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Chapter 24

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."

"A package?"

"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:

"Captain Tantrella!"

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.

Victor Appleton

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