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Authors: Conrad Allen

Murder on the Caronia

BOOK: Murder on the Caronia
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Murder on the Caronia

Conrad Allen


Copyright © 2003 by Conrad Allen. All rights reserved.

Originally published by St. Martin's Press

First eBook Edition

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print ISBN 978-0312280918

First Edition: January 2003

To Benjamin Sevier,
with many thanks for
his expert assistance
in bringing the
safely into port


, 1908

t was never the same. That was what was so remarkable. Though he had crossed the Atlantic over a dozen times in each direction, George Porter Dillman had never become bored or blasé. He remembered each voyage as a separate experience, filled to the brim with its own excitements and charged with individual drama. There were so many variables. Weather conditions could swing between the benign and the tempestuous. A ship’s company might be anything from superb to merely competent. Each vessel had her own distinctive character. Cunard’s two greyhounds of the seas, the
and the
, were sister ships, built to the same specifications and embodying the same bold patriotism, yet they differed considerably. Dillman had been fortunate enough to sail on the maiden voyages of both and he had found them anything but interchangeable. Their interiors were markedly different and their performance in the water dissimilar. Their personalities set them even further apart. The same could be said of the
, the
, the
, the
, the
, and all the other Cunard ships on which Dillman had traveled. Each was unique.

It was the passenger list that made every voyage such a special
event. When large numbers of people crossed the Atlantic, the vessel that carried them was a microcosm of American and European society. Every class was represented, from the titled to the underprivileged, from wealthy families enjoying the luxury of first-class travel to poverty-stricken emigrants suffering the multiple indignities of steerage. New people brought new problems each time. Dillman had been a detective for long enough to know that the law of averages worked aboard ship just as inexorably as on shore. The vast majority of passengers would be decent, God-fearing, law-abiding souls who would create no trouble at all but there would always be a smattering of those with more criminal tendencies, using the voyage to further their ends. Identifying and arresting them was Dillman’s job.

As he stood that Saturday morning on a lower Manhattan pier, he watched the passengers converging on the
and wondered which of them would need his particular attention. Over two thousand people would be making the crossing. Among so many it would not be easy to spot the dangerous few, but his instincts had been sharpened by experience. Dillman would rely heavily on those instincts. Observing the passengers at such close quarters, he could feel their collective exhilaration. Even those who had made the journey to Liverpool before stepped onto the gangway with renewed eagerness. First-time travelers were more openly enthusiastic, agog at the size of the ship and excited by the thought that they would be sailing three thousand miles across an ocean. Children were especially animated. Dillman could see the joy in their faces and hear the wonder in their voices. Doubts and fears vanished in the general elation. Everyone hurried aboard. For the best part of a week, the
would be their home.

Dillman looked up at the vessel with admiration. He had sailed on her sister ship, the
, but this would be his first trip on the
. He was looking forward to it. The two ships were known as “the pretty sisters.” Externally, they looked identical, elegant vessels of almost twenty thousand tons apiece
that stretched to 676 feet in length. Both were surmounted by massive twin funnels, painted in the standard Cunard colors of red and black. The major difference between them lay in the engine room. By way of an experiment, the
had been fitted with turbines while the
was powered by conventional steam engines. The fact that the
averaged a full knot faster in speed with the same consumption of coal justified the experiment. Dillman was curious to find out what else separated the two sisters.

His gaze shifted back to the stream of passengers. In the course of the voyage he would get to know several, mingling freely with them in order to pass as just another traveler. Dillman worked far more effectively as an insider. The easy friendships of shipboard life were an invaluable way to gather intelligence across a wide field. He was tall, cultured, and presentable. Most people found him charming and debonair, pleasant company at all times. Ladies—old, young, and middle-aged—were drawn by his handsome appearance and by his impeccable manners. Only the villains on board ever learned that the courteous American was actually employed by the Cunard Line as a private detective. By then, it was usually too late.

Dillman was about to join the queue at the gangway when he caught sight of some late arrivals. Walking briskly toward the ship was a group of people who commanded immediate attention. Two uniformed policemen set the pace. They seemed to have been chosen for their height and bulk because they towered over the quartet behind them. At their heels was a slim, upright man in his forties, wearing a long coat, a bowler hat, and an expression of quiet determination. Behind him were two figures, a man and a woman, who looked so sad and humiliated that Dillman felt sorry for them. Well into his fifties, the man was short and plump with a beard liberally flecked with gray. His companion, some twenty years younger, was thin and anguished. Heads held down with shame, the couple shuffled along behind their captors. Dillman could see no handcuffs but it was obvious the pair were under arrest.

It was the last man in the party who really sparked his interest. A brawny character of medium height, the man wore an ill-fitting suit and a large cap. The lower half of his face was dominated by a walrus mustache. Clearly proud of it, he stroked the mustache repeatedly with his free hand. Under his other arm, he carried a shotgun and moved along with the arrogant strut of a big-game hunter who has just killed a lion. Dillman wondered what unspeakable crime the couple had committed to justify such close supervision. He also wondered why the man with the shotgun was enjoying himself so much, grinning broadly with a mixture of pleasure and self-importance. A weapon of any kind was surely unnecessary. The captives were too overcome with remorse even to consider an attempt at escape. And what hope would they have against four strong men? The scene worried Dillman. It was contrived to gain maximum effect.

Other passengers parted obligingly to let them through. As the prisoners were escorted aboard, a cluster of waiting cameramen took photographs of them for their respective newspapers. The two New York policemen waved a farewell then took up a position near the bottom of the gangway. Dillman strolled across to them.

“Good morning,” he said politely.

One of them grunted a reply but the other merely nodded without taking his eyes off the ship. The passengers who had caused such a commotion had now disappeared, leaving those in their wake to indulge in wild speculation.

“What sort of people need a police escort?” asked Dillman.

“The wrong sort,” said the older man.

“They looked English to me.”

“They were, sir.”

“So those detectives were from Scotland Yard?”

“Yes, sir.”

“They came a long way to make the arrests.”

“Inspector Redfern wouldn’t let them get away with it.”

“With what?”

“Murder, sir,” the policeman said grimly. “That’s who you’re traveling with on the
. A pair of ruthless, cold-blooded killers.”

Genevieve Masefield had boarded the ship long before her colleague. Though she and Dillman worked as a team, they always traveled independently so that they could develop their own circles of friends. As a couple their movements would have been restricted and their acquaintances more limited in scope. Operating singly, each could reach places inaccessible to the other, and gain confidences more easily. During a voyage they took care to remain apart in public. Meetings between them were essentially private matters, and that very privacy added a frisson of pleasure for Genevieve. She relished the fact that, while Dillman invariably attracted a lot of female interest aboard, hers was the only cabin he would visit. Genevieve always collected her own share of suitors. Her blend of beauty and intelligence turned the heads of married men just as frequently as those of bachelors and she had endured more than one unwelcome declaration of love in the course of her work. She took care to describe such embarrassing moments to Dillman in the hope of gaining his sympathy and, by the same token, provoking mild jealousy.

As she finished unpacking the trunk in her cabin, Genevieve wondered how much of her partner she would see on the voyage. Both were traveling first-class but they were merely two among three hundred passengers. They would also be keeping an eye on the second-class areas of the ship, more than doubling the number of people they had to watch. It would leave little time for them to be together. Work took priority. Technically, they were never off-duty. Genevieve’s cabin was comfortable rather than luxurious, a large rectangle in which everything had its appointed place. The bed, she discovered, was invitingly soft. The one defect was the absence of a bathroom. Only the most expensive suites had private bathroom facilities. When she wanted a bath, she would have to make a reservation with her
steward. It was a minor inconvenience when she had all the other advantages of first class at her disposal.

After taking a final, satisfied look around, she decided to go up on deck to watch the ship leave. Departures had their own mystique. She reveled in them. They induced such a strange feeling of delight and regret, the euphoria of embarking on an adventure, tinged with an odd sensation of loss. Genevieve was perpetually moving between two worlds, the land of her birth and the country to which she had once tried to flee. In between the two was the most dangerous ocean in the world but it held no fears for her. Time had turned her into a seasoned voyager yet the magic of departure remained.

When she stepped out into the corridor, she saw she was not the only person anxious to be on deck at the critical moment. An attractive young woman was walking toward her. Seeing Genevieve, her face lit up.

“Miss Masefield!” she said.


“Are you going where I’m going?”

“I think so, Miss Singleton,” replied Genevieve.

“Do you have anyone to wave you off?”

“Not really, but the moment of departure is always rather special.”

“This is my first trip,” confided the other. “I feel so

“So do I. It’s a feeling that never quite leaves you.” Genevieve pointed toward the exit. “Shall we go on deck together?”

“Yes, please!”

Isadora Singleton had a girlish quality about her that was very appealing. Genevieve had liked her from the moment they met. Genevieve had been standing in line in the customs shed when she fell into conversation with Isadora and her parents. As soon as they heard her English accent, all three of them warmed to her instantly. Introductions were made and, responding to a sharp nudge from his wife, Waldo Singleton had expressed the hope that Genevieve would dine with them on board at some stage. Isadora was thrilled with her new acquaintance.
Trembling on the verge of adulthood, she was being taken to England by way of celebration and she clearly had many romantic illusions about the country. In Genevieve, she saw a potential friend, guide, and confidante.

For her part, Genevieve was struck by Isadora’s porcelain loveliness and by the fact that the girl seemed totally unaware of it. There was an unexpected bonus. The Singletons were from Boston. Since Dillman also hailed from the city, Genevieve had picked up a great deal of information about it and was ready to learn more. She hoped Isadora Singleton and her parents would be able to fill some of the gaps left by Dillman’s accounts of his birthplace. Following her young friend along the corridor, Genevieve was conscious of a paradox. While she came from a rich family, Isadora was wearing the plainest of clothing and exuded no sense of prosperity. Genevieve, by contrast, was stylish enough to suggest a person of wealth yet she had little beyond her income from the Cunard Line. Appearance was everything. Anyone seeing them together would have taken Genevieve as a moneyed lady with her poor relation.

“Isn’t this wonderful?” said Isadora.

“Wait until we actually set off.”

“Have you sailed on the

“No,” said Genevieve, “this is my maiden voyage.”

“Then we’ll have something in common.”

Isadora led the way out on deck. The imminence of departure had brought large numbers of people out of their cabins and it took the newcomers a moment to find space at the rail. They looked down on the crowd of well-wishers below. Isadora gave them a friendly wave before turning to her companion.

“I’m so glad we met, Miss Masefield,” she announced.

“So am I,” said Genevieve with a smile, “but I don’t intend to spend the next three thousand miles being addressed by my surname. Please call me ‘Genevieve.’ ”

Isadora was overjoyed. “May I?”

“As long as you return the compliment.”

“Oh, yes. Of course I will. I hate to stand on ceremony.
Mother criticizes me for being so forward at times but I don’t see the point of playing those silly social games. If you make friends with someone, you don’t want to spend an eternity before you can even whisper their Christian name. Do you, Genevieve?”

“No, Isadora.”

They exchanged a laugh, glad that one barrier between them had been cleared.

“What’s your cabin like?”

“Very nice,” replied Genevieve. “You must come and see it sometime.”

“I’d like that,” said Isadora. “We have staterooms with an interconnecting door. Father always insists on the best. I never expected to find anything so palatial aboard a ship. Even the bathroom is ornate.”

“I envy you, Isadora. Most of us don’t have that amenity in our cabins.”

“You mean that you have to share a public bathroom?”

BOOK: Murder on the Caronia
4.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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