Man came from the sea. Mercer, by his thought-telegraph, learns from the weirdly beautiful ocean-maiden of a branch that returned there.
From somewhere out on the black, heaving Atlantic, the rapid, muffled popping of a speed-boat’s exhaust drifted clearly through the night.
I dropped my book and stretched, leaning back more comfortably in my chair. There was real romance and adventure! Rum-runners, seeking out their hidden port with their cargo of contraband from Cuba. Heading fearlessly through the darkness, fighting the high seas, still running after the storm of a day or so before, daring a thousand dangers for the sake of the straw-packed bottles they carried. Sea-bronzed men, with hard, flat muscles and fearless eyes; ready guns slapping their thighs as they––
Absorbed in my mental picture of these modern free-booters, the sudden alarm of the telephone startled me like an unexpected shot fired beside my ear. Brushing the cigarette ashes from my smoking-jacket, I crossed the room and snatched up the receiver.
“Hello!” I snapped ungraciously into the mouthpiece. It was after eleven by the ship’s clock on the mantel, and if––
“Taylor?” The voice––Warren Mercer’s familiar voice––rattled on without waiting for a reply. “Get in your car and come down here as fast as possible. Come just as you are, and––”
“What’s the matter?” I managed to interrupt him. “Burglars?” I had never heard Mercer speak in that high-pitched, excited voice before; his usual speech was slow and thoughtful, almost didactic.
“Please, Taylor, don’t waste time questioning me. If it weren’t urgent, I wouldn’t be calling you, you know. Will you come?”
“You bet!” I said quickly, feeling rather a fool for ragging him when he was in such deadly earnest. “Have––”
The receiver snapped and crackled; Mercer had hung up the instant he had my assurance that I would come. Usually the very soul of courtesy and consideration, that act alone would have convinced me that there was an urgent need for my presence at The Monstrosity. That was Mercer’s own name for the impressive pile that was at once his residence and his laboratory.
I threw off the smoking-jacket and pulled on a woolen golfing sweater, for the wind was brisk and sharpish. In two minutes I was backing the car out of the garage; a moment later I was off the graveled drive and tearing down the concrete with the accelerator all the way down, and the black wind shrieking around the windshield of my little roadster.
My own shack was out of the city limits––a little place I keep to live in when the urge to go fishing seizes me, which is generally about twice a year. Mercer picked the place up for me at a song.
The Monstrosity was some four miles further out from town, and off the highway perhaps a half-mile more.
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