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Four Max Carrodos Detective Stories by Ernest Bramah

Part 3 out of 3

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"Is that sum contingent on any specific performance?" inquired the

"I do not mind making it conditional on my procuring for you, for the
police to act on, a photograph and a description of the thief."

The two officials conferred apart for a moment. Then the manager

"We will agree, Mr. Carrados, on the understanding that these things
are to be in our hands within two days. Failing that--"

"No, no!" cried Mr. Carlyle indignantly, but Carrados good-humouredly
put him aside.

"I will accept the condition in the same sporting spirit that inspires
it. Within forty-eight hours or no pay. The cheque, of course, to be
given immediately the goods are delivered?"

"You may rely on that."

Carrados took out his pocket-book, produced an envelope bearing
an American stamp, and from it extracted an unmounted print.

"Here is the photograph," he announced. "The man is called Ulysses K.
Groom, but he is better known as 'Harry the Actor.' You will find the
description written on the back."

Five minutes later, when they were alone, Mr. Carlyle expressed his
opinion of the transaction.

"You are an unmitigated humbug, Max," he said, "though an amiable one,
I admit. But purely for your own private amusement you spring these
things on people."

"On the contrary," replied Carrados, "people spring these things on

"Now this photograph. Why have I heard nothing of it before?"

Carrados took out his watch and touched the fingers.

"It is now three minutes to eleven. I received the photograph at
twenty past eight."

"Even then, an hour ago you assured me that you had done nothing."

"Nor had I--so far as result went. Until the keystone of the edifice
was wrung from the manager in his room, I was as far away from
demonstrable certainty as ever."

"So am I--as yet," hinted Mr. Carlyle.

"I am coming to that, Louis. I turn over the whole thing to you. The
man has got two clear days' start and the chances are nine to one
against catching him. We know everything, and the case has no further
interest for me. But it is your business. Here is your material.

"On that one occasion when the 'tawny' man crossed our path, I took
from the first a rather more serious view of his scope and intention
than you did. The same day I sent a cipher cable to Pierson of the New
York service. I asked for news of any man of such and such a
description--merely negative--who was known to have left the States;
an educated man, expert in the use of disguises, audacious in his
operations, and a specialist in 'dry' work among banks and

"Why the States, Max?"

"That was a sighting shot on my part. I argued that he must be an
English-speaking man. The smart and inventive turn of the modern Yank
has made him a specialist in ingenious devices, straight or crooked.
Unpickable locks and invincible lock-pickers, burglar-proof safes and
safe-specializing burglars, come equally from the States. So I tried a
very simple test. As we talked that day and the man walked past us, I
dropped the words 'New York'--or, rather, 'Noo Y'rk'--in his hearing."

"I know you did. He neither turned nor stopped."

"He was that much on his guard; but into his step there came--though
your poor old eyes could not see it, Louis--the 'psychological pause,'
an absolute arrest of perhaps a fifth of a second; just as it would
have done with you if the word 'London' had fallen on your ear in a
distant land. However, the whys and the wherefores don't matter. Here
is the essential story.

"Eighteen months ago 'Harry the Actor' successfully looted the office
safe of M'Kenkie, J.F. Higgs & Co., of Cleveland, Ohio. He had just
married a smart but very facile third-rate vaudeville actress--English
by origin--and wanted money for the honeymoon. He got about five
hundred pounds, and with that they came to Europe and stayed in London
for some months. That period is marked by the Congreave Square post
office burglary, you may remember. While studying such of the British
institutions as most appealed to him, the 'Actor's' attention became
fixed on this safe-deposit. Possibly the implied challenge contained
in its telegraphic address grew on him until it became a point of
professional honour with him to despoil it; at all events he was
presumedly attracted by an undertaking that promised not only glory
but very solid profit. The first part of the plot was, to the most
skilful criminal 'impersonator' in the States, mere skittles.
Spreading over those months he appeared at 'The Safe' in twelve
different characters and rented twelve safes of different sizes. At
the same time he made a thorough study of the methods of the place. As
soon as possible he got the keys back again into legitimate use,
having made duplicates for his own private ends, of course. Five he
seems to have returned during his first stay; one was received later,
with profuse apologies, by registered post; one was returned through a
leading Berlin bank. Six months ago he made a flying visit here,
purely to work off two more. One he kept from first to last, and the
remaining couple he got in at the beginning of his second long
residence here, three or four months ago.

"This brings us to the serious part of the cool enterprise. He had
funds from the Atlantic and South-Central Mail-car coup when he
arrived here last April. He appears to have set up three
establishments; a home, in the guise of an elderly scholar with a
young wife, which, of course, was next door to our friend the manager;
an observation point, over which he plastered the inscription 'Rub in
Rubbo for Everything' as a reason for being; and, somewhere else, a
dressing-room with essential conditions of two doors into different

"About six weeks ago he entered the last stage. Mrs. Harry, with quite
ridiculous ease, got photographs of the necessary page or two of the
record-book. I don't doubt that for weeks before then everyone who
entered the place had been observed, but the photographs linked them
up with the actual men into whose hands the 'Actor's' old keys had
passed--gave their names and addresses, the numbers of their safes,
their passwords and signatures. The rest was easy."

"Yes, by Jupiter; mere play for a man like that," agreed Mr. Carlyle,
with professional admiration. "He could contrive a dozen different
occasions for studying the voice and manner and appearance of his
victims. How much has he cleared?"

"We can only speculate as yet. I have put my hand on seven doubtful
callers on Monday and Tuesday last. Two others he had ignored for some
reason; the remaining two safes had not been allotted. There is one
point that raises an interesting speculation."

"What is that, Max?"

"The 'Actor' has one associate, a man known as 'Billy the Fondant,'
but beyond that--with the exception of his wife, of course--he does
not usually trust anyone. It is plain, however, that at least seven
men must latterly have been kept under close observation. It has
occurred to me--"

"Yes, Max?"

"I have wondered whether Harry has enlisted the innocent services of
one or other of our private inquiry offices."

"Scarcely," smiled the professional. "It would hardly pass muster."

"Oh, I don't know. Mrs. Harry, in the character of a jealous wife or a
suspicious sweetheart, might reasonably--"

Mr. Carlyle's smile suddenly faded.

"By Jupiter!" he exclaimed. "I remember--"

"Yes, Louis?" prompted Carrados, with laughter in his voice.

"I remember that I must telephone to a client before Beedel comes,"
concluded Mr. Carlyle, rising in some haste.

At the door he almost ran into the subdued director, who was wringing
his hands in helpless protest at a new stroke of calamity.

"Mr. Carrados," wailed the poor old gentleman in a tremulous bleat,
"Mr. Carrados, there is another now--Sir Benjamin Gump. He insists on
seeing me. You will not--you will not desert us?"

"I should have to stay a week," replied Carrados briskly, "and I'm
just off now. There will be a procession. Mr. Carlyle will support
you, I am sure."

He nodded "Good-morning" straight into the eyes of each and found his
way out with the astonishing certainty of movement that made so many
forget his infirmity. Possibly he was not desirous of encountering
Draycott's embarrassed gratitude again, for in less than a minute they
heard the swirl of his departing car.

"Never mind, my dear sir," Mr. Carlyle assured his client, with
impenetrable complacency. "Never mind. _I_ will remain instead.
Perhaps I had better make myself known to Sir Benjamin at once."

The director turned on him the pleading, trustful look of a cornered

"He is in the basement," he whispered. "I shall be in the
boardroom--if necessary."

Mr. Carlyle had no difficulty in discovering the centre of interest in
the basement. Sir Benjamin was expansive and reserved, bewildered and
decisive, long-winded and short-tempered, each in turn and more or
less all at once. He had already demanded the attention of the
manager, Professor Bulge, Draycott and two underlings to his case and
they were now involved in a babel of inutile reiteration. The inquiry
agent was at once drawn into a circle of interrogation that he did his
best to satisfy impressively while himself learning the new facts.

The latest development was sufficiently astonishing. Less than an hour
before Sir Benjamin had received a parcel by district messenger. It
contained a jewel-case which ought at that moment to have been
securely reposing in one of the deposit safes. Hastily snatching it
open, the recipient's incredible forebodings were realized. It was
empty--empty of jewels, that is to say, for, as if to add a sting to
the blow, a neatly inscribed card had been placed inside, and on it
the agitated baronet read the appropriate but at the moment rather
gratuitous maxim: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth--"

The card was passed round and all eyes demanded the expert's

"'--where moth and rust doth corrupt and where thieves break through
and steal.' H'm," read Mr. Carlyle with weight. "This is a most
important clue, Sir Benjamin--"

"Hey, what? What's that?" exclaimed a voice from the other side of the
hall. "Why, damme if I don't believe you've got another! Look at that,
gentlemen; look at that. What's on, I say? Here now, come; give me my
safe. I want to know where I am."

It was the bookmaker who strode tempestuously in among them,
flourishing before their faces a replica of the card that was in Mr.
Carlyle's hand.

"Well, upon my soul this is most extraordinary," exclaimed that
gentleman, comparing the two. "You have just received this, Mr.--Mr.
Berge, isn't it?"

"That's right, Berge--'Iceberg' on the course. Thank the Lord Harry, I
can take my losses coolly enough, but this--this is a facer. Put into
my hand half-an-hour ago inside an envelope that ought to be here and
as safe as in the Bank of England. What's the game, I say? Here,
Johnny, hurry and let me into my safe."

Discipline and method had for the moment gone by the board. There was
no suggestion of the boasted safeguards of the establishment. The
manager added his voice to that of the client, and when the attendant
did not at once appear he called again.

"John, come and give Mr. Berge access to his safe at once."

"All right, sir," pleaded the harassed key-attendant, hurrying up with
the burden of his own distraction. "There's a silly fathead got in
what thinks this is a left-luggage office, so far as I can make out--a

"Never mind that now," replied the manager severely, "Mr. Berge's
safe: No. 01724."

The attendant and Mr. Berge went off together down one of the
brilliant colonnaded vistas. One or two of the others who had caught
the words glanced across and became aware of a strange figure that was
drifting indecisively towards them. He was obviously an elderly German
tourist of pronounced type--long-haired, spectacled, outrageously
garbed and involved in the mental abstraction of his philosophical
race. One hand was occupied with the manipulation of a pipe, as
markedly Teutonic as its owner; the other grasped a carpet-bag that
would have ensured an opening laugh to any low comedian.

Quite impervious to the preoccupation of the group, the German made
his way up to them and picked out the manager.

"This was a safety deposit, _nicht wahr_?"

"Quite so," acquiesced the manager loftily, "but just now--"

"Your fellow was dense of comprehension." The eyes behind the clumsy
glasses wrinkled to a ponderous humour. "He forgot his own business.
Now this goot bag--"

Brought into fuller prominence, the carpet-bag revealed further
details of its overburdened proportions. At one end a flannel shirt
cuff protruded in limp dejection; at the other an ancient collar, with
the grotesque attachment known as a "dickey," asserted its presence.
No wonder the manager frowned his annoyance. "The Safe" was in low
enough repute among its patrons at that moment without any burlesque
interlude to its tragic hour.

"Yes, yes," he whispered, attempting to lead the would-be depositor
away, "but you are under a mistake. This is not--"

"It was a safety deposit? Goot. Mine bag--I would deposit him in
safety till the time of mine train. _Ja_?"

"_Nein, nein_!" almost hissed the agonized official. "Go away, sir, go
away! It isn't a cloakroom. John, let this gentleman out."

The attendant and Mr. Berge were returning from their quest. The inner
box had been opened and there was no need to ask the result. The
bookmaker was shaking his head like a baffled bull.

"Gone, no effects," he shouted across the hall. "Lifted from 'The
Safe,' by crumb!"

To those who knew nothing of the method and operation of the fraud it
seemed as if the financial security of the Capital was tottering. An
amazed silence fell, and in it they heard the great grille door of the
basement clang on the inopportune foreigner's departure. But, as if it
was impossible to stand still on that morning of dire happenings, he
was immediately succeeded by a dapper, keen-faced man in severe
clerical attire who had been let in as the intruder passed out.

"Canon Petersham!" exclaimed the professor, going forward to greet

"By dear Professor Bulge!" reciprocated the canon. "You here! A most
disquieting thing has happened to me. I must have my safe at once." He
divided his attention between the manager and the professor as he
monopolized them both. "A most disquieting and--and outrageous
circumstance. My safe, please--yes, yes, Rev. Henry Noakes Petersham.
I have just received by hand a box, a small box of no value but one
that I _thought_, yes, I am convinced that it was the one, a box that
was used to contain certain valuables of family interest which should
at this moment be in my safe here. No. 7436? Very likely, very likely.
Yes, here is my key. But not content with the disconcerting effect of
that, professor, the box contained--and I protest that it's a most
unseemly thing to quote any text from the Bible in this way to a
clergyman of my position--well, here it is. 'Lay not up for yourselves
treasures upon earth--' Why, I have a dozen sermons of my own in my
desk now on that very verse. I'm particularly partial to the very
needful lesson that it teaches. And to apply it to _me_! It's

"No. 7436, John," ordered the manager, with weary resignation.

The attendant again led the way towards another armour-plated aisle.
Smartly turning a corner, he stumbled over something, bit a profane
exclamation in two, and looked back.

"It's that bloomin' foreigner's old bag again," he explained across
the place in aggrieved apology. "He left it here after all."

"Take it upstairs and throw it out when you've finished," said the
manager shortly.

"Here, wait a minute," pondered John, in absent-minded familiarity.
"Wait a minute. This is a funny go. There's a label on that wasn't
here before. '_Why not look inside_?'"

"'Why not look inside?'" repeated someone.

"That's what it says."

There was another puzzled silence. All were arrested by some
intangible suggestion of a deeper mystery than they had yet touched.
One by one they began to cross the hall with the conscious air of men
who were not curious but thought that they might as well see.

"Why, curse my crumpet," suddenly exploded Mr. Berge, "if that ain't
the same writing as these texts!"

"By gad, but I believe you are right," assented Mr. Carlyle. "Well,
why not look inside?"

The attendant, from his stooping posture, took the verdict of the ring
of faces and in a trice tugged open the two buckles. The central
fastening was not locked, and yielded to a touch. The flannel shirt,
the weird collar and a few other garments in the nature of a
"top-dressing" were flung out and John's hand plunged deeper....

Harry the Actor had lived up to his dramatic instinct. Nothing was
wrapped up; nay, the rich booty had been deliberately opened out and
displayed, as it were, so that the overturning of the bag, when John
the keybearer in an access of riotous extravagance lifted it up and
strewed its contents broadcast on the floor, was like the looting of a
smuggler's den, or the realization of a speculator's dream, or the
bursting of an Aladdin's cave, or something incredibly lavish and
bizarre. Bank-notes fluttered down and lay about in all directions,
relays of sovereigns rolled away like so much dross, bonds and scrip
for thousands and tens of thousands clogged the downpouring stream of
jewellery and unset gems. A yellow stone the size of a four-pound
weight and twice as heavy dropped plump upon the canon's toes and sent
him hopping and grimacing to the wall. A ruby-hilted kris cut across
the manager's wrist as he strove to arrest the splendid rout. Still
the miraculous cornucopia deluged the ground, with its pattering,
ringing, bumping, crinkling, rolling, fluttering produce until, like
the final tableau of some spectacular ballet, it ended with a golden
rain that masked the details of the heap beneath a glittering veil of
yellow sand.

"My dust!" gasped Draycott.

"My fivers, by golly!" ejaculated the bookmaker, initiating a plunge
among the spoil.

"My Japanese bonds, coupons and all, and--yes, even the manuscript of
my work on 'Polyphyletic Bridal Customs among the mid-Pleistocene Cave
Men.' Hah!" Something approaching a cachinnation of delight closed the
professor's contribution to the pandemonium, and eyewitnesses
afterwards declared that for a moment the dignified scientist stood on
one foot in the opening movement of a can-can.

"My wife's diamonds, thank heaven!" cried Sir Benjamin, with the air
of a schoolboy who was very well out of a swishing.

"But what does it mean?" demanded the bewildered canon. "Here are my
family heirlooms--a few decent pearls, my grandfather's collection of
camei and other trifles--but who--?"

"Perhaps this offers some explanation," suggested Mr. Carlyle,
unpinning an envelope that had been secured to the lining of the bag.
"It is addressed 'To Seven Rich Sinners.' Shall I read it for you?"

For some reason the response was not unanimous, but it was sufficient.
Mr. Carlyle cut open the envelope.

"_My dear Friends_,--Aren't you glad? Aren't you happy at this moment?
Ah yes; but not with the true joy of regeneration that alone can bring
lightness to the afflicted soul. Pause while there is yet time. Cast
off the burden of your sinful lusts, for what shall it profit a man if
he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? (Mark, chap.
viii, _v._ 36.)

"Oh, my friends, you have had an all-fired narrow squeak. Up till the
Friday in last week I held your wealth in the hollow of my ungodly
hand and rejoiced in my nefarious cunning, but on that day as I with
my guilty female accomplice stood listening with worldly amusement to
the testimony of a converted brother at a meeting of the Salvation
Army on Clapham Common, the gospel light suddenly shone into our
rebellious souls and then and there we found salvation. Hallelujah!

"What we have done to complete the unrighteous scheme upon which we
had laboured for months has only been for your own good, dear friends
that you are, though as yet divided from us by your carnal lusts. Let
this be a lesson to you. Sell all you have and give it to the
poor--through the organization of the Salvation Army by
preference--and thereby lay up for yourselves treasures where neither
moth nor rust doth corrupt and where thieves do not break through and
steal. (Matthew, chap. vi, _v._ 20.)

"Yours in good works,
_Private Henry, the Salvationist_.

"_P.S._ (in haste).--I may as well inform you that no crib is really
uncrackable, though the Cyrus J. Coy Co.'s Safe Deposit on West 24th
Street, N.Y., comes nearest the kernel. And even that I could work to
the bare rock if I took hold of the job with both hands--that is to
say I could have done in my sinful days. As for you, I should
recommend you to change your T.A. to 'Peanut.'


"There sounds a streak of the old Adam in that postscript, Mr.
Carlyle," whispered Inspector Beedel, who had just arrived in time to
hear the letter read.

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