Chapter XVII. An Important Telephone Message
 

"There's the answer!" cried Tom.

"It's as plain as day!" added Sam.

"You are right," came from Dick. "I see it all now." He signed for the telegram and dismissed the boy, closing the door after him. "They are keeping father a prisoner somewhere, so that he cannot sign those documents."

"And it means a big financial loss and dishonor to all of us," went on Tom. "That must mean Uncle Randolph as well as dad."

"I wish Uncle Randolph had sent some particulars," sighed Sam.

"They may come in by mail-- most likely they will," answered Dick. "It would be just like him to send a letter and then telegraph afterwards."

"Well, one thing is clear," remarked Tom. "We have got to find dad, and do it pretty quickly, too. We know-- or, at least, we are pretty sure of it-- that he is in the power of Crabtree and Pelter, Japson & Company. Now the question is, What are we going to do about it?"

"I said this morning I had an idea, Tom," answered his big brother. "I don't know whether it will work out or not, or if you'll care to try it. You know I told you to go to Central Park while Sam and I went down to those offices. I did that so that those brokers wouldn't see you. They don't know you, and you can go down and interview them as a stranger. Do you catch the idea?"

"I do!" cried Tom, eagerly. "And I'll do it! But what shall I say?" he asked, suddenly sobering.

"You might state that you had heard of the Sunset Irrigation Company and thought of investing, or something like that. Maybe they might give you some information that would be valuable for us. And, while there, you may hear something about Crabtree, or something about where father may be."

"I'll go this afternoon," cried Tom. The idea of playing the spy pleased him greatly.

"But you want to be careful," warned his older brother. "If cornered, those brokers may prove to be desperate men."

"I'll be on my guard, Dick."

"Sam and I can go down part of the way with you, and when you go in, we can hang around outside, one at the upper and one at the lower street corner. Perhaps by doing that, we'll catch another sight of Crabtree, although I think, for the present, he'll keep away from Wall street and meet those brokers somewhere else, or telephone to them."

It was not long after this when the three Rover boys set out for the lower part of the great metropolis. They took the subway, that being the quickest way to get there. Dick gave Tom directions how to find the brokers' offices, and then the brothers separated as agreed.

Tom had fixed himself up for the occasion, wearing a slouch hat and a flowing tie, in the manner of a young man from the West or South. He carried a pocket full of timetables and another pocket full of legal-looking documents. He also carried half a dozen visiting cards, with the name and address:

Roy A. Putnam
Denver, Colo.

With eyes on the alert for the possible appearance of somebody who might know him, Tom walked into the office building where Pelter, Japson & Company did business and entered the elevator. He was the only passenger, and arriving at the fourth floor, he found himself alone in the corridor leading to the brokers' offices.

"Guess I'll listen a bit and see if I can hear anything," he told himself, and tiptoed his way to one of the doors.

He listened intently, but the only sound that broke the stillness was the click of a typewriter and the occasional shifting of some papers. Then he tiptoed his way to the next door, that marked Private.

Straining his ears, Tom caught the scratching of a pen and then a deep sigh, as if somebody had just completed an important bit of work. Then he heard the footsteps of a man, walking from the inner to the outer office.

"If he comes out, I'll have to show myself," thought the youth. But the man did not appear, instead Tom presently heard him return to the inner office. Then the telephone rang and the man answered it.

"Yes," Tom heard him say. "All right. Wait a second," And then the man kicked shut a door between the offices, to assure himself of privacy.

There followed a long wait, during which time the man in the office was probably receiving some message.

"To-morrow morning?" Tom heard him ask "What time? Ten o'clock. That is rather early, but I can go there directly from my home." There came another pause. "Leave that to me," cried the man. "I'll make him do it!" He paused again. "I am not afraid of those boys," he added. "I'll be there, sure." Another pause. "Yes, the boat is the best place. Nobody can disturb us there. Good-bye." And then the man hung up the telephone receiver.

Tom had taken in every word that the man said. If it was Pelter he must be talking to Japson, or Crabtree, or somebody else in the affair. And Tom did not doubt but what by "those boys" the man had meant himself and his brothers.

"And when he said, 'I'll make him do it,' he must have been speaking of father," he reasoned. "And he mentioned a boat. Maybe they have dad on a boat."

Tom waited for some time longer in the corridor, but nothing of importance occurred. Then he stepped loudly to the main door of the offices and entered.

The same boy Dick had met was there and asked him what he wanted.

"I want to see about some shares in the Sunset Irrigation Company," answered Tom. "Anybody in I can talk to?" And he handed out one of the cards he had fixed up.

"I'll see," answered the office boy, and disappeared into the inner office with the card.

A moment later Jesse Pelter appeared, holding the card in his hand. He smiled pleasantly.

"Glad to meet you, Mr. Putnam," he said, bowing. "I am Mr. Pelter. I'll be glad to let you know all about our Irrigation Company and its prospects."

He ushered Tom into his private office and offered him a chair.

"Want to make an investment for yourself?" he said, suggestively.

"If it's a good one," returned Tom, with an assumed grin. "A fellow who comes into a fat legacy has got to do something, hasn't he?"

"Surest thing you know," responded Jesse Pelter. "And this Irrigation Company of ours is the best thing in the world for rapid money making," he continued. "Just come on from Denver, Mr. Putnam?"

"I've been in New York a couple of days," answered Tom. "I want to look around a bit before I invest anything. I heard something of this company before I reached here."

"No doubt! No doubt! It is a big thing, and our rivals are all watching and envying us. Did you get our printed prospectus?"

"No, but I saw one somewhere, some time ago."

"Here you have it, with a map of the property. The shares are now selling at sixty-five, but next week I think we'll have to advance them to seventy or seventy-five, owing to the demand."

"Could a fellow buy five thousand dollars' worth at sixty-five?" asked Tom, trying to show an interest.

"You could, if you were quick about it."

"Well, I want to know something more about this property first," continued Tom. "I don't want to throw any money away."

"Quite right. I see you are a level-headed young man and that is the kind I like to deal with. We'll go over this matter carefully." And then Jesse Pelter plunged into the details of the irrigation scheme, showing up its many good points, and how, in the near future, it was bound to make a lot of money for all who invested in it.

"And you have the shares to sell?" asked Tom.

"Oh, yes."

"Do you own the property, Mr. Pelter?"

"Our company owns it-- that is, we have a controlling interest in it."

"There are no other big stockholders?"

"None at all. We have invested heavily,-- buying out the old company and reorganizing it. All of the other stockholders are small ones. You see, we have such faith in this scheme that we don't want to let too much stock get away from us."

Tom did not see, but he did not say so. Not a word had been said about Mr. Rover and his interest-- Mr. Pelter ignored Tom's father entirely. And yet the youth knew that his parent had fifty thousand dollars or more tied up in that very company!

"I'd like to know some of the people who have invested in this stock," said Tom, after the matter had been talked over for nearly an hour.

"I will give you some names," was the broker's reply, and he wrote them down. "They are the principal stockholders outside of ourselves."

Tom took the list and glanced at it. His father's name did not appear, nor did the names of two other men he knew were interested in the concern.

"Thank you," said the youth, rising. "I will look into this. It might be a good investment for me."

"Finest in the world," returned Jesse Pelter. "Better let me put you down for five thousand dollars' worth of shares to-day."

"No, I want to think it over first."

"Supposing I hold the shares for you until to-morrow?" went on the broker, persuasively.

"You can do that, if you wish," answered Tom.

"Do you want to leave a deposit on them?"

"I didn't bring any money with me-- that is, not enough."

"You might write out a check, Mr. Putnam."

"No, I'll think it over first."

"Then I'll hold the shares and look for you to-morrow," returned Jesse Pelter, somewhat disappointedly. He loved to get his hands on another's money at the first interview. "Please come in after lunch," he added. "I have an important engagement for the morning."

With the map and prospectus and list of names in his pocket, Tom left the offices. He saw that the man with the pointed chin and heavy eyebrows was not present. The force consisted of Mr. Pelter, the office boy, a girl at a typewriter, and a very old man who was at the books.

"Japson must be keeping out of the way," mused Tom, as he descended to the street. "I wonder if it was he or old Crabtree who talked to Pelter over the 'phone?"

Tom soon rejoined his brothers and all three walked away from the vicinity of Wall street. The youth told of his interview with the broker, and of the talk he had overheard while Jesse Pelter was at the telephone.

"They must have been talking about father!" cried Dick, eagerly.

"Maybe they have him a prisoner on a boat!" added Sam.

"It looks that way to me," said Tom. "And I know what I think we ought to do," he continued.

"So do I," answered Dick, quickly. "Watch this Pelter to-morrow, when he leaves his home, and see where he goes to."

"Right you are."

"Where does he live?" questioned Sam.

"I don't know, but we can easily find out."

The boys presently passed an office building in which there was a large telephone station, and there they hunted up Jesse Pelter's home address.

"He lives up in the Bronx," said Dick, taking down the street and number. "We can find out up at the hotel how to reach the place. Let us go back to the Outlook and see if there is any letter from home. Maybe we'll get more news about that financial loss mentioned in that telegram."