“It’s important; awfully important. I’ll pay you anything!” Kirk rammed a hand mechanically into his empty pocket.
“We’re installing a new system,” said the operator. “The old apparatus wasn’t satisfactory and it’s being changed throughout.”
“Then you-you can’t send a message—possibly?”
“Nothing doing until the next trip.”
Kirk strode forward and stared disconsolately down upon the freight deck in a vain endeavor to collect his thoughts. How in the devil had he managed to get into this mess? Could it be one of Higgins’s senseless pranks, or was there something deeper, more sinister behind it? He recalled the incidents of that wild night and began to have a disquieting doubt. Did that chance meeting with the chap from St. Louis have anything to do with his presence here, or had he really decided in some foolish, drunken whim to take a trip to Central America? He hardly knew what to think or where to begin his reasoning. He recollected that Jefferson Locke had not impressed him very favorably at the start, and that his behavior upon the appearance of the plain-clothes man had not improved that first impression. It seemed certain that he must have had his hand in this affair, else how would Anthony now find himself in possession of his ticket? What had become of the rightful occupant of Suite A? What had become of Higgins’s unfortunate victim with the cracked head? What did it all signify? Kirk sighed disconsolately and gave it up. In five days more he would learn the answer, anyhow, for there must be a cable from Panama to the States. Meanwhile, he supposed he must reconcile himself to his condition. But it was tough to have two weeks of valuable time snatched out of his eventful life. It was maddening.
The sound of a bugle, which Kirk interpreted as an invitation to breakfast, reminded him that he was famished, and he lost no time in going below. Upon his appearance the steward made it plain to him in some subtle manner that the occupant of Suite A needed nothing beyond the mere possession of those magnificent quarters to insure the most considerate treatment. Kirk was placed at the captain’s table, where his hunger was soon appeased, and his outlook grew more cheerful with the complete restoration of bodily comfort. Feeling somewhat less dissatisfied with his surroundings, he began to study the faces of his fellow-passengers.
“Getting your sea legs, Mr. Locke?” inquired the man at his right.
“My name is Anthony.”
“I beg your pardon! The passenger list said—”
“That was a mistake.”
“My name is Stein. May I ask where you are bound for?”
“I think the place is Panama.”
“Going to work on the canal?”
“What canal? Oh, of course! Now I remember hearing something about a Panama Canal. Is that where it is?”