary to attain his end. To him all life is a game, a game in which he conceals much and discovers all that lies in his opponent's hand. He probably knows you have the goods on his son. Perhaps he is merely playing a game about this vanishing son. He may know where he is all the time. If so, he'll want to know what you know, and what you are going to do. You must be wise—wise as a serpent."
"Well?" the magnate spoke in a brisk way. "My butler tells me you have some messages."
"Sent by my missing son?"
"And may I ask," the magnate's face was a mask, not a muscle moved, "how you happened to be in possession of these messages?"
Curlie could hear his own heart beat, but he held his ground. "Since I am attached to the government radiophone staff, it is my duty to catch and record all unfair and illegally sent messages, to record them as evidence and for future reference."
Curlie fancied he saw the man start. The words that followed were spoken still in a cold, collected tone.
"These messages you say were unfair?"
"Unfair and illegally sent."
"They were sent with exceedingly high power and on 600 meter wave lengths. Such high power is unlawful for all amateurs and the use of 600 is granted to ships and ship stations alone.
For a second the man appeared to reflect. Then suddenly:
"We are wasting time. My son has mysteriously disappeared. I have reason to fear foul play. Let me assure you that I know nothing about his whereabouts and, previous to this moment, that I have known nothing regarding these illegally sent messages."
"But—" began Curlie.
"You doubt my word," his voice grew stern and hard as he read the incredulity in Curlie's eyes. "Young man," he fairly thundered, "fix this in your mind: No man ever has risen or ever will rise to my present position through treachery or deceit. When I say a thing is so, by thunder it is so!"
He struck his desk a terrific blow.
Curlie caught himself just in time. He had been about to reveal the fact that he was aware of the presence of the wireless set in the auto the night the millionaire's son disappeared.
"I can't see just how your messages could aid us in finding my son." The magnate spoke more calmly. "However, all things are possible. May I see the copies?"
"Of course," said Curlie, hesitatingly, "this is a private matter. Few persons know of our service. It is the desire of the government that they should not know. These are not for publication. Do you understand that?"
"You have my word."
Curlie passed the sheath of papers over the desk.
Slowly, one by one, the great man read them. His movement was not hurried. He digested every word. Like many another great man he had formed the habit of gathering, as far as possible, the full meaning of any set of facts by his own careful research, before allowing his opinion to be influenced by others.
He had gone half through the pack when a door over at the right opened and a girl, dressed in some filmy stuff which brought out the smoothness of her neck and arms and the beauty of her complexion, entered the room.
Curlie caught his breath. It was the girl he had seen on the horse that morning, the magnate's daughter.
She had advanced halfway to her father's desk before she became aware of Curlie's presence. Then she started back with a stammered: "I—I beg your pardon."
"It's all right." The first smile Curlie had seen on the great man's face now curved about his mouth. "You may remain. This is no secret chamber."
"Fa—father," she faltered, gripping at her throat, "does he know—know anything—about—about Vincent?"
"I can't tell yet. I am going over the messages. Please be seated."
The girl sank into a deep leather-cushioned chair. Without looking at her Curlie was aware of the fact that she was studying him, perhaps trying to make up her mind where she had seen him before. This made him exceedingly uncomfortable. He was greatly relieved when at last the magnate spoke.
"Gladys," he addressed the girl, "did you say you found some sort of map in Vincent's room?"
"Oh, yes," she sprang to her feet. "A photograph of a very strange looking map and also one of some queer foreign writing."
"Will you run and get those photographs?"
"It's strange," the older man mused after she had gone. "I don't understand it at all. These messages, they are—"
"If you please—" Curlie broke in.
"Wait!" commanded the other, holding up his hand for silence. "Let us have no opinions before all of the evidence is in. That map may aid us in forming correct conclusions."
A MYSTERIOUS MAP
It was indeed a curious map which had been reproduced on the large photographic print which Gladys Ardmore placed on the desk before her father.
Motioning Curlie to come forward and examine it with them, the magnate rose from his chair to bend over the map. As Curlie stood there looking down at it, the girl in her eagerness bent down so close to him that he felt her warm breath on his cheek.
Nothing, however, could have drawn his gaze from that map. Wrinkled, torn in places, patched, browned with age, smirched by many finger marks, all of which were faithfully reproduced by the freshly printed photograph, it still gave promise of revealing many a mystery if one could but read it correctly.
It showed both land and water. Here on the land was a picture of a castle and there on the water a ship. The shore of the land was not drawn as are maps with which we are in these days familiar, but was cut up in curious geometric forms which surely could not faithfully represent the true lines of the shore. Towns were shown, but only on the shoreline, their names printed in by hand in such small letters as would require a magnifying glass to read them. Crossing and recrossing the water in every conceivable direction were innumerable straight lines. About the edge of the map were eight faces of children. Their cheeks puffed out as if blowing, they appeared to represent the wind that blew from certain quarters.
All the writing was in some foreign language. In the lower left-hand corner was what appeared to be the name of the maker but this was so blotted out as to be unreadable.
"Huh!" The magnate straightened up. "That's a strange map and appears to be very ancient, but I can hardly see how it is going to help us with our present problem."
"There is still the writing," suggested Gladys, turning over the other photograph.
"That," said Mr. Ardmore, after a moment's study of it, "is written in some strange tongue and is, I take it, unintelligible to us all."
"It's a photograph of the back of the map," suggested Curlie, pointing out certain spots where the wrinkles and tears were the same.
"My French teacher will be here at ten o'clock. He knows several languages. Perhaps he could help us," suggested Gladys.
"We will leave that to him," said her father. "Now about these messages," he went on, turning to Curlie. "What is your theory?"
Stammeringly Curlie proceeded to explain the idea which had come to him, the notion that Vincent Ardmore and some pal of his had been planning a secret trip of some sort.
"That is entirely possible," said Ardmore. "Vincent is daring, even rash at times. If some wild fancy leaped into his head, he would attempt anything. Now that you speak of it, I do think there might be something in your theory. Perhaps after all we may get some light from that map and the writing on the back of it. I shall await the coming of the professor with much anxiety."
"Father," exclaimed Gladys, "I have seen some such maps as this one at some other place."
"It was over at that big library, the one you are a director of."
"Yes. I was over there once and they showed me a great number of ancient maps. Oh, a very great number, and such strange affairs as they were! There were some similar to this one. I know there were!"
"Young man," said the magnate, turning to Curlie, "may I command your services on this matter for the day?"
"Good! You will not be unrewarded. I am of the opinion that something may be learned by a study of the maps my daughter speaks of. Unfortunately I am engaged; I cannot go to the library. Would it be asking too much were I to request that you accompany her?"
Curlie assured him it would not. In his heart of hearts he assured himself that it would be a great privilege.
"Very well then, Gladys," the magnate bowed to his daughter, "I suggest that you plan on being back here at eleven. By that time your French teacher may have something to tell us."
Bowing to them both, he dismissed them with a wave of his hand.
As the neat little town car, which was apparently Gladys Ardmore's exclusive property, hurried them away toward the north side library, Curlie had time to think and to steal a look now and then at his fair hostess.
Matters had been going rather rapidly of late. He found it difficult to keep up with the march of events. What should be his next move? He was torn between two conflicting interests: his loyalty to the radio secret service bureau and his desire to be of service to this girl and her father. The girl, as he stole a glance at her, appeared disturbed and troubled. There was a tenseness about the lines of her mouth, a droop to her eyelids. "For all the world as if she were in some way to blame for what has happened," he told himself.
Instantly the question popped into his mind: "Does she know more than she cares to tell?" He thought of the wireless equipment which had been removed from the wrecked car before the reporters had arrived. The laborer would hardly do that without orders from someone. Who had that someone been? The millionaire had denied all knowledge of the radiophone messages. Curlie believed that he had told the truth. Here was an added mystery. He was revolving this in his mind when the girl spoke:
"It must be very interesting listening in."
"Listening in?" Curlie feigned ignorance of her meaning.
"Yes, isn't that what you do? Listen in on radio all the time?"
Curlie started. How did she know?
"Why, yes, since you've asked, that is my work."
"Where—where—" she hesitated, "is your station?"
"That," smiled Curlie, "is a state secret; very few know where it is."
"Oh!" she breathed. "A mystery?"
"Something like that."
"I love mysteries," she whispered. "I love to unravel them. Some day I shall surprise you. I shall come walking into that secret room of yours." There was a look on her face that he had not seen there before. It was disturbing. It spoke of a quality which, he concluded, she had inherited from her father, the quality of firmness and determination, which had made him great.
"I—I'd rather you wouldn't try," he almost stammered.
"Oh! here we are," she exclaimed, "at the library."
Leaping out of the car she led the way up the broad steps of an imposing gray stone structure.
"Down this way," she whispered, as if awed by the vast fund of knowledge stowed away between those walls. Without further words they made their way within.
Ten minutes later they were together bending over a great pile of ancient maps. Done on sheepskin and vellum, gray and brown with age, yet with colors as bright as on the day they were drawn, these maps spoke of an age that was gone and of a map-making art that is lost forever.
"Look at this one!" exclaimed the girl. "The date's on it—1450. Made before the days of Columbus. And look! It is like the one Vincent had the photograph of; the most like of any."
"Yes, but not the same," said Curlie. "See, those strangely shaped islands in the lower, right-hand corner are not on it; neither are the cherubs blowing to imitate the wind."
"That's true," said the girl in a disappointed tone, "I had hoped it might be the same map. It might have told us something."
Suddenly Curlie was struck with an idea. Leaving the girl's side, he approached the librarian.
"Have any of these maps been photographed recently?" he asked in a low tone.
"Not for several years," she answered. "But there are reproductions of these and others. They're in a bound volume in the next room. There the maps are reproduced on a large scale and a description of each is given. The lady in charge will show you."
Curlie tiptoed into that room. He was soon turning the pages of a large book which resembled an atlas.
After studying each successive page for some time, he came to a halt with a suppressed exclamation.
There, staring up at him, was a reproduction of the very map which had been photographed for Vincent Ardmore and, if further proof were lacking, there on the opposite page was a reproduction of the writing on the back of it, with a translation in fine print below.
Hurriedly he read this translation through. Twice he paused in utter astonishment. Three times he wrote down a brief note on a scrap of paper. When he had finished, he looked at the lower left-hand corner of the map, then copied some figures reproduced there.
Closing the book quickly, as if afraid the girl would find him looking at it, he paused for a second to banish all sign of excitement from his face, then walked leisurely from the room.
"Find anything?" he asked in as quiet a tone as he could command.
"No," there was a tired and worried look in her eyes. "I'm afraid the map is not here."
"By the way," he said in a casual way, "does your brother happen to have a pal living at Landensport on the coast?"
"Why, yes," she said quickly, "that's Alfred Brightwood. They were chums in Brimward Academy."
"I thought that might be so."
"And you think—think—" she faltered.
"What we think," he smiled a disarming smile, "doesn't count for much. It's facts which really matter. Excuse me; I'll be back in a moment," he said hurriedly. "Want to telephone."
In the booth of the library he conversed long and earnestly with his chief.
"Why, yes," came over the phone at last, "I don't see but that you had better finish the thing up. We can't let rich young offenders off easily. It would destroy the service entirely. Go ahead. Coles Masters can handle the station while you are away."
The interview ended, he got Joe Marion on the wire.
"Joe," he said hurriedly, "throw some of my things into a bag and some of your own with them. Be down at the Lake Shore station at one-fifteen prepared for a short trip. Where to? Oh, New York and then some. It's important and interesting. Be there! Good. Good-bye till then." He snapped down the receiver and hurriedly left the booth.
"Shall we go back?" he asked the girl.
"I suppose we might as well," she said dejectedly. Then brightening suddenly, "Yes, let's hurry back. Perhaps the professor has found out something from that queer old writing."
THE FIRST LAP OF A LONG JOURNEY
On the way back to the Ardmore home both the girl and her escort were silent for some time. Then, turning to her, Curlie asked:
"Has this friend of your brother's—Brightwood, did you say his name was?—has he a seaplane?"
"Is that an airplane which flies up from the ocean and lights upon it when one wishes it to?"
"He has one of those. Yes, I'm sure of it. He wanted to take me for a ride out over the sea last summer."
"And is he what you would call a daring chap, ready to attempt anything?"
"Why, yes, he is; but—but how do you know so many things?"
"It is my duty to know."
Again he lapsed into silence. On arriving at the estate they found Gladys' father in a strange state of agitation.
"Just received a telegram from an old and trusted friend who is on the coast of Maine. He says Vincent has been seen there within the last twenty-four hours. What that can mean I haven't the faintest notion. I should go there at once but business makes it entirely impossible."
"Under one condition," said Curlie soberly, "I will go East and attempt to bring your son home. Indeed, I shall go anyway; have already arranged transportation, in fact, and leave in two hours; but it would please me if I might go with your approval."
"You have arranged to go?" The older man's face expressed his astonishment. "For what purpose?"
"On a commission for the government."
"And you wish my permission for what?"
"To bring your son back with a warrant, under arrest."
The older man looked at Curlie for a moment as if to discover whether or not he was joking.
"Young man," he said slowly, "do you know who I am?"
"You are J. Anson Ardmore, one of the richest men of the Middle West."
"And do you know that I could crush you with my influence?"
"No, sir, I do not." Curlie drew himself up to his full height. "Those days are gone forever. I am part of the United States government, the government which has made it possible for you to gain your wealth. Her laws must be obeyed. You could not crush me and, what is still more important, you have no notion of doing so."
"What?" The magnate's face became a study, then it broke into a smile. "I like your spirit," he said seizing Curlie's hand in a viselike grip. "You have the power of the law behind you; you need no consent of mine. But so be it; if my son has broken the law, he shall suffer the penalty."
"There is one other matter," said Curlie soberly. "At the present moment it is merely a theory. I am unable to offer any worth-while proof for it, but it is my belief that your son and his chum, Alfred Brightwood, are considering a very perilous seaplane journey. Indeed, they may even at this moment be on their way. If that is true they should be followed at once in some swift traveling vessel, for they are almost certain to meet with disaster."
"That Brightwood boy will be the death of us all yet," exploded the father. "For sheer foolhardy daring I have never known his equal. Time and again I have attempted to persuade Vincent to give up associating with him, but it has been of no avail. Alfred appears to hold some strange hypnotic power over him."
For a moment he stood there in silence. When he spoke he was again the sober, thoughtful business man.