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Authors: Conrad Allen

Murder on the Minnesota (5 page)

BOOK: Murder on the Minnesota
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“It’s the journey that matters,” said Blaine, lifting his glass again, “not the destination. I’m a student of human nature. That’s why I always enjoy voyages.”

“Yes,” said Dillman thoughtfully. “I suppose that people’s true character does emerge when they’re at sea. I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps it’s because they’ve left the security of land. They experience a sense of freedom and release.”

“That depends on their nationality.”

“In what way, Mr. Blaine?”

“Well,” argued the other, “we Americans might feel that sense of release, but I’ve never noticed it in anyone from Europe. Take the English, for instance. Whenever they set sail, they seem to become even more English, if you know what I mean. They cling to their social rituals and withdraw into themselves.”

“Not all of them.”

“There are honorable exceptions, I guess.”

“Indeed,” said Dillman, thinking of Genevieve Masefield. “I must confess to a soft spot for England. I suppose you’d call me an unrepentant Anglophile.”

“Why is that?”

But the question went unanswered. Before he could say another word, Dillman saw a dark shadow fall across the table. He looked up in dismay to see Father Slattery looming over them, grinning broadly as if he had just bumped into two old friends.

“Good evening, gentlemen!” he said effusively, sitting down without invitation. “You don’t mind if I join you, do you?”

FOUR

G
enevieve Masefield found the evening both enjoyable and informative, but she made sure that she was back in her cabin well ahead of time. She slipped off her gold earrings and removed her pearl necklace, then put them both away in their respective cases. They were much more than cherished presents. Along with the rest of her jewelry, they were essential items in her disguise as a first-class passenger, visible symbols of wealth that could hold their own with the adornments worn by other women. Blanche McDade had been covered in jewelry, wearing rings on most fingers and a gold bangle on her left wrist. On the front of her dress was a gold brooch in the shape of a leaf. An expensive pair of earrings and a diamond necklace completed the display. It was a paradox. The most timid and reticent woman at the table wore the most ostentatious jewelry. Genevieve suspected that she had done so at the insistence of a husband who was eager to show off some of the gifts he had lavished on his wife. Etta Langmead had worn far less jewelry, and Fay Brinkley had worn none at all, save for a gold clasp halfway up her left forearm.

When she heard a tap on her door, she knew that it was
bound to be him. Whatever his faults, George Porter Dillman was unerringly punctual. He believed that lateness was often nothing more than lack of consideration. His theatrical training had also served to make him a good timekeeper. A late entrance on stage was unprofessional. Genevieve opened the door to admit him, then checked the passageway to ensure that nobody had seen him enter. Dillman looked around the cabin with approval. Closing the door, she waved him to a seat but remained standing. He gave her a warm smile.

“It’s very snug in here,” he observed. “Well up to Cunard standards.”

“I’m really starting to like the
Minnesota
.”

“You may change your mind when you hear what I have to say, Genevieve.”

“Why?”

“I’ll come to that,” he said, savoring the pleasure of being alone with her again. “First, tell me how you got on.”

“Pretty well, George.”

“You seemed to be part of a congenial group of people.”

“I was,” she agreed. “More or less, anyway. Mr. McDade was rather trying at first, and David Seymour-Jones was not exactly a sparkling conversationalist. Otherwise, I had a very pleasant evening.”

She described what had happened and told him how she had warmed to Fay Brinkley. Nobody had been more friendly toward her than Etta Langmead, but it was the dignified Fay who made the deepest impression on her and with whom Genevieve sensed a bond. The two of them had agreed to have a private meeting the next day. Though she talked about David Seymour-Jones, she made no mention of his romantic interest in her, largely because she doubted if it really existed but also because she was unsure of Dillman’s reaction. It was strange. He had never exhibited the slightest sign of jealousy before, yet she found herself drawing back from a disclosure that might put him to the test. She talked about everyone she had met. He was pleased by what he heard.

“I watched you from time to time,” he said. “You were one of them.”

“I felt it, George.”

“Winning peoples confidence is vital.”

“What about you?” she asked. “When I was leaving the saloon, I saw you at a table with three other people.”

“One of them was Rutherford Blaine, and the others were Mr. and Mrs. Chang.”

He explained who his companions were and what he had learned from them. Dillman was annoyed that his private conversation with Blaine had been interrupted by the Catholic priest. Genevieve remembered the man clearly.

“I saw him coming aboard. He was having a loud argument with someone.”

Dillman sighed. “That would be Father Slattery.”

“Is he really so obnoxious?”

“No, he’s just so convinced that he’s right about everything. He’s a true zealot, and there’s no margin for error in such people. Mr. Blaine is a much more complex and interesting man. I like a hint of human fallibility in my friends.”

“Is that why you chose me?” she teased.

“I rather hoped that we’d chosen each other, Genevieve.”

“Am I fallible enough for you?”

“I’ll reserve judgment on that,” he said with a laugh.

“How did you get free from that Father Slattery?”

“Mr. Blaine came to my rescue there. He’s a mild-mannered man, but he can be very assertive when he chooses. In the nicest possible way, he told Father Slattery that we had some confidential matters to discuss, then eased him gently on his way. It was over in seconds. I’m still not quite sure how he did it.”

“Was the priest offended?”

“On the contrary,” recalled Dillman. “He was full of apologies when he backed away. He met his match in Rutherford Blaine. However, the danger is not completely past, I fancy. Father Slattery is determined that he and I should get together.”

“Why?”

“He thinks I’m a potential convert.”

“You, George?”

“I must have an aura of spirituality.”

Genevieve suppressed a smile. “That’s not what I’d call it.”

Dillman turned to more professional concerns. After telling her about his visit to the purser, he passed on the detailed description he had been given of Rance Gilpatrick. Genevieve was pensive. She went swiftly through the long list of people she had noticed in the dining saloon.

“I don’t think he was there, George,” she decided. “If he’s as distinctive as he sounds, one of us would have picked Mr. Gilpatrick out. But I know someone who’s bound to bump into him sooner or later.”

“Who’s that?”

“The Langmeads. They have a cabin on the boat deck as well.”

“They’ll be neighbors of Gilpatrick. Keep in touch with them.”

“I don’t have to,” she said with a smile. “Etta Langmead has adopted me.”

“Care to swap her for Father Slattery?”

“No, thank you!”

Genevieve sat down and crossed her ankles. Dillman had given her a fairly full account of his dealings with the purser but she felt that he might have held something back out of consideration for her. She pressed for more detail.

“What sort of a man is this Rance Gilpatrick?” she asked.

“The worst kind, Genevieve. He uses people. According to Mike Roebuck, he’s guilty of almost every crime in the book. Gilpatrick has worked his way up the coast,” said Dillman. “He started in Los Angeles, moved his business interests to San Francisco, then branched out further north. He owns saloons in Tacoma and Seattle, apparently. And he has a finger in dozens of other pies.”

“You mentioned something about silk.”

“That’s only the purser’s guess, but I think he could be right. It’s a very profitable trade. Do you know much about silk, Genevieve?”

“Only that I can’t afford to buy enough of it.”

“Is that a hint?”

“I’d never be so calculating!” she said with mock indignation. “In answer to your question, all I know is that the finest silk comes from China and Japan.”

“Only not on this vessel,” he explained. “The Canadian Pacific Line seems to have something of a monopoly. Their ships have special holds, fitted with side ports for speedy loading. Because silk is so costly, the insurance premiums are correspondingly high, so speed is essential. It’s important to get the stuff back quickly, loaded onto a train, and sent off to Chicago or New York. But, of course,” he pointed out, “if your cargo of silk is not declared, you don’t have to pay a cent in insurance. You can ship the stuff back by means of a slower vessel.”

“Like the
Minnesota
.”

“A bale of silk will fetch eight hundred dollars on the open market. Smuggle thirty bales back to Seattle, and you might clean up the best part of a quarter of a million dollars.”

“I hadn’t realized there were those kinds of returns.”

“Rance Gilpatrick aims high.”

“What gave the purser the idea that he was dealing in silk?” She saw him hesitate. “Come on, George, I want the truth. Don’t keep anything from me.”

“Fair enough,” he said with a shrug. “The last time they docked in Japan, Mike Roebuck had him followed by a detective. Gilpatrick went to a silk dealer. Before the detective could get any firm evidence, he was beaten to a pulp.” Genevieve swallowed hard. “Gilpatrick doesn’t take prisoners.”

“Are they sure he was responsible for the attack?”

“The purser doesn’t believe in coincidences. Neither do I.”

There was a long pause. “You did warn me there might be danger,” she said.

“True, Genevieve, but at least we know where it’s coming
from. Every other time we’ve sailed together, crimes have been committed and we’ve had to search for the culprit. It’s the other way around now.”

“We already have our suspect.”

“Rance Gilpatrick. All we need to establish is the nature of his crime.”

“Supposing that he
is
buying silk,” she asked. “Does he pay for it in cash?”

“That’s the question I’ve been asking myself. It’s not impossible that he’s involved in some kind of barter. He may have goods aboard that somehow don’t show up in the manifest. Gilpatrick exchanges them for the silk.”

“How? Everything is checked so carefully by customs.”

“They can’t open every crate and box, Genevieve. There are always cunning ways to smuggle goods. Look at the antiquarian bookseller we caught on the
Lucania.
His consignment of rare books turned out to consist largely of bootleg liquor. He took me in completely at the start.”

“And me,” she conceded.

“Suspect everyone. That’s the golden rule.” Dillman stretched himself. “Well, it’s been a long day,” he said, rising to his feet. “I’ll let you get some sleep.”

“Before you go, can I ask you a personal question?”

He grinned. “That depends how personal it is.”

“Did you vote for President Roosevelt?”

“That’s a secret between me and the ballot box.”

“In other words, you didn’t.”

“As a matter of fact, I did. I respect the man. Why do you ask?”

“Mr. McDade had nothing but contempt for him,” she said, remembering the virulence of the man’s scorn. “He seems to hate the idea of having anything at all to do with the rest of the world. That includes Britain, by the way. He thinks an American president should think only of America.”

“That’s an all too popular view, I’m afraid,” said Dillman wearily. “The doctrine of splendid isolation. I’m dead against it
myself. If I’d turned my back on the rest of the world, our paths would never have crossed.”

“He got so angry about President Roosevelt.”

“People do, Genevieve.”

“You don’t, obviously.”

“He’s trying to build bridges with other nations. That’s a sensible policy, in my opinion. Since we have to share this planet, we should make an effort to get on together.”

“Mr. McDade would disagree. I’m glad that your Mr. and Mrs. Chang were not sitting at our table. He said some very unkind things about Chinese immigrants.”

“There’s a lot of resentment against them on the West Coast.”

“Why?”

“It’s the natural distrust of the foreigner, Genevieve. Let’s be honest,” he went on with a twinkle in his eye. “You probably distrusted me at first.”

“I still do.”

They traded a laugh and then she got up to open the door, peering out to see if the corridor was empty before giving him a signal. Dillman gave her a farewell kiss and slipped out. As he headed for the stairs, he reflected on a productive evening and decided that he would spend an hour studying the plans of the ship before he turned in. A perusal of the manifest would also be included. He wanted to know the precise details of the cargo that they were carrying. It was the freight that was slowing the vessel down. Standing at the rail of a Cunard liner, he always got an immediate sense of speed and power. The
Minnesota
was a little more pedestrian, but that might work to his advantage. It would allow him and Genevieve far more time to detect any crime that was being committed.

The crucial thing to remember was that they were on the vessel for a specific purpose. Conviviality was very seductive. In the company of friends, it was easy to lose concentration. They had to remain alert. Rance Gilpatrick was no stranger to violence, and Dillman was certain that he would have a confederate or two aboard. One of his first tasks would be to
identify everyone associated with the man. Instinct told him that Gilpatrick’s circle was not confined to the passenger list. If he was smuggling on the scale envisaged, he would need inside help. It opened up a new line of inquiry. Turning it over in his mind, Dillman descended the stairs and made his way toward his cabin.

When he came into the passageway, a warning bell sounded inside his head. Someone was there. The uneasy sensation he had felt in the dining saloon shot through him again. It was eerie. Though the passageway was empty, he was sure that he was being watched. Making an effort to appear relaxed, he strolled to the door of the cabin and let himself in. Why was someone keeping an eye on him? Did he have an unknown enemy? Had his cover been exposed? Dillman found it worrying. He listened at the door for a long while until he thought he heard footsteps outside. He moved quickly but there was nobody there when he opened the door. Yet he sensed that someone was nearby. Hurrying to the end of the passageway, he looked around the corner and was just in time to see a man disappearing up a companionway. Dillman gave chase, but the man had too much of a start on him. Emerging on the promenade deck once more, Dillman searched first in one direction, then in another. It was all in vain. His phantom shadow had melted away into the night.

“It’s good to see that someone takes our advice,” said Mike Roebuck, making a note of the items and issuing a receipt. “If everyone put their jewelry in the safe, we’d lower the risk of theft considerably.”

“I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone,” said Genevieve. “George told me that you wanted a word with me.”

“I do, Miss Masefield. I like to be able to put a face to a name.”

“Well, here I am, Mr. Roebuck.”

“So I see.”

“Have you employed a female detective before?”

“No, I can’t say that I have.”

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