Story type: Literature
“Shake hands with Mr. Burke of the secret service, Professor Kennedy.”
It was our old friend First Deputy O’Connor who thus in his bluff way introduced a well-groomed and prosperous-looking man whom he brought up to our apartment one evening.
The formalities were quickly over. “Mr. Burke and I are old friends,” explained O’Connor. “We try to work together when we can, and very often the city department can give the government service a lift, and then again it’s the other way – as it was in the trunk-murder mystery. Show Professor Kennedy the ‘queer,’ Tom.”
Burke drew a wallet out of his pocket, and from it slowly and deliberately selected a crisp, yellow-backed hundred-dollar bill. He laid it flat on the table before us. Diagonally across its face from the upper left- to the lower right-hand corner extended two parallel scorings in indelible ink.
Not being initiated into the secrets of the gentle art of “shoving the queer,” otherwise known as passing counterfeit money, I suppose my questioning look betrayed me.
“A counterfeit, Walter,” explained Kennedy. “That’s what they do with bills when they wish to preserve them as records in the secret service and yet render them valueless.”
Without a word Burke handed Kennedy a pocket magnifying-glass, and Kennedy carefully studied the bill. He was about to say something when Burke opened his capacious wallet again and laid down a Bank of England five-pound note which had been similarly treated.
Again Kennedy looked through the glass with growing amazement written on his face, but before he could say anything, Burke laid down an express money-order on the International Express Company.
“I say,” exclaimed Kennedy, putting down the glass, “stop! How many more of these are there?”
Burke smiled. “That’s all,” he replied, “but it’s not the worst.”
“Not the worst? Good heavens, man, next you’ll tell me that the government is counterfeiting its own notes! How much of this stuff do you suppose has been put into circulation?”
Burke chewed a pencil thoughtfully, jotted down some figures on a piece of paper, and thought some more. “Of course I can’t say exactly, but from hints I have received here and there I should think that a safe bet would be that some one has cashed in upward of half a million dollars already.”
“Whew,” whistled Kennedy, “that’s going some. And I suppose it is all salted away in some portable form. What an inventory if must be – good bills, gold, diamonds, and jewellery. This is a stake worth playing for.”
“Yes,” broke in O’Connor, “but from my standpoint, professionally, I mean, the case is even worse than that. It’s not the counterfeits that bother us. We understand that, all right. But,” and he leaned forward earnestly and brought his fist down hard on the table with a resounding Irish oath, “the finger-print system, the infallible finger-print system, has gone to pieces. We’ve just imported this new ‘portrait parle’ fresh from Paris and London, invented by Bertillon and all that sort of thing – it has gone to pieces, too. It’s a fine case, this is, with nothing left of either scientific or unscientific criminal-catching to rely on. There – what do you know about that?”
“You’ll have to tell me the facts first,” said Kennedy. “I can’t diagnose your disease until I know the symptoms.”
“It’s like this,” explained Burke, the detective in him showing now with no effort at concealment. “A man, an Englishman, apparently, went into a downtown banker’s office about three months ago and asked to have some English bank-notes exchanged for American money. After he had gone away, the cashier began to get suspicious. He thought there was something phoney in the feel of the notes. Under the glass he noticed that the little curl on the ‘e’ of the ‘Five’ was missing. It’s the protective mark. The water-mark was quite equal to that of the genuine – maybe better. Hold that note up to the light and see for yourself.
“Well, the next day, down to the Custom House, where my office is, a man came who runs a swell gambling-house uptown. He laid ten brand-new bills on my desk. An Englishman had been betting on the wheel. He didn’t seem to care about winning, and he cashed in each time with a new one-hundred-dollar bill. Of course he didn’t care about winning. He cared about the change – that was his winning. The bill on the table is one of the original ten, though since then scores have been put into circulation. I made up my mind that it was the same Englishman in both cases.
“Then within a week, in walked the manager of the Mozambique Hotel – he had been stung with the fake International Express money-order – same Englishman, too, I believe.”
“And you have no trace of him?” asked Kennedy eagerly.
“We had him under arrest once – we thought. A general alarm was sent out, of course, to all the banks and banking-houses. But the man was too clever to turn up in that way again. In one gambling-joint which women frequent a good deal, a classy dame who might have been a duchess or a – well, she was a pretty good loser and always paid with hundred-dollar bills. Now, you know women are not good losers. Besides, the hundred-dollar-bill story had got around among the gambling-houses. This joint thought it worth taking a chance, so they called me up on the ‘phone, extracted a promise that I’d play fair and keep O’Connor from raiding them, but wouldn’t I please come up and look over the dame of the yellow bills? Of course I made a jump at it. Sure enough, they were the same counterfeits. I could tell because the silk threads were drawn in with coloured ink. But instead of making an arrest I decided to trail the lady.
“Now, here comes the strange part of it. Let me see, this must have been over two months ago. I followed her out to a suburban town, Riverwood along the Hudson, and to a swell country house overlooking the river, private drive, stone gate, hedges, old trees, and all that sort of thing. A sporty-looking Englishman met her at the gate with one of those big imported touring-cars, and they took a spin.
“I waited a day or so, but nothing more happened, and I began to get anxious. Perhaps I was a bit hasty. Anyhow I watched my chance and made an arrest of both of them when they came to New York on a shopping expedition. You should have heard that Englishman swear. I didn’t know such language was possible. But in his pocket we found twenty more of those hundred-dollar bills – that was all. Do you think he owned up? Not a bit of it. He swore he had picked the notes up in a pocketbook on the pier as he left the steamer. I laughed. But when he was arraigned in court he told the magistrate the same story and that he had advertised his find at the time. Sure enough, in the files of the papers we discovered in the lost-and-found column the ad, just as he claimed. We couldn’t even prove that he had passed the bills. So the magistrate refused to hold them, and they were both released. But we had had them in our power long enough to take their finger-prints and get descriptions and measurements of them, particularly by this new ‘portrait parle ‘ system. We felt we could send out a strange detective and have him pick them out of a crowd – you know the system, I presume?
Kennedy nodded, and I made a mental note of finding out more about the “portrait parle” later.
Burke paused, and O’Connor prompted, “Tell them about Scotland Yard, Tom.”
“Oh, yes,” resumed Burke. “Of course I sent copies of the finger-prints to Scotland Yard. Within two weeks they replied that one set belonged to William Forbes, a noted counterfeiter, who, they understood, had sailed for South Africa but had never arrived there. They were glad to learn that he was in America, and advised me to look after him sharply. The woman was also a noted character – Harriet Wollstone, an adventuress.”
“I suppose you have shadowed them ever since?” Kennedy asked.
“Yes, a few days after they were arrested the man had an accident with his car. It was said he was cranking the engine and that it kicked back and splintered the bone in his forearm. Anyhow, he went about with his hand and arm in a sling.”
“They gave my man the slip that night in their fast touring-car. You know automobiles have about made shadowing impossible in these days. The house was closed up, and it was said by the neighbours that Williams and Mrs. Williams – as they called themselves – had gone to visit a specialist in Philadelphia. Still, as they had a year’s lease on the house, I detailed a man to watch it more or less all the time. They went to Philadelphia all right; some of the bills turned up there. But we saw nothing of them.
“A short time ago, word came to me that the house was open again. It wasn’t two hours later that the telephone rang like mad. A Fifth Avenue jeweller had just sold a rope of pearls to an Englishwoman who paid for it herself in crisp new one-hundred-dollar bills. The bank had returned them to him that very afternoon – counterfeits. I didn’t lose any time making a second arrest up at the house of mystery at Riverwood. I had the county authorities hold them – and, now, O’Connor, tell the rest of it. You took the finger-prints up there.”
O’Connor cleared his throat as if something stuck in it, in the telling. “The Riverwood authorities refused to hold them,” he said with evident chagrin. “As soon as I heard of the arrest I started up myself with the finger-print records to help Burke. It was the same man, all right – I’ll swear to that on a stack of Bibles. So will Burke. I’ll never forget that snub nose – the concave nose, the nose being the first point of identification in the ‘portrait park.’ And the ears, too – oh, it was the same man, all right. But when we produced the London finger-prints which tallied with the New York finger-prints which we had made – believe it or not, but it is a fact, the Riverwood finger-prints did not tally at all.”
He laid the prints on the table. Kennedy examined them closely. His face clouded. It was quite evident that he was stumped, and he said so. “There are some points of agreement,” he remarked, “but more points of difference. Any points of difference are usually considered fatal to the finger-print theory.
“We had to let the man go,” concluded Burke. “We could have held the woman, but we let her go, too, because she was not the principal in the case. My men are shadowing the house now and have been ever since then. But the next day after the last arrest, a man from New York, who looked like a doctor, made a visit. The secret-service man on the job didn’t dare leave the house to follow him, but as he never came again perhaps it doesn’t matter. Since then the house has been closed.”
The telephone rang. It was Burke’s office calling him. As he talked we could gather that something tragic must have happened at Riverwood, and we could hardly wait until he had finished.
“There has been an accident up there,” he remarked as he hung up the receiver rather petulantly. “They returned in the car this afternoon with a large package in the back of the tonneau. But they didn’t stay long. After dark they started out again in the car. The accident was at the bad railroad crossing just above Riverwood. It seems Williams’s car got stalled on the track just as the Buffalo express was due. No one saw it, but a man in a buggy around the bend in the road heard a woman scream. He hurried down. The train had smashed the car to bits. How the woman escaped was a miracle, but they found the man’s body up the tracks, horribly mangled. It was Williams, they say. They identified him by the clothes and by letters in his pockets. But my man tells me he found a watch on him with ‘W. F.’ engraved on it. His hands and arms and head must have been right under the locomotive when it struck him, I judge.”
“I guess that winds the case up, eh?” exclaimed O’Connor with evident chagrin. “Where’s the woman?”
“They said she was in the little local hospital, but not much hurt. Just the shock and a few bruises.”
O’Connor’s question seemed to suggest an idea to Burke, and he reached for the telephone again. “Riverwood 297,” he ordered; then to us as he waited he said: “We must hold the woman. Hello, 297? The hospital? This is Burke of the secret service. Will you tell my man, who must be somewhere about, that I would like to have him hold that woman who was in the auto smash until I can – what? Gone? The deuce!”
He hung up the receiver angrily. “She left with a man who called for her about half an hour ago,” he said. “There must be a gang of them. Forbes is dead, but we must get the rest. Mr. Kennedy, I’m sorry to have bothered you, but I guess we can handle this alone, after all. It was the finger-prints that fooled us, but now that Forbes is out of the way it’s just a straight case of detective work of the old style which won’t interest you.”
“On the contrary,” answered Kennedy, “I’m just beginning to be interested. Does it occur to you that, after all, Forbes may not be dead?”
“Not dead?” echoed Burke and O’Connor together.
“Exactly; that’s just what I said – not dead. Now stop and think a moment. Would the great Forbes be so foolish as to go about with a watch marked ‘W. F.’ if he knew, as he must have known, that you would communicate with London and by means of the prints find out all about him?”
“Yes,” agreed Burke, “all we have to go by is his watch found on Williams. I suppose there is some possibility that Forbes may still be alive.”
“Who is this third man who comes in and with whom Harriet Wollstone goes away so willingly?” put in O’Connor. “You said the house had been closed – absolutely closed?”
Burke nodded. “Been closed ever since the last arrest. There’s a servant who goes in now and then, but the car hasn’t been there before to-night, wherever it has been.”
“I should like to watch that house myself for a while,” mused Kennedy. “I suppose you have no objections to my doing so?”
“Of course not. Go ahead,” said Burke. “I will go along with you if you wish, or my man can go with you.”
“No,” said Kennedy, “too many of us might spoil the broth. I’ll watch alone to-night and will see you in the morning. You needn’t even say anything to your man there about us.”
“Walter, what’s on for to-night?”he asked when they had gone. “How are you fixed for a little trip out to Riverwood?”
“To tell the truth, I had an engagement at the College Club with some of the fellows.”
“Oh, cut it.”
“That’s what I intend to do,” I replied.
It was a raw night, and we bundled ourselves up in old football sweaters under our overcoats. Half an hour later we were on our way up to Riverwood.
“By the way, Craig,” I asked, “I didn’t like to say anything before those fellows. They’d think I was a dub. But I don’t mind asking you. What is this ‘portrait parle’ they talk about, anyway?”
“Why, it’s a word-picture – a ‘spoken picture,’ to be literal. I took some lessons in it at Bertillon’s school when I was in Paris. It’s a method of scientific apprehension of criminals, a sort of necessary addition and completion to the methods of scientific identification of them after they are arrested. For instance, in trying to pick out a given criminal from his mere description you begin with the nose. Now, noses are all concave, straight, or convex. This Forbes had a nose that was concave, Burke says. Suppose you were sent out to find him. Of all the people you met, we’ll say, roughly, two-thirds wouldn’t interest you. You’d pass up all with straight or convex noses. Now the next point to observe is the ear. There are four general kinds of ears-triangular, square, oval, and round, besides a number of other differences which are clear enough after you study ears. This fellow is a pale man with square ears and a peculiar lobe to his ear. So you wouldn’t give a second glance to, say, three-fourths of the square-eared people. So by a process of elimination of various features, the eyes, the mouth, the hair, wrinkles, and so forth, you would be able to pick your man out of a thousand – that is, if you were trained.”
“And it works?” I asked rather doubtfully.
“Oh, yes. That’s why I’m taking up this case. I believe science can really be used to detect crime, any crime, and in the present instance I’ve just pride enough to stick to this thing until – until they begin to cut ice on the Styx. Whew, but it will be cold out in the country to-night, Walter – speaking about ice.
It was quite late when we reached Riverwood, and Kennedy hurried along the dimly lighted streets, avoiding the main street lest some one might be watching or following us. He pushed on, following the directions Burke had given him. The house in question was a large, newly built affair of concrete, surrounded by trees and a hedge, directly overlooking the river. A bitter wind swept in from the west, but in the shadow of an evergreen tree and of the hedge Kennedy established our watch.
Of all fruitless errands this seemed to me to be the acme. The house was deserted; that was apparent, I thought, and I said so. Hardly had I said it when I heard the baying of a dog. It did not come from the house, however, and I concluded that it must have come from the next estate.
“It’s in the garage,” whispered Kennedy. “I can hardly think they would go away and leave a dog locked up in it. They would at least turn him loose.”
Hour after hour we waited. Midnight passed, and still nothing happened. At last when the moon had disappeared under the clouds, Kennedy pulled me along. We had seen not a sign of life in the house, yet he observed all the caution he would have if it had been well guarded. Quickly we advanced over the open space to the house, approaching in the shadow as much as possible, on the side farthest from the river.
Tiptoeing over the porch, Kennedy tried a window. It was fastened. Without hesitation he pulled out some instruments. One of them was a rubber suction-cup, which he fastened to the windowpane. Then with a very fine diamond-cutter he proceeded to cut out a large section. It soon fell and was prevented from smashing on the floor by the string and the suction-cup. Kennedy put his hand in and unlatched the window, and we stepped in.
All was silent. Apparently the house was deserted.
Cautiously Kennedy pressed the button of his pocket storage-battery lamp and flashed it slowly about the room. It was a sort of library, handsomely furnished. At last the beam of light rested on a huge desk at the opposite end. It seemed to interest Kennedy, and we tiptoed over to it. One after another he opened the drawers. One was locked, and he saved that until the last.
Quietly as he could, he jimmied it open, muffling the jimmy in a felt cloth that was on a table. Most people do not realise the disruptive force that there is in a simple jimmy. I didn’t until I saw the solid drawer with its heavy lock yield with just the trace of a noise. Kennedy waited an instant and listened. Nothing happened.
Inside the drawer was a most nondescript collection of useless articles. There were a number of pieces of fine sponge, some of them very thin and cut in a flat oval shape, smelling of lysol strongly; several bottles, a set of sharp little knives, some paraffin, bandages, antiseptic gauze, cotton – in fact, it looked like a first-aid kit. As soon as he saw it Kennedy seemed astonished but not at a loss to account for it.
“I thought he left that sort of thing to the doctors, but I guess he took a hand in it himself,” he muttered, continuing to fumble with the knives in the drawer. It was no time to ask questions, and I did not. Kennedy rapidly stowed away the things in his pockets. One bottle he opened and held to his nose. I could distinguish immediately the volatile smell of ether. He closed it quickly, and it, too, went into his pocket with the remark, “Somebody must have known how to administer an anaesthetic – probably the Wollstone woman.”
A suppressed exclamation from Kennedy caused me to look. The drawer had a false back. Safely tucked away in it reposed a tin box, one of those so-called strong-boxes which are so handy in that they save a burglar much time and trouble in hunting all over for the valuables he has come after. Kennedy drew it forth and laid it on the desk. It was locked.
Even that did not seem to satisfy Kennedy, who continued to scrutinise the walls and corners of the room as if looking for a safe or something of that sort.
“Let’s look in the room across the hall,” he whispered.
Suddenly a piercing scream of a woman rang out upstairs. “Help! Help! There’s some one in the house! Billy, help!”
I felt an arm grasp me tightly, and for a moment a chill ran over me at being caught in the nefarious work of breaking and entering a dwelling-house at night. But it was only Kennedy, who had already tucked the precious little tin box under his arm.
With a leap he dragged me to the open window, cleared it, vaulted over the porch, and we were running for the clump of woods that adjoined the estate on one side. Lights flashed in all the windows of the house at once. There must have been some sort of electric-light system that could be lighted instantly as a “burglar-expeller.” Anyhow, we had made good our escape.
As we lost ourselves in the woods I gave a last glance back and saw a lantern carried from the house to the garage. As the door was unlocked I could see, in the moonlight, a huge dog leap out and lick the hands and face of a man.
Quickly we now crashed through the frozen underbrush. Evidently Kennedy was making for the station by a direct route across country instead of the circuitous way by the road and town. Behind us we could hear a deep baying.
“By the Lord, Walter,” cried Kennedy, for once in his life thoroughly alarmed, “it’s a bloodhound, and our trail is fresh.”
Closer it came. Press forward as we might, we could never expect to beat that dog.
“Oh, for a stream,” groaned Kennedy, “but they are all frozen – even the river.
He stopped short, fumbled in his pocket, and drew out the bottle of ether.
“Raise your foot, Walter,” he ordered.
I did so and he smeared first mine and then his with the ether. Then we doubled on our trail once or twice and ran again.
“The dog will never be able to pick up the ether as our trail,” panted Kennedy; “that is, if he is any good and trained not to go off on wild-goose chases.”
On we hurried from the woods to the now dark and silent town. It was indeed fortunate that the dog had been thrown off our scent, for the station was closed, and, indeed, if it had been open I am sure the station agent would have felt more like locking the door against two such tramps as we were, carrying a tin box and pursued by a dog, than opening it for us. The best we could do was to huddle into a corner until we succeeded in jumping a milk-train that luckily slowed down as it passed Riverwood station.
Neither of us could wait to open the tin box in our apartment, and instead of going uptown Kennedy decided it would be best to go to a hotel near the station. Somehow we succeeded in getting a room without exciting suspicion. Hardly had the bellboy’s footsteps ceased echoing in the corridor than Kennedy was at work wrenching off the lid of the box with such leverage as the scanty furnishings of the room afforded.
At last it yielded, and we looked in curiously, expecting to find fabulous wealth in some form. A few hundred dollars and a rope of pearls lay in it. It was a good “haul,” but where was the vast spoil the counterfeiters had accumulated? We had missed it. So far we were completely baffled.
“Perhaps we had better snatch a couple of hours’ sleep,” was all that Craig said, stifling his chagrin.
Over and over in my mind I was turning the problem of where they had hidden the spoil. I dozed off, still thinking about it and thinking that, even should they be captured, they might have stowed away perhaps a million dollars to which they could go back after their sentences were served.
It was still early for New York when Kennedy roused me by talking over the telephone in the room. In fact, I doubt if he had slept at all.
Burke was at the other end of the wire. His man had just reported that something had happened during the night at Riverwood, but he couldn’t give a very clear account. Craig seemed to enjoy the joke immensely as he told his story to Burke.
The last words I heard were: “All right. Send a man up here to the station – one who knows all the descriptions of these people. I’m sure they will have to come into town to-day, and they will have to come by train, for their car is wrecked. Better watch at the uptown stations, also.”
After a hasty breakfast we met Burke’s man and took our places at the exit from the train platforms. Evidently Kennedy had figured out that the counterfeiters would have to come into town for some reason or other. The incoming passengers were passing us in a steady stream, for a new station was then being built, and there was only a temporary structure with one large exit.
“Here is where the ‘portrait parle’ ought to come in, if ever,” commented Kennedy as he watched eagerly.
And yet neither man nor woman passed us who fitted the description. Train after train emptied its human freight, yet the pale man with the concave nose and the peculiar ear, accompanied perhaps by a lady, did not pass us.
At last the incoming stream began to dwindle down. It was long past the time when the counterfeiters should have arrived if they had started on any reasonable train.
“Perhaps they have gone up to Montreal, instead,” I ventured.
Kennedy shook his head. “No,” he answered. “I have an idea that I was mistaken about the money being kept at Riverwood. It would have been too risky. I thought it out on the way back this morning. They probably kept it in a safe deposit vault here. I had figured that they would come down and get it and leave New York after last night’s events. We have failed – they have got by us. Neither the ‘portrait parle’ nor the ordinary photography nor any other system will suffice alone against the arch-criminal back of this, I’m afraid. Walter, I am sore and disgusted. What I should have done was to accept Burke’s offer – surround the house with a posse if necessary, last night, and catch the counterfeiters by sheer force. I was too confident. I thought I could do it with finesse, and I have failed. I’d give anything to know what safe deposit vault they kept the fake money in.”
I said nothing as we strolled away, leaving Burke’s man still to watch, hoping against hope. Kennedy walked disconsolately through the station, and I followed. In a secluded part of the waiting-room he sat down, his face drawn up in a scowl such as I had never seen. Plainly he was disgusted with himself – with only himself. This was no bungling of Burke or any one else. Again the counterfeiters had escaped from the hand of the law.
As he moved his fingers restlessly in the pockets of his coat, he absently pulled out the little pieces of sponge and the ether bottle. He regarded them without much interest.
“I know what they were for,” he said, diving back into his pocket for the other things and bringing out the sharp little knives in their case. I said nothing, for Kennedy was in a deep study. At last he put the things back into his pocket. As he did so his hand encountered something which he drew forth with a puzzled air. It was the piece of paraffin.
“Now, what do you suppose that was for?” he asked, half to himself. “I had forgotten that. What was the use of a piece of paraffin? Phew, smell the antiseptic worked into it.”
“I don’t know,” I replied, rather testily. “If you would tell me what the other things were for I might enlighten you, but – “
“By George, Walter, what a chump I am!” cried Kennedy, leaping to his feet, all energy again. “Why did I forget that lump of paraffin? Why, of course – I think I can guess what they have been doing – of course. Why, man alive, he walked right past us, and we never knew it. Boy, boy,” he shouted to a newsboy who passed, “what’s the latest sporting edition you have?”
Eagerly he almost tore a paper open and scanned the sporting pages. “Racing at Lexington begins to-morrow,” he read. “Yes, I’ll bet that’s it. We don’t have to know the safe deposit vault, after all. It would be too late, anyhow. Quick, let us look up the train to Lexington.”
As we hurried over to the information booth, I gasped, in a whirl: “Now, look here, Kennedy, what’s all this lightning calculation? What possible connection is there between a lump of paraffin and one of the few places in the country where they still race horses?”
“None,” he replied, not stopping an instant. “None. The paraffin suggested to me the possible way in which our man managed to elude us under our very eyes. That set my mind at work again. Like a flash it occurred to me: Where would they be most likely to go next to work off some of the bills? The banks are on, the jewellery-houses are on, the gambling-joints are on. Why, to the racetracks, of course. That’s it. Counterfeiters all use the bookmakers, only since racing has been killed in New York they have had to resort to other means here. If New York has suddenly become too hot, what more natural than to leave it? Here, let me see – there’s a train that gets there early to-morrow, the best train, too. Say, is No. 144 made up yet?” he inquired at the desk.
“No. 144 will be ready in fifteen minutes. Track 8.”
Kennedy thanked the man, turned abruptly, and started for the still closed gate at Track 8.
“Beg pardon – why, hulloa – it’s Burke,” he exclaimed as we ran plump into a man staring vacantly about.
It was not the gentleman farmer of the night before, nor yet the supposed college graduate. This man was a Western rancher; his broad-brimmed hat, long moustache, frock coat, and flowing tie proclaimed it. Yet there was something indefinably familiar about him, too. It was Burke in another disguise.
“Pretty good work, Kennedy,” nodded Burke, shifting his tobacco from one side of his jaws to the other. “Now, tell me how your man escaped you this morning, when you can recognise me instantly in this rig.”
“You haven’t altered your features,” explained Kennedy simply. “Our pale-faced, snub-nosed, peculiar-eared friend has. What do you think of the possibility of his going to the Lexington track, now that he finds it too dangerous to remain in New York?”
Burke looked at Kennedy rather sharply. “Say, do you add telepathy to your other accomplishments?
“No,” laughed Craig, “but I’m glad to see that two of us working independently have arrived at the same conclusion. Come, let us saunter over to Track 8 – I guess the train is made up.”
The gate was just opened, and the crowd filed through. No one who seemed to satisfy either Burke or Kennedy appeared. The train announcer made his last call. Just then a taxicab pulled up at the street-end of the platform, not far from Track 8. A man jumped out and assisted a heavily veiled lady, paid the driver, picked up the grips, and turned toward us.
We waited expectantly. As he turned I saw a dark-skinned, hook-nosed man, and I exclaimed disgustedly to Burke: “Well, if they are going to Lexington they can’t make this train. Those are the last people who have a chance.”
Kennedy, however, continued to regard the couple steadily. The man saw that he was being watched and faced us defiantly, “Such impertinence!” Then to his wife, “Come, my dear, we’ll just make it.”
“I’m afraid I’ll have to trouble you to show us what’s in that grip,” said Kennedy, calmly laying his hand on the man’s arm.
“Well, now, did you ever hear of such blasted impudence? Get out of my way, sir, this instant, or I’ll have you arrested.”
“Come, come, Kennedy,” interrupted Burke. “Surely you are getting in wrong here. This can’t be the man.”
Craig shook his head decidedly. “You can make the arrest or not, Burke, as you choose. If not, I am through. If so – I’ll take all the responsibility.”
Reluctantly Burke yielded. The man protested; the woman cried; a crowd collected.
The train-gate shut with a bang. As it did so the man’s demeanour changed instantly. ” There,” he shouted angrily, “‘you have made us miss our train. I’ll have you in jail for this. Come on now to the nearest magistrate’s court. I’ll have my rights as an American citizen. You have carried your little joke too far. Knight is my name – John Knight, of Omaha, pork-packer. Come on now. I’ll see that somebody suffers for this if I have to stay in New York a year. It’s an outrage – an outrage.”
Burke was now apparently alarmed – more at the possibility of the humorous publicity that would follow such a mistake by the secret service than at anything else. However, Kennedy did not weaken, and on general principles I stuck to Kennedy.
“Now,” said the man surlily while he placed “Mrs. Knight” in as easy a chair as he could find in the judge’s chambers, “what is the occasion of all this row? Tell the judge what a bad man from Bloody Gulch I am.”
O’Connor had arrived, having broken all speed laws and perhaps some records on the way up from headquarters. Kennedy laid the Scotland Yard finger-prints on the table. Beside them he placed those taken by O’Connor and Burke in New York.
“Here,” he began, “we have the finger-prints of a man who was one of the most noted counterfeiters in Great Britain. Beside them are those of a man who succeeded in passing counterfeits of several kinds recently in New York. Some weeks later this third set of prints was taken from a man who was believed to be the same person.”
The magistrate was examining the three sets of prints. As he came to the third, he raised his head as if about to make a remark, when Kennedy quickly interrupted.
“One moment, sir. You were about to say that finger-prints never change, never show such variations as these. That is true. There are fingerprints of people taken fifty years ago that are exactly the same as their finger-prints of to-day. They don’t change – they are permanent. The fingerprints of mummies can be deciphered even after thousands of years. But,” he added slowly, “you can change fingers.”
The idea was so startling that I could scarcely realise what he meant at first. I had read of the wonderful work of the surgeons of the Rockefeller Institute in transplanting tissues and even whole organs, in grafting skin and in keeping muscles artificially alive for days under proper conditions. Could it be that a man had deliberately amputated his fingers and grafted on new ones? Was the stake sufficient for such a game? Surely there must be some scars left after such grafting. I picked up the various sets of prints. It was true that the third set was not very clear, but there certainly were no scars there.
“Though there is no natural changeability of finger-prints,” pursued Kennedy, “such changes can be induced, as Dr. Paul Prager of Vienna has shown, by acids and other reagents, by grafting and by injuries. Now, is there any method by which lost finger-tips can be restored? I know of one case where the end of a finger was taken off and only one-sixteenth inch of the nail was left. The doctor incised the edges of the granulating surface and then led the granulations on by what is known in the medical profession as the ‘sponge graft.’ He grew a new finger-tip.
“The sponge graft consists in using portions of a fine Turkish surgical sponge, such I have here. I found these pieces in a desk at Riverwood. The patient is anaesthetised. An incision is made from side to side in the stump of the finger and flaps of skin are sliced off and turned up for the new end of the finger to develop in – a sort of shell of living skin. Inside this, the sponge is placed, not a large piece, but a very thin piece sliced off and cut to the shape of the finger-stump. It is perfectly sterilised in water and washed in green soap after all the stony particles are removed by hydrochloric acid. Then the finger is bound up and kept moist with normal salt solution.
“The result is that the end of the finger, instead of healing over, grows into the fine meshes of the pieces of sponge, by capillary attraction. Of course even this would heal in a few days, but the doctor does not let it heal. In three days he pulls the sponge off gently. The end of the finger has grown up just a fraction of an inch. Then a new thin layer of sponge is added. Day after day this process is repeated, each time the finger growing a little more. A new nail develops if any of the matrix is left, and I suppose a clever surgeon by grafting up pieces of epidermis could produce on such a stump very passable finger-prints.”
No one of us said anything, but Kennedy seemed to realise the thought in our minds and proceeded to elaborate the method.
“It is known as the ‘education sponge method,’ and was first described by Dr. D. J. Hamilton, of Edinburgh, in 1881. It has frequently been used in America since then. The sponge really acts in a mechanical manner to support the new finger-tissue that is developed. The meshes are filled in by growing tissue, and as it grows the tissue absorbs part of the sponge, which is itself an animal tissue and acts like catgut. Part of it is also thrown off. In fact, the sponge imitates what happens naturally in the porous network of a regular blood-clot. It educates the tissue to grow, stimulates it – new blood-vessels and nerves as well as flesh.
“In another case I know of, almost the whole of the first joint of a finger was crushed off, and the doctor was asked to amputate the stump of bone that protruded. Instead, he decided to educate the tissue to grow out to cover it and appear like a normal finger. In these cases the doctors succeeded admirably in giving the patients entire new fingertips, without scars, and, except for the initial injury and operation, with comparatively little inconvenience except that absolute rest of the hands was required..
“That is what happened, gentlemen,” concluded Kennedy. “That is why Mr. Forbes, alias Williams, made a trip to Philadelphia to be treated-for crushed finger-tips, not for the kick of an automobile engine. He may have paid the doctors in counterfeits. In reality this man was playing a game in which there was indeed a heavy stake at issue. He was a counterfeiter sought by two governments with the net closing about him. What are the tips of a few fingers compared with life, liberty, wealth, and a beautiful woman? The first two sets of prints are different from the third because they are made by different finger-tips-on the same man. The very core of the prints was changed. But the finger-print system is vindicated by the very ingenuity of the man who so cleverly has contrivred to beat it.”
“Very interesting – to one who is interested,” remarked the stranger, “but what has that to do with detaining my wife and myself, making us miss our train, and insulting us?”
“Just this,” replied Craig. “If you will kindly oblige us by laying your fingers on this inking-pad and then lightly on this sheet of paper, I think I can show you an answer.”
Knight demurred, and his wife grew hysterical at the idea, but there was nothing to do but comply. Kennedy glanced at the fourth set of prints, then at the third set taken a week ago, and smiled. No one said a word. Knight or Williams, which was it? He nonchalantly lit a cigarette.
“So you say I am this Williams, the counterfeiter?” he asked superciliously.
“I do,” reiterated Kennedy. “You are also Forbes.”
“I don’t suppose Scotland Yard has neglected to furnish you with photographs and a description of this Forbes?”
Burke reluctantly pulled out a Bertillon card from his pocket and laid it on the table. It bore the front face and profile of the famous counterfeiter, as well as his measurements.
The man picked it up as if indeed it was a curious thing. His coolness nearly convinced me. Surely he should have hesitated in actually demanding this last piece of evidence. I had heard, however, that the Bertillon system of measurements often depended on the personal equation of the measurer as well as on the measured. Was he relying on that, or on his difference in features?
I looked over Kennedy’s shoulder at the card on the table. There was the concave nose of the “portrait parle” ” of Forbes, as it had first been described to us. Without looking further I involuntarily glanced at the man, although I had no need to do so. I knew that his nose was the exact opposite of that of Forbes.
“Ingenious at argument as you are, he remarked quietly, “you will hardly deny that Knight, of Omaha, is the exact opposite of Forbes, of London. My nose is almost Jewish – my complexion is dark as an Arab’s. Still, I suppose I am the sallow, snub-nosed Forbes described here, inasmuch as I have stolen Forbes’s fingers and lost them again by a most preposterous method.”
“The colour of the face is easily altered,” said Kennedy. “A little picric acid will do that. The ingenious rogue Sarcey in Paris eluded the police very successfully until Dr. Charcot exposed him and showed how he changed the arch of his eyebrows and the wrinkles of his face. Much is possible to-day that would make Frankenstein and Dr. Moreau look clumsy and antiquated.”
A sharp feminine voice interrupted. It was the woman, who had kept silent up to this time. “But I have read in one of the papers this morning that a Mr. Williams was found dead in an automobile accident up the Hudson yesterday. I remember reading it, because I am afraid of accidents myself.”
All eyes were now fixed on Kennedy. “That body,” he answered quickly, “was a body purchased by you at a medical school, brought in your car to Riverwood, dressed in Williams’s clothes with a watch that would show he was Forbes, placed on the track in front of the auto, while you two watched the Buffalo express run it down, and screamed. It was a clever scheme that you concocted, but these facts do not agree.”
He laid the measurements of the corpse obtained by Burke and those from the London police card side by side. Only in the roughest way did they approximate each other.
“Your honour, I appeal to your sense of justice,” cried our prisoner impatiently. “Hasn’t this farce been allowed to go far enough? Is there any reason why this fake detective should make fools out of us all and keep my wife longer in this court? I’m not disposed to let the matter drop. I wish to enter a charge against him of false arrest and malicious prosecution. I shall turn the whole thing over to my attorney this afternoon. The deuce with the races – I’ll have justice.”
The man had by this time raised himself to a high pitch of apparently righteous wrath. He advanced menacingly toward Kennedy, who stood with his shoulders thrown back, and his hands deep in his pockets, and a half amused look on his face.
“As for you, Mr. Detective,” added the man, “for eleven cents I’d lick you to within an inch of your life. ‘Portrait parle,’ indeed! It’s a fine scientific system that has to deny its own main principles in order to vindicate itself. Bah! Take that, you scoundrel!
Harriet Wollstone threw her arms about him, but he broke away. His fist shot out straight. Kennedy was too quick for him, however. I had seen Craig do it dozens of times with the best boxers in the “gym.” He simply jerked his head to one side, and the blow passed just a fraction of an inch from his jaw, but passed it as cleanly as if it had been a yard away.
The man lost his balance, and as he fell forward and caught himself, Kennedy calmly and deliberately slapped him on the nose.
It was an intensely serious instant, yet I actually laughed. The man’s nose was quite out of joint, even from such a slight blow. It was twisted over on his face in the most ludicrous position imaginable.
“The next time you try that, Forbes,” remarked Kennedy, as he pulled the piece of paraffin from his pocket and laid it on the table with the other exhibits, “don’t forget that a concave nose built out to hook-nose convexity by injections of paraffin, such as the beauty-doctors everywhere advertise, is a poor thing for a White Hope.
Both Burke and O’Connor had seized Forbes, but Kennedy had turned his attention to the larger of Forbes’s grips, which the Wollstone woman vociferously claimed as her own. Quickly he wrenched it open.
As he turned it up on the table my eyes fairly bulged at the sight. Forbes’ suit-case might have been that of a travelling salesman for the Kimberley, the Klondike, and the Bureau of Engraving, all in one. Craig dumped the wealth out on the table – stacks of genuine bills, gold coins of two realms, diamonds, pearls, everything portable and tangible all heaped up and topped off with piles of counterfeits awaiting the magic touch of this Midas to turn them into real gold.
“Forbes, you have failed in your get-away,” said Craig triumphantly. “Gentlemen, you have here a master counterfeiter, surely – a master counterfeiter of features and fingers as well as of currency.”
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