And may I say, marm, that Mrs. If a crack private detective chose to canoodle with his own wife in a dark auto on Wall Street in the middle of the night—orders be damned. The Rambler Knickerbocker drove off.
Senior men emerged next. Isaac Bell waited for the Cunningham to turn the corner. A police motorcycle escort stationed on Broadway clattered after it. This time was different. Although he was dressed for the theater, he left his silk topper on the backseat and donned a broad-brimmed hat with a low crown instead.
He left his wife with a smile. But as he crossed Wall Street, his expression hardened, and the warmth seeped from his eyes. Joseph Van Dorn, the large, bearded founder of the agency, was waiting, deep in shadow and still as ice. He stood watch as Bell picked open the lock on the outside door, and followed him in, where Bell picked another lock on a steel door marked Mechanical Room. Inside it was warm and damp. An orderly maze of thick pipes passed through rows of steam-conditioning valves. Isaac Bell climbed back up to the street and went around to the front of the building.
His evening clothes elicited a respectful nod from the doorman. As the politicians said, Money talked. BUT something about him looked suspicious. A coal cop watching the miners troop down the rails into the mouth of Gleason Mine No. The young miner towered over the foreigners the company imported from Italy and Slovenia, and was even taller than the homegrown West Virginia boys. But it was not his height that looked out of place.
The Striker (Isaac Bell Series #6)
Nor was his whipcord frame unusual. The work was hard, and it cost plenty to ship food to remote coalfields. There was no free lunch in the saloons that lined the muddy Main Street. A miner clomping along on a wooden peg tripped on a crosstie and stumbled into another miner on crutches.
The golden-haired youth glided to steady both, moving so effortlessly he seemed to float. Many were maimed digging coal.
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He stood straight on both legs and still possessed all his fingers. An electric winch jerked the slack out of a wire between the rails. Miners, laborers, and doorboys jumped aside. The wire dragged a train of coal cars out of the mine and up a steep slope to the tipple, where the coal was sorted and dumped into river barges that towboats pushed down the Monongahela to Pittsburgh.
The tall young miner exchanged greetings with the derailer-switch operator. If the wire, which was shackled to a chain bridle on the front car, broke, Jim Higgins was supposed to throw the switch to make the train jump the tracks before the hundred-ton runaway plummeted back down into the works. Higgins was a brave man. He had to be to ignore the fact that the mineowners would stop at nothing to keep the union out of West Virginia.
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And when Gleason smoked out labor organizers, the Pinkertons rousted them back to Pennsylvania, beaten bloody. Jim Higgins abandoned his post and ran two hundred yards up the steep incline to the winch engine, past the cars of coal climbing heavily to the tipple.
The tall young miner ducked his head to enter the mouth of the mine—a timber-braced portal in the side of the mountain—and descended down a sloping tunnel. He had boned up on mine engineering to prepare for the job. Strictly speaking, this tracked haulageway was not a tunnel , which by definition had to pass completely through a mountain, but an adit.
Where he entered a gallery that intersected and split off from the haulageway, he hailed the small boy, who opened a wooden door to channel the air from the ventilators. Feller from the telegraph office told me your Pirates beat Brooklyn yesterday.
Sammy had never been near a major-league ballpark—never been farther than ten miles from this hollow where the Gleason Company struck a rich bed of the Pittsburgh Seam that underlay Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. He followed the gallery, which sloped deeper into the mountain for hundreds of yards, until it stopped at the face of the seam. There he went to work as a helper, shoveling the chunks of coal picked, drilled, and dynamited from the seam by the skilled miners.
He was paid forty cents for every five-ton car he loaded during twelve-hour shifts six days a week. The air was thick with coal dust. Swirling black clouds of it dimmed the light cast by electric bulbs. The low ceiling was timbered by props and crosspieces every few feet to support the mountain of rock and soil that pressed down on the coal. The seam creaked ominously, squeezed above and below by pressure from roof and floor.
Here in the side tunnel, off the main rail track, the coal cars were pulled by mules that wore leather bonnets to protect their heads. One of the mules, a mare with the small feet and long ears that the miners believed indicated a stronger animal, suddenly stopped. Eustace McCoy, a big West Virginian who had been groaning about his red-eye hangover, cursed her and jerked her bridle. But she planted her legs and refused to budge, ears flickering at the creaking sound. The blow was blocked before it could connect. Eustace cursed and swung again. Two punches sprang back at him.
They landed in elegant combination, too quick to follow with the eye and packed with concentrated power. Eustace fell down on the rails, the fight and anger knocked out of him. The young man spoke gently to the mule and she pulled the car away. Bell was a Van Dorn Agency private detective under orders to ferret out union saboteurs. This was his first solo case, and he was supposed to be operating in deep disguise. The year was Van Dorn detectives were earning a reputation as valuable men who knew their business, and the agency motto—We never give up!
Which meant that young Isaac Bell had to admit that he was very likely the only Van Dorn in the entire outfit so puddingheaded that he would ruin his disguise by showing off fancy boxing tricks. Roscoe, the Gleason spy, was eyeing him thoughtfully. That might not matter too much. Bell reckoned he could fix that somehow. The exhausted men climbing out of the mine at the end of their shift shuffled off the tracks.
The winch jerked the slack out of the wire, and twenty coal cars emerged behind them and trundled up the steep incline to the tipple. The train was almost to the top when the chain bridle that attached the wire to the front car broke with a bang as loud and sharp as a gunshot. Jim Higgins, who was hurrying from the winch engine to his post at the derailer switch, dropped his oilcan and ran as fast as he could.
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But the train was gathering speed. It rolled ahead of him, and before he could reach the switch, twenty cars hurtled through it straight down the main line. Isaac Bell charged after it. He spotted a brake lever on the last car and forged alongside, looking for handholds to jump to. The coal train accelerated and pulled ahead of him.
As the last car whipped past, he leaped onto its rear coupler and caught his balance by clapping both hands around the brake lever. He threw his weight against the steel bar, slamming curved brake shoes against the spinning wheels. Metal screeched. The lever bucked in his hands.
Related The Striker: Isaac Bell #6 (Isaac Bell Series)
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