A few days earlier, former president Theodore Roosevelt had arrived unexpectedly at Pinkerton's Broadway office. In his possession was a letter from his former aide and adviser, Major Archibald Butt. Butt, now the aide-de-camp for President Taft, had been returning to the United States on the Titanic after a round of diplomacy with the King of Italy, when he went down with the ship. In the letter, dated the day of the sailing, Butt wrote that a representative of the Italian Prime Minister approached him with knowledge of a stratagem to incite the world to the brink of war. Most alarming, the plot would involve the sinking of a passenger liner. The source of the tip further confided Titanic would be the logical target. Determined to uncover the facts behind the portentous warning, Roosevelt persuades Pinkerton to take on the case. Dimaio, a tenacious investigator whose resume includes tracking Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid, accepts the assignment and quickly uncovers an elaborate insurance fraud involving Titanic and her sister ship Olympic. Working every angle, Dimaio discovers the fraud was double-edged, and as evidence begins to emerge that the plot is still in play, he and Pinkerton find themselves in a race against time with an ambitious financier, a ruthless agent from British Intelligence, and the cabal of powerful men working behind the scenes, hell-bent on seeing to completion their diabolical plans.
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By RICHARD CIBRANO
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 Richard Cibrano
All rights reserved.
"It was the curse of the Mummy that done it," the gruff blue-collar type asserts between sips of his beer. "I'm telling ya, the ship was doomed before she left her mooring."
Some weeks earlier, a New York newspaper ran the improbable story that an ancient Egyptian curse was behind the sinking of the Titanic. As the legend goes, an unscrupulous art dealer attempted to smuggle the sarcophagus of an Egyptian king to America in the ship's cargo hold. He planned to sell it to a museum in New York for $500,000.00, and then split the loot with the thieves who ransacked the tomb. In retaliation for this ghastly deed, the Egyptian god Anubis sent the Titanic to her underwater grave.
"Sheer nonsense," the refined gentleman next to him at the bar announces with equal conviction. "Only negligence could have sent her to the bottom. From my travels, I know something of the protocol on these ships. It was the last formal evening, and the Champagne flows like water at every table. Dollars to doughnuts, the Captain was taking his final bows with the society people instead of tending to his duties. If you ask me, when the Titanic struck the berg, the Captain was the only thing on the ship resembling a mummy."
At the corner of the bar Allan Pinkerton, a lunchtime regular at Martin's, a popular tavern at the southern tip of Manhattan's busy Financial District, shakes his head disdainfully at the useless prattle. The passage of two months time has done little to ease the pain of the unspeakable tragedy, mourned with equal passion on two continents. The findings of American and British inquiries, though quick to the task and thorough in their approach, ultimately disappointed with their superficial conclusions. New Yorkers responded with an inquisitor's resolve—determined that blameworthy officials be made to answer for the tragedy. Cries of whitewash and scapegoat resound from the many impromptu debates. The thoughts of George Bernard Shaw, recently quoted in the New York Times, instantly comes to Pinkerton's mind:
What is the use of all this ghastly, blasphemous, inhuman, braggartly lying? Here is a calamity, which might well make the proudest man humble and the wildest joker serious. It makes us vainglorious, insolent, mendacious. The effect on me was one of profound disgust, almost of national dishonor. Am I mad?
Pinkerton finishes the last of his corned beef sandwich. The bartender arrives with an offer of fresh brewed coffee, but he politely declines and pays his tab; of late, there are rarely enough hours in the day.
The rain falls steadily as Pinkerton steps quickly along the streets of Lower Manhattan. He arrives at 57 Broadway, notes the black limousine parked in front—a sight more common as Wall Street bankers embrace the spectacle of the automobile—and enters the building lobby.
Pinkerton rides the elevator to the fourth floor, walks a short distance down the hall, and enters the office of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Unaware of the curious stares following his progress, Pinkerton moves past the row of desks to the wood partition, pushes through the hinged gate on the balustrade, and turns down the corridor. A moment later, he spots the two men wearing the distinctive look of government professionalism stationed outside of his office. Pinkerton acknowledges their presence with a cautious nod, and quickly turns his attention to his secretary who is approaching with a wide-eyed sense of urgency.
"Mr. President ... I mean, Mr. Pinkerton, it's the President."
"Kelly, calm down and start again. What President?"
"The President of the United States ... he's in your office," she explains in a whispered voice straining with excitement.
"Taft," he says incredulous.
"No ... Roosevelt."
"Theodore Roosevelt is in my office."
She nods firmly, and says, "That's what I've been trying to tell you."
Pinkerton frowns thoughtfully for a moment, wondering what the former President could want with him. He moves quickly to his office door, but enters cautiously. Standing at the window, hands on hips gazing down at the Broadway pantomime is the unmistakable figure of Theodore Roosevelt. Pinkerton guides the door shut, loud enough to attract his attention.
Roosevelt pivots and says. "Ah Pinkerton ... I hope you don't mind the intrusion on your busy schedule."
"Of course not, Colonel, this is a wonderful surprise," he declares, quickly placing his hat and coat next to Roosevelt's on the clothes tree.
Pinkerton knows of Roosevelt's preference for the courtesy title "Colonel" rather than the customary Mr. President. Roosevelt enthusiastically thrusts out his hand and Pinkerton gladly accepts his greeting. Observing the portraits of the famous Pinkerton lineage hanging on the back office wall, Roosevelt then comments. "Splendid ... this is what the United States is all about. A successful family business passed on from generation to generation."
Pinkerton smiles at the compliment. Then, hastily, he slides the gold cuspidor away from the desk, a relic from the time of his famous grandfather, and invites the former President to have a seat. Roosevelt settles his broad figure into the high back leather side chair and, displaying the toothy grin immortalized in photographs and caricatures, announces, "I had the privilege of observing your operation back in '05 during the Steunenberg murder investigation," Roosevelt recalls. "Agent McParland was the fellow who headed the Pinkerton team. Damn fine job he did ... too bad those union scoundrels were acquitted."
Pinkerton nods knowingly at the reminder. During an Idaho labor dispute in 1899, Governor Frank Steunenberg declared martial law, asking President McKinley to send federal troops to crush the rebellion. The intervention resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of hundreds of union activists. Six years later, an explosive device planted in his home killed the former Governor. The assassination, it was alleged, was retaliation ordered by union leader William Haywood.
"Clarence Darrow was quite convincing in Haywood's defense," Pinkerton asserts.
"Defense attorneys," Roosevelt utters, his jaw set sternly. "A profession committed to defending criminals, libelers, and scandalmongers. Even so, I would rather a chat with you about this shady profession than the reason for my visit." The look of contempt unexpectedly bleeds from Roosevelt's expression, and his mood is clearly somber. "I trust you are familiar with the tragic circumstance of Major Archibald Butt."
Following an extended stay in Rome, Major Butt, Roosevelt's former aide-de-camp and advisor was returning to New York on the Titanic when he perished without a trace. During his tenure in the White House, Roosevelt relied heavily on Butt's guidance and support. An ideal clubman, Butt was also one of the few men who could physically keep up with Roosevelt's exploits. Afterward, he remained a close companion of the former President, and a regular guest at the Roosevelt's estate in Oyster Bay. Butt was a spit and polish military type, the kind of man Roosevelt holds in the highest regard, and their bond was a matter of common knowledge around Washington.
Butt continued his role as aide-de-camp in the Taft White House, and the current President came to rely on him as well.
Pinkerton bows his head and says solemnly, "Of course ... a tragedy of unspeakable proportions."
"Very bitter to see that good, gallant, tenderhearted man leave life at its crest," laments Roosevelt.
Pinkerton considers the irony of the situation. "For a man of such courage and stature to meet his end while on holiday seems so inappropriate."
For a long moment, Roosevelt's head hangs in evident remorse. Then he abruptly straightens, and with his left arm firmly planted on his knee, asks, "What do you know about the purpose for the Major's trip to Rome?"
Pinkerton thinks it over, and says, "Only what I've read in the newspapers. I recall some hearsay that he carried a message from the President for the Pope, but the main reason for the trip was his health."
"Yes, some rubbish about his digestion being ruined by a round of political banquets," Roosevelt is quick to add, "And that a trip up the Mediterranean would repair his constitution. Well, I can tell you Archie spent the weekend before his departure at my home. He looked the picture of health ... and if appetite is an indicator, there was nothing wrong with his digestion."
Pinkerton nods, but before he can respond, Roosevelt continues: "What I am about to reveal to you is done so in the strictest of confidence. I must insist upon your word that any mention of the matter of this meeting will be in the strict confines of our arrangement."
The word arrangement leaps out at Pinkerton. "Of course, Colonel ... my word is our bond."
Roosevelt reaches into the inside pocket of his morning coat and removes an envelope. "This letter from the Major arrived at my home the week following the sinking. It is postmarked April the tenth ... Rome, meaning he mailed it the morning of his departure."
Pinkerton accepts the letter with a gracious nod, and immediately begins to read:
My Dear Colonel,
My concern for the welfare of the United States compels me to alert you to a matter of potentially grave consequences.
As you no doubt suspected all along, my trip to Rome involved more than a vacation. Though my mission to this grand city was not in an official capacity, as the State Department was in no way concerned in the matter, the President did instruct me to call on King Victor Emmanuel of Italy. The King availed himself of the occasion to entrust to me a confidential letter for the President, saying only that it concerned a matter of utmost urgency. Since it is not an official communiqué, the substance of the message will not pass through the State Department, unless the President so desires.
In as much as the request was conventional with regard to matters of diplomacy, I was quite prepared to carry out the instructions undaunted. However, the ensuing encounter compelled me to reach out to you in this manner. As I was leaving the palace, an emissary for Italian Prime Minister Giolitti, an individual associated with Italy's secret service—and hence at his request shall remain nameless—approached me with a request for a private audience in a location away from his chambers in Parliament. Noting his apprehensive appearance, I put aside my plans and right away agreed to his appeal. Nothing could have prepared me for what followed. He informed me of a rumor intercepted by his network of spies of a plot intended to provoke the United States into a world war. The stratagem would involve the unprovoked sinking of an ocean liner carrying American citizens by a nation recognized as a would-be adversary. The public outcry in the United States and England about this cowardly act would no doubt result in swift retaliation that, in this turbulent time, would likely incite the world to war. Regrettably, he could not provide me with the identity of the rogue nation, or the intended method of the heinous deed. However, knowing of my plans to return to the United States on the Titanic, he alerted me to an astounding prospect; what better provocation than to attempt an attack on the new liner!
The Italian emissary confessed that he does not possess corroborative evidence of such a plot, but is certain the letter from the King contains sufficient verification for his story from sources recognized as unimpeachable. As the government of Italy shares the President's reluctance for war and, I am certain, would do anything within their means to prevent it, I have little reason to doubt the genuineness of the appeal.
I trust you understand that my breach of confidence as emissary to the President comes not from disloyalty, but rather from the stark reality that if the voyage were to end tragically, the evidence I carry of the plot responsible for her sinking would vanish; hence, my letter to you.
I will board the ship presently, and alert the Captain and crew of the potential danger. With only the word of an American landlubber to alert them to the potential peril, my task will no doubt be a difficult one. Nevertheless, as you can bear out, I will persist in my appeal!
If the worst should happen, in the aftermath of the tragedy, I can think of no one better capable of forestalling a certain rush to war than you.
For a long moment, Pinkerton stares incredulous at the letter, before silently handing it back to the former President.
Roosevelt carefully folds the parchment and slips it back into his inside coat pocket. His powerful chest expands from a deep breath; he quickly exhales and declares. "I waited for the American and British inquiries to run their course. Of course, to my knowledge, it is indisputable the collision with the iceberg sank the ship."
"The information certainly points ..."
"However," Roosevelt interrupts, thrusting a finger into the air, "I have been around politics long enough to understand that it is irresponsible to accept a final judgment ... to the exclusion of all else that is possible, based solely on the conclusions of a government sponsored committee." Unexpectedly he gets to his feet, and with his hands clasped behind his back in a thoughtful posture, moves to the window.
Pinkerton nonchalantly retrieves a notebook from a desk drawer. Working through his uneasiness, he asks, "What can we do to help you, Colonel?"
Roosevelt rocks back and forth on his heels and begins again. "I wish to engage the services of your agency in the hope that we may find the underlying cause of Major Butt's warning. Mind you, under normal circumstances, I would deal with the problem directly." Roosevelt pauses to give the matter some thought, then turns to face Pinkerton, and continues, "Unfortunately, my decision to challenge for my party's nomination for president prevents me from taking an active part in this investigation. In the current political climate, I would undoubtedly end up in a position of defending myself against charges of sensationalism, and exploiting the tragedy for political advantage. In the end, all I will accomplish is to provide a cause célèbre for the suspected conspirators to hide behind."
Pinkerton maintains a respectful silence as the former President, his deeply furrowed brows indicating the gravity of his dilemma, slowly paces the office. As a detective, an adventurer of sorts, Pinkerton is intrigued by the extraordinary challenge deposited at his agency's doorstep. Nevertheless, a sense of apprehension tugs at him.
"The way I see it, Pinkerton," Roosevelt continues in a determined, high-pitched voice, "there is a certain agenda to be followed. First, we must establish whether the collision with the iceberg was solely responsible for the sinking ... and bear in mind we cannot rule out the possibility the collision was the result of deliberately poor seamanship."
Pinkerton nods in agreement, but without conviction. Roosevelt adds, "Far be it for me to interfere with your agency's work. Regardless of what you have no doubt heard of me, I am a man who believes in picking the best man for the job, and then not interfering with the performance of his duty. And yours, Pinkerton, is the finest detective agency in the world."
Pinkerton smiles gratefully. "Thank you, Colonel ... we have a rather imposing legacy to uphold," he says, gesturing toward the portraits of the legendary agents, from his grandfather's time to the recent past, adorning the back wall. "There's always someone looking over my shoulder ... making sure we do our best."
"That's all I ever expect of a man ... that he does his best," Roosevelt adds, nodding resolutely. He returns to his seat, and moves to the next item. "Should your investigation uncover evidence of wrongdoing, you will endeavor to learn the identity of the culprits and discover the motive behind their plot." His eyes filled with an unrelenting resolve that speaks to the manner of the man's greatness, Roosevelt brings his fist down hard on the arm of the chair, and proclaims, "By thunder, I do intend to bring these people to justice."
Roosevelt's no-nonsense approach is inspiring—his daring and his quixotic crusade for justice certainly a noble cause. However, in Pinkerton's world, caution has its place, and the race doesn't always go to the swiftest afoot. Pinkerton leans into his carved oak desk, and utters with caution, "What precisely would you expect us to do?"
Excerpted from UNTHINKABLE by RICHARD CIBRANO. Copyright © 2013 Richard Cibrano. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The story was well-written and engaging. An interesting concept. Fans of any detective novel who enjoy good mysteries should enjoy this book.
It was a great read, thrilling, suspenseful, dramatic, it was hard to put down at the end of the day. Richard really brings you back to old New York and paints such a vivid picture that you feel as though you are there. I felt as if I were part of the story as it was happening from the beginning to the end. I felt as if I knew the characters and could easily picture them as if I were standing there with them. I can't believe I am done with it, I hope he is planning on writing another book soon.