The Kleptomaniac by Arthur B Reeve

Story type: LiteratureQuickly Kennedy outlined, with Donnelly’s permission, the story we had just heard. The two store detectives saw the humour of the situation, as well …

Story type: Literature

Quickly Kennedy outlined, with Donnelly’s permission, the story we had just heard. The two store detectives saw the humour of the situation, as well as the seriousness of it, and fell to comparing notes.

“The professional as well as the amateur shop-lifter has always presented to me an interesting phase of criminality,” remarked Kennedy tentatively, during a lull in their mutual commiseration. With thousands of dollars’ worth of goods lying unprotected on the counters, it is really no wonder that some are tempted to reach out and take what they want.”

“Yes,” explained Donnelly, “the shop-lifter is the department- store’s greatest unsolved problem. Why, sir, she gets more plunder in a year than the burglar. She’s costing the stores over two million dollars. And she is at her busiest just now with the season’s shopping in full swing. It’s the price the stores have to pay for displaying their goods, but we have to do it, and we are at the mercy of the thieves. I don’t mean by that the occasional shoplifter who, when she gets caught, confesses, cries, pleads, and begs to return the stolen article. They often get off. It is the regulars who get the two million, those known to the police, whose pictures are, many of them, in the Rogues’ Gallery, whose careers and haunts are known to every probation officer. They are getting away with loot that means for them a sumptuous living.”

“Of course we are not up against the same sort of swindlers that you are,” put in Bentley, “but let me tell you that when the big jewelers do get up against anything of the sort they are up against it hard.”

“Have you any idea who it could be?” asked Kennedy, who had been following the discussion keenly.

“Well, some idea,” spoke up Donnelly. “From what Bentley says I wouldn’t be surprised to find that it was the same person in both cases. Of course you know how rushed all the stores are just now. It is much easier for these light-fingered individuals to operate during the rush than at any other time. In the summer, for instance, there is almost no shop-lifting at all. I thought that perhaps we could discover this particular shoplifter by ordinary means, that perhaps some of the clerks in the jewellery department might be able to identify her. We found one who said that he thought he might recognise one of the women if he saw her again. Perhaps you did not know that we have our own little rogues’ gallery in most of the big department-stores. But there didn’t happen to be anything there that he recognised. So I took him down to Police Headquarters. Through plate after plate of pictures among the shoplifters in the regular Rogues’ Gallery the clerk went. At last he came to one picture that caused him to stop. ‘That is one of the women I saw in the store that day,’ he said. ‘I’m sure of it.’”

Donnelly produced a copy of the Bertillon picture.

“What?” exclaimed Bentley, as he glanced at it and then at the name and history on the back. “Annie Grayson? Why, she is known as the queen of shoplifters. She has operated from Christie’s in London to the little curio-shops of San Francisco. She has worked under a dozen aliases and has the art of alibi down to perfection. Oh, I’ve heard of her many times before. I wonder if she really is the person we’re looking for. They say that Annie Grayson has forgotten more about shoplifting than the others will ever know.”

“Yes,” continued Donnelly, “and here’s the queer part of it. The clerk was ready to swear that he had seen the woman in the store at some time or other, but whether she had been near the counter where the necklace was displayed was another matter. He wasn’t so sure about that.”

“Then how did she get it?” I asked, much interested.

“I don’t say that she did get it,” cautioned Donnelly. “I don’t know anything about it. That is why I am here consulting Professor Kennedy.”

“Then who did get it, do you think?” I demanded.

“We have a great deal of very conflicting testimony from the various clerks,” Donnelly continued. “Among those who are known to have visited the department and to have seen the necklace is another woman, of an entirely different character, well known in the city.” He glanced sharply at us, as if to impress us with what he was about to say, then he leaned over and almost whispered the name. “As nearly as I can gather out of the mass of evidence, Mrs. William Willoughby, the wife of the broker down in Wall Street, was the last person who was seen looking at the diamonds.”

The mere breath of such a suspicion would have been enough, without his stage-whisper method of imparting the information. I felt that it was no wonder that, having even a suspicion of this sort, he should be in doubt how to go ahead and should wish Kennedy’s advice. Ella Willoughby, besides being the wife of one of the best known operators in high-class stocks and bonds, was well known in the society columns of the newspapers. She lived in Glenclair, where she was a leader of the smarter set at both the church and the country club. The group who preserved this neat balance between higher things and the world, the flesh and the devil, I knew to be a very exclusive group, which, under the calm suburban surface, led a sufficiently rapid life. Mrs. Willoughby, in addition to being a leader, was a very striking woman and a beautiful dresser, who set a fast pace for the semi-millionaires who composed the group.

Here indeed was a puzzle at the very start of the case. It was in all probability Mrs. Willoughby who had looked at the jewels in both cases. On the other hand, it was Annie Grayson who had been seen on at least one occasion, yet apparently had had nothing whatever to do with the missing jewels, at least not so far as any tangible evidence yet showed. More than that, Donnelly vouchsafed the information that he had gone further and that some of the men work-ing under him had endeavoured to follow the movements of the two women and had found what looked to be a curious crossing of trails. Both of them, he had found, had been in the habit of visiting, while shopping, the same little tea-room on Thirty-third Street, though no one had ever seen them together there, and the coincidence might be accounted for by the fact that many Glenclair ladies on shopping expeditions made this tea-room a sort of rendezvous. By inquiring about among his own fraternity Donnelly had found that other stores also had reported losses recently, mostly of diamonds and pearls, both black and white.

Kennedy had been pondering the situation for some time, scarcely uttering a word. Both detectives were now growing restless, waiting for him to say something. As for me, I knew that if anything were said or done it would be in Kennedy’s own good time. I had learned to have implicit faith and confidence in him, for I doubt if Craig could have been placed in a situation where he would not know just what to do after he had looked over the ground.

At length he leisurely reached across the table for the suburban telephone book, turned the pages quickly, snapped it shut, and observed wearily and, as it seemed, irrelevantly: “The same old trouble again about accurate testimony. I doubt whether if I should suddenly pull a revolver and shoot Jameson, either of you two men could give a strictly accurate account of just what happened.”

No one said anything, as he raised his hands from his habitual thinking posture with finger-tips together, placed both hands back of his head, and leaned back facing us squarely.

“The first step,” he said slowly, “must be to arrange a ‘plant.’ As nearly as I can make out the shoplifters or shoplifter, whichever it may prove to be, have no hint that any one is watching them yet. Now, Donnelly, it is still very early. I want you to telephone around to the newspapers, and either in the Trimble advertisements or in the news columns have it announced that your jewellery department has on exhibition a new and special importation of South African stones among which is one–let me see, let’s call it the ‘Kimberley Queen.’ That will sound attractive. In the meantime find the largest and most perfect paste jewel in town and have it fixed up for exhibition and labelled the Kimberley Queen. Give it a history if you can; anything to attract attention. I’ll see you in the morning. Good- night, and thank you for coming to me with this case.”

It was quite late, but Kennedy, now thoroughly interested in following the chase, had no intention of waiting until the morrow before taking action on his own account. In fact he was just beginning the evening’s work by sending Donnelly off to arrange the “plant.” No less interested in the case than himself, I needed no second invitation, and in a few minutes we were headed from our rooms toward the laboratory, where Kennedy had apparatus to meet almost any conceivable emergency. From a shelf in the corner he took down an oblong oak box, perhaps eighteen inches in length, in the front of which was set a circular metal disk with a sort of pointer and dial. He lifted the lid of the box, and inside I could see two shiny caps which in turn he lifted, disclosing what looked like two good-sized spools of wire. Apparently satisfied with his scrutiny, he snapped the lid shut and wrapped up the box carefully, consigning it to my care, while he hunted some copper wire.

From long experience with Kennedy I knew better than to ask what he had in mind to do. It was enough to know that he had already, in those few minutes of apparent dreaming while Donnelly and Bentley were fidgeting for words, mapped out a complete course of action.

We bent our steps toward the under-river tube, which carried a few late travellers to the railroad terminal where Kennedy purchased tickets for Glenclair. I noticed that the conductor on the suburban train eyed us rather suspiciously as though the mere fact that we were not travelling with commutation tickets at such an hour constituted an offence. Although I did not yet know the precise nature of our adventure, I remembered with some misgiving that I had read of police dogs in Glenclair which were uncomfortably familiar with strangers carrying bundles. However, we got along all right, perhaps because the dogs knew that in a town of commuters every one was privileged to carry a bundle.

“If the Willoughbys had been on a party line,” remarked Craig as we strode up Woodridge Avenue trying to look as if it was familiar to us, “we might have arranged this thing by stratagem. As it is, we shall have to resort to another method, and perhaps better, since we shall have to take no one into our confidence.”

The avenue was indeed a fine thoroughfare, lined on both sides with large and often imposing mansions, surrounded with trees and shrubbery, which served somewhat to screen them. We came at last to the Willoughby house, a sizable colonial residence set up on a hill. It was dark, except for one dim light in an upper story. In the shadow of the hedge, Craig silently vaulted the low fence and slipped up the terraces, as noiselessly as an Indian, scarcely crackling a twig or rustling a dead leaf on the ground. He paused as he came to a wing on the right of the house.

I had followed more laboriously, carrying the box and noting that he was not looking so much at the house as at the sky, apparently. It did not take long to fathom what he was after. It was not a star-gazing expedition; he was following the telephone wire that ran in from the street to the corner of the house near which we were now standing. A moment’s inspection showed him where the wire was led down, on the outside and entered through the top of a window.

Quickly he worked, though in a rather awkward position, attaching two wires carefully to the telephone wires. Next he relieved me of the oak box with its strange contents, and placed it under the porch where it was completely hidden by some lattice-work which extended down to the ground on this side. Then he attached the new wires from the telephone to it and hid the connecting wires as best he could behind the swaying runners of a vine. At last, when he had finished to his satisfaction, we retraced our steps, to find that our only chance of getting out of town that night was by trolley that landed us, after many changes, in our apartment in New York, thoroughly convinced of the disadvantages of suburban detective work.

Nevertheless the next day found us out sleuthing about Glenclair, this time in a more pleasant role. We had a newspaper friend or two out there who was willing to introduce us about without asking too many questions. Kennedy, of course, insisted on beginning at the very headquarters of gossip, the country club.

We spent several enjoyable hours about the town, picking up a good deal of miscellaneous and useless information. It was, however, as Kennedy had suspected. Annie Grayson had taken up her residence in an artistic little house on one of the best side streets of the town. But her name was no longer Annie Grayson. She was Mrs. Maud Emery, a dashing young widow of some means, living in a very quiet but altogether comfortable style, cutting quite a figure in the exclusive suburban community, a leading member of the church circle, an officer of the Civic League, prominent in the women’s club, and popular with those to whom the established order of things was so perfect that the only new bulwark of their rights was an anti-suffrage society. In fact, every one was talking of the valuable social acquisition in the person of this attractive young woman who entertained lavishly and was bracing up an otherwise drooping season. No one knew much about her, but then, that was not necessary. It was enough to accept one whose opinions and actions were not subversive of the social order in any way.

The Willoughbys, of course, were among the most prominent people in the town. William Willoughby was head of the firm of Willoughby & Walton, and it was the general opinion that Mrs. Willoughby was the head of the firm of Ella & William Willoughby. The Willoughbys were good mixers, and were spoken well of even by the set who occupied the social stratum just one degree below that in which they themselves moved. In fact, when Mrs. Willoughby had been severely injured in an automobile accident during the previous summer Glenclair had shown real solicitude for her and had forgotten a good deal of its artificiality in genuine human interest.

Kennedy was impatiently waiting for an opportunity to recover the box which he had left under the Willoughby porch. Several times we walked past the house, but it was not until nightfall that he considered it wise to make the recovery. Again we slipped silently up the terraces. It was the work of only a moment to cut the wires, and in triumph Craig bore off the precious oak box and its batteries.

He said little on our journey back to the city, but the moment we had reached the laboratory he set the box on a table with an attachment which seemed to be controlled by pedals operated by the feet.

“Walter,” he explained, holding what looked like an earpiece in his hand, “this is another of those new little instruments that scientific detectives to-day are using. A poet might write a clever little verse en-titled, ‘The telegraphone’ll get you, if you don’t watch out.’ This is the latest improved telegraphone, a little electromagnetic wizard in a box, which we detectives are now using to take down and ‘can’ telephone conversations and other records. It is based on an entirely new principle in every way different from the phonograph. It was discovered by an inventor several years ago, while experimenting in telephony.

“There are no disks or cylinders of wax, as in the phonograph, but two large spools of extremely fine steel wire. The record is not made mechanically on a cylinder, but electromagnetically on this wire. Small portions of magnetism are imparted to fractions of the steel wire as it passes between two carbon electric magnets. Each impression represents a sound wave. There is no apparent difference in the wire, no surface abrasion or other change, yet each particle of steel undergoes an electromagnetic transformation by which the sound is indelibly imprinted on it until it is wiped out by the erasing magnet. There are no cylinders to be shaved; all that is needed to use the wire again is to pass a magnet over it, automatically erasing any previous record that you do not wish to preserve. You can dictate into it, or, with this plug in, you can record a telephone conversation on it. Even rust or other deterioration of the steel wire by time will not affect this electromagnetic registry of sound. It can be read as long as steel will last. It is as effective for long distances as for short, and there is wire enough on one of these spools for thirty minutes of uninterrupted record.”

Craig continued to tinker tantalisingly with the machine.

“The principle on which it is based,” he added, “is that a mass of tempered steel may be impressed with and will retain magnetic fluxes varying in density and in sign in adjacent portions of its mass. There are no indentations on the wire or the steel disk. Instead there is a deposit of magnetic impulse on the wire, which is made by connecting up an ordinary telephone transmitter with the electromagnets and talking through the coil. The disturbance set up in the coils by the vibration of the diaphragm of the transmitter causes a deposit of magnetic impulse on the wire, the coils being connected with dry batteries. When the wire is again run past these coils, with a receiver such as I have here in circuit with the coils, a light vibration is set up in the receiver diaphragm which reproduces the sound of speech.”

He turned a switch and placed an ear-piece over his head, giving me another connected with it. We listened eagerly. There were no foreign noises in the machine, no grating or thumping sounds, as he controlled the running off of the steel wire by means of a foot-pedal.

We were listening to everything that had been said over the Willoughby telephone during the day. Several local calls to tradesmen came first, and these we passed over quickly. Finally we heard the following conversation:

“Hello. Is that you, Ella? Yes, this is Maud. Good-morning. How do you feel to-day?”

“Good-morning, Maud. I don’t feel very well. I have a splitting headache.”

“Oh, that’s too bad, dear. What are you doing for it?”

“Nothing–yet. If it doesn’t get better I shall have Mr. Willoughby call up Dr. Guthrie.”

“Oh, I hope it gets better soon. You poor creature, don’t you think a little trip into town might make you feel better? Had you thought of going to-day?”

“Why, no. I hadn’t thought of going in. Are you going?”

“Did you see the Trimble ad. in the morning paper?”

“No, I didn’t see the papers this morning. My head felt too bad.”

“Well, just glance at it. It will interest you. They have the Kimberley Queen, the great new South African diamond on exhibition there.”

“They have? I never heard of it before, but isn’t that interesting. I certainly would like to see it. Have you ever seen it?”

“No, but I have made up my mind not to miss a sight of it. They say it is wonderful. You’d better come along. I may have something interesting to tell you, too.”

“Well, I believe I will go. Thank you, Maud, for suggesting it. Perhaps the little change will make me feel better. What train are you going to take? The ten-two? All right, I’ll try to meet you at the station. Good-bye, Maud.”

“Good-bye, Ella.”

Craig stopped the machine, ran it back again and repeated the record. “So,” he commented at the conclusion of the repetition, “the ‘plant’ has taken root. Annie Grayson has bitten at the bait.”

A few other local calls and a long-distance call from Mr. Willoughby cut short by his not finding his wife at home followed. Then there seemed to have been nothing more until after dinner. It was a call by Mr. Willoughby himself that now interested us.

“Hello! hello! Is that you, Dr. Guthrie? Well, Doctor, this is Mr. Willoughby talking. I’d like to make an appointment for my wife to-morrow.”

“Why, what’s the trouble, Mr. Willoughby? Nothing serious, I hope.”

“Oh, no, I guess not. But then I want to be sure, and I guess you can fix her up all right. She complains of not being able to sleep and has been having pretty bad headaches now and then.”

“Is that so? Well, that’s too bad. These women and their headaches–even as a doctor they puzzle me. They often go away as suddenly as they come. However, it will do no harm to see me.”

“And then she complains of noises in her ears, seems to hear things, though as far as I can make out, there is nothing–at least nothing that I hear.”

“Um-m, hallucinations in hearing, I suppose. Any dizziness?”

“Why, yes, a little once in a while.”

“How is she now?”

“Well, she’s been into town this afternoon and is pretty tired, but she says she feels a little better for the excitement of the trip.”

“Well, let me see. I’ve got to come down Woodridge Avenue to see a patient in a few minutes anyhow. Suppose I just drop off at your place?”

“That will be fine. You don’t think it is anything serious, do you, Doctor?”

“Oh, no. Probably it’s her nerves. Perhaps a little rest would do her good. We’ll see.”

The telegraphone stopped, and that seemed to be the last conversation recorded. So far we had learned nothing very startling, I thought, and was just a little disappointed. Kennedy seemed well satisfied, however.

Our own telephone rang, and it proved to be Donnelly on the wire. He had been trying to get Kennedy all day, in order to report that at various times his men at Trimble’s had observed Mrs. Willoughby and later Annie Grayson looking with much interest at the Kimberley Queen, and other jewels in the exhibit. There was nothing more to report.

“Keep it on view another day or two,” ordered Kennedy. “Advertise it, but in a quiet way. We don’t want too many people interested. I’ll see you in the morning at the store–early.”

“I think I’ll just run back to Glenclair again to-night,” remarked Kennedy as he hung up the receiver. “You needn’t bother about coming, Walter. I want to see Dr. Guthrie a moment. You remember him? We met him to-day at the country club, a kindly looking, middle-aged fellow?”

I would willingly have gone back with him, but I felt that I could be of no particular use. While he was gone I pondered a good deal over the situation. Twice, at least, previously some one had pilfered jewellery from stores, leaving in its place worthless imitations. Twice the evidence had been so conflicting that no one could judge of its value. What reason, I asked myself, was there to suppose that it would be different now? No shoplifter in her senses was likely to lift the great Kimberley Queen gem with the eagle eyes of clerks and detectives on her, even if she did not discover that it was only a paste jewel. And if Craig gave the woman, whoever she was, a good opportunity to get away with it, it would be a case of the same conflicting evidence; or worse, no evidence.

Yet the more I thought of it, the more apparent to me was it that Kennedy must have thought the whole thing out before. So far all that had been evident was that he was merely preparing a “plant.” Still, I meant to caution him when he returned that one could not believe his eyes, certainly not his ears, as to what might happen, unless he was unusually skilful or lucky. It would not do to rely on anything so fallible as the human eye or ear, and I meant to impress it on him. What, after all. had been the net result of our activities so far? We had found next to nothing. Indeed, it was all a greater mystery than ever.

It was very late when Craig returned, but I gathered from the still fresh look on his face that he had been successful in whatever it was he had had in mind when he made the trip.

“I saw Dr. Guthrie,” he reported laconically, as we prepared to turn in. “He says that he isn’t quite sure but that Mrs. Willoughby may have a touch of vertigo. At any rate, he has consented to let me come out to-morrow with him and visit her as a specialist in nervous diseases from New York. I had to tell him just enough about the case to get him interested, but that will do no harm. I think I’ll set this alarm an hour ahead. I want to get up early to-morrow, and if I shouldn’t be here when you wake, you’ll find me at Trimble’s.”

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