PETER WINN lay back comfortably in a library chair, with closed eyes, deep in the cogitation of a scheme of campaign destined in the near future to make a certain coterie of hostile financiers sit up. The central idea had come to him the night before, and he was now reveling in the planning of the remoter, minor details. By obtaining control of a certain up-country bank, two general stores, and several logging camps, he could come into control of a certain dinky jerkwater line which shall here be nameless, but which, in his hands, would prove the key to a vastly larger situation involving more main-line mileage almost than there were spikes in the aforesaid dinky jerkwater. It was so simple that he had almost laughed aloud when it came to him. No wonder those astute and ancient enemies of his had passed it by.
The library door opened, and a slender, middle-aged man, weak-eyed and eye glassed, entered. In his hands was an envelope and an open letter. As Peter Winn’s secretary it was his task to weed out, sort, and classify his employer’s mail.
“This came in the morning post,” he ventured apologetically and with the hint of a titter. “Of course it doesn’t amount to anything, but I thought you would like to see it.”
“Read it,” Peter Winn commanded, without opening his eyes.
The secretary cleared his throat.
“It is dated July seventeenth, but is without address. Postmark San Francisco. It is also quite illiterate. The spelling is atrocious. Here it is:
“Mr. Peter Winn, SIR: I send you respectfully by express a pigeon worth good money. She’s a loo-loo–”
“What is a loo-loo?” Peter Winn interrupted.
The secretary tittered.
“I’m sure I don’t know, except that it must be a superlative of some sort. The letter continues:
“Please freight it with a couple of thousand-dollar bills and let it go. If you do I wont never annoy you no more. If you dont you will be sorry.
“That is all. It is unsigned. I thought it would amuse you.”
“Has the pigeon come?” Peter Winn demanded.
“I’m sure I never thought to enquire.”
“Then do so.”
In five minutes the secretary was back.
“Yes, sir. It came this morning.”
“Then bring it in.”
The secretary was inclined to take the affair as a practical joke, but Peter Winn, after an examination of the pigeon, thought otherwise.
“Look at it,” he said, stroking and handling it. “See the length of the body and that elongated neck. A proper carrier. I doubt if I’ve ever seen a finer specimen. Powerfully winged and muscled. As our unknown correspondent remarked, she is a loo-loo. It’s a temptation to keep her.”
The secretary tittered.
“Why not? Surely you will not let it go back to the writer of that letter.”
Peter Winn shook his head.
“I’ll answer. No man can threaten me, even anonymously or in foolery.”
On a slip of paper he wrote the succinct message, “Go to hell,” signed it, and placed it in the carrying apparatus with which the bird had been thoughtfully supplied.
“Now we’ll let her loose. Where’s my son? I’d like him to see the flight.”
“He’s down in the workshop. He slept there last night, and had his breakfast sent down this morning.”
“He’ll break his neck yet,” Peter Winn remarked, half-fiercely, half-proudly, as he led the way to the veranda.
Standing at the head of the broad steps, he tossed the pretty creature outward and upward. She caught herself with a quick beat of wings, fluttered about undecidedly for a space, then rose in the air.
Again, high up, there seemed indecision; then, apparently getting her bearings, she headed east, over the oak-trees that dotted the park-like grounds.
“Beautiful, beautiful,” Peter Winn murmured. “I almost wish I had her back.”
But Peter Winn was a very busy man, with such large plans in his head and with so many reins in his hands that he quickly forgot the incident. Three nights later the left wing of his country house was blown up. It was not a heavy explosion, and nobody was hurt, though the wing itself was ruined. Most of the windows of the rest of the house were broken, and there was a deal of general damage. By the first ferry boat of the morning half a dozen San Francisco detectives arrived, and several hours later the secretary, in high excitement, erupted on Peter Winn.