"At midnight," the dying woman spy told Lieutenant-Commander Sam Farrell of the US. Naval Intelligence, "the Battleship Arkansas will be sunk in the Potomac!" And it was just an hour till midnight!
LIEUTENANT-COMMANDER Sam Farrell, United States Naval Intelligence, walked up Pennsylvania Avenue as he had been directed on the telephone and crossed Rock Creek into M Street. He walked slowly, scanning both sides of the street carefully, seeking the figure of the woman he was to meet.
With each block that he traversed, Farrell's anxiety increased. Laska, who made a business of selling international secrets, had never been late to an appointment. Always Sam walked this way down a street when she had something to sell him, and always she waited in some dark doorway, showing him for a moment the white oval of her face. And then, he would follow her to a place of safety where they could do their business.
Tonight she had not appeared yet. Sam crossed the intersection of Potomac Avenue, and saw ahead of him the structure of the Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge which crossed the Potomac into Virginia. To his left he could see the long rakish lines of the capital ships New Mexico, Arkansas and Wyoming, riding at anchor just below Three Sisters Island.
The day before yesterday there had been four capital ships there in the river. But at midnight of that day, the fourth ship, the Rhode Island, had suddenly deafened the inhabitants of Washington by the terrific explosion that had torn her vitals apart and sent her wreckage floating down the river in bits of flaming spar and twisted metal. Eleven hundred men had perished in the explosion. The cause of the explosion could not be determined, but separate investigations had been started by eight government departments.
Lieutenant-Commander Sam Farrell had been assigned from Naval Intelligence; and the catastrophe had assumed for him a more sinister aspect than that of accidental explosion when he received the phone call from the Countess Laska Alonen that afternoon.
Though forty, the Countess Laska was still beautiful enough to sway men. She had wheedled secrets from cabinet members, even from members of royal families, in her day. Now she lived on the secrets she managed to sell to anyone willing to buy. Often she sold them nothing more than a good piece of fiction. But she never did that to Sam Farrell, for she felt a deep gratitude toward him. Sam had once saved her from a firing squad in the Balkans. So he knew that this was no wild goose chase upon which he was going now.
Laska had said: "The Rhode Island was more than an accident, Sam. There will be more. What is it worth to you?"
Sam had promptly replied: "Ten thousand, Laska. I'll get you the limit. That's all I can pay without a Congressional appropriation. But if it's the goods, I'll make 'em pony up plenty more!"
"All right, Sam. Walk up Pennsylvania tonight. Start from Washington Circle at eight sharp. I'll pick you up somewhere between there and the bridge."
There was a click, and she had hung up. Sam had filled out a voucher, and Admiral Beasley had secured the money for him.
"I told the Secretary," Beasley growled, "to get the other ships out of the Potomac. But no. Even if it's sabotage, he won't show 'em the United States backing down! So there are the boys on those three ships, wondering if they're going next!"
Beasley gave Sam Farrell a little push. "Go get the dope, Sam."
BUT now, Farrell walked toward the Memorial Bridge without spotting Laska. He came close to the bridge approach; saw ahead of him the abandoned C. & O. Canal between the shore and the B. & O. Railroad tracks. There was a shack on the edge of the canal, and two trucks, which were being used by a contingent of C.C.C. engineers. There was an underwater caisson, and a diving outfit. They were working under powerful floodlights, sending two men down to the bottom.
Sam came up and stood on the Canal Road watching the men at the top pay out the diving lines. A grizzled major of engineers was superintending the work. He noted Sam's interest, and gave him a cigarette.
"Looking for buried treasure?" Sam grinned.
The major shook his head soberly. "Geodetic survey," he explained. "They've got some theories about the rock formations at the bottom of the canal. Tonight," the major's eyes clouded, "we've been doing a different kind of work. We've been dragging the bottom for bodies from the Rhode Island!"
Sam nodded sympathetically, watching all the time in the direction of the bridge. He was beginning to be worried about Laska. The major was explaining at length about the nature of the work, and Sam was exercising one of those amazing faculties of his—that of listening to a man talk and at the same time concentrating on something else. At last he excused himself, started back toward the Memorial Bridge.
"Come again," the major called after him. "I'm on the night shift six days a week, and you're a good listener! Langwell is my name."
"Farrell's mine," Sam said, waving goodbye.
He got back to the approach of the bridge, and then he saw Laska. She was running, on foot, from the Virginia side; running for her life. Behind her, two men raced, and a third was springing to their aid from a car which was halted halfway down the bridge, facing toward Virginia. Apparently Laska had jumped from that car, in a desperate attempt to escape. The three men who pursued her carried no guns. But two of them had knives which gleamed nastily in the electric lights along the bridge. They were rapidly closing in on the fleeing woman, and Sam launched himself toward them, running with the ease of trained muscles.
He could see Laska's face. It was set in desperation, and she was panting from the frantic speed of her exertion. One of the men behind her stopped, and raised his knife, holding it by the blade, to hurl at her back. Sam Farrell's automatic leaped out into his hand, and he pumped a fiery line of slugs at the knife thrower. The man was hurled backward by the force of the lead, and the knife fell from his lifeless hand. The second man halted, dropping to his face. Laska kept on running. The third man, who had only come a few steps from the car, whirled and jumped back in. In a second he was out again, with a sub-machine gun in the crook of his elbow.
Sam Farrell emptied his automatic at the fellow, but the distance was too great. And in a moment the machine gun began to chatter. A leaden hail ripped down the length of the bridge, and Laska uttered a scream, tripped, and fell on her face. Blood spurted from a dozen spots in her back.
Sam Farrell bit out an oath and bent double, racing toward the machine gunner. He knew what he was doing. The man's drum was empty. He would have to reload. The machine gunner turned, dived into the car, and in a moment was racing away toward the Virginia side. Only one man of the attackers was left alive on the bridge. This was the second man with the knife, who had flung himself to one side when Sam started to shoot. Now he rose up in Sam's path, the knife gleaming in his hand.
SAM saw that he was a Eurasian of some sort, and that was all the chance he had to do any observing, for the other was slashing at him viciously, small eyes gleaming desperately. Sam clubbed his automatic, raised it to parry the knife slashes. The blade sliced his hand, and then Sam stepped in, smashed a blow with his left fist to the other's face. The Eurasian groaned, tottered, and fell forward. The hilt of the man's knife struck the ground, with the blade pointing upward. And the point entered the man's chest. He fell squarely upon it, uttered a long, weird scream, threshed about, and then lay still.
Sam Farrell didn't wait for him to die. He turned and dashed back to the spot where the Countess Alonen lay on her face. He knelt beside her, tenderly lifted her. She uttered a choked moan, and opened her eyes.
"Sam!" she whispered. "I—I didn't think—the end—would be like—this. You—couldn't—save me—this time, could you!"
He said: "Take it easy, Laska."
She shuddered. "I—do not mind to die. I have lived—lived to the full. But—my little girl—in the convent of The Sisters of Mercy. You—will look after her, Sam?
"I—will repay you for doing—that—by—telling you—the thing you want to know. The Rhode Island—no accident—Vogelsand. He is behind it. Tonight it is the Arkansas! At midnight—"
Suddenly there was a dry rattle in her throat, and she stiffened. Her eyes became vacant. She was dead.
Sam let her gently down, and stood up. Men were running toward them from both ends of the bridge, attracted by the gunfire. The horns of several cars were bleating as the drivers tried to get past the running men. And from the Washington end of the bridge, a patrolman's whistle shrilled loudly.
Lieutenant-Commander Sam Farrell paid no attention to any of this, or to the fact that his hands and the knees of his trousers, and his shoes, were flecked with blood. He looked down solemnly at the dead body of the Countess Laska Alonen. She had danced with royalty, had walked in the gardens of palaces in the capitals of Europe; and now she lay dead, a pitiful, bullet riddled figure on the roadway of a bridge across the Potomac. And every word she had forced out of her dying lips had meant something:
"Arkansas—midnight—Vogelsand—Convent of the Sisters of Mercy!"
The name "Vogelsand" burned itself into Sam Farrell's consciousness. There, on the bridge, with the riding lights of the great battleships in the river above, with Laska Alonen lying pitifully at his feet, with men rushing toward them, his mind flew back five years to that night in the Balkans when he had piloted Laska Alonen through an underground passageway to freedom from the sentence of a court martial. It was in the darkness of that underground passage that Casimir Vogelsand had tried to stop them, to wrest from Laska the secret she was selling to Sam.
Vogelsand had met them with cold steel, and they had fought, Vogelsand's knife against Sam's fists, none daring to use a gun for fear of bringing the prison guards down on them. And Sam Farrell had caught Vogelsand's wrist, in the black darkness which hid the men's faces from each other, and had forced the other's knife back against his own throat, had forced the man to slash his own neck with his own knife. They had left the international spy there, but Vogelsand apparently had not died. His name had grown with the years. And always Sam Farrell had known that they two were destined to meet again. Now, the wounded Laska Alonen had brought him his name on her dying lips!
SAM'S thoughts were broken by a police car that came speeding up alongside from the Washington end of the bridge, with Major Langwell, the C.C.C. officer, riding the running board. A patrolman leaped from the car, revolver in hand, and surveyed the two dead knife-men, and the lifeless form of the Countess Alonen. Then he swung on Sam Farrell.
"You!" he barked. "Drop that gun. You're under arrest!"
Major Langwell pushed up beside the patrolman. "No, no, officer. This man did not kill her. I saw the whole thing. He shot it out with the murderers!"
Sam Farrell flashed the major a glance of thanks, then took him and the still doubting cop aside from the group of curious that had miraculously arrived from both ends of the bridge. He brought out his wallet, and showed the cop a small card, bearing his photograph in miniature, and his specimen signature. The card read:
Washington, D. C.
Be it known that the bearer of these credentials is SAMUEL FARRELL, a duly commissioned Lieutenant-Commander of the United States Naval Intelligence. It is requested that all arms of the Service grant him full cooperation as may be demanded by him.
It was signed by the Secretary of the Navy, and it brought the immediate respect of the cop.
"Get to a phone," Sam ordered. "Have every Virginia road blocked. I want the man that got away in that car. As near as I could see, it was a black, two-door sedan. Have every car stopped if necessary!"
The officer nodded, and pushed through the rapidly gathering crowd. Other officers had arrived, and had cleared spaces about the dead bodies. Major Langwell walked with Sam back to where the countess lay. "She was a spy, eh?" the major said.
Sam nodded. He knelt beside her, and carefully went through the small purse she had dropped. There was nothing informative in it, except a receipted bill for one month's rent at a boarding house on L Street, not far from the Bolivian Legation. Sam put everything back in the purse, making a mental note of the address.
Major Langwell said to him: "It's a damned shame. She was a beautiful woman. They didn't give her a chance to squeal, eh?"
Sam said tightly: "No, they didn't."
"I don't want to seem to be butting in," Major Langwell went on. "But if it's in connection with the explosion of the Rhode Island that this thing happened, you ought to get them to move those three other ships out of here. I saw the explosion from the Canal. It was terrible. All those boys torn to bits. It's lucky nobody was diving from my outfit at the time. They'd have been literally shocked to death by the concussion. There are hundreds of dead fish floating in the water now."
Sam said dully: "Yes, I guess the ships ought to be moved. But they won't be. They'll stay there to the bitter end!"
The major exclaimed: "By God, sir, whoever is responsible for keeping them here ought to be shot. The lives of those sailors and marines are being risked wantonly!"
Sam left the major still ranting, and made his way through the crowd to M Street, where he flagged a cab and drove to the Navy Building, where Admiral Beasley was still at work.
Beasley grunted at him: "Hell, Sam. You were just a bit too late there. They got to her first. Now we're back where we started—except that we know definitely that it's sabotage. Otherwise the countess wouldn't have been killed."
"We know more than that, sir," Sam told him tersely. "Laska talked before she died—just a few words. The Arkansas is scheduled to go at midnight. And—Vogelsand is behind it!"
Beasley gasped. "Vogelsand!" His bushy brows almost met at the bridge of his nose as he frowned.
CASIMIR VOGELSAND was a name that had become a bugaboo in the realms of international intrigue. The man was as ephemeral as a night owl, and slippery as an eel. He worked for whichever government paid him best, and had often been in the employ of two or three at the same time. Almost every important act of sabotage since the World War had been laid at his door. No one could be found who knew exactly what he looked like, but it was known that he was ruthless and dangerous. The murder of Laska Alonen was a fair sample of the way the man worked.
Beasley reached for the telephone. "And you say, Sam, that the Arkansas is slated to go at midnight? Wait'll I get the Secretary. I'll have him order all three ships out of the Potomac at once—whether he likes it or not. Vogelsand is no man to fool with!"
Sam Farrell stopped him from dialing the number, with a hand on the Admiral's arm. "It's no use sir," he said wearily, showing the other his wrist watch. "It's ten minutes after eleven. The three ships only have skeleton crews. The men are on shore leave. They could never get up steam in time to move before midnight!"
Beasley racked the phone without making his call. "You're right, Sam." His face was gray with anxiety. "If it's Vogelsand, his plans are carefully made. He must know that we're taking extra precautions. There are a dozen armored launches in the Potomac, around the ships. We've put an extra contingent of marines on each ship, and the boats have been searched from stem to stern. A fly could not be hidden on board any of them without being discovered." Beasley's shoulders drooped. "Yet—I'm afraid!"
There was a knock at the door, and it opened almost at once to reveal the tall, commanding figure of the Secretary of the Navy. The Secretary was a man well on in his fifties, and he carried himself with an air of quiet authority.
He nodded to Sam, who stood stiffly at attention, then spoke to Beasley, who had arisen from behind his desk: "I came right down, Beasley, when I heard of that business on the bridge." He swung on Sam. "What's the story, Farrell?"
"The story is, sir," Sam said quietly, "that the Arkansas is slated to go up at midnight. Laska Alonen has never misinformed me. She told me before she died that the man behind the plot is Casimir Vogelsand!"
The Secretary paced nervously up and down the room. "Vogelsand!" he murmured. "I've had reports from our agents abroad. There are world powers who find it impossible to keep up with us in armament building. They are determined to block our own navy increases in any way they can. This would be the logical way to work. The destruction of two or three capital ships would more than offset the ships now in course of construction—"
"I understand the situation, sir," Sam said drily. "The thing we're up against is to stop Vogelsand before midnight. We have less than an hour, and no idea at all where Vogelsand is, or how he intends to strike. It would be impossible to move the ships before midnight; but couldn't you at least move the men off the Arkansas? Their lives—"
"It can't be done, Farrell!" the Secretary snapped. "Can you imagine the international repercussions if it was learned that the United States of America abjectly put its tail between its legs and deserted a 30,000-ton capital ship so that an international saboteur could blow it up at leisure? Why, man, we'd lose face all over the world. They'd laugh at us in every city in the world!" He stopped as he saw the look of disgust in Sam's face. "You think I'm contemptible for exposing those men to death, eh? Well, Farrell, I'll show you—and I'll show the rest of the country—that I'm not a cad. I'm going on board the Arkansas—at once. And I'm going to be there at midnight. If the ship is blown up, I'll die with those men!"
The Secretary swung to the door, pulled it open. At the threshold he paused.
"It's up to you, Farrell, to find Vogelsand or to stop him—before midnight!"
And before Beasley or Sam could utter a word of protest, the Secretary of the Navy was gone.
"My God," Sam said to Beasley, wiping his face with his handkerchief, "the old boy has courage. I didn't think he had it in him!"
Beasley was staring at the closed door, tugging at his under lip. "What can we do—in forty-five minutes?" he demanded. "It's madness—"
Sam interrupted him. "I'm on my way, sir. I'm going to Laska's boarding house. There may be some clue to Vogelsand in her belongings. It's the only lead I've got, and I can't sit around here doing nothing."
"All right," Beasley grumbled. "I'll have to do the sitting around. Call me from there, will you, Sam?"
Sam nodded, and left, got another cab, and drove to L Street.
THE boarding house where Laska Alonen had lived was near the corner of N.W. Nineteenth, one of a row of similar buildings. As Sam got out of the cab his roving eye noticed a car at the curb around the corner on Nineteenth, but he paid no particular attention to it. He told his driver to wait, and rang the bell. His watch showed eleven twenty when the door was opened by an elderly woman. Sam wasted no time in explanations. He exhibited his credentials, demanded to know where Laska Alonen's room was.
The woman said: "Someone else was here a few minutes ago wanting to know the same thing. I told them her room was the third floor rear, but I wouldn't let them up because they had nothing to show who they were. You're different, sir. What's happened to the lady? Was she in an accident?"
"Yes," Sam said absently. "An accident." He went up the two flights to the third floor, stopped before room twelve, which the woman had told him belonged to Laska. He inserted the key the landlady had given him, turned it in the lock, and entered. The room was in darkness, but Sam caught the whir of movement close beside him, and threw himself to the floor just as something swished through the air above him.
There was a grunt, and someone stumbled against his prone body, fell over him. The man twisted, and Sam reached out, groping. His fingers touched a sleeve, and he gripped an arm. A knife blade swished in the air, and buried itself in the floor beside Sam's head. Sam lashed out with his fist, felt bone crunch beneath his knuckles, and a gasp of pain came from the man he was grappling with. Sam struck again, and the man went limp.
From the far side of the room a flashlight clicked on, bathing him in its light. Sam couldn't see into the glaring light, but he twisted away from the man he had slugged, rolled over on the floor just as a revolver alongside the flash exploded with thunderous roar in the small room. A slug whined toward the spot where Sam had been, and thudded into the body of the man Sam had slugged on the floor.
The flashlight shifted, fingering toward Sam again, but he had his own gun out now, and fired at the light. The flash was shattered, and there was a shout of pain from the man who had held it as the room was plunged in darkness once more. Shots filled the room with ear-splitting reverberations as Sam and the unknown gunman fired in quick succession. Sam had jumped to a corner, and the other's shots did not find him. Sam didn't know whether he had scored again or not. When his gun was empty, he crouched, listening for movement. There was none.
Slowly, carefully, not making any noise, Sam got out his own flashlight, held it away from him, and clicked it on. The beam of light showed him a man huddled near the window, with a hole in his head. At least one of Sam's shots had scored.
He got to his feet, found the light switch, and turned it on. Near the door lay the one Sam had slugged. He was on his face, still clutching the knife embedded in the floor. Near the window lay the other.
People out in the hall were screaming, shouting, peering in through the open door. But Sam paid them no attention. His suddenly narrowed eyes were on the clothing of the two dead men. Both were young, but with the olive, mottled skin of Eurasians. And both wore the olive drab uniforms of C.C.C. workers!
Sam lunged from the room, pushing through the crowd of startled tenants who gave way before the revolver in his hand, not knowing it was empty. Downstairs he spotted a pay phone, and called the central telephone office, asked for the supervisor.
"This is Lieutenant-Commander Farrell, United States Naval Intelligence," he said tensely. "I want this call routed through over everything else. There's a C.C.C. shack on the edge of the old C. & O. Canal, on the Canal Road past the Francis Scott Key Bridge. I want to talk to the major in charge there—Langwell is his name. Reach him by phone somehow—and fast, for God's sake!"
HE had to wait almost three minutes, and then he heard Langwell's voice:
"Major Langwell speaking. Who is this?"
"Look here, major," Sam burst out. "I've just discovered that men in the uniform of C.C.C. workers are involved in the Rhode Island explosion. They may be from your camp. I have learned that the Arkansas is slated to be blown up at midnight. For God's sake, major, keep a sharp eye on every one of your men, and phone Admiral Beasley at the Navy Building to send help. I'll be there myself as fast as a cab can make it!"
Langwell caught the situation at once. "If it's my men, Commander, you needn't worry. I won't let them make a move from now till midnight. And I'll phone the Navy Building for you. Come along!"
Sam hung up, and hurried down the hall. He met a patrolman and a plain clothes detective just inside the doorway, and he wasted another precious three minutes giving explanations and identifying himself. Then he was in the cab, gasping out: "Straight across to Pennsylvania Avenue, and out to the Canal Road. Don't stop for anything under the sun! This is government business!"
The driver hesitated, looking at the gun which Sam still held.
Sam swore softly, showed his card to the driver. "Now will you get going? Every second counts!"
The cabby's doubts were dissipated by the sight of the card. He threw the car into gear, shot past the traffic light at New Hampshire Avenue, and raced along into Pennsylvania. "I thought at first," he said over his shoulder, "that you was a stick-up or something. What was all that shooting in there—"
"Never mind that!" Sam barked. "Drive like hell—that's all you have to do!"
He glanced at his watch. Eleven forty. There was very little time. He reloaded his revolver, and sat on the edge of the seat, staring ahead. They ran into a traffic jam at Twenty-Sixth Street, but the driver got out of it at Sam's urgent order, by mounting the sidewalk. They raced past the Memorial Bridge where Laska Alonen had met her death, and pulled up with squealing brakes alongside the C.C.C. shack at the edge of the canal. The two army trucks were gone, but some of the workers were grouped around the caisson, and others were at the edge of the water, working the machinery by which the divers were brought up. As Sam ran toward the shack, he saw a diver's head break the surface of the water, saw the man climb up.
The C.C.C. men were too busy—with the diver to notice him, and Sam opened the door of the shack, slipped in. Major Langwell was at the window, watching the return of the diver. He was in his shirt-sleeves, and beside him, was an oblong box with a detonator handle in the top. Wires ran out of the window from the box. Looking out from the shack, one could see the three battleships in the river, and the dozens of patrol boats, with searchlights illuminating the river, covering the water with brilliant light.
LANGWELL turned from the window, said: "How do you do, Commander Farrell. I was just keeping an eye on the men—"
"Did you call the Navy Building?" Sam demanded.
"I did. They're going to spread a cordon around the section—"
Langwell had turned, and was facing Sam. In the bright light from the ceiling bulbs, the major's face was clearly limned. And on his neck, where it had been hidden by the uniform collar he had worn earlier, there showed a dark scar. Sam's gun was out of his shoulder holster in a flash, covering the major.
"Put your hands up, Casimir Vogelsand!" he said tightly.
The major showed no surprise. His features remained set, cool. Only his eyes burned with a dull glow, and his lips twisted in a thin smile as he slowly raised his hands.
"You guessed—by the scar?" he asked coolly.
"By the scar, yes," Sam told him. "And by the fact that you didn't call the Navy Building as I asked you to. I deliberately gave you the chance to call them, so that if you were Vogelsand you would give yourself away by not doing so."
The major's cool features expressed only polite interest. "But how could you know that I didn't call? You had no time to phone, yourself. You came directly here—"
Sam grinned tightly. "By the fact that those patrol boats are still out in the river. If you had called the Navy Building, Beasley would have radioed the patrols, and they would have headed right in here!"
"I see," said the major softly. "You are very clever, Commander Farrell. I have been hoping for five years to meet you again—ever since the night that you gave me this scar." His eyes burned vindictively.
Sam took a step forward. "Well, we've met. Stand away from that detonator!"
Casimir Vogelsand's eyes flickered. "You understand its purpose, then?"
"Of course," Sam growled. "You rigged yourself and your crew up in C.C.C. uniforms, and set up the diving apparatus and the caisson. There are so many government units around, that nobody would suspect you were not doing government work. Then you tunneled through under the B. & O. tracks over there, and laid a mine under the Rhode Island. You exploded it from this room, with that detonator, and then pulled in the severed ends of the wires. There was no way to connect the explosion with you. And then you even volunteered to search for clues at the bottom of the river!"
"Very well thought out," Vogelsand approved. "Now it is almost midnight. We must not let you interfere with our schedule for the Arkansas." His voice crackled. "Do it now, Yalo!"
And before Sam realized his peril, a loop of rope descended over his wrist, yanked his gun hand to one side. At the same instant someone struck him on the back of his head, viciously. Out of hazy eyes he saw the squat man who had handled the machine gun on the bridge, pulling at the rope by which his hand was caught. The man had expertly flung the rope, lassoing his wrist. Another Eurasian was standing over him with a knife.
Vogelsand said to the man with the knife: "Keep the point ready, Stepan. He is a resourceful young man."
Stepan showed his teeth. "Have no fear, Casimir. It will be buried in his throat if he moves an inch!"
SAM'S head was swimming from the two blows. He rested on the floor, on his back. His head throbbed, and felt wet and sticky.
Yalo went to the door and whistled, and several of the bogus C.C.C. men came in.
Vogelsand, standing beside the detonator, ordered them: "Take him out and put him in the caisson. We will lower it, and when the explosion occurs, the concussion will kill him. When he is found, later, there will be no mark of gun or knife on him."
Sam started to struggle to his feet, but rough hands seized him, held him.
"Hurry," said Vogelsand. "And walk him to the caisson, so that if anyone should see him enter it, they will think he went down in it to investigate."
Yalo nodded, led the way out the door. The bogus C.C.C. men grouped around Sam propping him up, forcing him out with them. They moved around the shack toward the caisson. In order to reach it they had to cross the spot where the wires ran into the water from the window of the shack. Sam chose that spot to slump in the grip of his captors, letting himself become a dead weight. They tried to heave him up, and Yalo turned toward them, frowning.
"Bring him quickly," he ordered.
One of the Eurasians came around in front to grip at Sam's coat, and Sam suddenly straightened, bringing up his knee to the man's groin. The fellow yelled, and doubled over. Sam reached forward, grasped the hilt of the knife that showed in the man's belt, and yanked it out. He slashed backward, and one of the men holding his arms let go, in order to dodge.
Yalo uttered a sharp curse, and sprang in. Sam put all his weight behind a diving thrust that tore him free of the grip of the others, sent him crashing head first into Yalo's abdomen. Yalo tumbled backward, retching, and Sam rolled over on him, his fingers curling around the butt of the revolver that Yalo had stuck in his belt. He whirled fiercely, and the Eurasians shrank back from the menace of the muzzle. One of them, behind the others, raised his knife to throw, and Sam shot him in the face. The others rushed in then, and Sam fired five times, fast. Bodies dropped at his feet, writhing, and Sam worked clear of them, saw Vogelsand in the window, with both hands on the detonator, about to press the handle.
His face was a mask of hate, and when he saw Sam free of the writhing group, he took one hand from the detonator, picked up a gun, and aimed through the window. Sam dived for the wires leading from the shack, just as Vogelsand fired. The slug smashed into his shoulder, sent him to the ground on top of the wires. Sam still held the knife he had pulled from the Eurasian's waist. He cut frantically at the wires, while Vogelsand fired at him again and again. Vogelsand's gun was empty, and Sam was bleeding like a stuck pig, but he still continued to hack away.
Vogelsand uttered a cry of rage, turned to the detonator, pushed down on the handle, just as Sam hacked through the last strand!
The detonator handle went all the way down, and Sam collapsed across the severed wire. There was no explosion. But Sam Farrell didn't know about that. He was unconscious.
WHEN he opened his eyes next, it was broad daylight, and sun was streaming through the broad windows of the immaculately white room in the Naval Hospital. A male nurse was puttering about the room, and at the bedside stood Admiral Beasley, grinning broadly, and the Secretary of the Navy, who was looking down benignly from over his glasses. The Secretary was holding a little plush box.
Beasley said: "Well, Sam, how's it feel to be awake again?"
Sam mumbled weakly: "W-what happened last night?"
"Last night!" Beasley guffawed. "You mean last week!"
"Have I been out for a week?"
"I'll say you have! They kept feeding you morphine regularly. It was touch and go for a while. But you seem to thrive on slugs!"
The Secretary of the Navy cleared his throat. "Lieutenant-Commander Farrell," he said formally, "in recognition of the outstanding act of heroism which you performed in preventing the destruction of the Battleship Arkansas at the risk of your life," he paused, and opened the box, "I am authorized and instructed by the Congress of the United States of America to present you with this, the highest award within the gift of your country—the Congressional Medal of Honor!"
And he stooped, pinned the bronze medal on Sam's pajama jacket.
Sam tried to say something, but a lump formed in his throat, and he couldn't talk. His eyes shone.
The Secretary stooped and pressed his hand, and Admiral Beasley did the same. After a moment, Sam asked feebly: "W-what about Casimir Vogelsand?"
Beasley's face was grim. "When we got there, there was nobody around but you and some dead men, and a couple of wounded Eurasians. He got clean away."
Sam's eyes were bleak. "Too bad. I'll have to wait, till we meet again to pay him off for Laska Alonen!"
Beasley was fingering a wad of money in a rubber band, which he had taken from the night table among Sam's possessions. "What about this ten thousand that you were supposed to give the Countess—"
"That money," Sam told him softly, "should by rights go back into the Treasury of the United States. But there's a little girl in the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy, who doesn't even know yet that her mother is dead."
Sam went on. "After she told me about Vogelsand, she asked me to look after the kid. I know it's irregular—"
"I think," said the Secretary, "that the Treasurer of the United States won't be asking for that money. In fact, I don't even know what money you mean."
Sam smiled weakly as the two turned to go. "Thanks, Mr. Secretary," he said.
They left him alone, fingering the five-pointed star of his Congressional Medal, and thinking of the next time he would meet Casimir Vogelsand.