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First published in The Green Book Magazine, October 1918

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The Green Book Magazine, October 1918, with "The Affair at Steffen Shoals"

A puzzling mystery confronts Detective Masters—and when he solves it, there ensues an exciting time.


THE bell rang insistently. Knowing that Central would have me fully awake in five minutes anyway, I rose and yanked down the receiver, prepared to bite the head off the individual who had nerve enough to rout me out at three in the morning.

"Bert?" The quick question forestalled the savage growl I was summoning as I leaned over the transmitter. I straightened instantly from my belligerent slouch, for it was the one voice in the world I most wanted to hear.

"Jigger!" I exclaimed, as wide awake suddenly as if it had been noon. "Where are you? Where have you been? I'd given you up for dead two months ago!" This was literally the truth, for Masters had been out of town nearly four months, and because I knew his sledge-hammer methods in dealing with his quarries and the risks he delighted in taking, I had pictured him lying somewhere in the mud of the East River, or hacked to pieces by some of the alien criminals he sought.

"Not yet, Hoffman!" he chuckled. "Can't answer your questions over the wire, though. Are you very busy?"

"Lord no!" If I had been painting the Queen of England at the moment, I would have answered in the same way. As it was, I had two portrait appointments for the following week, but I knew these could be postponed.

"Same old Bert!" he laughed. "Well, meet me at the 5:32 Grand Central."

"This morning?"

"Yes. Oh, and bring your golf sticks, if you can find them. We may be able to get in eighteen holes. I'm anxious for a game."

"All right." I knew that Masters was chaffing, for he scarcely knew a driver from a sammy iron, but behind the lightest of his jests there lay always a serious side. "Any—other weapons?" I asked, thinking of the two automatics that had lain unused in my bureau drawer for so long.

"Of course," he replied. "That's always understood." As he dropped the receiver, I sprang to my feet, thrilling with delight at the prospect of action. I needed it badly, for my work had fallen off in quality of late. The impetus and inspiration of an adventure with Masters was just what I wanted.

I GATHERED a few pieces of clean linen, in case I should be away longer than the day, and crammed them into my leather bag. I started to put the automatics on top, but changed my mind. Masters' affairs often developed with such startling suddenness that it was unwise not to be fully prepared. I placed one in the pocket of my jacket and the other on my right hip. My breakfast was a hurried affair, not because there was any particular reason for rush but because I was burning with impatience. As a result I got to Grand Central nearly a half-hour early.

I was lighting my second Panetella when I spied Masters. He was approaching briskly from the subway stairs, dressed as I had never seen him before. His angular frame was revealed more than usual by a back-fitted tweed coat, and the material advertised by garish checks the fact that the new American dyes were not yet complete successes. The soft collar of his shirt, though pinned together carefully over the tie, left his bony neck unprotected. Always previously he had worn the highest linen procurable. Completely engulfing his mat of black hair was a checked cap, pulled down too far toward his ears. I thought he seemed a little paler and thinner than on the last occasion I had accompanied him—the time we chased the family ghost for Lew Macey.

"Jigger!" I cried, seizing his hand warmly. He did not speak for a second, but I saw the curious expression creep into his blue eyes that was his nearest approach to sentiment.

"I'm glad to see you, old man!" he answered, a moment later, crushing my fingers. "Thought I never was going to get back to New York."

"So did I! Well, what's the assignment that gets us up before the roosters this morning?" And this was all the spoken greeting between us. I think that it would have been the same had Masters been away for ten years instead of a few months; each of us knew exactly what the other thought and felt, yet both were unable to phrase our genuine gladness.

Masters purchased our tickets, signifying by a gesture that he would tell me the story as soon as possible. When he came back, we made for the smoker, and took the seat farthest forward. The train had just been made up, so we were the first in the car.

"It has been a tangled skein, Bert," began Masters, when we had arranged our baggage, "the hardest case to get at I've ever tackled. I have one end of the thread in hand now, and because I know how you delight in being on hand at the finish, I've asked you out with me.

"Over fourteen weeks ago I was called to Washington. I couldn't tell you, for I was asked to keep my own counsel strictly. It seems that for some months they have been cognizant of certain information leaks. News reached the Germans before our own troops in France knew it."

"You mean that there were spies in our own departments?"

"Yes, were and are!" he nodded emphatically. "That's nothing unusual, of course. Every nation has to contend with that problem. The feature about it that caused me to be called in was that such a quick and comprehensive chain for the revealing of ordnance and construction secrets had been established that the Germans actually were using our newest war weapons against us about as quickly as we could bring them into play ourselves.

"One of the most striking examples of this was the chloropicrin-phosgene gas mine. This was an American invention, but the Germans knew all about it and brought it up on the Toul front only ten days after we used it first. Since it takes at least a month to make one of these terrible agents of destruction, you can see readily how soon the Germans must have heard of it."

"I should think we would begin to investigate!" I replied. "What was this gas-mine apparatus?"

"A huge tank-bomb arrangement for use underground," replied Masters. "I won't trouble you with a description of it except to say that it was placed in territory about to be evacuated. When the enemy occupied the position it was exploded. First it gave off terrific clouds of chloropicrin gas: this is an agent that makes every soldier sicker than he was his first trip on the ocean. Naturally every man takes off his gas mask when he gets sick—chloropicrin gets through the mask—and that leaves him an easy mark for the phosgene. The latter gas comes from the mine five minutes after the chloropicrin. Since the inhalation of a microscopic quantity of phosgene is immediately fatal, taking off the masks at this time allows the phosgene to get in its deadly work. Most of the victims of chloropicrin are too sick to care, anyway."

I shuddered. "Ghastly thing, isn't it?" I said.

"Yes." Masters shrugged his shoulders. "They have found, though, that the only way to fight the Huns successfully is to beat them to it. Because the Germans are learning our secrets as fast as we can invent new machines and methods, though, is exactly the reason you and I are here."

"Where are we bound for this morning?"

"Jaques Corners, Rhode Island," answered Masters promptly.

"Sounds rural," I commented. "What are we going to find there?" I noticed that our train had started.

"Well, I am told that the Weekapang Country Club near there has an excellent golf course."

"Oh, don't be tight!" I exclaimed. "What are we after? Where are these outlandish places?"

Masters smiled. "You can find Weekapang on the map, down in the southernmost corner of Rhode Island. The golf course—"

"Oh, hang that! What about Jakeville, or whatever you called it? Jaques Corners, wasn't it?"

Masters' expression became serious. "That is a war town, put up entirely by the Government for the construction of war machines and munitions. I have traced my skein that far, and I have a hint of the next coil of the strand. I think they call the town by that hick name just to avoid suspicion. I have three men in high positions in our war organization who are going to face a firing squad before another month has passed. It is only because I do not care to let the method go undiscovered that I have not had them court-martialed already. They have confederates and some method of conveying news to Germany that is novel, to say the least. In all the time I have watched them not one of the crowd has sent a wireless message, mailed a letter or engaged in intimate conversation with any people outside their own homes. And I have made certain that members of the family have not carried the messages on."

"Then why do you suspect them? They sound blameless."

"Yes, entirely too much so!" Masters' tone was savage. "An innocent man posts a letter now and then. He also gets chummy with other men. These men don't. Besides,—and I'll admit that this feature occurred to me after I had them nailed down,—I have evidence to prove that the specifications of the chloropicrin-phosgene mine passed through these particular hands, not to mention other documents that Hindenburg would pay millions to possess. The last snarl in the thread I am following is a Mr. Mesnil Phillips, a Government inspector of ordnance. I am convinced that through him the news reaches the Germans, though how he does it I cannot pretend to say just yet.

"The manner in which I have pinned down these men has not been spectacular in the least. Only five persons saw the specifications of the gas mine before it was taken to the ordnance factory at Jaques Corners. One of these was the President. Another was the Secretary of War."

"That leaves three possible suspects," I commented.

"Yes," answered Masters in a solemn voice, "and it is a dreadful thing to know that individuals even in these lesser positions of trust can prove traitors."

I moved uneasily. "But are you certain?" I asked. "It seems to me that there ought to be plenty of chance for some mechanic or foreman or some one like that out at the manufacturing plant to send on the news."

Masters shook his head. "No, it's not possible. On the twelfth of November, 1917, the plans of this mine were submitted by one of our greatest military inventors.

"He had worked alone on the project, and is a man who appreciates thoroughly the fact that secrecy is a prime factor in the success of any new machine. On the twenty-seventh of November the approved plans were placed in a time-lock safe at the factory. On the fourth of January of this year the first of the mines arrived at our front in France. On the evening of the thirteenth of January the Germans exploded an identical mine near St. Mihiel. Making every allowance for the transmission of the plans, the lesser time required for transporting from Essen or Brandenburg, the finger points unerringly at the fifteen-day period elapsing before the plans reached the factory."

"Sounds a little shaky!" I remarked dubiously.

"In one case, yes," returned Masters. "I have followed through the gas mine with you because I mentioned it first. The infrangible part of the reasoning rests in the law of averages, however. I have established the same chain in no less than four other important instances. Even at that I never would dare to prefer charges of this sort without having every loophole covered. In the past three months I have directed a body of sixty picked secret-service agents. These have made it their business to know every movement during every second of waking time of all of the individuals who even might have obtained access to the plans at any time, but with negative results. I have data in hand to show what all of these have done every day—with one exception. That exception is Mr. Mesnil Phillips, one of the original three, and concerns his recreation periods."

"Golf, you mean?"

"Yes." Masters' face was drawn and serious. "I know that it is possible for me to make mistakes, Bert, but I have given this case the very best I have, and without hurry. I have eliminated all the factors but one. That one must materialize!" The long fingers of his right hand clenched with unconscious emphasis.

"Have you baited any trap?" I asked.

He nodded slowly. "Yes. That is what makes success just at this time absolutely necessary. A certain construction secret is going through now that a thousand men in Washington would give their lives to prevent the Germans from receiving. Because I have given my solemn promise of its protection, I have prevailed on the Secretary of War to send it by the usual channels!" He regarded me quietly. "It's up to us, Bert," he said in a strained tone.

Our conversation turned to my personal affairs. Rather I should say that Masters directed it thus. Perceiving that he did not care to discuss the case further at the time, I related the work I had accomplished in his absence. After a time I saw an impersonal stare creeping into his eyes, the old symptom of concentration. Since I knew that he was not listening, I picked up a newspaper.

We did not stop in the town of Weekapang, but took the station bus directly to the country club. "I thought you said Jaques Corners," I mentioned, as we were jogging along over the macadam road.

"Yes. There's no station there for passengers, though. See!" And Masters pointed to the north, where I discerned a cloud of smoke over the tree-tops. "That's Jaques Corners," he said.

THE Weekapang Country Club proved to be a frame building set in a small grove of oaks. Toward the ocean the land rolled away as clipped fair green, artistically bunkered and pitted.

While Masters introduced himself to the secretary, I captured a pair of caddies and practiced with my driver. The moment Masters appeared, however, he dismissed the boys, flipping them a quarter each. "We may play this course too irregularly to suit caddies," he said when we were well toward the first hole. "The secretary tells me that our friend, Mr. Mesnil Phillips, is out alone. He is wearing a white felt hat and white flannel trousers, and has no caddie."

"Because this is Thursday we probably won't have any difficulty locating him," I said. "Not many matches play during the week."

Masters scanned the broad expanse of grass. "No one in sight just now," he commented. Removing a small field-glass from the pocket of his coat he swept the circle. At a point southwest from where we stood the binoculars rested.

"Think I see him," he remarked. "He's up beyond, probably playing the second nine."

"What will we do, cut in behind him?" I asked.

"No, not yet. We'll play the second. That doubles parallel to the way he's shooting. All I want to do is to keep him in sight all of the time. When I am playing, you keep your eyes on him." At the moment all I could distinguish was a white speck, far off in the direction Masters indicated, but as we went on, the two courses converged, nearing the ocean. Fifteen minutes later we could follow the man's actions without glasses.

AS he played along, I saw him stop two or three times and study the landscape before him, as if in doubt as to which club to play. Always he dubbed his shots, however, for as he approached the fifteenth green, I saw him use his mashie three times, yet the man did not look like a beginner. He was lean and bronzed from the sun, and he possessed an easy, certain swing that spoke of long practice.

He acted sincerely disgusted after his last mashie shot. Throwing down his club he unbuckled the strap of the pocket on his bag and drew out another ball. Dropping this in the approximate position of his last shot he again faced the green.

He was still angry, apparently, for when he addressed the ball he swung on it with entirely unnecessary strength. The gutta-percha sphere mounted in a perfect arch, soaring high above the flag. It floated far over the rough beyond toward a little clump of oaks, beside which an employee was raking up leaves.

"Fore!" I heard Phillips call sharply. The man in overalls started as the ball narrowly missed his head, impinging among the tree-trunks beyond. Masters got so excited at this that he holed out a putt he never could have made in a conscious moment. As the two of us picked up our balls and scored, we saw the employee gaze about him, and then recover the ball that had so nearly hit him. He did not throw it back as we expected, but dropped it into his pocket. Phillips paid no attention to this, but calmly sought his first ball, and played up to the green.

Though we watched him feverishly as we teed off on the third hole, he never made any sign that he had seen the theft. He holed out and then teed off on the sixteenth, playing directly away from us.

"Didn't care much about eighty-five cents!" I commented, knowing that the incident had some bearing on the case, but willing to let Masters give me the correct version, when it pleased him.

"That ball was worth quite a bit more than that," said my friend, hurrying on. "Yes, I imagine Phillips would have spent a long time looking if he had really lost it." His tone was excitedly triumphant, and I eyed him inquiringly.

HE wasted no time in explanations, however. As soon as we had a bunker between us and the man in overalls, Masters stopped. "You stay right here!" he commanded. "Take a good rest and watch that employee. If he does anything with that ball, you follow the ball. Don't let them know you're watching, either, or it will all be spoiled!"

"What are you going to do?" I asked.

"Going in to interrogate the secretary again," he answered shortly, and swung away into his long, graceless stride.

I watched him depart with mixed feelings. I was going to miss luncheon and anticipated a dull, hot time out in the sand-pit, watching our quarry; still, if Masters really was only going to see the club secretary, I was nearer to the action than he would be. I poked my head out beside the bunker, and looked for the man in overalls.

I was just in time. He was making his way down toward the beach, having deserted his rake. In a moment the bank would have shut him off from my view. I seized the ball I had been playing with and hurled it with all my strength toward the clump of trees. It bounced into the rough, and I hurried after it, seizing the first club that came to hand.

Using this as an excuse, I approached the edge of the bank. The man in overalls was looking straight out over the bay, seemingly interested in the white stone lighthouse two miles out to sea. As bad luck would have it I tiptoed that instant upon a dry stick. At the snap which resulted the man in overalls whirled about. I did my best to register absorption in the business of finding my ball, but out of the tail of my eye I saw him glowering at me. A second later he strode up the hill.

"Are you a member of this club?" he demanded, approaching me.

"No, a guest," I replied, assuming as innocent an expression as I could summon.

"Who introduced you?" His tone was curt and aggressive, and his words left me at a total loss. Jigger had not mentioned the member through whom we had obtained the right to play.

"Mr.—er—Smith," I rejoined hesitatingly. "Did you see a ball come over here?" I stamped about in the long grass, hoping to divert his attention.

His expression grew blacker, and I saw him glance hastily over his shoulder. "Mr. Smith died last month!" he growled, and a shiver danced down my spine. Could there be only one Smith in the club?

"Harry Smith is the one I mean," I explained.

"There ain't any Harry Smith!" he retorted. "Now you get out, and get out quick!" He extended a muscled arm in the direction of the gateway, and came toward me.

"Now see here, my man," I began in an attempt to be dictatorial. It did not work, however. He dived for a hold on my collar and made me duck to avoid him. Seeing there was to be no other way out of it I brought my mashie niblick down upon the crown of his head. It was not a hard blow, as I had no intention whatever of killing him, but he sank to the ground without a word. I examined him hastily, but could not tell for certain whether or not I had fractured his skull.


Seeing there was to be no other way out of it I brought
my mashie niblick down upon the crown of his head.

THE far-away throbbing of a marine engine caused me to look up. Midway between the distant lighthouse and the shore a white chip of a motorboat was dancing on the rollers. It was headed in my direction, and as I gazed, the idea flashed through my mind that a connection might exist between my victim and the little craft. I thought immediately of the golf ball, and feverishly explored the pockets of his overalls for this.

The moment I had it in hand, however, I knew that there was something peculiar about it. The sphere was less than one third the normal weight of a ball! I turned it over, examining the surface. Sure enough, a curved line was distinguishable where a flap had been fastened down with rubber adhesive. My penknife soon sliced through this, exposing the hollow core. The interior of the ball was literally stuffed with paper!

I pulled this out and put it in my pocket, and then glanced again at the motorboat. It was approaching steadily, and I knew that in a very few minutes the occupants would be looking for the man in overalls. On impulse I turned again to him. Stripping him of the blue suit I pulled it over my golfing attire, and pulled his battered felt hat over my eyes. Then I went down to the protection of the last clump of bushes near the water's edge, and waited. I had some hope of being shielded sufficiently from the observation of those who would land to allow me to get the drop on them with my revolvers.

As they drew near, however, it became apparent that they did not intend to land at all. Keeping just outside the line of breakers they hummed along parallel to the shore. I got the idea. The golf ball would float! The next second the sphere was flying outward in a long parabola, to fall a few yards in front of the bow of the motorboat. The lone occupant dipped it out of the water deftly, waved his hand and passed on.

JUST as the ball left my hand, I heard a gasp behind me. "My heavens, Bert!" protested the voice of Masters. "You didn't give them that ball after all, did you?" He was looking up at me in genuine consternation, and I noticed that the course employee lay beside him in a crumpled position different from that in which I had left him.

Masters said nothing more for an instant; I saw that he was truly disgusted. "Here," I answered at last, unable to keep the secret longer, "are the papers that were inside the ball!" I held out the crumpled roll.

Masters pounced upon this and examined it hastily. "Bravo, Bert!" he exclaimed. "I had thought you stupid for the moment." A peculiar expression crept into his blue eyes. "Guess I won't have to explain much of this case to you," he commented. "You must have got to the bottom of it pretty well in the ten minutes I was away."

"Well," I said, "you can explain to me what you did when you got back here." And I pointed to the prostrate figure beside us.

"Killed him," rejoined Masters. "I came up just in time to see him creeping up on you with a golf club. I reached him first; that's all.

"You have the chain pretty well in hand now," he went on, changing his tone. "That golf ball goes out to Steffen Shoals lighthouse. What becomes of the message then?"

"I—I suppose they send it to Germany by wireless," I returned doubtfully.

"No. That wouldn't work long. How would you like to see the dénouement and the answer to it all at the same time?"

"Lead on!"

"Well, no hurry," he answered, smiling. "There's nothing doing till evening. I thought, as soon as I saw the way the golf ball was being passed around, that I had come to the last snarl of the chain. We'll go down now and get a boat for Block Island."

"Won't he—the chap in the boat, I mean—find out that the message has been extracted from the ball and come back for it?" I asked as we gained the clubhouse.

Masters nodded sharply. "Correct, Bert!" he said. "I'll get a posse to wait down there for him."

AT seven that evening we boarded a United States torpedo-boat destroyer at Block Island. The speedy vessel moved quietly out into the ocean and was joined by two more of the rakish gray craft. Though dusk was settling on the water, the destroyers showed no lights. At a speed which could not have been more than seven or eight knots an hour the three silent defenders crept toward Steffen Shoals. As they approached, their speed slackened still more, until it seemed that they were scarcely moving. As the tower of the lighthouse became dimly perceptible in the distance. Masters clutched my arm. "We may have to wait awhile," he said in a low tone, "but the show is due to start at any minute!"

Fifteen minutes later it did start. On the side of the lighthouse tower a steady light flashed out. This burned for perhaps ten minutes. Then it began certain gyrations that were both unaccountable and unintelligible to me, whirling about in a semicircle to the right, going back to the horizontal, going to the left twice and then continuing the dizzy whirl until I lost count entirely.

"Semaphore signals!" whispered Masters. The second he spoke three immense searchlights flared from the decks of the destroyers, throwing the ocean at the foot of the lighthouse into a light far brighter than day. Motionless, perhaps six hundred yards in front of us, I saw a grayish shape lying on the water, like an immense elongated whale come to the surface.

"A U-boat!" I cried, as Masters pushed his hand over my mouth. As it proved, there was no necessity for silence. Fifteen three-inch semi-automatic cannon, trained on the marauder, spoke almost in unison. Every second thereafter one or more of the pieces sent a shell into the splendid target.


Fifteen three-inch semi-automatic cannon spoke almost in unison.


It lasted only a minute or so, but during that time the gray back of the U-boat was kept well illuminated by the fires of bursting shells as well as by the searchlights. Huge fragments were knocked off before the commander could even think of submerging, and as I watched, deafened but thrilled to the depth of my soul, the sea monster turned on one side and sank.

Masters left me at that moment, and while the vessels were patrolling the circle he was in conference with the captain. The two joined me a half-hour later, and Masters' face was glowing. "It's really a big success, Bert!" he exclaimed. "We got one U-boat, and the captain thinks that more will call around here each day or so. They will trap every one of them!"

"But how about Mr. Mesnil Phillips and the rest of his chain of spies?" I asked.

Masters frowned. "Nobody will ever hear of them again!" he answered shortly.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.