Chapter XXII. The Escape
 

Ned Newton, listening at the auxiliary telephone heard the man, to whom Mrs. Damon was dictating her message to her husband, utter an exclamation of impatience.

"I'm afraid I can't take down any more," he called. "That is enough. Now you listen. I want you to send me those papers."

"And I am willing to," went on Mrs. Damon, while Ned listened to the talk, the phonograph faithfully recording it.

"I wonder whose picture Tom will find," mused Ned.

The unknown, at the other end of the wire, began giving Mrs. Damon a description of just what papers he wanted, and how to mail them to him. He gave an address that Ned recognized as that of a cigar store, where many persons received their mail under assumed names. The postal authorities had, for a long time, tried to get evidence against it

"That's going to make it hard to get him, when he comes for the papers," thought Ned. "He's a foxy criminal, all right. But I guess Tom will turn the trick."

Mrs. Damon was carefully noting down the address. She really intended to send the papers, if it proved that there was no other way in which she could secure the release of her husband. But she did not count on all of Tom's plans. "Why doesn't he develop that plate?" thought Ned. "He'll be too late, in spite of his airship. That fellow will skip."

It was at that moment that Tom came into the library. He moved cautiously, for he realized that a loud sound in the room would carry to the man at the other end of the wire. Tom motioned for Ned to come to him. He held out a dripping photographic plate.

"It's Peters!" said Tom, in a hoarse whisper.

"Peters?" gasped Ned. "How could it be? His voice--"

"I know. It didn't sound a bit like Peters over the 'phone, but there's his picture, all right!"

Tom held up the plate. There, imprinted on it by the wonderful power of the young inventor's latest appliance, was the image of the rascally promoter. As plainly as in life he was shown, even to his silk hat and the flower in his button-hole. He was in a telephone booth--that much could be told from the photograph that had been transmitted over the wire, but which booth could not be said--they were nearly all alike.

"Peters!" gasped Ned. "I thought he was the fellow, Tom."

"Yes, I know. You were right, and I was wrong. But I did not recognize his voice. It was very hoarse. He must have a bad cold." Later this was learned to have been the case. "There's no time to lose," whispered Tom, while Mrs. Damon was doing her best to prolong the conversation in order to hold the man at the other end of the wire. "Ned, get central on the other telephone, and see where this call came from. Then we'll get there as fast as the airship will take us."

A second and temporary telephone line had been installed in the Damon home, and on this Ned was soon talking, while Tom, putting the photographic plate away for future use, rushed out to get his airship in shape for a quick flight. He had modified his plans. Instead of having a detective take a print of the photo telephone image, and make the arrest, Tom was going to try to capture Peters himself. He believed he could do it. One look at the wet plate was enough. He knew Peters, though it upset some of his theories to learn that it was the promoter who was responsible for Mr. Damon's disappearance.

The man at the other end of the wire was evidently getting impatient. Possibly he suspected some trick. "I've got to go now," he called to Mrs. Damon. "If I don't get those papers in the morning it will be the worse for Mr. Damon."

"Oh, I'll send you the papers," she said.

By this time Ned had gotten into communication with the manager of the central telephone exchange, and had learned the location of the instrument Peters was using. It was about a mile from the one near the sawmill.

"Come on!" called Tom to his chum, as the latter gave him this information. "The Firefly is tuned up for a hundred miles an hour! We'll be there in ten minutes! We must catch him red-handed, if possible!"

"He's gone!" gasped Mrs. Damon as she came to the outer door, and watched Tom and Ned taking their places in the airship, while Koku prepared to twirl the propellers.

"Gone!" echoed Tom, blankly.

"Yes, he hung up the receiver."

"See if you can't get him back," suggested the young inventor. "Ask Central to ring that number again. We'll be there in a jiffy. Maybe he'll come to the telephone again. Or he may even call up his partners and tell them the game is working his way. Try to get him back, Mrs. Damon."

"I will," she said.

And, as she hurried back to the instrument, Tom and Ned shot up toward the blue sky in an endeavor to capture the man at the other telephone.

"And to think it was Peters!" cried Tom into Ned's ear, shouting to be heard above the roar of the motor exhaust.

"I thought he'd turn out to be mixed up in the affair," said Ned.

"Well, you were right. I was off, that time," admitted Tom, as he guided his powerful craft above the trees. "I was willing to admit that he had something to do with Mr. Damon's financial trouble, but as for kidnapping him--well, you never can tell."

They drove on at a breath-catching pace, and it seemed hardly a minute after leaving Mrs. Damon's house before Tom called:

"There's the building where the telephone is located."

"And now for that rascal Peters!" cried Ned.

The airship swooped down, to the great astonishment of some workmen nearby.

Hardly had the wheels ceased revolving on the ground, as Tom made a quick landing, than he was out of his seat, and running toward the telephone. He knew the place at once from having heard Ned's description, and besides, this was one of the places where he had installed his apparatus.

Into the store Tom burst, and made a rush for the 'phone booth. He threw open the door. The place was empty!

"The man--the man who was telephoning!" Tom called to the proprietor of the place.

"You mean that big man, with the tall hat, who was in there so long?"

"Yes, where is he?"

"Gone. About two minutes ago."

"Which way?"

"Over toward Shopton, and in one of the fastest autos that ever scattered dust in this section."

"He's escaped us!" said Tom to Ned. "But we'll get him yet! Come on!"

"I'm with you. Say, do you know what this looks like to me?"

"What?"

"It looks as if Peters was scared and was going to run away to stay!"