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Chapter 25

IN THE HOSPITAL


Instantly the confusion that had reigned on the dock became worse. Men ran to and fro shouting, no one seeming to know what to do.

"We must help him!" cried Captain Tantrella, shoving his papers into his pocket. "Come!"

He and Larry fought their way to the man's side. A crowd surrounded him, but no one offered to do anything. The truck driver had dismounted from his high seat and was quieting his frightened horses.

"It wasn't my fault," he cried. "He ran right under their feet."

"One side!" exclaimed a loud voice, and a burly policeman shouldered his way through. "What's the matter? Give the man some air."

Retto did not look as though he would ever need air again. He seemed quite dead.

"Let me get at him!" called Captain Tantrella. "I know something of medicine."

"Shall I call an ambulance?" asked Larry of the police officer. "I know how to do it."

The bluecoat nodded, glad to have help in the emergency. Then he proceeded to keep the crowd back while the captain knelt down beside the unfortunate man.

"Bad cut on the head," the commander of the Turtle murmured. "Fractured, I'm afraid. Leg broken, too. It's a wonder he wasn't killed."

The captain accepted several coats which were hastily offered, and made a pillow for the man's head. He arranged the broken leg so that the bones would be in a better position for setting, and then, with a sponge and a basin of water which were brought, proceeded to wipe away the blood from the cut on Retto's skull.

The crowd increased and pressed closer, but by this time more policemen had arrived, and they kept the throng back from the sufferer, so that he might have air.

It seemed a long time before the ambulance, which Larry summoned, made its arrival, but it was only a few minutes ere it clanged up to the pier, the crowd parting to let it pass. In an instant the white-suited surgeon had leaped out of the back of the vehicle before it had stopped, and was kneeling beside Retto.

With deft fingers he felt of the wound on the man's head.

"Possible fracture," he said in a low voice. "Double one of the leg, I'm afraid," as he glanced at that member. "Lend a hand, boys, and we'll get him on the stretcher."

There were willing enough helpers, and Retto was soon in the ambulance and on the way to the hospital, the doctor clinging to the back of the swaying vehicle as it dashed through the streets, with the right of way over everything on wheels.

"Here's news in bunches," thought Larry, as he saw the ambulance disappearing around a corner. "I must telephone this in, and I guess it will be a beat. To think that after all that I have Retto where I want him. I'm sorry, of course, that he's hurt, but I guess he can't get out of the hospital very soon. I'll have a chance to question him. Then I'll make him tell me where Mr. Potter is, and that will end my special assignment. I'll not be sorry, either. It's been a hard one, though I'm glad I got it, for the experience is fine."

Thus musing Larry looked for a telephone station and soon the story of Retto's accident was being sent over the wire to the city editor.

"This will make a fine lead for our Potter story," said Larry, as he finished telling of the accident.

"I've got another plan," said Mr. Emberg.

"What is it?"

"Do you think anyone else knows who Retto is? I mean anyone on the pier who saw him hurt?"

"I think not. Captain Tantrella might, but other reporters are not likely to connect him with the case."

"Then this is what I'm going to do. I'll use the story of the accident separate from the Potter story. We'll say an unidentified man was run down on the pier. If he has a fractured skull he'll not be able to tell who he is, and he has probably taken good care that there are no papers in his clothes by which his name can be learned.

"If we state that the injured man is the mysterious Retto, who is mixed up in the Potter case, we'll have every reporter in New York camping out at that hospital waiting for a chance to get the information from him. If we keep quiet we may be able to get it ourselves without any of the others knowing it. We'll try that way, Larry. It's a risk, but you've got to take risks in this business."

The young reporter admired the generalship of his city editor, who could thus plan a magnificent beat. Larry saw the feasibility of the plan. If he kept his information to himself no one would know but what the injured man was a stranger in New York, and that he was connected with the Potter case would be farthest from the thoughts of any reporters who were working on the missing millionaire story.

"You must camp on his trail, Larry," Mr. Emberg went on. "As soon as you hear from the hospital people that he is in shape to talk, get in to see him. You can truthfully claim to be a friend and acquaintance, for you once helped to save his life. If you get a chance to talk to him, ask where Potter is, and let us know at once. We'll get out an extra, if need be. Now hurry over to the hospital and let us hear from you as soon as possible. Get a good story and a beat."

"I only hope I can," murmured Larry, as he left the telephone booth and started for the hospital to which Retto had been taken.

He had a slight acquaintance with the superintendent of the institution, and when he explained his errand the official agreed to let Larry in to see the man as soon as the nurses and surgeons had finished dressing his injuries.

"How is he?" asked Larry.

The superintendent called over a private telephone connected with the ward where Retto had been taken:

"How is the patient just brought in from the pier? Comfortable, eh? That's good."

Then he turned to Larry:

"I guess you can go up soon," he added. "Can you give us his name, and some particulars? He was unconscious when he came in," and the superintendent prepared to jot down the information on his record book.

This was a complication Larry had not foreseen. If he gave the superintendent the fugitive's name, any other reporters who came to the hospital to inquire about the injured man would at once connect Retto with the Potter mystery, and the Leader's chance for a beat would be small indeed. What was he to do? He decided to take the superintendent partly into his confidence.

"I know the name he goes by," he said, as the beginning of his account, "but I do not believe it is his right one. I think it is an alias he uses."

"Never mind then," the superintendent interrupted, much to Larry's relief. "If it's a false name we don't want it."

"I believe it is," Larry added, and he was honest in that statement, for he felt that Retto was playing some deep game, and, in that case, would not be likely to use his right name.

"We don't want our records wrong," the head of the hospital resumed. "We'll wait until he can tell us about himself."

The telephone bell rang at that juncture, and the superintendent answering it told Larry the patient was now in bed and could be seen.

"Don't get him excited," cautioned the official. "I want to get some information from him about himself when you are through."

It is sometimes the custom in New York, in accident cases, to allow reporters to interview the victims, when their physical condition admits of it. So it was no new thing for Larry to go into the hospital ward to speak to Retto. He passed through rows of white cots, on which reclined men in all stages of disease and accident. There was a sickish smell of iodoform in the atmosphere, and the sight of the pale faces on either side made Larry sad at heart.

"There's your patient," said a nurse who was with him, as she led Larry to the bed where Retto reclined under the white coverings that matched the hue of his face. "Now don't excite him. You newspaper men don't care what you do as long as you get a story, and sometimes all the work we nurses do goes for nothing."

"I'll be careful," promised Larry.

The nurse, who had other duties to keep her busy, left Larry at the bedside of the mysterious man. He was lying with his eyes shut as Larry approached.

"Mr. Retto," called the reporter.

There was no response.

"Mr. Retto," spoke Larry, a little louder.

At that the man opened his eyes.

"Were you calling me?" he asked. Then he caught sight of Larry, and a smile came on his face.

"Well, you've found me, I see," was his greeting. "Only for that team I'd been far away."

"I suppose so. But now you're here, for which I'm sorry; I hope you will answer me a few questions."

"What are they?" asked the man, and a spasm of pain replaced his smile.

"I believe you know the secret of Mr. Potter's disappearance," said Larry, speaking in a low tone so none of the other patients would hear him. "I want you to tell me where he is."

At the mention of Mr. Potter's name Retto raised himself in bed. His face that had been pale became flushed.

"He—he—is——" then he stopped. He seemed unable to speak.

"Yes—yes!" exclaimed Larry, eagerly. "Where is he?"

"He—is——"

Then Retto fell back on the bed.

"He has fainted!" cried the nurse, running to the cot. "The strain has been too much for him," and she pressed an electric button which summoned the doctor.

Victor Appleton

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