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The Thief


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Доступ к книге ограничен фрагменом по требованию правообладателя.

“I am so happy.”

“But—”

“I love you so much.”

“But—”

“May I have your handkerchief?”

Bell handed Marion a square of snowy linen.

“I’m surprised by how totally happy you’ve made me. I think I got used to the idea of us always being engaged. That was fine, but I love you with all my heart. I know you love me. But I guess I was holding back a little, because I really, really want to marry you — Isaac, are you sure Captain Turner will marry us? I’ve heard he’s very gruff.”

“It was touch and go,” Bell admitted. “He has a low opinion of First Class passengers and asked straight off why would we want a ‘bunch of bloomin’ monkeys’ at our wedding. I assured him that some of our best friends were monkeys. He didn’t crack a smile. Just said that having been divorced, he was not, as he put it, ‘much of a hand in the wedding line.’”

“How did you change his mind? Show him your gun?”

“I was about to. But he caught sight of you running aboard from the boat train and was suddenly all smiles. Practically fell in the drink leaning over the rail to watch your progress. I said, ‘That is my fianceé.’ Captain Turner said, ‘By Jove, I’ll wear my full dress uniform. The whole bloomin’ rig!’”

“I would not call my dress ‘full dress.’ It’s not quite white. It is rather creamy, though more an evening dress than a traditional wedding dress.” She gave her eyes one last dab of his handkerchief and handed it back. “Speaking of tradition, Isaac, isn’t it traditional for a man to kiss the woman he’s asked to marry when she says yes?”

Isaac Bell swept Marion back into his arms. “I couldn’t recall whether it’s bad luck or good luck to kiss the bride before the wedding.”

“It is required,” said Marion.

“The very night before?”

“All night.”

5

“Third class passengers are never admitted to First Class sections of the ship,” Isaac Bell was informed by Mauretania’s chief purser when they met to arrange the wedding. “Not even briefly to celebrate your marriage, I’m sorry to say. Not even ‘moving picture people’ known to your fiancée. You may invite a few from Second Class, provided they come properly attired, but we draw the line at Third mingling with the superior classes for one simple reason.”

“And what is that?” Bell inquired with a dangerous glint in his eye. He could not abide bigotry. That Marion’s acquaintances were traveling on the cheap was no reason to exclude them.

“A reason that even the most ardent ‘democrat’ will sympathize with. Were Third Class to mingle with the superior classes and one of their lot were to arrive in New York exhibiting symptoms of measles or mumps or some other of the infectious diseases spread by immigrants, the entire vessel and all who sail in her would be held at Quarantine. No one — not even you and your fellow First Class passengers — would be permitted ashore until the doctors could guarantee no outbreak of infectious disease, which would take weeks. Weeks! Imagine, Mr. Bell, confined to the ship anchored offshore, staring helplessly at New York City, so near but so far.”

“My fiancée’s acquaintances are not immigrants. They’re artists saving on expenses, trying to make ends meet.”

“Infectious diseases do not distinguish between motives. I am sorry, but surely you understand.”

“What’s tomorrow’s dinner menu in steerage?” asked Bell, using the popular term for Third Class.

“A nourishing soup with bits of beef in it.”

“May I see tomorrow’s First Class dinner menu?”

The purser produced a tall menu card beautifully illustrated with a color print of the immensely tall and narrow four-stack Mauretania framed by pink roses. Bell read it from top to bottom.

“I see nothing here that displeases. For our wedding feast, my bride and I will have prime sirloin and ribs o’ beef, roast turkey poulet, quarters of lamb, smoked ox tongue, and Rouen ducklings sent down to steerage.”

“Excellent! Give me your acquaintances’ names, and I will see—”

“To everyone in steerage.”

“Everyone?”

“Everyone will enjoy our wedding feast.”

“Most generous, sir,” the chief purser said drily. “May I remind you that we have one thousand one hundred and thirty-five passengers in steer — Third Class.”

“What’s for dessert in steerage?”

“On Sunday they’ll get some marmalade.”

Bell referred back to the First Class menu. “We’ll send down apple tart, petits fours, French ice cream, and rum cake.”

The chief purser looked around his office, confirming they were alone and the door was closed. “I don’t presume to ask what a private detective earns, sir, but the cost of feeding First Class fare to over a thousand souls will be considerable.”

“Fortunately,” Isaac Bell smiled, “I had a kindly grandfather. He blessed me with a legacy. Which reminds me, how many children are in steerage?”

“Many.”

“Better lay on extra ice cream.”

* * *

“Marconigram for mr. bell,” piped a twelve-year-old call boy in a blue uniform.

“Don’t move, nervous groom,” said Archie. “I’ll get it.”

The normally nimble-fingered Isaac Bell was having trouble knotting his tie, so best man Archibald Angell Abbott IV was attempting to tie it for him. Archie tossed the boy a coin that made his eyes widen and handed Bell the orange Marconi Wireless envelope.

Bell tore it open, unfolded the buff-colored marconigram, noted the date and the notation “Handed in at S.S. Adriatic,” indicating the White Star liner had relayed the radio signal from a shore station, and then began to decipher its handwritten contents while Archie started over again on his tie.

“This is odd.”

“Hold still! What’s odd?”

“Art Curtis says that Professor Beiderbecke is not a munitions inventor.”

“What does he invent?”

“Hang on, I’m still trying to figure…” Ordinarily as quick with figures as he was nimble-fingered, he was having trouble reading the familiar Van Dorn code.

“I have never seen a more jittery groom,” said Archie.

You were walking into walls at your wedding. Here we go! Professor Beiderbecke is an electro-acoustic scientist at Vienna’s Imperial-Royal Polytechnic Institute.”

“What the heck is an electro-acoustic scientist?”

“Art says he holds patents for recording and amplifying speech and music.”

“Gramophones?”

The two detectives looked at each other. “What does a munitions outfit care about gramophones?”

Archie laughed. “If Krieg Rüstungswerk challenges Mr. Thomas Edison’s phonograph patents they’ll see what war really is.” He saw expressions of puzzlement and intense curiosity cross Isaac Bell’s face. “What else?”

“Clyde Lynds is an honors graduate of the Polytechnic Institute.”

“Like they told you.”

“But they didn’t tell me he’s taken it on the lam.”

“Who’s chasing him?”

“The Imperial German Army issued an arrest warrant for desertion — that makes no sense at all. The kid’s no soldier.”

“Maybe that’s why he deserted.”

Bell nodded. “But he grew up in the United States, and he’s been studying in Austria. You’d think he wasn’t subject to the German draft.”

“Maybe they drafted him anyway and he didn’t show up.”

“Art speaks fluent German, and he always chooses his words precisely. He writes ‘desertion.’ Meaning Clyde Lynds was already in the Army — come on, let’s go.”

“Where?”

“I’m going to ask Beiderbecke why a munitions outfit is trying to steal his gramophone.”

As Bell yanked open the door, a page boy came along banging a Chinese gong.

“There goes the dressing gong. You don’t have time. The captain’s tying your knot in half an hour.”

“And I’m going to keep asking until he gives me an answer.”

“But your wedding—”

Bell was already out the door. “When we get up there, peel Lynds away from Beiderbecke so I can talk to the Professor alone.”

Dozens of guests had arrived early in the First Class saloon lounge, the men in white tie, the ladies in gowns, and all wearing the tentatively relieved expressions of people whose seasickness was fading into memory. As Clyde Lynds put it when Bell and Archie approached him and Beiderbecke, “Getting over seasickness is like being let out of jail.”

Archie took Lynds’s elbow. “You must tell me about your jail experiences.”

Bell steered Beiderbecke into the small bar at the front end of the lounge. “I’ve got a case of groom’s jumps. I hope you’ll join me in a drink?”

“I am not quite over my seasickness.”

“A ‘stabilizer’ for the gentleman,” Bell told the barman. “A dash and a splash for me, please.” “The stabilizer is half brandy, half port,” he explained to Beiderbecke.

Beiderbecke shuddered.

“Trust me, it works.”

“It is gracious of you to invite us to your wedding.” The Viennese professor flourished his invitation, a thick sheet of parchment paper that had been embossed in Mauretania’s print shop, and marveled, “With this document in hand, barriers between Second and First Class tumbled like the walls of Jericho. Young Clyde slept with his under his pillow, lest villains steal it.”

Доступ к книге ограничен фрагменом по требованию правообладателя.

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