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Authors: Conrad Allen

Murder on the Minnesota

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Also by Conrad Allen

Murder on the Lusitania

Murder on the Mauretania

Murder on the Minnesota

Conrad Allen

MURDER ON THE MINNESOTA

Copyright © 2002 by Conrad Allen. All rights reserved.

Originally published by St. Martin’s Press

First eBook edition

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ISBN 0-312-28092-0

First Edition: January 2002

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

To Carrie McGinnis
with many thanks for
the patience, wise counsel,
and editorial expertise

ONE

M
AY
1908

T
hey were being driven along Fifth Avenue in a hansom when he broke the news to her. Genevieve Masefield sensed that he had something important to divulge but she did not press him. One of the first things she had learned about George Porter Dillman was that he could not be rushed. He liked to take his time. Accordingly, their conversation moved at the same leisurely pace as the cab. With the sun glinting off its harness, the bay mare pulled them along at a gentle and unvarying trot. Genevieve peeped out from under the broad brim of her straw hat to admire the mansions they passed and to enjoy her fleeting fantasies of ownership.

“I like that one,” she decided, pointing a finger.

“You have good taste, Genevieve.”

“It’s such a gracious house.”

“I agree,” he said, “but it would come at a gracious price.”

She gave a sigh. “There’s always a catch.”

They made a handsome couple. The tall, slim, elegant Dillman was immaculate in a pale gray suit, his straw boater angled to display his striking features to the best advantage. Genevieve wore a dress of white lace and a pair of white lace gloves. A
slender young woman with a natural beauty, she exuded a sense of good breeding that was at variance with her origin as the daughter of a London draper. Each complemented the other. Anyone seeing them together would assume from their easy familiarity that they had known each other for a long time. In fact, Dillman had met her only nine months earlier on the maiden voyage of the
Lusitania.
It had turned out to be a fateful encounter.

The hansom rolled on through the traffic until it reached the Flatiron Building. Genevieve sat forward and craned her neck to look up at what was reputedly the tallest building in the world. When they came to the point where Fifth Avenue and Broadway merged, she gaped afresh at an imperial edifice of red brick, white tile, and terra cotta.

“What’s that, George?”

“Madison Square Garden.”

“It’s enormous!”

“Oh, we have bigger buildings than that in New York.”

“It looks so
foreign
.”

“The Spanish influence. Inspired by Seville, I’m told.”

“Look at that tower. It could have come from a cathedral.”

“Well, I guess that Madison Square Garden is a cathedral of sorts,” he observed dryly. “The tower is almost three hundred and fifty feet high. It was the architect’s crowning achievement.”

“He must be so proud of it.”

“He would be, Genevieve, if he were still alive. Unfortunately, he was shot dead in the Roof Garden restaurant.”

Genevieve was shocked. “He was murdered?”

“Yes,” he explained, settling back in his seat. “It caused a huge scandal. Stanford White was a successful society architect. He was shot in the head at point-blank range.”

“By whom?”

“The jealous husband of a young lady who claimed that White had seduced her when she was barely sixteen. She was not his only conquest, it transpired. Stanford White had a rather lurid private life. The press had a field day uncovering it.”

“What happened to the killer?” she wondered.

“He’s in a mental institution in Fishkill. The first trial collapsed so they had a second one earlier this year. Harry Thaw—that was his name—was declared insane so he avoided the death penalty. Was there nothing about it in the English newspapers?”

“Nothing that I saw.”

“I’m surprised. It dominated the front pages over here. I would have thought that some of your reporters would latch onto the English connection.”

“English connection?”

“Yes, Genevieve,” he said with a smile. “Incredible as it may seem, Harry Thaw had an aristocratic brother-in-law. No less a person than the Earl of Yarmouth.”

“Goodness!” she exclaimed. “An
earl
?”

“Don’t be fooled by that title. In spite of his blue blood, he was nothing but an unemployed New York actor when he met Thaw’s sister. The story goes that the Earl of Yarmouth was arrested for debt on the morning of his own wedding. They had to pay off his creditors for him.”

Dillman was an excellent guide, patient, knowledgeable, and keen to show her the sights. Genevieve was very grateful. Though she had visited New York City a number of times, she had never had the chance to take a proper look at Manhattan. Working for the Cunard Line was a pleasurable duty but it limited her free time. No sooner did she and Dillman dock in one ship than they were being assigned to another for an east-bound crossing. It suddenly struck Genevieve that her friendship with George Porter Dillman had developed, for the most part, on the treacherous waters of the Atlantic. It was a welcome change to spend more time with him on solid ground.

“Heavens!” said Genevieve as another dwelling caught her eye. “That’s not a house at all. It’s a veritable palace. An imitation French château.”

Dillman grinned. “Wait until you see the Vanderbilt mansions.”

“Why?”

“They’re even more grandiose. There are three of them on Fifth Avenue. My favorite is the one on the corner of Fifty-second Street. It cost every bit of three million dollars.”

“I know the Vanderbilts like to splash their money around.”

“Ostentation is all part of the game,” he said disapprovingly. “The house was built by William Kissam Vanderbilt at the behest of his loving wife, Alva. Apparently, it’s a cross between the Chateau de Blois and a Renaissance mansion at Bourges. They also own a summer resort in Newport, Rhode Island. The Marble House is even more sumptuous than their residence here.”

Genevieve was impressed. “You seem to know a lot about them, George.”

“I was once a dinner guest of the Vanderbilts.”

“Were you?”

“Not that they would remember me,” he admitted, “and it was not to the Marble House that I was bidden. It was to the other Vanderbilt mansion in Newport. An Italian palazzo of alabaster and gilt. It was built by Cornelius the second for his wife, Alice. They called it the Breakers. You’ll get some idea of its size when I tell you that it needed almost fifty servants to run it.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I was there on that bizarre night when the Vanderbilt ballroom was filled with the uniforms of a historic British regiment. Take my word for it,” he said, his eyes sparkling nostalgically. “I was wearing one of those uniforms.”

She was astonished. “You?”

“Along with all the other actors who were hired for the night. Cornelius the second had delusions that he was the Prince of Wales. His dear wife humored him by mounting this elaborate charade. It was very realistic. The attention to detail was remarkable.” Dillman chuckled. “I bet you didn’t know that I once served in the British army, did you?”

“No, George.”

“It was my first job as an actor. It gave me a taste for it.”

“You say that Mr. Vanderbilt had delusions?”

“His mind was quietly crumbling, poor fellow.”

“Think of the expense involved,” she said, shaking her head in wonder. “His wife must have loved him to go to all that trouble on his behalf.”

“She was devoted to him, Genevieve. And there are far worse people he could have imagined himself to be than the present King Edward. Anyway,” he went on with a fond smile, “that was the social highlight of my life. I had dinner with the Vanderbilts in a splendid red uniform.”

“Where did all their money come from?”

“That’s the interesting thing.”

“Why?”

“The original Cornelius Vanderbilt started out as the captain of a ferry between New York and New Brunswick. From that humble beginning, he built up a fleet of freighters, then developed a transatlantic steamship line.” Dillman gave a shrug. “After that, he moved into railways and made an even bigger fortune. Transport, Genevieve,” he noted, wagging a finger. “That’s where the Vanderbilt millions came from, and I think there’s a lesson in it for us.”

“Us?”

“Of course,” he replied with mock seriousness. “We’re in the transport business as well, remember. We may be minor employees of the Cunard Line at the moment but, if we follow Vanderbilt’s example, we’ll end up ruling the oceans of the world.”

Genevieve laughed. “If only it were that easy!”

“What would you do with all your money?”

“I wouldn’t waste it on a palatial mansion, I know that.”

“So how
would
you spend it, Genevieve?”

She became pensive. “I’d travel the globe,” she said at length.

“I was hoping you’d say that,” he confessed, taking his cue,
“because it brings me to the reason I wanted to show you something of New York today. I was seizing the opportunity while it still exists. If you agree to my suggestion, you won’t be seeing this city again for quite some time.”

“Why not?”

“You’ll be far, far away from here.”

“Will I?”

He gave a nod. “How would you like to have a rest from crossing the Atlantic?”

“A holiday?”

“A working holiday, Genevieve. Aboard the
Minnesota
.”

She frowned slightly. “That’s not a Cunard vessel, is it?”

“No, it belongs to the Great Northern Steamship Company.”

“I’ve never heard of them.”

“That’s not surprising,” he conceded. “They’re a very small company. I just happen to have a friend who works for them and he’s asked me to do him a favor.”

“What sort of favor?”

“The
Minnesota
has problems. I won’t bore you with the details now. Suffice it to say that the ship needs some eagle-eyed detectives on its next voyage. I agreed to help.”

“But you have commitments to the Cunard Line.”

“I’ve spoken to them about that,” he said, flicking a speck of dust from his sleeve. “They’re perfectly happy to give me leave of absence. We’ve been sailing between here and Liverpool since last September, Genevieve. Our faces are getting a little too familiar. If we’re seen too frequently on Cunard liners, people will start to work out that we can’t really be bona fide passengers.”

“That would be disastrous.”

“Exactly. Lose our cover and we limit our effectiveness.”

“So what’s the answer?”

“Venture into new territory with the
Minnesota
.”

“Where does she sail?”

“The Pacific.” He smiled as her face lit up. “First port of call is Japan, then we cross to mainland China. We’ll be carrying
freight as well as passengers. In fact, that’s one of the reasons they want us aboard. It will be a real challenge for us, Genevieve.”

“I can see that,” she said, trying to absorb the shock. “I assumed that we’d be back in England by the end of next week. Instead of that, you’re talking about Japan and China. I can’t seem to get my mind around the idea.”

“I’m sorry to have sprung it on you like this.”

“It’s certainly a tempting offer.”

“But not one you have to accept,” he stressed. “I’ve signed on for the next voyage of the
Minnesota,
but you’re free to work on a Cunard steamer, if you prefer.”

“Without you?”

“I’m afraid so, Genevieve.”

“But we operate so much better as a team.”

“Of course,” he said with enthusiasm. “Your class and my know-how make a great combination. What do you think? Are you ready for a trip to the Far East?”

“When do I have to decide?”

“Pretty soon.”

“So what you’re offering me is a fait accompli,” she said reproachfully as doubts began to crowd in on her. “You’re putting a gun to my head just like that man in the Roof Garden restaurant.”

“No!” he protested.

“You make a major decision yourself, then ask me to take it or leave it.”

Dillman was defensive. “That’s not how it is at all.”

“Then why not give me more warning?”

“I only made a definite commitment yesterday.”

“After you’d spoken to Cunard,” she reminded him. “You should have told me that this was in the wind, George. It’s unfair to go to our employers behind my back.”

“You’ve always let me negotiate with them in the past.”

“This is different. I had a right to be told everything at the outset.”

“The offer came out of the blue, Genevieve.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to conceal it from me. I thought that this ride today was in the nature of a treat,” she said, waving an arm at the passing houses. “But it was simply a trick. A way of softening me up so that I’d be more amenable to your plan when you finally disclosed it to me. It was a means to an end.”

“The end was to acquaint you more closely with New York.”

“Before you whisk me off to the Far East.”

“Don’t you
want
to visit Japan and China?”

“Of course,” she said, “but not necessarily on these terms.”

“You seemed to like the notion at first.”

“That was before I realized you’d made secret arrangements.”

Dillman was contrite. “Genevieve, I’m sorry,” he said, squeezing her arm. “Maybe I was a trifle high-handed. It was wrong of me. I should have confided in you at an earlier stage. Listen,” he continued, “forget about me and my offer. The
Carmania
sails for Liverpool on Monday. You can sail with her.”

“Stop it!” she said with exasperation. “You’re doing it again.”

“Doing what?”

“Trying to make up my mind for me.”

He flashed her a smile. “Would I dare to do that?”

“Yes, George, and you know it.”

“All I’m doing is to offer you a choice.”

“When you’ve already made yours.”

“I told you, Genevieve. I’m doing a favor for an old friend.”

“And what about me?” she asked with controlled vehemence. “I thought that I was your friend as well. Don’t I qualify for a favor?”

“Calm down,” he soothed. “You can have as many favors as you wish.”

“The one that I’d value is some plain, old-fashioned honesty.”

“I
am
being honest,” he argued earnestly, “and I bore you in mind throughout. When the offer was first put to me, I said
that I’d only consider it if you could work with me on the
Minnesota.
It was a conditional acceptance.”

“Except that you forgot to mention it to me—until now.”

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