by the Cargills
Series: Edward Ware Thrillers
Paperback: 252 pages
Publisher: Cheops Books; first edition edition (October 1, 2013)
Who is that sinister-looking stranger who keeps eying Miss Dora Benley on the Lusitania pier on May 1, 1915? At dinner the first night in the grand dining room he sends her a threatening note. He orders her to hand over her father's birthday package. She carried it aboard, a gift from Sir Adolphus Ware, the car magnate her Robber Baron father is sailing to England to meet over a tire deal. If she doesn't obey, he threatens to blow up the ship. There's nothing inside the package except an empty humidor! Dora had better figure out what's going on, or the saboteur will send her ot the bottom of the Irish Sea.
Cunard Pier, 14th Street, Manhattan — Saturday, May 1, 1915
Twenty-year-old Dora Benley quickly stuffed the surprise birthday gift for her father into her satchel. Holding a green parasol edged with black fringe over her head she skirted crowds of well-dressed, gossiping passengers waiting to board the Lusitania. Dressed in a full-length, aquamarine dress with white lace around the sleeves, Dora moved as far away from the intruder as she could without falling off the edge of the pier.
She searched impatiently for her parents. They were supposed to rendezvous with her at 11:00 AM. By now it was almost noon!
A man and woman reporting team burst upon the crowd at Cunard’s Pier 54. They were trailed by a photographer and his assistants carrying a large folding camera and a tripod. The reporters hurled themselves at the passengers.
“What do you think of the German announcement?” The male reporter thrust a copy of The New York Times at Dora. He pointed to the advertisement prominently displayed on the front page:
TRAVELLERS intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or of any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travelers sailing in the war zone on ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.
IMPERIAL GERMAN EMBASSY
Washington, D.C., April 25, 1915.
Dora’s parents appeared, stepping between the reporter and their daughter. The reporter pressed the newspaper into Mr. Benley’s face.
“The Germans are always making announcements. I pay as little attention to them as they deserve,” growled Dora’s father. He shook his fist as he lifted his chin up like one used to giving orders and being paid attention to. A fiftyish bulldog of a man with whiskers, people said he looked like Former President Teddy Roosevelt.
The reporter wrote down this statement.
The new-fangled folding camera flashed in Mrs. Benley’s face. Dora’s mother held up her gloved hand to protect herself. The feather in her hat moved. Dressed to kill in an ankle-length skirt of striped silk and a solid silken tunic, her kimono bodice was open in front. She boasted a fashionable collar and long sleeves trimmed with rows of buttons.
“But sir,” the reporter pressed Dora’s father, “what if you were torpedoed?”
Mr. Benley shot back, “I’m sailing to England to conclude a tire deal with Sir Adolphus Ware of Adolphus Motors. Why would anyone want to torpedo the President of Benley Tire and Rubber?”
“Maybe we should board the ship.” Dora looked askance at the stranger who continued to stare at her. She pushed a handful of floppy light brown curls over one ear. She tried to stuff them under the ribbon that she wore around her Mary Pickford hairdo to keep it in place.
Newsboys with stacks of papers cushioned under their arms held the goods high over their heads. “Read all about it! Read all about it! Germans threaten British and American shipping!”
“Paper, ma’m?” One of the boys shoved a newspaper at Mrs. Benley. She gaped at the gangly youth in consternation.
“Sailing today is perfectly safe.” Winthrop Benley pulled his wife and daughter toward the boarding ramp leading to the giant cruise ship topped with four black smoke stacks. “No ship doing more than fourteen knots has yet been torpedoed by the Germans. The Lusitania does twenty-five. She’s not called the ‘Greyhound of the Seas’ for nothing.”
“What if the Germans took out one of the boiler rooms?” A reporter trailed along behind Benley, writing down everything he said.
“The Lusitania could still do twenty-one knots,” Mr. Benley snapped. “What’s more, once the Lusitania reaches the British Channel and the Irish Sea, the British Navy is responsible for escorting the Cunard liner into port. I’ve been assured of it by Cunard.”
The reporter nodded. After all, Mr. Benley sounded like one in the know.
“Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, has guaranteed it,” Mr. Benley and his family got into a short queue to board the liner.
Dora never heard of this British politician, Winston Churchill. She supposed he was a reliable fellow. After all, her father said so.
Her family rubbed shoulders with a handsome, thirty-something man in a hat and a fashionable dark coat, wearing polished black leather shoes. His valet juggled two trunks. Mr. Alfred Vanderbilt added, “No one would dare to torpedo our ship without first allowing all the women and children to get into the lifeboats.” Reputed to be one of the wealthiest men in America, he dismissed the reporters with a wave of his hand.
Behind them stood Elbert Hubbard, an avant-garde magazine publisher with curly locks down past his ears. He wore an eccentric, light-colored, wide-brimmed Stetson hat. His corduroy pants were unfashionably loose. His silk cravat was done up in a bow at his throat. He was swinging a leather satchel. The best-selling author and country philosopher winked at Dora and waved a sheaf of papers in her face.
“You’ve got to read my essay when we get aboard and get settled in our cabins, perhaps after the lifeboat drill. I think the Kaiser must be hiding there with his torpedo just waiting to throw it at us!”
Hubbard laughed as if it were a fine joke.
Sure enough, that mysterious stranger chewing on the stubby cigar stepped in line behind Hubbard. He was boarding the Lusitania. Nor had he taken his eyes off her satchel. Dora clutched the handbag containing the birthday package closer to her body and tried to shield it with her parasol.
She wondered, What could possibly interest the stranger about a mere birthday gift? Why are they letting riff-raff like that board the Lusitania?
The stranger with the dark gaze wasn’t smiling.
Before boarding the ship an elegantly dressed Lord Dover checked his luggage that several Negro porters were carrying. He had one large steamer trunk, two dress suitcases, an umbrella bag, a silver-mounted rosewood cane, one silk American flag, one silk British flag, and a package.
The workers at the first class embarkation point seemed overwhelmed. They didn’t ask Lord Dover what was inside each bag as they marked them with his name. They simply threw the luggage onto the conveyor belt.
The passenger opened his package. “It’s my Old Rover brand tobacco. Wouldn’t sail without it. Here, have a smoke!” He handed cigars around to the Cunard workers, all with badges.
Dora watched his bags make their way down the conveyor belt. When they almost reached the ship’s hold, the conveyor belt shuddered to a stop. A tawny-colored hand reached out toward the umbrella bag and unzipped it. The same wide-brimmed hat shadowed the intruder’s face.
Wasn’t he the same stranger who’d been eyeing her in the crowd? He must have gotten out of line.
“Dad,” she alerted her father, “look!”
“What is it, Dora?”
“That man over there!” She craned her neck to see. “He’s up to something.”
“He was there a minute ago right next to the umbrella bag.” She couldn’t understand how he had vanished so quickly.
Her father sighed as if Dora were full of girlish fantasies.
At the top of the gangplank stood a portly, older middle-aged man with whiskers, wearing a captain’s uniform. He gazed off into the distance thinking his own thoughts. Every time a new family appeared, he woke from his daze.
He smiled down at Mrs. Benley. “Welcome aboard the Lusitania, ma’am. I’m Captain Turner.”
“I’m glad to finally be here after that long, long delay on the pier.” She stomped her feet as if for warmth.
“At least on board we won’t have to hear anymore of that nonsense about the Germans,” Dora’s father added.
The captain paused a fraction of a second too long. “Good joke that! Best I’ve heard in weeks! Imagine a German U-boat sinking the Lusitania!” He forced a laugh.
A chill went up her spine as Dora stepped onto the ship.
The elevator door closed. It started up slowly. Once they reached the first-class decks the steward led the Benley family across the carpeted floor and up a flight of stairs as the Cunard world of elegance and sophistication closed in around them. They climbed to the Boat Deck where Mr. Vanderbilt was being housed, the most fashionable address aboard. They strolled down the broad wooden promenade along with others, showing off the clothes they bought just for this transatlantic voyage.
Bellhops brought their steamer trunks. A stewardess helped Mrs. Benley unpack and settle into her stateroom. The girl
hung the ball gowns up and helped Dora’s mother choose what to wear to dinner.
Dora remembered that she had yet to slip her own bag and parasol into her cabin, located right next to her parents’. She hardly got a peek at it she was in such a hurry. It was a little smaller with a single berth. She dumped her satchel in the middle of the bed to unpack later.
Dora paused a minute. Where should I hide the birthday parcel? She searched the cabin for a hiding place as she took the gift out of her handbag.
She hastily looked over her shoulder to make sure the stranger wasn’t peering through her porthole. Now that she was alone, her anxiety was returning.
She thought, My father’s birthday is Monday. No one should see the package again until we’re halfway across the Atlantic.
On the underside of the gift she noticed the wrapping paper gapped, revealing something made of wood — perhaps a box? The exposed surface had a peculiar engraving, made up of lots of parallel, horizontal and vertical lines combined together. One of her final exams at Bryn Mawr College, the private girls’ school she attended on the Philadelphia Main Line, had been on the Near East. The engraving looked exactly like ancient Hittite script, or cuneiform.
Was this an archaeological artifact? How would Sir Adolphus Ware have anything to do with archaeology? He owned a factory that manufactured automobiles just as her father owned a company that made tires. That’s why her father was sailing across the Atlantic, to meet him in England on business. But Sir Adolphus was the one who’d sent the gift to her dorm room at Bryn Mawr only this morning, with a note telling her to surprise her father with it on his birthday.
She had no time now to figure out the mystery.
The package fit nicely behind the valance of the drapes that hung over the painted, artificial windows. It wasn’t visible from anywhere else in the room.
A stewardess entered her cabin to help her unpack.
“Please, I can put my clothes away myself,” Dora objected, standing in front of the valance.
“But, ma’m, it’s my job to assist,” the stewardess protested.
“I wish to be alone.” Dora opened the cabin door to escort her out.
While she fretted over whether the stewardess had spied where she hid the package, the captain’s booming voice came through the open porthole as he talked through a megaphone.
“All passengers are now aboard. All visitors have gone ashore. The gangway has been withdrawn. The sail-away party will commence immediately in the First Class Lounge.”
The riff-raff down on the pier were making speeches about the Kaiser and the Germans to the crowds of well-wishers gathered to see off the liner. The speechifiers were all too audible. Dora closed her porthole.
In her aquamarine dress with lace she ventured out on deck to stand beside her father. The ship’s band played Tipperary as the Lusitania pulled away from the pier, slowly at first and then with increasing speed. They played the British National Anthem, God Save The King, and Hope and Glory, the song of the British Empire, as waiters came around to pour champagne for all the first-class passengers. At least the music drowned out the speeches on the pier.
“Hip-hip-hooray! Hip-hip hooray! Hip-hip hooray!” The British passengers cheered and waved Union Jacks.
Dora didn’t feel like cheering. The last thing she noticed before the Lusitania sailed out into the Atlantic was that someone from the deck of another cruise liner, the Caronia, had pointed a motion picture camera at the departing Lusitania.
It reminded her of the photographers on the pier promising in their advertisement, In case anything happens, we’ve got your picture!
She gulped. Did they have her picture, too? She looked around. The man in the wide-brimmed hat was nowhere to be seen.
She took a big sip from her champagne glass.
“You look concerned, miss,” a man’s voice remarked as her father was drawn away to talk to a potential customer.
She choked, spitting out the wine. She gazed up into the eyes of a middle-aged stranger wearing that same wide-brimmed hat. He looked the same height. Could this be the man who eyed her on the dock this morning?
Certainly his jacket, which flapped in the breeze, appeared much more fashionable. The one she saw this morning looked moth-eaten and hideous.
“Everyone can talk of nothing besides the Germans and their toy U-boats. Reminds me of something I used to float in the bathtub as a boy,” he reminisced. “Personally I don’t have time to worry about trifles.”
Dora wondered, Was he the man I saw going through trunks and bags at the loading ramp? The one who stared straight at my father’s birthday package on the pier?
“Excuse me,” she swallowed hard, “but — but do I know you?” She looked around for her father. He stood chatting with another passenger several yards away.
“Frankly it’s quite refreshing that you don’t. I’m tired of my own celebrity. I plan to spend this voyage away from my fans revising my latest hit play, Potash and Perlmutter in Society,” he announced as if that would betray his identity. “I’m redoing my novelette, The Lion and the Mouse.”
He was a playwright. That would account for his eccentricity. Writers always acted at least a little bit out of the ordinary. She couldn’t imagine the man who’d stared at her on the pier this morning being a writer. Also this gentleman didn’t have a full beard or a mustache. Nor was his skin tawny. And he obviously noticed her cleavage. The stranger this morning had not.
“It’s the latest in a long series of literary labors,” he sighed. “The desperate longing to find a little time alone with my progeny is what has forced me out to sea at this grave impasse. I’m more scared of my own fans than a German torpedo.”
The New York skyline kept getting smaller. The city disappeared as if swallowed by the sea, like the Lost Continent of Atlantis. What would she be thinking when she saw it again — if she saw it again?
“Dora!” came a familiar voice. Her mother tugged on her daughter’s arm as she held a champagne glass in her other hand. A feather waved in her hat. “Don’t you think it’s time to get dressed for dinner?”
“Ex-excuse me,” Dora broke into the playwright’s soliloquy, “I’ve — I’ve got to go.”
“Maybe we could meet at supper?” He gave her his card. It read Charles Klein.
“Perhaps!” Dora smiled politely. She wasn’t in the mood for a flirtation. She was used to men like him. They heard about her money and wanted to get to know her — naturally.
She departed before the eccentric playwright could follow her. She slammed the door.
She leaned back against it, looked around, and thought, This must be the wrong cabin. It doesn’t resemble mine at all…
When she unloaded her suitcase, the cabin looked immaculate. Now hacked apart dresser drawers littered the floor. Her clothes lay strewn about. Sheets knotted themselves around the bed post. The torn quilt soaked up water on the bathroom floor. Someone must have knifed the overturned mattress.
The wretch ransacked her room in her absence. She hoped he wasn’t searching for that birthday gift she hid behind the fake valance.
The package sat just where she put it before the sail-away party.
Someone knocked impatiently.
Her eyes darted toward the door.
The knock persisted. “Dora, are you dressed yet?” Her mother inquired.
“I’ll only be a moment. You can go ahead of me,” she reassured her parents, concealing the nervousness in her voice.
As footsteps trailed away down the deck, she took the package and hid it behind the hat box in the top of her closet. She threw on an ankle-length gown with silken, three-quarter length sleeves. Only white silk covered her cleavage. She put on her gloves. At the last minute she remembered to clip on her diamond platinum earrings with a lacy effect that hung down her neck like pendants.
The playwright insisted on escorting her to dinner. He wouldn’t listen to any excuses as Dora followed along in her matching pink heels.
They soon entered the most magnificent dining room afloat. Dora stepped onto a vast polished wooden floor. It was so shiny she could see herself. Red carpet runners provided a way to walk between tables. Wooden chairs with arms were done up with red velvet upholstery. Red roses graced every table covered with a white linen tablecloth.
The first-class dining room’s ceiling, decorated with gold-leafed white marble, was shaped like a cupola after the fashion of the Pantheon. Rosy-cheeked cherubs gazed down at the guests. The second level’s golden railing, supported by Corinthian pillars inlaid with gold leaf, reinforced the Roman effect. Corinthian columns crowned sprang up everywhere.
Her mother with a feather in her hair waved at her from across the room as Dora sat down with Mr. Klein. He bragged how he bribed the waiter for this table during the lifeboat drill while everyone else was mustered on deck. Naturally he was trying to impress her.
Her heart thudded against her chest. She watched as the tawny-skinned foreigner forced his way through the crowd of first class passengers. The man with the dark beard and big hat! No sooner did she catch sight of him than he disappeared behind a socialite sporting a tall ostrich feather in her headdress.
Dora picked up the dinner menu and glanced through the list of hors d’oeuvres — petit de foie gras, Norwegian anchovies, and Bordeaux sardines. She crossed her legs a different way, rearranged her evening gown, tucked her light brown hair up into the pink band decorating her coiffure, and studied the room. She tugged at her gloves in nervousness.
“We’ll start with the anchovies,” Charles Klein told the waiter.
Dora made a show of munching her anchovies. She pretended to study the menu —fillet of plaice in white wine, braised Cumberland ham with Madeira sauce, and roast gosling Normande. She failed to notice it was upside down as she scanned the crowd for the mysterious stranger.
The waiter stood right at her elbow staring down at her.
“Ah . . . I’ll have the ham!” She tried to get rid of him.
That man must be in here somewhere. She carefully examined every table while hiding behind the inverted menu, which she refused to relinquish.
“Make sure to bring us the best Austrian claret you have,” Charles Klein insisted. “Two chilled glasses. Miss Dora Benley wants only the best.” He winked at her.
“You’re the third American I’ve had to inform tonight that Austrian claret has been embargoed along with enemy mineral water.” The British waiter smiled in a superior fashion.
Charles Klein leaned his elbows on the table. “The war seems dreadfully far away tonight.” He smiled into Dora’s eyes. “As if it has nothing whatever to do with us.”
“Perhaps not, sir,” the waiter replied.
“Very well, I’ll have a bottle of champagne . . . Lanson’s a good brand.” Mr. Klein changed his mind.
“Very dear!” said the waiter. “Champagne’s sky high since the war started.”
“1906 is the best year I can think of.” Mr. Klein decided.
Dora got out her gold compact with small seashells on top and gazed into the mirror, pretending to powder her nose while looking for the stranger in a less conspicuous fashion. The waiter took the opportunity to get hold of her menu. She couldn’t hide behind it anymore.
“That will put you back fifteen shillings.” The waiter wrote it down.
“Put it on my room tab,” Mr. Klein directed. “Do, sir, put it in dollars, not pounds sterling, if you don’t mind. We Americans are neutral in this war.”
In her compact mirror Dora finally caught sight of the mysterious bearded stranger in the most obscure, shadowy section of the first-class dining room. Seated by himself behind an extra large palm tree, he wore his wide-brimmed hat, which men usually removed at dinner. He eyed her. Her heart skipped a beat. She clutched her satchel, though the mysterious package remained hidden in her room.
“Well, would you?”
“Would I what?” She jumped six inches. She realized the playwright had spoken to her.
“Would you like to dance, of course?” Mr. Klein asked her for the second time.
She didn’t know if she should. They might get too close to the man staring at her. She prevaricated, “Ah . . . .”
Mr. Klein led her out onto the middle of the floor. She was careful to give him her right hand. She kept her satchel with her, stringing it over her shoulder.
The ship’s orchestra played The Blue Danube. Couples pirouetted around. Ladies with feathers nodding on top of their coiffures, fitted bodices, and high collars brushed past escorted by gents in tails. Side buffet tables were set with plates of enticing hors d’oeuvres. Caviar on ice glistened next to silver platters of wafer-thin slivers of white toast and finely minced hard-boiled eggs garnished with parsley. Wedgwood china dishes filled with oysters were piled high on mounds of crushed ice. The ice scintillated under the illumination of the glass chandeliers.
Dora caught sight of a distorted reflection of the dark stranger in a large ice cube. It magnified his mustache to many times its normal size. He seemed more menacing than before.
“The Kaiser supposedly won’t let his soldiers do this dance. He doesn’t think the Turkey Trot is dignified enough for Germans.” Mr. Klein laughed. “I’m glad I’m an American.”
“So am I!” Her father led Dora’s mother out onto the dance floor.
“You and Mr. Klein are getting along just fine!” Mrs. Benley whispered into Dora’s ear and winked. “He’s very famous and wealthy, you know.”
Her amethyst brooch pin surrounded by fine diamonds flashed.
Dora forced herself to smile. She glimpsed the renegade sitting at a table on the periphery of the dining room staring at her. Her smile turned into a frown.
The Turkey Trot changed to the One Step and then to the Bunny Hug. The Bunny Hug changed back to the Turkey Trot. Before she could warn Mr. Klein to go a different direction, the stranger almost succeeded in grabbing her purse as they danced past.
“Please, let’s go back to the table.” Dora broke away.
Dinner was served.
When she spread her napkin over her lap and removed the dome from her dinner plate, casting worried glances over her shoulder, a note stared up at her from the top of the Cumberland ham. Bold, dark handwriting jumped out at her:
Miss Dora Benley
She quickly snatched it up and slipped it into her handbag, which she now sat in the middle of her lap.
Mr. Klein didn’t notice a thing. He continued talking nonstop, presumably about his many plays. He apparently had written more than Shakespeare himself!
The stranger had disappeared. His place was taken by a new arrival. An older gentleman was being seated. He tipped the waiter with a hundred dollar bill that he pulled out of a big roll in his suit pocket, attracting attention from the British ladies seated nearby.
“Sir!” the waiter exclaimed at his generosity. “I mean, Mr. Kessler! I — I don’t know what to say.” He looked from the one hundred dollar bill back to the passenger and back to the bill again.
“Take it!” Mr. Kessler pulled out a cigar and lighted it with another one hundred dollar greenback. He stuck the flaming bill into his water glass and shoved it aside. “I never travel light when it comes to money. I plan to bribe the Kaiser if he comes calling in a submarine.”
The British lady at the table beside Dora, with her ostrich feather waving in her hat, hissed to her companion, “They say Mr. Kessler — he’s the Champagne King, you know! — brought two million in cash aboard. Isn’t it amazing!” She took out her opera glasses and gazed in his direction as if she could detect thousand dollar bills hanging out of his pockets. “Americans care about nothing except money.”
“They would settle the war by paying off every side if they could.” Her friend nodded.
How could all these passengers act so casual and indifferent? Didn’t they see what was happening?
“I’ll be right back,” Dora stood up and left the room. She had to be alone to study the letter.
Mr. Klein waved his fork at her. “But I just started telling you about the climax of Potash and Perlmutter in Society. I —”
Dora was horrified to find a washroom attendant in the ladies’ room. She handed her a wad of dollar bills with the words, “Get out. Leave me alone.”
The attendant fled with an astonished look, counting the bills.
Dora retreated into a stall to read her note in complete privacy after making sure to lock the door.
The handwriting stood out in bold relief. The straight up and down letters, so dark that they leaped off the page, threatened her:
Miss Dora Benley —
Put that package on the table in the first class lounge by midnight — or else.