"Well, the excitement he seemed to be in, for one thing. And another, he had just been shaved. I could see the talcum powder on his cheeks. I thought it strange that a man who had time to shave or get shaved should be in such a hurry. But it wasn't any of my affair, so I said nothing."
"What became of him?" Larry was quite eager now. He seemed to be on the verge of discovering something; if not of the Potter mystery then of the other, that cropped up every now and again—that of the man he had helped save from the wreck.
"He went away the next morning," Mr. Jackson resumed. "I didn't see him again until the next night. Then he told me he had a room in this tenement."
"Where?" inquired the young reporter.
"On the floor below—a front room, at the end of the corridor. But are you going to call on him?" and Mr. Jackson looked somewhat surprised at Larry's eagerness.
"Maybe I could get a story out of him," replied the reporter non-commitally. "Have to be always on the lookout, you know."
"Well, I guess you'll not get much out of this man," said Mr. Jackson. "He hardly speaks to me, though he doesn't seem cross or ugly. Only there's some mystery about him. I'm sure of that."
"If he's Mah Retto I'm positive there is," thought Larry. "And it looks as if it might be that fellow."
Not wishing to seem too keen on the scent of the queer man, the newspaper youth changed the subject. In a little while he said he had better be going home, as he had not told his mother he would be out late. He promised to ask Mrs. Dexter to call on Mrs. Jackson, and, with many good wishes from his friends, he left.
"Now for a try at the room on the next floor," said Larry in a whisper, as he found himself in the corridor. "It's only a slim chance, but a reporter has to take all that come his way."
He found the room Mr. Jackson had described, and knocked on the door. There was a sound from within, as though some one had arisen from a chair. Then a voice asked:
"Does Mah Retto live here?" asked Larry, determining on a bold plan.
Hardly had he spoken the words when the door was quickly opened.
GRACE ON THE TRAIL
Larry saw, standing before him, framed in the doorway from which streamed the glare from a big reading lamp, the man of mystery—the fellow who had escaped from the tumble-down tenement—the man he and Bailey had pulled ashore on the life-raft.
"Are you Mah Retto?" asked Larry again, rather at a loss for something to say, when he saw the strange man confronting him.
The mysterious one looked at Larry for several seconds. He seemed much excited, and in doubt as to what to do. Then, seeming to arrive at a sudden decision, he quickly closed the door, and Larry heard the key turned in the lock.
"Not much satisfaction in that," muttered the young reporter. "That was him, though. I wonder what I had better do?"
Larry stood in the hallway, undecided. He wanted another opportunity to see and speak to the man he believed was Mah Retto, but he considered it would not be wise to knock again on the door. The occupant of the room either would not answer or would order him away.
"I'll have to come again," Larry said to himself. "I've learned one thing, anyhow, and that is where he lives."
The young reporter went to the office of the Leader early the next morning. He found Mr. Emberg on hand, and told the city editor the plans for the day; that of making a tour of the steamship piers. Mr. Emberg thought this was a good idea, and complimented Larry on his work thus far.
"I ran across my old friend, the East Indian, last night," Larry said, as he was leaving. "I'm going to work him up for a story when I get through with this Potter case."
"Don't do it until then," advised Mr. Emberg. "I want you to devote all your attention to the missing millionaire. The East Indian story will not amount to much or I'd put another man on it. You may get a yarn for the Saturday supplement out of it, but even that's doubtful."
Larry thought differently, but he did not say so. Nor did he mention that he was going to take Grace Potter with him on his tour of the docks. He had an idea that the city editor might object, or laugh at him, and Larry did not care to have that happen. He felt he was doing right, and he knew there could be no serious objection to the daughter of the missing man aiding in a search for her parent.
Larry found Grace waiting for him. She was quietly dressed, and wore a heavy veil, so that no one in the street would recognize her, since her picture had been published in several papers, and there might be comments from the crowd if the daughter of Mr. Potter was seen out in company of a newspaper reporter.
"Anything new?" asked the young lady, for she had taken to greeting Larry in that newspaper fashion.
"Not much. I didn't learn anything of consequence by my trip to the East Side last night. I'm not done there, however. Now we'll try the piers, and see what sort of a 'pull' you have with the captains of the vessels."
"We may not find many captains," Grace said, "unless their ships are about to sail. Still it is worth trying. Shall we start?"
"I'm ready any time you are," Larry answered. "What did your mother say?"
"She objected a bit at first, but I soon convinced her it was for the best."
Larry thought it would not have been hard for Grace to have convinced him that almost anything was for the best. She looked quite trim in her dark dress, with her glossy hair held snugly in place by her veil.
As they went down the steps of the mansion Larry saw a man, who was standing on the other side of the street, move rapidly away, as if he had been watching the house. The young reporter uttered an exclamation before he was aware of it, and Grace quickly asked:
"What's the matter?"
"I—I saw some one," Larry replied.
"Any one would think it was a ghost from the way you act," the girl went on, with a little laugh. She was in much better spirits than any time since her father had disappeared, for the chance of helping to search for him, and the change, from sitting idly in the house waiting for news, was a welcome relief.
"No, it wasn't a ghost. It was a man I'd like to have a chance to talk to," Larry went on.
"Would he give you—er—a 'story'? Is that what you call it?"
"That's right. Yes, I believe he could give me a story," and Larry looked in the direction the man had gone. He was no longer to be seen. "A very good story," he added, for the man was the same one he had surprised in the tenement the night before—the man of the life-raft.
However, he could not leave Grace to go in search of the strange individual, and it was more important, as Mr. Emberg had said, to stick to the Potter case. The other could wait.
"All the same I'd like to know what he was doing in this neighborhood," thought Larry. He puzzled over the matter for several seconds as he and Grace went along.
On the way downtown the two discussed their plans. There were not many Italian steamship lines to visit, but it might take some time to see the captains of all the boats at present in port. Some of the commanders would be at their hotels pending the loading of their vessels.
"Have you made up your mind what you want to ask them?" inquired Larry, as they were nearing the station where they intended to get off.
"What I want principally to know is if a person answering my father's description came over with them lately. I want to find out, in case he did, how he acted, and if he gave any hint of being in trouble."
"That may be a good clue to follow," Larry sad. "Now we'll make our first attempt."
It ended in failure, for though they found the captain of the Italian steamer they boarded in the cabin of his vessel, he could not aid them. He was very polite about it, and seemed quite sorry that he could be of no service.
It was the same in a number of other cases. Some of the captains remembered Grace, for she had crossed with them once or twice, but none of them recalled a man answering Mr. Potter's description making the voyage with them recently.
The last place they visited was the dock of the line to which the wrecked Olivia belonged. This line Grace had never traveled on, but she had a letter of introduction to the manager from the captain of the Messina, on which she had made her last trip. The commanders of two steamers of this company were in port. One of them was at the dock, for his vessel was about to sail.
To him Grace made her inquiries, but fruitlessly. She turned away, rather disappointed. There was but one more chance left. The other captain was at his hotel, not far away, for seamen like to remain near the water front.
"We'll go there," said Larry, "and then I must get back to the office, and write my story for to-day's paper."
"I wish you had some better news," spoke Grace. "But I am afraid Captain Padduci, whom we are now going to see, will prove as disappointing as the rest."
"We'll hope for the best," remarked Larry. "I wish——"
But what he wished he never told, for at that instant his attention was attracted by a voice. It was that of a man who stood at the small window of the steamship office. The window was one which he and Grace had just stepped away from, after inquiring as to where Captain Padduci's hotel was.
If the voice attracted Larry the sight of the man himself did more to rivet his attention. For the first glance showed him the inquirer was none other than the mysterious individual, Mah Retto.
"I would like to inquire where I can find Captain Tantrella of the steamer Olivia," the man asked of the clerk.
"The Olivia is lost," replied the steamship clerk.
"I know it, but I would like to see the captain. He was saved, I believe."
"Yes, he was. He commands a freight ship now. She's due in port in a few days. The Turtle is her name. You can come around when she gets in."
The mysterious man turned away as though disappointed. As he did so he caught sight of Larry, and instantly he hurried out of the office.
Larry was greatly excited. He was convinced, more than ever, that there was something in this man's actions that made him an object of suspicion. He felt that he must follow the fellow, but he could not leave Grace. He looked around for her, but she had gone to the ladies' dressing room to adjust her veil and hat, which had been blown about by the high wind. She came back presently, to find Larry much agitated.
"What is the matter?" she asked.
"Nothing much," replied Larry. "I just saw my queer stranger again and——"
"You'd like to follow him, and you don't want to leave me," put in Grace with quick wit. "Now run right along. I can go to that hotel all by myself and see Captain Padduci. I'm not a bit afraid. I once traveled from London to Paris alone. You hurry after him, and I'll see the captain. I'll telephone you the result of my interview. You can come up and see me this evening, and we'll talk over some more plans."
"That will be good," Larry said, "but are you sure you won't mind me leaving you?"
"I can get along all right," replied Grace. "Of course I'd like to have you come along, for I believe you understand this matter better than I do, but I want you to find that other man and get your story."
Larry was inclined both ways, but he knew it would be better to hurry after Mah Retto, as Grace could make all the necessary inquiries of Captain Padduci.
"Until to-night, then," the young reporter said, as he hurried out of the steamship office, and Grace turned to go to the captain's hotel.
Reaching the street Larry saw, some distance ahead of him, the form of the man whose actions so puzzled him, and who had led him such a baffling chase.
"Here is where I get you," thought Larry, as he hurried on.
LARRY GETS A SCARE
Through the crowded street the young reporter ran, bumping into several persons, and causing them to mutter more or less impolite exclamations about youths who trod on the toes of innocent pedestrians.
Larry could catch occasional glimpses of his man, and he noted that Retto looked back every now and then to see if he was being followed.
"Oh, I'm after you, my East Indian friend," Larry remarked to himself. "I'm going to have an accounting with you now. There's something queer about you."
No sooner had Larry given expression to this last sentence, speaking somewhat aloud, as was his habit when thinking intently, than he slipped on a banana pealing and fell down with a force that jarred him all over.
"I'll have to be more careful," thought Larry, as he got up and found that no bones were broken. He started off again after Retto. "I wasn't looking where I was going, thinking so much of Retto. Where is he now? He must have got quite a way ahead."
He had; so far that Larry could no longer see him. The reporter tried to peer through the ever-shifting crowd, for a glimpse of Retto, but with no success.
"He's gone," he murmured. "However, I know where he lives and I'll go there at once. No! I've got to get a story in for to-day's paper about Mr. Potter. I haven't much time before the first edition. Guess I'd better telephone it in, and let Mr. Emberg have one of the men fix it up."
In his eagerness to catch Retto, Larry had rather lost sight of his more important duties, and, as he looked at his watch, he found he had no time to spare if the Leader was to have a story that day.
He looked for the blue sign, indicating a public telephone station, and saw one a few doors down the street. On his way there he ran over in his mind the points of the story. It would be based on the search and inquiry among the steamship captains.
"I've got to say it resulted in nothing," Larry remarked to himself. "Hold on, though. Suppose Grace gets a clue from Captain Padduci? I'll be in a pretty mess if she does, and I telephone in that we found out nothing. Wish I hadn't chased after that East Indian. I should have stayed with Grace until we got through.
"No help for it, though. So here goes. I wish I'd done as Mr. Emberg said and let the Retto matter drop. But it seemed too good to lose sight of."
He soon had the Leader office on the wire, and, a few seconds later, was talking to Mr. Emberg. He was rather surprised at what the city editor said.
"What's the matter with you, Larry?" was the inquiry that came through the telephone. "We've been waiting for you. Have you seen the Scorcher?"
"No. Why?" asked Larry, an uneasy feeling coming over him. There seemed an atmosphere of "beat" about him, and he was afraid of Mr. Emberg's next words.
"Why, they've got a big story about Mr. Potter being home," went on the city editor. "They say he is concealed in the house, and has been ever since the scare."
"That's not true!" replied Larry. "I was at the house this morning, and he wasn't home. I've been all around the steamer piers and got no trace of him. I just left his daughter, and she would know if he had been home all this while."
"Well, they've got the story," repeated Mr. Emberg, with the insistence that city editors sometimes use when they fear their reporters have been beaten. "I sent Harvey up to the house in a hurry to make inquiries. The Scorcher got out an extra. Where have you been?"
"I just finished the tour of the docks."
"Well, you'd better go up to the house and make sure. It looks queer."
"I'll bet that story came from Sullivan," said Larry. "He's sore on us, and would do anything to get even. He wants to find Mr. Potter, you know."
"I hope you're right," and Mr. Emberg's voice was not as cordial as it usually was. "Let me hear from you soon again. I'll have one of the men fix up something for the first edition. You tell him about the inquiries made of the ship captains."
Larry's heart was like lead. To have worked so hard, and then to have another paper come out with a "scare" story about Mr. Potter's return, was discouraging.
"That story's a fake," he decided, as he prepared to telephone in the result of his morning's work. "I'll prove it is, too, and make them take back-water."
Larry's story of the trip to the steamship offices was not very interesting reading, for it was but a record of failure. He realized that, but there was nothing else to print and the paper had to have something. It was not Larry's fault, for even a reporter on a special assignment cannot provide fresh and startling news every day, though all newspaper men try hard enough for this desirable end.
After Larry had telephoned in all the information he had, he hurried uptown to the Potter house. He found Grace had just come in, and, to Larry's relief, she had not been successful in getting any news from Captain Padduci. In a few words the reporter told what the Scorcher had printed.
"We must deny that at once!" exclaimed Grace. "I wonder why they print such untruths!"
"For one reason, because the Scorcher is trying to live up to its name and give the public 'hot' news," replied Larry, "and, for another, because Sullivan has some end to gain. He stands in with the Scorcher men, and I think my old enemy, Peter Manton, is responsible for this."
"What can you do to offset it?" asked Grace.
"I can have a signed statement from you or your mother in our last edition."
"A signed statement?"
"Yes, a little interview with you, in the form of a communication, with your name at the foot, denying that your father is at home. This will take the wind out of the Scorcher's sails."
"Then I'll give you the interview at once. What shall I say?"
Larry told her, and in a few minutes the message was being dictated over the Potter telephone to Mr. Emberg.
"I'm glad to hear this, Larry," the city editor said. "We had quite a scare. I thought they had you beaten, even though Harvey came back and said Mrs. Potter sent down word there was no truth in the Scorcher yarn. You certainly had us scared."
"I was frightened myself," admitted Larry, with a laugh.
"This will make story enough for to-day, unless you find Mr. Potter," Mr. Emberg went on. "Now lay pipes for something for to-morrow."
"I will," Larry replied, though he did not in the least know what new features he could "play up."
At that instant the bell rang, and a whistle indicated that the letter carrier was at the door. Grace answered it. She came back on the run, a missive in her hand.
"It's from my father!" she exclaimed, as she tore open the envelope.
Larry watched Grace while she read the letter. It was short, for she had quickly finished with it and turned to the reporter.
"He's written about you!" she exclaimed.
"Yes. Listen," and Grace read:
"'I am well. Still have to remain away. Don't try to find me. Will be home soon. Tell Larry Dexter to give up. He's chasing me too close.'"
"Chasing him too close!" exclaimed Larry in bewilderment. I only wish I was! I haven't the least clue to his whereabouts. I wonder what he means? Is that his writing?"
"I can't be mistaken in that," Grace replied. "It is just the same as the other letter was."
"Let me see," and the young reporter examined the envelope. It was similar to that containing the first note which had come from Mr. Potter, save there was no blot on it and the stamp showed no excess of mucilage.
"I'll take this to the sub-station," Larry went on. "It was probably mailed in the same place as was the other. I'll see if the carrier had any such experience as he did with the former note."
"I think it would be a good plan," Grace answered. "Oh, this is beginning to wear on my nerves! As for mother, she is almost ill over it. Her physician says if father is not found soon he cannot say what will happen to mother."
"Still she must know your father is safe."
"That is the worst of it. She will not believe these notes are from him, or, rather, she believes he is held captive somewhere and is forced to write them. Nothing I can say will make her think differently. She is wearing herself to a shadow over it."
"We must do something!" exclaimed Larry.
"Yes; but what?" asked the girl. "You are working hard and I am doing all I can, but our efforts seem to amount to nothing. What more can we do?"
"I'm trying to think of a plan," Larry responded. "The search of the steamship piers gave us no clue; the police here have not been able to find a trace. We can try one thing more."
"What is that?"
"You can hire private detectives. Sometimes, in cases of this kind, they are better than the police, as they assign one man, who devotes all his attention to the search, while the police, as a rule, don't bother much to find missing persons."
"Then I'll hire the best private detectives to be had!" exclaimed Grace. "Where ought I to go?"
Larry named an agency, that he had heard was first-class, and offered to take Grace to the office. The reporter knew one of the men on the staff, as he had once written a story in which he figured, and the officer had been grateful for the mention of his name. Detectives, even private ones, are prone to vanity in this respect, as a rule.
"I don't like to take up so much of your time," objected the girl, as Larry prepared to go with her to the detective agency.
"My time is yours in this case. I have nothing to do for the Leader but to find your father. This is part of the work."
"I wouldn't think it could pay a newspaper to put one man exclusively on a case like this."
"The editors think it does. In the first place it makes some news every day, and the papers have to have news. Then if I should happen to find Mr. Potter, it would be a big advertisement for the Leader, and that is what all the New York papers are looking for. The better advertised they are the better prices they can charge for the advertisements printed in them, for it's from the advertisements that a newspaper makes its money. Besides, I've promised to find your father for you and I'm going to do it!" Larry looked very determined.
"My! I never supposed newspaper work was so complicated," said Grace, with a little sigh. "Now let's go to the detectives. I'm almost afraid. It sounds so awful to say 'detective.'"
Larry found the man he knew in the office of the agency, and the latter introduced him to the chief. The reporter explained the reason for the visit, and Grace added a plea that they do all in their power to locate Mr. Potter.
"I thought you'd come here sooner or later," said the chief with a smile. "Most folks do when they find the regular police don't give enough attention to the cases. It's not the fault of the police, though. They have so much to do they can't give much time to a single case. But of course we can. Now then, tell me all about it."
Which Grace, aided by Larry, proceeded to do. The chief listened intently, and asked several questions. He took the two letters which Grace had from her father and looked carefully at them.
"Do you think you'll be able to do anything?" asked the girl anxiously. The strain was beginning to tell heavily on her.
"Of course we will!" exclaimed the chief, heartily. "We'll find your father for you, you can depend on it!"
Larry did not want to tell her that the chief was thus optimistic in regard to every case he undertook. It was a habit of his, not a bad one, perhaps, and it did little harm, for nearly all of his clients wanted cheering up.
"What do you think about this, young man?" asked the chief, turning suddenly to Larry.
"In regard to what, Mr. Grover?"
"Where do you think Mr. Potter is? I understand you've been working on this case. In fact, I have all your stories clipped from the Leader."
Larry had not forgotten about Retto, and he determined to pay the fellow another visit.
With him, to think was to act. He soon found himself going up the stairs of the tenement house, and presently reached Retto's door. His knock brought no response, and he stood for a moment, undecided what to do. Then a bold idea came to him.
"I'll try the door and see if he's home," he said. "If he isn't, there's no harm done. If he is, I can explain it somehow."
Larry, after a moment's hesitation to listen for any possible movement on the other side of the portal, tried the door. It opened easily for him, though it needed but a glance to show that the apartment was empty and vacated. All the furniture was gone.
"He's skipped!" exclaimed Larry, as he struck a match and looked around. "I guess he was afraid I'd find him. Well, I am more determined than ever that I'll land this man. I wonder if he left any clues behind?"
He lighted a jet of a wall fixture, for the gas had not been shut off. In the glare he saw a scrap of paper lying on the floor. He picked it up. As he glanced at it he gave a cry of astonishment.
"Who would have thought it!" exclaimed Larry to himself. "Of all the strange things! I wonder I didn't connect him with the case before! This explains why he was in front of the house."
For, the paper he had picked up was part of an envelope like those which had contained the letters Grace received from her father. And on the scrap was her name, but the envelope had been spoiled by a blot of ink in writing the address. It had been torn up and thrown away, to remain a mute bit of evidence.
"Mah Retto knows Mr. Potter!" exclaimed Larry. "Retto is the man who mailed the letters for the missing millionaire. If I find him I can make him tell me where Mr. Potter is! Now to trace my mysterious East Indian friend!"
Larry took another survey of the apartment to see if there were any more clues that might aid him. But the one that had so unexpectedly come to his hand was all he found. The place showed evidences of having been hastily vacated.
"I'll see Mr. Jackson," he decided. "Perhaps he can tell me something. He was interested in this queer man."
He lost no time in going to the rooms of his friends. They were glad to see him, and asked a number of questions about his mother, sisters and brother. But Larry, as soon as he could, turned the subject to Retto.
"He's gone," he told Mr. Jackson.
"I supposed he had. I saw the janitor taking his things from the room this morning."
"Do you know where he went to?" asked the young reporter eagerly. "I want to find him."
"I haven't the least idea."
"I wonder if the janitor would know," Larry went on.
"He might. Perhaps the man left his address with him, in order that letters might be forwarded. I'll go downstairs with you and introduce you to the janitor."
That functionary was unable to throw any light on where Retto had gone. Evidently, for the time being, the chase had come to an end.
Larry made his way to the nearest elevated station and rode in the direction of the Potter home. He had no definite plan in mind, and, more from a whim than anything else, he decided to walk past the house. He did not expect it, but he had an idea—a very faint one—that he might see Grace. Of course, if he saw her at the window, where she sometimes sat, it would be no more than polite to go in and tell her what the carrier had said about the second letter.
When Larry got in front of the Potter house he was disappointed to see that it was in darkness. It was about ten o'clock, and he knew the family was in the habit of retiring early, especially since Mr. Potter's disappearance.
As he strolled past on the other side of the street, looking in vain for a glimmer of light, or the sight of a girlish face against the window pane, he passed into the deep shadow cast by a big tree on which shone an electric arc light in front of the Potter house. The blackness was quite deep, in contrast to the illumination on both sides of the tree, for electric lamps have the property of casting dense shadows. If Larry had been looking straight in front of him perhaps it would not have happened, but he was staring at where Grace lived, and the first thing he knew he had walked full tilt into a man who was hiding in the darkness behind the big tree.
"Oh—ugh!" grunted Larry, for the breath was knocked from his body by the sudden impact.
"What's the matter? What are you doing?" inquired the man angrily. "Why don't you look where you're going?"
The collision had swung him out of the shadow into the light, where he stood blinking. Larry recovered his breath, and then, at the sight of the man, gave a low-voiced cry of astonishment.
"Mr. Sullivan!" he exclaimed.
"Oh, it's you, is it, Dexter!" remarked the politician. "Are you following me? Are you spying on me? If you are I'll have you arrested!"
"I'm not following you or spying on you!" retorted Larry. "But you seem to be hiding here. What do you want? What are you in front of Mr. Potter's house for?"
He was determined to follow up his advantage, and to show Sullivan that he was not in the least intimidated by him. Clearly there was something in the wind when the district political leader was hiding behind trees watching the house of the missing millionaire.
"Look here!" exclaimed Sullivan, and he had moved back until he was in the shadow. "You go along and mind your own business; do you hear? Move along now!"
"I guess I have as good a right as you have to remain on the street. And this sidewalk is just as public as any in New York, even if it is in the millionaire section. What are you hiding for? Do you expect to see Mr. Potter come walking down the steps? If you do I'll wait, too. I'd like to see him."
"You think you're very smart because you're a reporter," retorted Sullivan, becoming more and more angry as he saw he could not intimidate Larry. "Let me tell you you're making a big mistake. I have some power in New York, and I warn you that I'll use it if you don't stop interfering with me. You've made me trouble enough. Now you be off, or I'll call a policeman and have you arrested."
"You can't," replied Larry. "I haven't done anything except to run into you, and that was an accident, caused by you being in the shadow."
"I'll show you what I can do. The police of this district know me, and they'll do anything I say."
"You might have 'pull' enough to have me arrested," Larry admitted, "but I wouldn't stay locked up long. A telephone message to the city editor of the Leader, and a word from him to some one higher up than a policeman, would bring about a change. And I don't think you'd like to read the story in the paper the next day, Mr. Sullivan."
The politician was silent. He knew Larry had the best of the argument. For, though the Assembly leader had some power in New York, he was only a "small fry" when it came to an important matter, such as he knew would result if Larry was taken into custody. He contented himself, therefore, with growling out threats against Larry in particular and all newspaper men in general.
"You'll interfere with me once too often," said Sullivan. "I warn you, young man. You're making a big mistake. There's more behind this matter than you have any idea of."
"I know there is," replied Larry quickly. "That's why I'm working so hard to clear up the mystery. I want to find out what your part is in the disappearance of Mr. Potter."
"My part? What do you mean?"
"You know well enough what I mean. You are interested in Mr. Potter. You want him to come back. Now what for? Has it anything to do with the new line? Does it concern your friends, Kilburn and Reilly? That's what I want to know and what I'm going to find out. You're playing a deep game, Mr. Sullivan, but I'll beat you at it!"
Larry was quite surprised at his own eloquence, and the manner in which he bid defiance to the leader of the assembly district.
"Hush!" exclaimed the politician. "If you say another word I'll knock you down!" and he advanced toward Larry as though he intended to carry the threat into execution. "Keep quiet, I say!"
"Are you afraid of having the truth told?" asked Larry speaking a little louder. It seemed that Sullivan was worried lest some one might overhear the talk. The streets, however, were deserted at this time.
"Never you mind!" retorted Sullivan. "You've said enough, so that I'll not forget it in a hurry, and Jack Sullivan is a bad man to have for an enemy, let me tell you."
"I don't doubt that, but I'm not afraid of you. I believe you know something of Mr. Potter's disappearance, and I'm going to find out what it is. You are waiting here with some object in view, and I'm going to discover it."
"Get away from here!" ordered Sullivan, hardly able to speak because of his anger.
"I'm going to stay as long as I like."
"Move on!" exclaimed the politician. "Get away or——"
He emerged from the shadow and approached Larry. The man's face showed how wrought up he was, and though he was not much taller or stronger than Larry he had a man's energy, and would prove more than a match for the lad if it came to a fight. And it looked now as though he was going to resort to desperate measures in order to accomplish his ends.
"I'm going to stay until I see what you're up to!" said Larry firmly, bracing himself to meet the expected attack.
Sullivan doubled up his fists and drew nearer to the youth. He raised his arm, as though to strike. The two were beyond the shadow of the tree now, and in plain view.
Sullivan's fist shot out, but Larry was watching and cleverly dodged it. The politician overreached himself, lost his balance, and, his fist meeting nothing more solid than air, he pitched forward and fell on the sidewalk.
Larry swung around, ready to meet his opponent when he should come back to the attack. At that instant a window, in a house across the street, opened, and a voice the young reporter knew was Grace's called:
"Larry! Larry! Come here!"
He started to run across the thoroughfare, but, as he did so, he saw another man emerge from behind a tree, next to the one where Sullivan had been concealed. And, as the light from an arc lamp gleamed on this man's face, Larry saw it was that of Mah Retto.
The young reporter paused, undecided what to do. Across the street he could see Grace in the raised window, waiting for him—for what he did not know. But, even as he looked at her, he saw Retto running off down the street. In an instant Larry's mind was made up. He took after Retto as fast as he could run.
GRACE IS SUSPICIOUS
Retto headed for Central Park, and as Larry saw him pass the entrance he realized that it was going to be as hard to follow the man as though he had disappeared in the midst of a crowd, especially since the park was not well lighted.
"But I've got to follow him," thought Larry. "It's my best chance. I must find out where he has moved to. I wonder what Grace wanted? And I wonder what Sullivan's game was? My, but the questions are coming too thick for me. I'll have to get an assistant."
By this time he had entered the park. Ahead of him he could hear the running feet of the man he was pursuing. The big recreation ground was almost deserted.
"I don't believe he dare run very fast," reasoned Larry, as he slackened his pace. "If he does a policeman will be sure to stop him and ask questions, and I guess Retto will not relish that. I have a better chance than I thought at first. After all, I don't see why he is so afraid of me. All I want to do is to ask him where he gets the letters from Mr. Potter. He must know where the millionaire is hiding, and it looks as if Mr. Potter had been in Retto's room at the Jackson tenement, or else how would the envelope get there? That's it! I'll bet the missing millionaire has been hiding with this East Indian chap! I never thought of that until now!"
Having walked for fully a quarter of a mile Retto came to a sudden stop, and so did Larry, hiding in the shadow of a tree. Retto listened intently, and, of course, heard no pursuing footsteps. This apparently satisfied him, for he proceeded more slowly.
"He thinks I've given up the chase," thought Larry. "I'll let him. Maybe he'll go home all the quicker, and, after I learn where he is stopping, I can go back and see what Grace wanted."
Larry's surmise proved correct, and his wish soon came to pass. The man, evidently believing that he was safe, emerged from the park to the street, for the whole pursuit had gone on not far from the thoroughfare, and just within the boundary of the city's breathing spot. Larry, keeping in the shadows, watched him.
He saw Retto give one more cautious look around and then, crossing the highway, enter a hotel nearby. It was a fashionable one, and Larry wondered how the man, who had, hitherto, only lived in tenements, could afford to engage rooms in such a place as this.
"Maybe he's only doing it to throw me off the track," the reporter reasoned. "I'll just wait a while and see if he comes out."
He waited nearly an hour, hiding in the shadows of the park and keeping close watch on the entrance to the hotel. He did not see Retto emerge, and then he decided on a new plan.
"I'll inquire if he is stopping there," he said to himself. "If he is I'll wait until to-morrow before acting. I'll let him think everything's all right. It's the best way."
Sauntering into the hotel lobby he found no one but the night clerk on duty, though there were a few sleepy bell-boys sprawled on a bench. As soon as the clerk saw Larry approaching the desk he swung the registry book around, and, dipping a pen in the ink, extended it to the reporter.
"I didn't come to stay," said Larry, with a smile. "I want to inquire if there is a Mr. Mah Retto stopping here?"
"There is," replied the clerk. "Would you like to see him? He just came in a little while ago."
"No; not to-night," Larry replied, his heart beating high with hope. He had run down his man. "I wasn't sure of his address, and I thought I'd inquire. I'll call and see him to-morrow."
The clerk, having lost all interest as soon as he found Larry was not to be a guest of the hotel, did not reply. The bell-boys, seeing their visions of a tip disappearing, resumed their dozes, and Larry walked out. He was impressed by the clerk's manner. Clearly Retto was a man of means and not as poor as Larry had supposed.
"So far so good," he murmured. "Now to go back and see what Grace wanted—that is if it isn't too late."
It was nearly eleven o'clock, but Larry had an idea that Grace would still be up. It was rather an unusual hour to make a call, still all the circumstances in this case were unusual, and Larry did not think Grace would mind.
He saw a light in the Potter house as he approached it. Thinking perhaps Sullivan might be in the vicinity Larry walked up and down on the other side of the street, peering in the shadow of the tree where he had had his encounter with the politician, but Sullivan had evidently gone away.
"Why didn't you come when I called you?" asked Grace, as she admitted Larry to the library.
"I wanted to," the young reporter replied, "but I had to take after a person who I believe knows where your father is, and I couldn't stop without losing sight of him. I have some news for you."
"And I have some for you," exclaimed Grace, "Let me tell mine first."
"All right," agreed Larry, with a smile. "Go ahead."
"Well, I was sitting in the window to-night, looking out on the street, and feeling particularly sad and lonely on account of father, when I saw a man sneaking along on the other side. I saw him hide behind a tree, and I resolved to keep watch. There have been some burglaries in this neighborhood recently, and I wasn't sure whether he was a thief or a detective sent here to watch for suspicious characters. Well, as I sat there watching I saw you come along and talk to the man behind the tree."
"How long had he been there when I came along?"
"Oh, for some time, but don't interrupt, please. You can ask questions afterward. When I saw you talking to the man I knew it must be all right, and I was beginning to think he was a detective.
"Then I noticed another man sneaking along. He, too, hid behind a tree, next to the first man. I thought this was queer until I remembered you told me that detectives usually hunt in couples, and I thought he was another officer from headquarters. I thought so until mother, who, it seems had been looking out of her window in the front room upstairs, called to me.
"She asked me if I had seen the two men come along, and, when I said I had, she wanted to know if I didn't think there was something queer about the second man. I said I didn't notice particularly, but just then the man stepped out into the light, and I had a good look at him."
"Was there anything suspicious about him?"
"There certainly was!" exclaimed Grace, earnestly. "As soon as I saw him I thought sure it was my father. He had his back toward me, and he looked exactly like papa. Mother saw it, too, and she cried out. Just then the man turned and I saw he was smooth-shaven, and his face didn't look a bit like my father's.
"Then I saw you and that other man—Mr. Sullivan, I then knew him to be—step into the light. I saw he was going to hit you, and I raised the window and called. I wanted to ask you to see who the second man was—the one who looked so much like my father. I called, but you didn't seem to hear."
"I heard you," replied Larry, "but I couldn't stop. I wanted to take after the man—the same man you were suspicious of. I traced him through the park."
"Did you find him? Who is he? Where is he? Is he—is he? Oh, Larry, don't keep me in suspense——"
"I'm sorry to have to tell you he isn't your father," Larry replied, gently, as he saw the girl's distress. "But I think he knows where your father is. He goes by the name of Mah Retto, and I helped save him from the wreck of a vessel on the Jersey coast. See, I found this in his room, a little while before he disappeared," and he held out to Grace the torn envelope with her name on it.
"My father's writing!" she exclaimed.
Larry heard some one descending the stairs and coming toward the library.
CAPTAIN TANTRELLA ARRIVES
"Grace! What is the matter?" exclaimed a woman's voice, and looking up Larry saw Mrs. Potter.
"Nothing, mother," replied the girl. "This is Mr. Larry Dexter. He just brought me some news. Oh, mother, that wasn't papa we saw out in the street!"
"I knew it, dear, as soon as I saw his face."
Larry felt rather uncomfortable, for Mrs. Potter and Grace showed signs of emotion.
"I was telling your daughter," he said to Mrs. Potter, "that I think I have located the man who knows where your husband is."
"Oh, I hope you have," exclaimed Mrs. Potter. "This suspense is awful. Who is he? Where is he?"
Larry related the circumstances of his chase after Retto, telling how he had located the man at the hotel.
"I'll go and see him to-morrow," he said, "before he has a chance to get away. He does not suspect that I know where he is."
"Why not go now?" asked Mrs. Potter.
"I'm afraid he would see no one to-night. It is very late, and he would suspect something if any one sent up word they wanted to see him. He would at once connect it with the chase I had after him. But I think I fooled him. I am sure he can clear up this matter in a short time, once I get into conversation with him."
"I'll go with you," said Grace, with sudden energy. "I will make him tell where my father is."
Larry thought he could best deal with Retto alone, but he did not want to tell Grace so. However, her mother got him out of what might have been an embarrassing position.
"I'd rather you wouldn't go, Grace," she said. "There is no telling what sort of a person this Retto is. His name sounds foreign."
They talked for some time about the curious circumstances connected with the disappearance of the millionaire, and when a clock struck the hour of one, Larry arose with a start.
"I had no idea it was so late!" he exclaimed. "I must hurry home, or mother will be worried. I will call to-morrow and let you know what success I have."
"Do, please," said Mrs. Potter.
"And come early," added Grace, as she accompanied Larry to the door. "Don't let that horrid man stab you with an East Indian poisoned dagger," she went on with a little laugh, as she got out of hearing of her mother.
Larry promised, and then hurried off down the street to the nearest elevated railway station. He was up early the next morning, and wrote out the story of the day's events, including the encounter with Sullivan, and the chase after Retto. He touched as lightly as possible on his own and Grace's parts in the affair, but there was enough to make interesting reading, and he knew no other paper would have it.
"This is good stuff, Larry," complimented Mr. Emberg, when the reporter had turned his story in at the desk. "What next?"
"I'm going to see Retto," was the answer. "I'll make him tell where Mr. Potter is."
"You were right about your East Indian friend," admitted the city editor. "I had no idea there was a story like this connected with him; least of all that it concerned the missing millionaire. Keep right after him. Let us hear from you in time for the first edition. Whatever you learn from Retto will make the leading part of to-day's account."
"I'll telephone in," said Larry, as he hurried from the city room.
Larry anticipated meeting with some difficulty in getting Retto to talk. He knew the man must have a strong motive for aiding Mr. Potter. Probably the millionaire was paying him well to serve him, to mail letters occasionally, and keep him informed as to how the search for him was progressing.
"There are lots of ends to this that I don't understand," said Larry to himself as he was on his way to the hotel where the mysterious man was stopping. "This mystery seemed to start with the wrecking of the Olivia, yet I don't see how I can connect Mr. Potter with that. He must have met Retto in New York after the rescued men came here. Maybe I'm wrong in thinking Mr. Potter is in New York now. He may be some distance off, and depending on Retto to look after his interests. If that's so it would explain why the East Indian was hanging around the house. He wanted to see that Grace and her mother were well, so he could report to the millionaire.
"Yet if that was so, I can't see how Mr. Potter could write in the letter, as he did, that I was getting too close to him? Yes, there's something very strange in all this, but maybe it will soon be cleared up."
Thus Larry hoped, but he was doomed to disappointment. For, when he inquired at the hotel desk for Mr. Retto, and said he would like to see him, the clerk replied:
"Mr. Retto left early this morning. He gave up his room. I don't know where he went."
"I've got it all to do over again," the young reporter thought as he strolled out into the street. "I'll never have such luck again. If he watches the house after this he'll do it in a way that won't give me a chance to catch him. Well, I've got to go back and tell Grace I made a fizzle of it. Too bad, when they're hoping so much on the result of this visit!"
Larry purchased a morning paper from a newsboy on the street, and glanced at it idly, as he strolled along. His eye lighted on the column devoted to shipping news, and, almost unconsciously, he saw among the "arrivals," the Turtle, of an Italian line. At once a train of thought was started in his mind.
"The Turtle," he mused. "That's the freight ship that Captain Tantrella, formerly of the Olivia, commands. That's the captain Retto was inquiring about the day Grace and I made the tour of the steamer offices. He wanted to meet him. Well, Captain Tantrella is in now. I wonder if Retto could have left the hotel to go and see him?"
Larry puzzled over it for a few minutes. Several ideas came to him, but they were confused, and he did not know which line to follow.
"Why should Retto want to see Captain Tantrella?" he asked himself. "Is it possible that Retto is a criminal and had to escape from the sinking ship? It looks so. But if he has done something that would necessitate him keeping out of the way, how can he aid Mr. Potter? It's too deep for me. But I know what I'll do. I'll go and see Captain Tantrella. He'll remember me, for I interviewed him about the wreck.
"I'll ask him who Retto is. He'll know him, for he was probably one of the first-cabin passengers. That's what I'll do. I think I'm on the right track now."
RETTO IS CAUGHT
Larry's slow walk was suddenly changed to a quick one as a plan of action was unfolded in his mind. He hurried to the elevated station and was soon on his way downtown to the office of the steamship line to which the Turtle belonged.
"Guess I'd better stop and telephone to Mr. Emberg about Retto skipping out again," thought the young reporter. "He can add it to the story. Then I can tell him of my present plan."
The city editor was soon informed of what Larry intended to do, and said he thought it was a good idea.
"But keep in touch with us, Larry," cautioned Mr. Emberg. "We want all the news we can get on this thing. There's a rumor that the Scorcher is going to spring something to-day on the Potter story."
"Probably something Sullivan has given out to offset the story he knows I'll have about him," commented Larry. "But I'll be on the lookout and let you know what happens."
Larry was soon at the steamship office, and inquired whether the Turtle had docked yet.
"She is making fast now," replied the clerk.
"May I go aboard her?"
The clerk hesitated. Then Larry announced who he was, and said he wanted to have a talk with Captain Tantrella.
"Oh, you're the reporter who wrote up the wreck of the Olivia," the clerk replied, with a smile. "I've heard about you. Yes, I guess you can go aboard. I'll write you out a pass."
With the necessary paper as a passport, Larry walked down the long, covered dock, alongside of which the freight steamer was being warped into place. There was no bustling crowd of passengers, eager to get ashore to welcome and be welcomed by even more eager relatives and friends. But there was a small army of men ready to swarm aboard the Turtle and hurry the freight out of her holds, in order that more might be placed in to be sent abroad. There was a confusion of wagons and trucks, and the puffing of donkey engines, seemingly anxious to begin lifting big boxes and bales from the dark interior of the ship.
Larry was among the first to go up the gang plank when it was run ashore. A ship's officer stopped him, but allowed him to proceed when he saw the pass.
Larry found Captain Tantrella in his cabin, arranging his papers, for there is considerable formality about a ship that comes from one country to another, and much red tape is used.
"Ah, it is my newspaper friend!" exclaimed the commander when he saw Larry. "Have you interviewed any more captains who have been wrecked?"
Though he spoke with an air of gayety Larry could see the captain was sad at heart, for, though it was not his fault that the Olivia had gone ashore, Captain Tantrella had been more or less blamed, and had been reduced in rank. Passengers do not, as a rule, care to sail in a ship under the command of one whose vessel has been lost. So poor Captain Tantrella was now only in charge of a freighter, and he felt his disgrace keenly.
"Do you remember a passenger named Mah Retto, who sailed with you on the Olivia?" the reporter asked.
"I remember him; yes. A queer sort of man. He said but little on the whole voyage. But was he not lost? I remember we could not find him when we had all been landed from the wreck."
"He came ashore first of all," replied Larry. "A fisherman and I helped save him from a life-raft," and he told the circumstances.
"Queer," murmured the captain. "I have often thought of that man. He seemed to have some mystery about him."
Larry gave a brief account of the case he was working on.
"What I want to discover," he added, "is whether you know of any reason why Retto should be anxious to see you?"
"To see me?"
"Yes. He was at the steamship office a few days ago inquiring when your ship would come in, and when he saw me he hurried away. Since then I have not been able to catch him."
"Ah! I know!" exclaimed the captain suddenly. "I just thought of it. I have a package belonging to him."
"Yes. He came to me when we were a few days out and said he wanted me to keep a package for him until we got to New York. I took it and put it with my papers."
"Then I suppose it was lost with the Olivia?"
"No; I brought it ashore with me when I saved my documents and a few valuables from the wreck. I have it at my hotel. That is why he is anxious to see me. He wants to get his package back. I am glad I have it."
"Do you know anything about the man?" asked Larry.
"Hardly anything. I met him for the first time when he was a passenger on my ship. But now, if you have no objections, we will go ashore. I must file my reports. After that I will be glad to see you at my hotel, and answer any questions you care to ask."
"Well, I guess you've told me all you can," said Larry, feeling a little disappointed at the result of his interview. "I'm much obliged to you."
"If you want to get into communication with this man, I have a plan," suggested the captain.
"What?" asked Larry, eagerly.
"He will probably call at my hotel to claim his package. When he comes you could be on hand."
"But there is no telling when he will come."
"That is so, but you could take a room at the hotel and be there as much as possible. I think he will come as soon as he learns that my ship is in."
"That's a good idea. I'll do it!" exclaimed Larry.
"Then let's hurry ashore, and you can make your arrangements while I finish up the details of the indents, bills of lading, custom lists and so on," Captain Tantrella said.
The two walked down the gang plank on to the covered dock. The tangle of wagons, horses and men was worse than ever. Part of the cargo was being taken out and carted away.
"Watch out for yourself that a horse doesn't step on you," cautioned the captain.
It was a needful warning, for the animals, drawing big, heavy trucks, seemed to be every-where. As the two proceeded to thread their way through the maze there came a hail from somewhere in the rear and a voice called:
The commander turned, and so did Larry. The young reporter saw a man hurrying along the dock toward where the commander of the Turtle stood. Evidently he had not seen the captain come to a halt, for he called again:
"Wait a minute, Captain Tantrella!"
Then a curious thing happened. The man caught sight of Larry, standing beside the ship commander. He halted and turned to run. As he did so a truck drove up behind him and blocked his retreat.
"It's Mah Retto!" exclaimed Larry, as he caught sight of the man's face.
An instant later there came a warning shout from the driver of the truck. He reined his horses back sharply, but not in time. Retto had stepped directly under their heads. The off animal reared. The man stumbled and fell beneath its hoofs.
Then, with a cry of terror, which was echoed by a score of men who saw the accident, Retto appeared to crumple up in a heap. The forefeet of the big steed seemed to crush him before the driver could back the animal off. Then came silence, Retto lying without moving on the planking of the dock.
"Caught at last," murmured Larry, as he rushed forward.
IN THE HOSPITAL
Instantly the confusion that had reigned on the dock became worse. Men ran to and fro shouting, no one seeming to know what to do.
"We must help him!" cried Captain Tantrella, shoving his papers into his pocket. "Come!"
He and Larry fought their way to the man's side. A crowd surrounded him, but no one offered to do anything. The truck driver had dismounted from his high seat and was quieting his frightened horses.
"It wasn't my fault," he cried. "He ran right under their feet."
"One side!" exclaimed a loud voice, and a burly policeman shouldered his way through. "What's the matter? Give the man some air."
Retto did not look as though he would ever need air again. He seemed quite dead.
"Let me get at him!" called Captain Tantrella. "I know something of medicine."
"Shall I call an ambulance?" asked Larry of the police officer. "I know how to do it."
The bluecoat nodded, glad to have help in the emergency. Then he proceeded to keep the crowd back while the captain knelt down beside the unfortunate man.
"Bad cut on the head," the commander of the Turtle murmured. "Fractured, I'm afraid. Leg broken, too. It's a wonder he wasn't killed."
The captain accepted several coats which were hastily offered, and made a pillow for the man's head. He arranged the broken leg so that the bones would be in a better position for setting, and then, with a sponge and a basin of water which were brought, proceeded to wipe away the blood from the cut on Retto's skull.
The crowd increased and pressed closer, but by this time more policemen had arrived, and they kept the throng back from the sufferer, so that he might have air.
It seemed a long time before the ambulance, which Larry summoned, made its arrival, but it was only a few minutes ere it clanged up to the pier, the crowd parting to let it pass. In an instant the white-suited surgeon had leaped out of the back of the vehicle before it had stopped, and was kneeling beside Retto.
With deft fingers he felt of the wound on the man's head.
"Possible fracture," he said in a low voice. "Double one of the leg, I'm afraid," as he glanced at that member. "Lend a hand, boys, and we'll get him on the stretcher."
There were willing enough helpers, and Retto was soon in the ambulance and on the way to the hospital, the doctor clinging to the back of the swaying vehicle as it dashed through the streets, with the right of way over everything on wheels.
"Here's news in bunches," thought Larry, as he saw the ambulance disappearing around a corner. "I must telephone this in, and I guess it will be a beat. To think that after all that I have Retto where I want him. I'm sorry, of course, that he's hurt, but I guess he can't get out of the hospital very soon. I'll have a chance to question him. Then I'll make him tell me where Mr. Potter is, and that will end my special assignment. I'll not be sorry, either. It's been a hard one, though I'm glad I got it, for the experience is fine."
Thus musing Larry looked for a telephone station and soon the story of Retto's accident was being sent over the wire to the city editor.
"This will make a fine lead for our Potter story," said Larry, as he finished telling of the accident.
"I've got another plan," said Mr. Emberg.
"What is it?"
"Do you think anyone else knows who Retto is? I mean anyone on the pier who saw him hurt?"
"I think not. Captain Tantrella might, but other reporters are not likely to connect him with the case."
"Then this is what I'm going to do. I'll use the story of the accident separate from the Potter story. We'll say an unidentified man was run down on the pier. If he has a fractured skull he'll not be able to tell who he is, and he has probably taken good care that there are no papers in his clothes by which his name can be learned.
"If we state that the injured man is the mysterious Retto, who is mixed up in the Potter case, we'll have every reporter in New York camping out at that hospital waiting for a chance to get the information from him. If we keep quiet we may be able to get it ourselves without any of the others knowing it. We'll try that way, Larry. It's a risk, but you've got to take risks in this business."
The young reporter admired the generalship of his city editor, who could thus plan a magnificent beat. Larry saw the feasibility of the plan. If he kept his information to himself no one would know but what the injured man was a stranger in New York, and that he was connected with the Potter case would be farthest from the thoughts of any reporters who were working on the missing millionaire story.
"You must camp on his trail, Larry," Mr. Emberg went on. "As soon as you hear from the hospital people that he is in shape to talk, get in to see him. You can truthfully claim to be a friend and acquaintance, for you once helped to save his life. If you get a chance to talk to him, ask where Potter is, and let us know at once. We'll get out an extra, if need be. Now hurry over to the hospital and let us hear from you as soon as possible. Get a good story and a beat."
"I only hope I can," murmured Larry, as he left the telephone booth and started for the hospital to which Retto had been taken.
He had a slight acquaintance with the superintendent of the institution, and when he explained his errand the official agreed to let Larry in to see the man as soon as the nurses and surgeons had finished dressing his injuries.
"How is he?" asked Larry.
The superintendent called over a private telephone connected with the ward where Retto had been taken:
"How is the patient just brought in from the pier? Comfortable, eh? That's good."
Then he turned to Larry:
"I guess you can go up soon," he added. "Can you give us his name, and some particulars? He was unconscious when he came in," and the superintendent prepared to jot down the information on his record book.
This was a complication Larry had not foreseen. If he gave the superintendent the fugitive's name, any other reporters who came to the hospital to inquire about the injured man would at once connect Retto with the Potter mystery, and the Leader's chance for a beat would be small indeed. What was he to do? He decided to take the superintendent partly into his confidence.
"I know the name he goes by," he said, as the beginning of his account, "but I do not believe it is his right one. I think it is an alias he uses."
"Never mind then," the superintendent interrupted, much to Larry's relief. "If it's a false name we don't want it."
"I believe it is," Larry added, and he was honest in that statement, for he felt that Retto was playing some deep game, and, in that case, would not be likely to use his right name.
"We don't want our records wrong," the head of the hospital resumed. "We'll wait until he can tell us about himself."
The telephone bell rang at that juncture, and the superintendent answering it told Larry the patient was now in bed and could be seen.
"Don't get him excited," cautioned the official. "I want to get some information from him about himself when you are through."
It is sometimes the custom in New York, in accident cases, to allow reporters to interview the victims, when their physical condition admits of it. So it was no new thing for Larry to go into the hospital ward to speak to Retto. He passed through rows of white cots, on which reclined men in all stages of disease and accident. There was a sickish smell of iodoform in the atmosphere, and the sight of the pale faces on either side made Larry sad at heart.
"There's your patient," said a nurse who was with him, as she led Larry to the bed where Retto reclined under the white coverings that matched the hue of his face. "Now don't excite him. You newspaper men don't care what you do as long as you get a story, and sometimes all the work we nurses do goes for nothing."
"I'll be careful," promised Larry.
The nurse, who had other duties to keep her busy, left Larry at the bedside of the mysterious man. He was lying with his eyes shut as Larry approached.
"Mr. Retto," called the reporter.
There was no response.
"Mr. Retto," spoke Larry, a little louder.
At that the man opened his eyes.
"Were you calling me?" he asked. Then he caught sight of Larry, and a smile came on his face.
"Well, you've found me, I see," was his greeting. "Only for that team I'd been far away."
"I suppose so. But now you're here, for which I'm sorry; I hope you will answer me a few questions."
"What are they?" asked the man, and a spasm of pain replaced his smile.
"I believe you know the secret of Mr. Potter's disappearance," said Larry, speaking in a low tone so none of the other patients would hear him. "I want you to tell me where he is."
At the mention of Mr. Potter's name Retto raised himself in bed. His face that had been pale became flushed.
"He—he—is——" then he stopped. He seemed unable to speak.
"Yes—yes!" exclaimed Larry, eagerly. "Where is he?"
Then Retto fell back on the bed.
"He has fainted!" cried the nurse, running to the cot. "The strain has been too much for him," and she pressed an electric button which summoned the doctor.
A NEW CLUE
Larry moved to one side. The unexpected outcome of his interview had startled him. He did not quite know what to do.
The doctor came up on the run and made a hasty examination of the patient. Then he sent for another surgeon. Larry heard them talking.
"What is it?" he asked of his friend the nurse.
"His skull is fractured," she said in a low voice. "They did not think so at first, but now the symptoms show it. They are going to operate at once. It is the only chance of saving his life."
"There goes my story," thought Larry, regretfully.
It was not that he was hard-hearted or indifferent to Retto's sufferings. Simply that his newspaper instinct got ahead of everything else, as it does in all true reporters, who, if they have a "nose for news," will make "copy" out of even their closest friend, though they may dislike the operation very much.
"You had better go," the nurse advised Larry. "You will not be able to see him again for some time—no one will be allowed to talk to him until he is on the road to recovery—if we can save him. He has a bad fracture."
Much disappointed, Larry left the hospital. It was hard to be almost on the verge of getting the story and then to see his chance slip away.
"I'm sure he was just going to tell me where Mr. Potter is," thought the reporter. "Now it means a long wait, if I ever find out at all from him."
He told Mr. Emberg what had happened. The city editor decided to follow out his first plan, of not connecting the accident at the pier with the Potter mystery.
"If he has to be operated on for a fractured skull," Mr. Emberg remarked to Larry over the wire, "he will be in no condition to tell his name, or give any information for some time. The story is safe with him. Now you'd better get busy on some other line of the case. The Scorcher is out, but they only have a scare yarn, without any foundation, to the effect that Mr. Potter is still in Italy, and that his family knows where he is."
"That's all bosh!" exclaimed Larry.
"That's what I think," the city editor said. "Now get on the job, Larry, and arrange to give us a good story for to-morrow. Keep watch of Retto, and as soon as the doctors will let you see him try again, though of course it may not be for several days."
Larry was all at sea. He hung up the telephone receiver with a vague feeling that being a reporter on a special assignment was not all it was cracked up to be.
"Easy enough to say get a good story for to-morrow," he remarked to himself, "but I'd like to know how I'm going to do it? The story—the only story there is—is safe with Retto, and he can't tell it."
"What shall I do?" Larry asked himself. "Let me think. I guess I'd better go see Captain Tantrella and ask him to keep mum about Retto until I have another chance at the man. Then I'll—I'll go and tell Grace. She'll want to know all about it."
He found Captain Tantrella at his hotel, having finished all the details connected with the docking of the Turtle. The commander readily agreed to keep quiet concerning Retto's identity, since the captain had no desire for further newspaper notoriety.
"I will do more than this," he declared. "I will give you the package belonging to that queer man. I have to sail again soon, on a long voyage, and he might need it before I come back. You can give it to him if he recovers. If he does not—well, the authorities can open it. It may contain money or something that will tell about the poor fellow. I leave it with you."
Larry was glad to get possession of the package that seemed of such importance to Retto. He wished he could open it, as he thought he might get a clue to the connection between the millionaire and the mysterious man, but he knew he would have no right to do that. Also it would give him a sort of claim on Retto, and, by returning the package, he could have a good excuse for going to see him.
"Now to tell Grace," remarked Larry, as he left Captain Tantrella. "I'm sure she'll be anxious to hear the news."
The millionaire's daughter was indeed glad to see Larry. She had read the first edition of the Leader, and wanted to know if there was anything further to tell.
"I hoped to be able to give you some definite news," replied Larry, in answer to her questions. Then he related the scene in the hospital.
"Poor man!" exclaimed Grace. "I wish I could go and see him."
"I'm afraid they wouldn't let you," said the reporter. "I called up the place just before I came here and they said the man was still under the influence of ether, though the operation was over."
"Was it a success?"
"They think so, but it will be some time before he will be able to talk to anyone about your father. We shall have to be patient."
"It is so hard," complained Grace, and Larry agreed with her. He did not yet see how he was going to get a story for the next day's paper—that is, a story which would have some fresh features in it.
"I don't suppose you have anything new to tell me?" he asked of Grace.
"Not much. I have had another letter from my father. It came a little while ago."
"Is it the same as the others?"
"The contents are, but the envelope is different. He says he will soon be home, and tells us not to worry."
She gave the missive to Larry. He looked at the post-mark, and saw that it had come from a downtown sub-station.
"This was mailed near the steamer pier!" he exclaimed. "Close to where Retto was hurt. He must have posted it just previous to the accident. I wish I had known this before."
It was too late now, and Larry gazed regretfully at the envelope. Clearly, Retto had not been far from Mr. Potter at the time of the accident. Perhaps the missing millionaire was hiding downtown in New York.
"I must make some inquiries in that neighborhood," thought Larry, as he arose to go.
"Another thing," Grace said. "That man Sullivan was in front of the house again this morning."
"I must see him!" exclaimed Larry. "I'll make him tell what his object is. This thing has got to end!"
He was fiercely determined that he would force some information from the politician. Evidently Sullivan had a game on hand which the reporter had not yet succeeded in fathoming. "I'll hunt him up at once!" he added, as he bade Grace good-bye.
"Be careful," she cautioned. "He is a dangerous man."
"I will," Larry promised.
But he could not find Sullivan. For once that wily politician denied himself to reporters, and kept out of their way. He was sought by a number of newspaper men, for the matter of a candidate for the eighth assembly district was again to the fore, and the henchmen of Kilburn and Reilly were making rival claims as to Sullivan's support.
"Where is Sullivan?" was the cry that went up, and in the next two days that became almost as much of a mystery as the disappearance of Mr. Potter.
"Get busy, Larry," advised Mr. Emberg, and Larry did his best to follow the advice.
Three weeks passed, and Sullivan was not found. His family professed not to know where he was, and the best newspaper men in New York could not find him. Larry was working on the case with all the energy he had thrown into the Potter disappearance.
Meanwhile the young reporter kept a close watch on the hospital where Retto was. The operation had been a success, but the patient was in a fever, during which he was out of his mind. He could not recognize anyone, much less talk intelligibly. Larry made several calls at the institution, but it was of no use.
"You can't see him," said the nurse, when he had paid his usual visit one day, "but he is much better. I think by the day after to-morrow you can talk to him. His fever is going down and he has spells when he talks rationally. There was another man in to see him to-day."
"I thought you said no one could visit him."
"Well, we made an exception in this case. The man was a private detective, searching for a missing man, and he wanted to see all the patients. He looked at your friend last, and went off, seemingly quite excited."
"What missing man was he looking for?" asked Larry.
"A Mr. Potter. Seems to me I've read something about him in the papers. He's very rich."
"Mr. Potter!" exclaimed Larry. "The detective must be from the private agency," he added to himself. Then aloud: "Did he recognize Mr. Ret—er I mean the man with the fractured skull?" and he waited anxiously for the nurse's answer.
"He seemed to, but I was called away just then."
"I know how Mr. Potter looks," Larry went on. "He has a moustache, and the man here is smooth-shaven."
"No, the patient has a moustache and a beard now," the nurse replied with a smile. "They grew since he has been in the hospital."
A sudden idea came to Larry. An idea so strange that it startled him. He dared not speak of it. He believed the detective held the same theory.
"I'll call again," he said, thanking the nurse for the information she had given him. "I must see Grace at once," he murmured, as he left the hospital. "Strange I never thought of that. A beard and a moustache! The private detective! I wonder if he recognized Retto? I must hurry. Oh, if this should prove true!"
He hurried to an elevated station and was soon on his way to Grace's house.
THE DETECTIVE'S THEORY
Bounding up the steps three at a time Larry rang the bell of the Potter residence. He thought the door would never be opened, and, when the stately butler did swing back the portal the young reporter, not waiting to ask for anyone, stepped into the hall.
"No one at home," the servant remarked with a smile, for he had gotten to be on quite friendly terms with Larry.
"No one home?"
"No. Mrs. Potter and Miss Grace have gone to Lakewood, N.J., for a few days. Mrs. Potter was quite ill, and the doctor advised a change of air, so she suddenly decided to go."
"When are they coming back?"
"I can't rightly say. In a few days, I expect. I was told to tell you that if anything important occurred you could write to them. Here is the address," and the butler gave Larry a slip of paper.
"I wonder whether I ought to telegraph?" thought Larry to himself. "I think this is very important, yet I am not sure enough of it myself. I can't see Retto until the day after to-morrow. I had better wait until then. If my suspicions are confirmed I will send a message, in case they are not back by that time."
Larry was about to leave the house when he saw a man coming up the front steps. He recognized him as a member of the private detective agency which he and Grace had visited.
"Is Mrs. Potter home?" asked the man of the butler, who was standing in the opened front door, while Larry remained in the shadow of the hall.
"No, she has gone to Lakewood."
"Lakewood! That's too bad!" exclaimed the man.
"Is it anything important?" inquired the butler.
"I think I have located Mr. Potter," was the answer. "I am a private detective, hired by Miss Grace Potter. I came to see if she or her mother would accompany me to try to identify a man I believe is the missing millionaire."
"Where is he?" asked the butler.
"In a hospital, quite badly hurt."
"Mr. Potter in a hospital! Badly hurt!" cried the servant in alarm. "What shall I do? Can't they bring him home?"
"We must be sure it is him," the detective went on. "The description answers pretty well, but it would take a member of the family to make sure. So there's no one home, eh? Well, that's too bad. I wanted to test my theory that the hospital patient is the missing millionaire."
"You can telegraph to them," suggested the butler. "I have the address."
"That's what I'll do," the detective replied. "I'll tell them what I have discovered. They can get here to-morrow and we'll see if he's the right man."
The officer took the address the servant gave him and hurried away.
"Did you hear that?" cried the butler to Larry. "Mr. Potter is found!"
"I hope it proves true," the reporter replied. "That is just what I came about, but when I found Mrs. Potter gone I didn't know what to do. I had rather the detective would take the responsibility of telegraphing. Perhaps the man in the hospital is not Mr. Potter?"
"Do you know him?" asked the butler.
"I have met him several times," replied Larry, "but I did not know he was Mr. Potter. It just dawned on me that he might be."
"Well, well, how strange it all is," murmured the butler. "Who would have thought it? Well, we can't do anything until to-morrow."
"No, I guess not," answered Larry, as he went down the steps.
His mind was in a tumult. More and more he was coming to believe that the mysterious man in the hospital was the missing millionaire.
"That's what he meant when he said I was following him too close," mused Larry. "And I never suspected it! How glad Grace will be! What a story I shall have! I wish I had discovered him myself, without any help from the detective agency, but it will make good reading, anyhow. I must arrange it so we can get a scoop out of it."
His first act was to go to the office of the paper and tell Mr. Emberg what had occurred. The city editor was much excited by the news.
"That will make a great yarn!" he exclaimed. "I hope your friend Grace soon comes back with her mother and makes the identification complete. We must do nothing to hasten matters or some other paper will get on to the game and spoil our story."
"Even the hospital people don't suspect yet," said Larry. "They don't know who their patient is—not even his assumed name."
"I guess things are coming our way. We'll clear up the Potter mystery and the Sullivan disappearance at the same time. I believe Sullivan is in with Mr. Potter on some deal. It begins to look suspicious. The friends of Reilly and Kilburn are all at sea. They'd give a thousand dollars to know which way Sullivan was going to jump."
Larry paid an early visit to the hospital the next day to see how matters were progressing. His friend, the nurse, greeted him with a smile.
"I guess you can have an interview with your mysterious acquaintance now," she said. "He is much better than we expected, and, for the first time since the operation, talks rationally. We have not questioned him yet. We are not as curious as you newspaper men are."
"Well, we have to be," responded Larry. "Can I go up now? Has the man who was here yesterday been back?"
"Yes to your first question, and no to the second. You can go up. The superintendent left word to that effect. He is quite friendly to you."
Larry started for the ward where Retto was. His heart was beating strangely. He felt that he was on the verge of solving the secret of the millionaire's disappearance and restoring to Grace her father.
As he approached the bed where Retto reclined he was motioned back by another nurse on duty there.
"He has just fallen asleep," she said. "When he awakens again you may speak to him. He has been writing a letter."
Larry was disappointed. He looked at the man who had played such an important part in the disappearance of the millionaire, and who, he believed, was destined to assume a much more important role. The patient's beard and moustache had grown since the accident, and the smooth-shaven man was no more. Instead, Larry saw before him a person who, as he recalled the photographs of Mr. Potter, bore a remarkable resemblance to the millionaire.
Of course, Mr. Potter had only a moustache and no beard, but aside from that Larry was positive that, lying on the bed in front of him, was Grace's father.
A TERRIBLE MISTAKE
How Larry wished the patient would awaken so he could question him! But the invalid showed no signs of it, and was in a deep slumber.
"That will do him more good than medicine," said the nurse. "He will probably sleep for several hours."
"Several hours," repeated Larry in dismay.
"Yes, they often do."
"Then there is no use in me waiting," he said. "I'll come back again. When I do I may bring his daughter with me."
"I hope you do," the nurse replied. "I have felt so sorry for the poor man. He seemed to have no friends ever since he has been here. Who is he?"
"I don't want to say for sure, until I get his daughter to identify him," Larry said, for he did not want the story to get out before the Leader had a chance to print it.
He decided he would go to the Potter house and see if Grace had returned yet in response to the telegram sent by the detective. He felt sure she would start immediately on receipt of the message.
In this he was correct, for when he got to the millionaire's home Grace herself answered his ring.
"Oh, Larry! Tell me quick!" she exclaimed. "Where is he? Is he badly hurt? What is the matter? Do you think it is really he?"
"I hope so," Larry said. "Where is your mother?"
"She stayed in Lakewood. I didn't tell her anything about it, for fear it would prove a disappointment. The telegram from the detective came to me and I made up my mind to come home alone and clear matters up before I told mother. She needs a rest, as she is very nervous.
"But now I am here, you must take me to the hospital at once. The telegram said he was in a hospital. How did it happen? Is he badly hurt?"
"I think he is almost well."
"But how did they discover him? Who did it? How did it come about?"
"It will take some time to answer all the questions," replied Larry with a smile. "I'll tell you all I can on the way to the hospital. My mysterious friend, Mah Retto, it seems, has turned out to be your father."
"Then he was the one I saw in front of the house that night, and I thought it was father," said Grace. "His smooth-shaven face deceived me, but I was sure I could not mistake his figure."
"There have been a good many surprises in this case," Larry admitted. "I've often been fooled myself."
"Let's hurry to the hospital," suggested Grace. "I'd rather go with you than with that detective. He is to be here at eleven o'clock, and it's only ten now. Let's hurry away."
Larry agreed, and they left the house. Grace explained that she had caught the first express out of Lakewood that morning and had been home only half an hour when Larry called.
They were so busy talking over all the details of the queer case that they arrived at the hospital much quicker than they anticipated.
"Here we are," said Larry, as he led the way up the broad stone steps of the institution.
"I'm almost afraid to go in," remarked Grace, her voice showing a nervous dread. "It seems so strange. I'm quite frightened, Larry."
"Don't think of anything but that you're going to see your father," the reporter replied, reassuringly. "He'll be so glad to see you. I believe he would have been home long before this if it had not been for the accident."
Larry entered the office of the institution. No sooner had he stepped inside than he was made aware that something unusual had occurred. Nurses and doctors, with anxious looks, were hastening here and there. Orderlies and messengers were hurrying to and fro, and there was a continuous ringing of signal and telephone bells.
"Must have been an accident and a lot of patients bought in," said Larry, for he had seen such activity in hospitals before when a number of injured persons required treatment at once.
"Oh, how terrible!" exclaimed Grace. "Do you suppose many are killed?"
"I hope not. But it looks as if something very unusual had happened."
Just then Larry saw the nurse who had been at the bedside of the patient whom he and Grace had come to see.
"I've brought his daughter," he said to the uniformed attendant. "May we go up now?"
The nurse seemed confused.
"I don't know—I'll see!" she remarked. "Here is the superintendent. Perhaps you had better speak to him," and she whispered something to the official.
"There's something wrong about Mr. Potter!" was Larry's first thought. "I wonder if he could have suddenly died?"
Even Grace, unaccustomed as she was to hospital scenes, was aware that all was not as it should be.
"Oh, Larry!" she exclaimed. "What is the matter? Have they taken him away?"
"I don't know," the reporter answered in a low tone. "I'll soon find out."
The superintendent approached them.
"You wanted to see that patient who was brought in from the steamship pier?" he inquired. "We've never been able to obtain his name."
"I can tell you what it is," answered Larry. "We have every reason to believe he is Hamden Potter, the missing millionaire, and this young lady's father. May we see him?"
"Hamden Potter!" exclaimed the superintendent.
"That's who he is," declared Larry. "He went by the name Mah Retto while he was away. May we go up now?"
"I am sorry," said the superintendent slowly, "but that patient escaped from the ward about half an hour ago, and we have not been able to trace him!"
"Escaped!" cried Larry.
"My father gone again!" gasped Grace.
"Too bad, but that's what has happened," the superintendent repeated. "The nurse left him sleeping quietly, and went downstairs to get some medicine. When she came back he was gone."
"But how could he go out without any clothing?" asked Larry.
"He got some clothing," the head of the institution replied. "In the bed next to him was a patient who was to be discharged as cured to-day. That man's clothes were brought to him and laid out on a chair beside the bed. While he was in the bathroom Mr. Potter, as you call him, got possession of the clothes, put them on, and walked out. Several patients saw him go, but said nothing, as they thought it was all right. When the nurse got back she missed your friend and gave the alarm."
"Can't you tell in what direction he went?" asked Larry.
"So far we have been unsuccessful. We have made inquiries outside, but so many persons are passing in the street that it has been impossible to trace him."
"Was he able to walk very far?" the reporter asked.
"He was strong; much stronger than the usual run of patients who are recovering from such a wound as he had. He must have been more fully recovered than we thought. He had written a letter, the nurse tells me, and this is also gone. Probably he was temporarily out of his mind, and went out to mail the missive. It is a strange occurrence."
"My poor father!" exclaimed Grace. "I thought I had found him, and now he is missing again."
Larry did not know what to do. It was a curious state of affairs. He had been so sure of uniting Mr. Potter and Grace, but now all his plans had come to nothing. Then, too, there was the paper to be considered. Mr. Emberg would expect him to send in the story of the mysterious disappearance of the hospital patient. Yet Larry did not like to leave Grace while he went to telephone. He was in a curious predicament.
"We will send out a general alarm if we do not find him soon," the superintendent went on. "Occasionally delirious patients wander from the wards while the nurses are temporarily absent, but they are always found hiding in some part of the hospital. We have not yet completed the search. Only once in a great while do they get outside the institution. Yet Mr. Potter may have."
"Then we may never find him again," spoke Grace.
"Don't worry," Larry advised, as cheerfully as he could. "He'll come back."
"I'll never see him again!" and Grace was on the verge of tears. "Oh, this is terrible!"
Just then there was heard a confusion of sounds in the corridor outside of the superintendent's office. The latter went to the door, and through the opened portal Grace and Larry heard some one exclaim:
"He's come back!"
"Maybe that's him!" cried the reporter.
The superintendent returned to his office.
"I have a pleasant surprise for you," he exclaimed. "The patient has come back. He says he went out to a telephone."
"Is he—is he all right?" asked Grace.
"Better than ever. The little trip seemed to do him good. Here he is."
He threw open the door he had closed. There, standing in the corridor, was the man Larry had known as Mah Retto—the man he believed was Mr. Potter. The patient was smiling at the reporter.
"There is your father, Grace," said Larry.
The girl gave one look at the man confronting her. She seemed to sway forward, and became deathly pale——
"That is not my father!" she cried, as she fell in a faint.
IN HIS ENEMIES' POWER
"Quick! Catch her!" cried the hospital superintendent, springing forward, but it was Larry who put out his arms and kept Grace from falling to the floor.
"Here, nurse," called one of several physicians who had gathered in the corridor when the news spread that the missing patient had returned. "Look after her, please. Carry her into the receiving room."
"Who is she?" asked the patient, who had caused such a stir, and to whom no one seemed to be paying any attention in the excitement caused by Grace's swoon. The man had not caught a good look at the girl.
"She is Grace Potter," replied Larry, glancing curiously at Mah Retto.
"Grace Potter? Hamden Potter's daughter?" The man seemed greatly excited.
"Yes. She came here expecting, as I did, to meet her father. I thought you were Mr. Potter. She says you are not."
"No, I am not," replied the man.
"Then who are you? Where is her father? You know! I am sure of it!" Larry was upset over the mistake he and the detective had made.