Chapter 10

They positioned themselves and waited for some time, but no one came out of the sanitarium.  Finally the captain gathered his men.  "I think we have been misled!"  he remarked.  "I don't think this gentleman, and I call him that loosely, stayed in the sanitarium.  Let's get to the hotel!"  His men took up position in the hotel as Howards and the lieutenant went in.  The desk clerk was familiar to Howards from the times he had stayed in the hotel.  He took out the picture.
"I believe this gentleman is staying here," Howards explained. "I need to know what room he's in."
"Why, I ain't never seen a picture printed on paper like that,"  the clerk remarked, "or, as well done as that!  I'd like to get some of them, myself."
"Never mind that!"  Howards told him.  "Is this man staying in the hotel?"
"He most certainly is, or, was!"  the clerk answered. "He left not an hour ago.  Those other gentlemen that were here a few minutes ago were looking for him, too.  They seemed disappointed he'd departed.  They still wanted to know his room number, wanted a key to get in, but I told them no."
"What number?"  Howards asked.
"320," the clerk answered.
"Get more men!"  Howards snapped to the lieutenant, and headed for the stairs.  As he approached the room he saw the door was ajar and he could hear men thrashing about inside. He drew his pistol and kicked the door open.  The three men inside turned, startled, then one of them went for his pistol and the others followed suit.  Howards downed all three in rapid succession.  One of them managed to get off a shot but it only got door frame.
Howards went in and examined the room. His men arrived but in moments the stench of the bodies drove them from the premises.
"Glory be to God!"  one of the men moaned, "What makes them rot so fast?  God almighty!"
"I don't know," Howards answered, "but these were three of them that were at the undertakers.  How did they get here so quick?  Get some help.  Get them out of here!  Burn them!  Get the other one, too.  Something that stinks like that so quick has got to be diseased!  We don't want it around!"
"Yes sir!"  the soldier snapped.
After the bodies had been gotten out Howards examined the room.  There was nothing that would help.  He went down to the clerk.
"Did this gentleman ask for any information?" he inquired.
"Well, let me see," the clerk answered.  "Not anything unusual.  He said he had a friend at the consumption sanitarium and wanted to know the way to get there.  And he said he had some important mail from Savannah coming to the post office and wanted to know where that was.  He didn't ask anything unusual."
Howards' eyes widened.  "THE POST OFFICE!"  he managed, "Of course!  The post office!  He's mailed it to himself so he wouldn't have to carry it around.  Cunning, very cunning but not cunning enough!"
He gathered up his men and headed for the post office.  The clerk there was just as helpful.  'Yes sir!"  he answered.  "Gentleman's been in several times looking for a package from Savannah.  But it hasn't come in yet.  There was a wash out on the line and the mail's been delayed.  Fella was quite irritated about it.  Said we should improve our service.  I told him with the war and all, folks are fortunate to get what mail they do.  I believe the gentleman's name is Jonathan Hope.  He's gonna be happy when he comes back, 'cause whatever it is has finally arrived!"
"Give it to me!"  Howard's demanded.  The clerk looked horrified.  "I can't do that sir!"  he objected, 'Completely against the codes!  Mail can only be delivered to the person it's addressed to, nobody else.  I could lose my position for givin' you somebody's mail!"
"We're government agents," the captain snapped, "on government business.  I order you to surrender that contraband!  We have no time for pleasantries!"
The clerk looked at the stern faces surrounding him.  "Well, if you're with the government," he finally answered, "I guess it's all right."  He went into the back and came back with a heavy tube which was sealed with wire on both ends.  The captain took it, undid the wires on one end, and opened it, pulling out some plans.  He examined them quickly, then went to a stove that was going to ward off the evening chill, ripped the plans up and put them in.
"God almighty!"  the clerk moaned, "I certainly do hope you ARE with the government!"
The captain sealed the tube back up and handed it back to the clerk.  "If he comes in," he ordered, "give this to him.  Don't mention that anything is amiss with it, just give it to him and be extremely cordial."
"Sure thing!" the clerk answered, "Yes sir!"
Howards positioned his men and they began to watch the post office.  They did not have too long.  Just a few minutes later their quarry appeared on the street, but he was not alone.  Two unpleasant looking men accompanied him, and the man seemed very nervous.  Some of Howards' men began to move but with a wave of his hand they retook their positions.
"Let them get where they're going," Howards muttered, "let them get where they're going."

Page 18

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