- CLIVE CUSSLER THE CHASE
- THE CHASE QUICKENS
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Later, besides the mystery of how the robber/killer had escaped without a trace, the other puzzle was the wagon found outside of town on the road toward Bullfrog. The wagon was empty and appeared to have been driven by a dummy. The posse that chased it down was mystified.
Sheriff Josh Miller did put two and two together, but his speculation went nowhere. Nothing made sense. The desperado left no clues.
The robbery and murders in Rhyolite became another enigma that went unsolved.
THE SUMMER SUNLIGHT HEIGHTENED THE CONTRAST of colors in the mile-high altitude of Colorado. The sky was free of clouds, a vivid blue that spread over the city of Denver like a quilt. The temperature was a comfortable eighty-one degrees.
Isaac Bell closed the door to his stateroom and left the train by stepping off the observation platform at the rear of the Pullman car. He paused to look up at the clock tower of the Gothic-style Union Station. Built of stone hauled down from the Rocky Mountains, the imposing three-story structure stretched a quarter of a mile.
The arrowhead-tipped hands of the huge clock read 11:40. Bell lifted his large gold watch from the vest pocket of his tailored linen suit and glanced at the hands that pointed to Roman numerals. His time was 11:43. He smiled at himself with satisfaction, knowing for certain that the big clock-tower clock was three minutes slow.
He walked down the redbrick platform to the baggage car, identified his trunks, and hailed a porter. “My name is Bell. Could you please see that my trunks are sent to the Brown Palace Hotel?”
The porter smiled broadly at the gold coin Bell laid in his hand and rubbed it almost reverently. “Yes, sir, I’ll deliver them myself.”
“I’m also expecting a large wooden crate on a later train. Can I count on you to make sure it is delivered to the Union Pacific freight warehouse?”
“Yes, sir, I’ll take care of it.” Still rubbing the gold piece, the porter grinned broadly.
“I’d be grateful.”
“May I take that for you?” said the porter, nodding at the valise in Bell’s hand.
“I’ll keep it with me, thank you.”
“Can I hail you a taxi?”
“That won’t be necessary. I’ll take the tram.”
Bell strolled through the high-ceilinged grand lobby of the depot, with its majestic hanging chandeliers, past the rows of high-backed oak waiting benches and out the main entrance, flanked by twin Grecian columns. He crossed Wyncoop Street onto 17th Street and passed under the newly erected Mizpah Arch, a gatelike structure with a pair of American flags flying on top that was built to welcome, and bid farewell to, train travelers. Mizpah, Bell knew, meant watchtower in ancient Hebrew.
Two ladies wearing light summer dresses, gloves, and ornate hats decorated with flowers drove by in an electric battery–powered car. Bell doffed his hat, and with nods and smiles they acknowledged the attention of the attractive man as they motored up 17th Street toward the state capitol building.
Horse-drawn wagons and carriages still outnumbered the few automobiles that chugged up and down the streets of the city. A Denver Tramway Company trolley car clanged around the corner off Wazee Street and approached the end of the block, where it stopped to let off and take on passengers. The horse-drawn railways were a thing of the past and electric trolleys ruled the streets, reaching every neighborhood in Denver.
Bell climbed the steps and gave ten cents to the motorman. The bell was clanged and the big red trolley clattered up 17th Street. Three-and four-story brick buildings filled the next fourteen blocks. The sidewalks were crowded with people on a typical business day. The men wore black or gray suits and ties, while the women strolled in the long dresses whose skirts rose just above the ankles. Most of the women wore flamboyant hats and carried parasols.
He observed with interest a store that was selling Cadillac motorcars. The awnings were rolled out, shadowing the windows and revealing the vehicles inside. He glanced at the street signs so he could recall the location. An enthusiast of motorcars, he owned a Locomobile race car that had been driven by Joe Tracy in the 1905 Vanderbilt Cup road race on Long Island, in New York, placing third. Bell had converted it to street driving by adding fenders and headlamps.
He also owned a bright red motorcycle. The newest racing model, its V-Twin engine put out three and a half horsepower. It had an innovative twist grip throttle, weighed only one hundred twenty pounds, and could whip over the roads at nearly sixty miles an hour.
When the trolley rattled to a stop at California and 17th Streets, Bell stepped down the stair to the pavement and sauntered over to the sidewalk. It had been three years since he had set foot in Denver. Tall buildings stood on almost every corner, and the construction never stopped. He walked a block to the Colorado Building, a brown stone structure that rose eight stories on 16th and California Streets.
The windows were high and shielded by awnings that matched the brown exterior of the walls. The overhang above the top floor stretched nearly ten feet over the sidewalk far below. Hedgecock & Jones and the Braman Clothing Company occupied the street level. Above them were several different businesses, including the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company and the Van Dorn Detective Agency.
Bell turned into the lobby and moved through a group of office workers who were streaming out of the building on their lunch break. The floor, walls, and ceiling were beautifully constructed of green Italian marble the color of jade. He entered an Otis elevator behind two pretty young ladies and moved to the rear of the car as the operator closed the steel scissor-gate door. As was the custom, Bell played the gentleman and removed his wide-brimmed hat.
The elevator operator pivoted the handle on the curved throttle housing, sending the elevator toward the upper floors at a leisurely pace. The women exited at the fifth floor, chatting gaily. They both turned and gave Bell a bashful glance before disappearing down the hallway.
The operator stopped the elevator and opened the door. “Eighth floor, and a good afternoon to you, sir,” he said cheerily.
“Same to you,” replied Bell.
He exited into a hallway painted a muted Mexican red above with walnut wainscot halfway up the wall below. He turned right and came to a door with etched lettering on the upper glass that advertised THE VAN DORN DETECTIVE AGENCY. Beneath was the agency’s slogan: We never give up, never.
The antechamber was painted white, with two padded wooden chairs and a desk, behind which a young woman sat primly in a swivel chair. Van Dorn was not a man to waste money on ostentatious décor. The only embellishment was a photo of the head man hanging on the wall behind the secretary.
She looked up and smiled sweetly, admiring the well-dressed man standing opposite her. She was a pretty woman, with soft brown eyes and wide shoulders. “May I help you, sir?”
“Yes. I’d like to see Arthur Curtis and Glenn Irvine.”
“Are they expecting you?”
“Please tell them Isaac Bell is here.”
She sucked in her breath. “Oh, Mr. Bell. I should have known. Mr. Curtis and Mr. Irvine did not expect you until tomorrow.”
“I managed to catch an earlier train out of Independence, Missouri.” Bell looked at the sign on her desk. “You’re Miss Agnes Murphy?”
She held up her left hand, displaying a wedding band. “Mrs. Murphy.”
Bell smiled his beguiling smile. “I hope you don’t mind if I simply call you Agnes, since I’ll be working here for a time.”
“Not at all.”
She rose from her desk, and he could see she wore a pleated blue cotton skirt with her white fluffy blouse. Her hair was piled atop her head in the fashion of the Gibson girl, which was so popular then. Her petticoats rustled as she went through the door to the inner offices.
Always curious, Bell moved around the desk and looked down at the letter Mrs. Murphy had been typing on a Remington typewriter. It was addressed to Van Dorn, and spelled out the superintendent of the western states’ displeasure at having Bell come in and take over the unsolved case. Bell had never met Nicholas Alexander, who headed the Denver office, but he was determined to be courteous and polite to the man despite any antagonism.
Bell moved away from Mrs. Murphy’s desk and stood looking out the window over the rooftops of the city when Alexander walked into the anteroom. He looked more like the bookkeeper of a funeral parlor than the chief investigator who had unraveled many crimes and brought the offenders to full justice. He was a short man, his head barely coming up even with Bell’s shoulders. He wore a coat that was too large and his trousers were baggy. The high collar of his shirt showed wear and sweat stains. His head was devoid of hair except around the temples and at the rear; the eyebrows were trimmed as neatly as his hair. A pair of pince-nez glasses were clipped to the bridge of his nose in front of almost-sad-looking gray-green eyes.
Alexander held out his hand as his lips spread into a smile that was completely lacking in humor. “Mr. Bell, I’m honored to meet Van Dorn’s finest agent.”
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