The Adventures of Detective Barney/The Case of Padages Palmer
THE CASE OF PADAGES PALMER
Barney, as a telegraph boy, had once been summoned to a dressing room in Daly’s Theatre, by an indignant star who had refused to entrust his message to any but official hands. And he had once been called to a grated office in the Tombs to take a telegram from a prosperous-looking elderly gentleman in handcuffs. It was chiefly from the memories of these two experiences that Barney constructed his expectation of what he was to And when he should enter the private offices and operatives’ rooms of the Babbing Detective Bureau, to report for duty.
As, for example:—Babbing, in his sanctum, at a make-up table, gumming a false mustache to his lip; his dresser waiting to hand him a wig and a revolver; the room picturesquely hung with costumes and disguises, handcuffs and leg-irons, dodgers that offered rewards for desperate captures (“dead or alive”) and sets of burglar’s tools and the weapons of outlawry—the latter arranged decoratively on the walls after the manner of a collection of trophies.
And Barney’s better judgment accepted that picture from his inebriated young imagination without really knowing that he had accepted it—until he was called from the outer public office of the bureau into Babbing’s private room, and found the famous detective sitting at a table-desk, in a swivel chair, reading his morning mail like the manager of any successful business at work in the office of any successful business manager. “Sit down,” Babbing said, without looking at him.
Barney sat down, against the wall. He was conscious of the stimulating disappointment—the interested surprise in disillusion—that reality gives to the alert romantic mind. So to speak.
The office was as commonplace and average as Babbing’s conventional business clothes. There was nothing on the walls but some framed photographs of office groups. There was no furniture but the desk and the chairs. There was nothing on the desk but telephone instruments, pens and ink, paper-weights, and some shallow wire baskets that were filled with letters, telegrams and typewritten reports. There was, in fact, nothing interesting in the room but Babbing; and Babbing looked as uninteresting and ordinary as the room.
His letters had been opened for him, the pages flattened out, and the envelopes attached to them with paper-clips. His right hand reached a sheet from a wire basket at one side of the desk, and put it on the blotter before him; his left hand held it a moment for his eyes to read it, and then carried it to one of the baskets on the other side of the desk and dropped it automatically in its proper place; his right hand, meanwhile, had produced the next letter. His eyes moved only from sheet to sheet. “Did you tell your mother about the case you were on yesterday?”
The left hand passed a letter back to the right. The right hand dropped it in the waste basket. “What did you tell her?”
“I tol’ her I had a new job.”
“As a detective?”
“I was scared to tell her that. She ’d ’a’ thought it was the same as a policeman.”
“Well?” The left hand pressed a call button. “Suppose she did?”
“She ’d ’a’ thought I was goin’ to get killed.”
Babbing turned his head to look over his glasses at the boy. “Like your father?”
Barney smiled an apology for the absurdity of mothers. “Yes, sir.”
A clerk opened the door. Babbing tossed a letter across the table to him. “Find out who that fellow is. Right away.”
The clerk reported: “Mr. Snider has just come in.” Babbing continued with his reading. The clerk went out, ignored even by Barney—as the commander’s civilian secretary would be ignored by a young uniform.
“So you told her what?”
“I tol’ her I was waitin’ in an office with a telegram yeste’day, ’n’— They wanted an office boy, ’n’— They offered me twelve a week. An’ I took it.”
Babbing apparently forgot him in the perusal of a two-page letter closely typed. His eyes parted with it reluctantly. “Did you tell any one else?”
“I see,” Babbing said. And Barney was not aware that he had stood a test of character and passed an examination in discretion. He had no suspicion that Babbing’s absent-minded manner was almost as much a disguise as if it had been put on with spirit-gum. He was waiting for Babbing to finish with the letters and direct him to his work.
“Don’t use the public office, hereafter,” Babbing said. “Come in at 1056.” He turned to a ’phone. “Tell Snider I ’ll see him.” He pressed a call button. “You ’ll have to start by learning to speak the English language,” he admonished Barney. “We haven’t cases enough on the Bowery to keep you working where people say ‘I toler I was waiten’ when they mean ‘I told her I was waiting.’ ” He changed the switches on an office ’phone. “Bring me my schedule.” He said to Barney: “Stay where you are. I ’ll have something for you in a moment.”
Doors began to open, unexpectedly, on all sides. A stenographer appeared, with a note book, sat down to face Babbing across the desk, and prepared himself and his fountain pen to take dictation. Archibald, the office manager—a grizzled old man, with the lean mouth of a prelate—brought a list of Babbing’s appointments for the day and discussed them with him, deferentially. An operative, who proved to be “Chal” Snider from Chicago, drifted in as if he were casually interested, and shook hands with “The Chief,” and drew a chair up at one side of the desk, and made himself at home, with his ankle on his knee and his hat on his ankle. The day’s work had begun.
To Barney, watching, it became as bewildering as the smoothly intricate activity of a complicated machine. Babbing dictated letters in a leisurely undertone that was continually intermitted for telephone calls, the arrival of opened telegrams, corroboratory references to filed records, consultations with Archibald, directions to operatives, and above and around and under it all an interested reciprocation of talk with Snider. “Hello? Yes. Where are you? Have you got the goods on him? I see. Who ’s with you? Can you get in to see me? I ’ll relieve you with Corcoran. Three-thirty this afternoon.”. . . “Take this. William P. Sarrow, and so forth. Dear Sir. Yours of the fifteenth. Regret that I ’m unable to meet you and so forth. Previous engagements in Chicago on that date. Suggest the twenty-seventh.”. . . “Wire that fellow to stop sending me telegrams or he ’ll queer the whole plant. Sign it Adam Hansen.”. . . “Yes, Chal? Did he bite?”
And because Snider was telling a connected story—a patiently connected story in spite of all distractions—Barney’s confused attention slowly concentrated on him.
Snider was becoming bald; his hair was parted down the middle with mathematical precision, as perfectly aligned as the ribs and backbone of a kippered herring. He spoke rather mincingly, smiling, but never moving his hands. He had an air of pudgy inertia—an inoffensive sedentary air, good-natured—and a look of credulity. He made a specialty of confidence men. He was telling about one who had been operating in Chicago under the name of Charles Q. Palmer.
Palmer had advertised, in the want columns, that he wished to buy a hotel property in Chicago, and the owner of the old Stilton House had answered the ad. Palmer was living in splendor at the La Salle; the owner of the Stilton lunched with him there, talked terms, and convinced himself that Palmer had money and knew something about the hotel business. They inspected the moribund Stilton House together. Palmer saw possibilities in it. He paid $200 for a two weeks’ option on the property and took the only good room in the house, in order to audit the books at his leisure and consider a plan of business rehabilitation. The proprietor assisted him, deferred to him, flattered him, and secretly chuckled over him. A price of $50,000 was agreed upon. Palmer affected a brand of expensive Havana cigars, called Padages Palmas; and the proprietor added a box of them to his show-case stock for Palmer’s use. They became as intimately friendly as it is possible to become in a business deal where the seller has to maintain a consistent indifference because he is getting too much for his goods.
“The thing that sticks in his crop,” Snider said, “is those millionaire cigars. Palmer smoked two boxes of them. The old man squeals about it worse than anything.”
“What are they? A perfecto?” Babbing asked, with the air of a teetotaler showing curiosity about wines.
“No,” Snider explained, “they’re like a panatela, only longer. They ’re a little longer than a lead pencil and about as thick. They ’re some smoke.”
Babbing gave Archibald a telegram that he had been reading. “Wire them I can’t take it up personally, but if they ’ll turn it over to our branch office there, I ’ll be on later, to direct the investigation. . . . What was it, Chal? The same old game?”
“Sure,” Snider smiled. “At noon on the fifteenth, the day the option expired, he bought the hotel with a New York draft for fifty-five thousand, and opened an account at the old man’s bank with a check for the extra five thousand which the old man wrote. He was carrying a little black handbag full of furniture catalogues and decorator’s estimates and plans he had drawn for remodeling the ground floor of the Stilton. He got five hundred under the old man’s nose, put it in the bag, and went off to make a deposit with the contractor who was to do the remodeling. One of the boys from the hotel happened to be at the Central depot about three o’clock and he thought he saw Palmer going through the gates; but he didn’t speak of it until the old man began to worry because Palmer had n’t turned up for dinner. He was afraid Palmer had been black-jacked!
“Next morning, he found out, at the bank, that Palmer had drawn all but fifty dollars of his five thousand. And the New York draft turned out to be phoney.
“They brought the case to us, but Palmer had made a clean getaway. There was nothing in his trunk but some hotel sheets and bundles of old newspapers to give it weight. Our boys are at work on it.”
Babbing had finished his correspondence. He began to walk up and down the room in an idle interval. “He ’s probably in town here, now.”
“What makes you think so, Chief?”
“Why did n’t you wire us? That three-o’clock train is one of the slowest on the line. It does n’t get here till eight-thirty next night.”
“We did n’t have the case till late yesterday morning. And there was nothing to show he came this way.”
“He ’d arrive last night. Did you get a good description of him?”
“Yes, but he was wearing a beard and mustache.”
“They say about thirty-five, and heavy—a hundred and seventy or may be more. Five foot eight or nine. Dressed to look like a prosperous hotel man. Light eyes, bluish gray. Nothing peculiar about him.”
Babbing was standing at the window looking out over the lower roofs of wholesale houses to the ferries of the North River and the docks and chimneys of the Jersey shore. It was an invitingly clean and bright Spring day. “I ’d like to try a long shot at that fellow,” he said. And little Barney’s heart leaped with the blind instinct of a setter pup who sees preparations for the hunt.
Snider took his hat from his ankle and his ankle from his knee. “At Palmer?”
Babbing drifted back to his desk and sat down.
“Got a hunch, Chief?”
Snider asked it in the wistful manner of envy interrogating the inscrutable. Babbing stared at him, thoughtfully. Snider blinked and waited. Babbing said, at last: “It was raining hard last night at eight-thirty. . . . He would n’t shave on the train.”
Snider put his hat on the floor and leaned forward intently. “We could n’t run out all the barber shops in town, could we?”
“He ’d go to a hotel, and get it off in his room.”
Snider’s expression indicated that there were almost as many hotels as barber shops.
Babbing glanced at his watch. “I can locate him in an hour if I can locate him at all.” He rose briskly. “Explain to Archibald. I ’ll ’phone to tell you where I am, as soon as I get in touch with anything. Where ’s my bag? Dump those reports into it.” He opened the door of a clothes closet in a corner by the window and took out a soft black felt, a black raincoat, and an umbrella. He put on the coat, and it looked as provincial as a linen duster. He shook out the rolled umbrella, untidily. “Come on, boy,” he said to Barney. “Carry that bag.” Barney grabbed it eagerly. “This is no day to be in school, is it?” Babbing said to him at the door. And Barney’s throat was so choked with excitement that he could only gulp and grin.
Snider, seeing them go, had the puzzled eyebrows and the doubtful smile of the man who does not believe that you can do it but would like to know how you propose to begin. To find, in the city of New York, a swindler whom you have never seen, of whom you have no accurate description, who may not have come to New York at all, and who will be carefully concealing himself if he has come!
No such doubts as Snider’s occupied Barney’s mind, of course. He had other things to think of. He had his first ride up Broadway in a taxi-cab, for instance—whirring along in a bouncing rush of luxury whose incredible cost grew on the taximeter so fast that it took his breath away like a Coney Island chute, and he held back against the cushions, with his eyes on the dial, delightfully appalled. And he had the confused emotions of being outfitted in a round felt hat, such as college boys are supposed to favor, and a pair of enameled-leather shoes, which Babbing bought for him in a Broadway shop while the cab waited at the door. Two dollars for the hat and five dollars for the shoes! Gee! And then the meter began again—measuring Fifth Avenue in dimes.
He had been aware in the shop that Babbing was posing as his father and enjoying the part; and he had had an awful moment of fear that there might be holes in his stockings when the clerk unlaced his shoes. There were none. A woman, whom he vaguely recalled as his mother, had darned those stockings for him in a Cinderella world that had since been lost in the whirr of a fairy godfather’s golden chariot. He caught Babbing smiling at him in the chariot; and he snickered excitedly.
When the cab stopped, Babbing reached the handle of the door and said “Keep right up with me, now, but don’t open your mouth”; and Barney stepped out of the cab as if it had been an aeroplane, and found himself on the earth again, in front of the Hotel Haarlem on 42nd Street near the Grand Central station. He defended Babbing’s satchel from the doorman while Babbing ransomed himself from the taximeter.
The detective, in his raincoat, with his umbrella, wandered into the gilded lobby of the Haarlem, looking about him simply. He found the cigar stand, and approached it, with Barney, as if it were a booth at a county fair. The clerk saw them coming. It showed in his face.
Babbing said: “Padages Palmas.”
The clerk did not move. He was New York accosted by the provinces. “What did you say?”
Babbing regarded him a moment, mildly thoughtful. He cleared his throat. “Young man,” he said, “I want a seegar called the Padages Palmas. It ’s a fairly well-known Havana, but the easiest way for you to tell it, when you see it, is to read the name on the band around the middle.”
The clerk had turned his back to get a box from the shelves behind him. His ears were red.
“Yes,” Babbing said, “that ’s the one. Are these fresh?”
“I opened it myself yesterday.” The box was still full.
“I don’t much like them fresh.”
The clerk tried to look his indifference. “We don’t keep—”
“You can keep four of those,” Babbing cut in cheerfully and passed on. Barney followed him. And Barney could feel the clerk’s eyes witheringly on his back.
This was good fun, but Barney did not see the drift of it. When they issued on 42nd Street again and started to cross towards the Beaumont, he began to understand.
They mounted the Beaumont’s marble steps together and approached the cigar counter. The clerk, here, was an older man who was perhaps accustomed to serving millionaires in shabbiness. Babbing found the box in the showcase and pointed to it. The clerk whisked it out deftly. Babbing took two. “Do you sell many of these?”
“Yes, sir,” he said. “Quite a number.”
“Well, I couldn’t say, exactly. I’ve sold six this morning.”
Babbing was slow about getting the cigars into his waistcoat pocket; and he was slow about getting his money out. “Six, eh? Counting mine?”
“Yes. Another gentleman took four.”
“I ’ll bet that was Charlie,” Babbing commented to Barney. “Clean-shaven man with blue eyes?” he asked the clerk. “Heavy set?”
“I think you ’re right,” the clerk replied, busying himself with his cash register. “I did n’t notice his eyes, but I think you ’re right. . . . Thank you. Nice day?”
Babbing grunted, non-committally, and went to the desk. He gave Barney his umbrella to hold, while he put on his glasses to consult the register. He turned to the arrivals of the previous night. Among the names of visitors from Buffalo and Albany, there was the florid signature of a Spenserian caligraphist who had arrived singularly from Washington, D. C. He was “Thos. Sullivan.”
Babbing put up his glasses, resumed his umbrella and led the way to a leather sofa. “I think our man is here,” he said to Barney, “under the name of Thomas Sullivan. He writes like a forger, anyway. We ’ve got to pick him up and feel him out. I ’m going outside to telephone to him. If he ’s in his room, I ’ll give him a stall. If he is n’t, I ’ll have him paged. Thomas Sullivan. You follow the boy around. Nobody ’ll notice you. They ’ll think you ’re looking for some one. Spot Sullivan if the boy flnds him, and show him to me when I come back. Then we ’ll get together and rope him.”
“Yes, sir,” Barney said.
“The telephone booths are down that hall at the left of the desk. There ’s a parcel rack there, and you ’d better check this bag till we know what we ’re going to do. The dining-room ’s at the end of the hall. Sullivan may be at breakfast. If any one asks you any questions, you ’re looking for your uncle. I ’m your uncle. Sit here for two minutes. Then get over by the call desk.”
“Yes, sir,” Barney said.
Babbing pursued his placid way to the door, and Barney sat back in the sofa. He had no doubt that Sullivan was the swindler Palmer, but he could not guess how Babbing had come almost directly to the Beaumont to locate him. He puzzled over it, happily. In the background of his thoughts, he was saying to himself: “Gee, this job’s great!”
When his two minutes had measured themselves on the clock, he went to check his bag. He located the telephone booths. He made sure that the dining-room had not been shifted. As he returned to the lobby, a call boy, circulating among the easy chairs and smoking tables in front of the news stand, suddenly began to crow “Mr. Sullah-van! Mr. Sullah-van!” A cold tingle of excitement ran down Barney’s spine and struck forward into his solar plexus. His vital organs sank inside him, rallied, and rose exultingly.
“Mr. Sullah-van! Mr. Sullah-van!”
Mr. Sullivan did not reply. The boy turned down the hall to the dining-room, and Barney sauntered after him. “Mr. Sullah-van! The head waiter at the door bent indulgently to ask Barney: “One?” Barney mumbled that he was looking for his uncle. Standing in the doorway, he searched the tables anxiously. “Mr. Sullah-van!” A man sitting alone at a far window, signaled to the bell boy. They conferred together. The man shook his head. The boy went on. “Mr. Sullah-van!”
Barney had seen his float bob to a nibble.
The boy passed him on his way out, and Barney followed. But there were no more nibbles—neither in the bar, the café, the grill, the barber shop, the wash-room, nor anywhere else. The boy went back to the desk. Barney returned to the telephones and stood looking regretfully down the hall at the door of the dining-room where he had seen his hope. If it had only been Palmer! If they had only landed that bite!
Babbing joined him there. “He did n’t get him,” Barney reported. Babbing nodded. They went to their seats on the sofa. “He ’ll be back,” Babbing said. “He has n’t given up his room.”
Barney sighed. “I thought we had him.”
“A man in the dinin’ room stopped that bell-hop an’ then turned him down.”
Babbing rose at once. “That ’s our man.”
“But he turned him down.”
“Come on. Show me where he is. You ’re asleep.” They were crossing the lobby, and Babbing was talking in a low, indifferent, chatty tone. “His name is n’t Sullivan. As soon as he learned that the boy had a telephone call, he knew it could n’t be for him. None of his friends in town would call for him by that name. Is there an empty table near him?”
“I—I don’t know.”
Babbing slowed his pace. “My name ’s Thomas Oliphant,” he said. “We ’ll get a table near him. Then you go to the telephone and call up the office—one-seven-three-one Desbrosses—and get Chal Snider. Tell him I ’m in the dining-room here, and I want to be paged as Thomas Sullivan. Make him insist on the ‘Thomas.’ Don’t forget that. Tell him they ’ve paged me as Sullivan and I don’t answer. Then join me at the table. Sullivan ’ll stop the boy again. I ’ll break in on him. I ’m expecting a call. There ’s probably a mistake in the name. Thomas Sullivan for Thomas Oliphant. Do you understand? That ’ll give us an introduction to him. Where is he? Don’t point.”
They were at the dining-room door. “There he is. Over at that last window.”
“I see. I ’m your rich uncle from Kansas City. You ’re Barney Cook, my New York nephew. Go ahead and telephone. Get me a Tribune.“ And Babbing, refusing the offices of the girl at the coat rack, went to meet the head-waiter with all his encumbrances of hat, rain-coat and umbrella. He had evidently a somewhat countrified reluctance to trust his things out of his sight.
The multiplicity of instructions which Barney had to remember weighed him down to deliberate and cautious movement. He went slowly to the telephone; it took him some time to get the Babbing bureau; he gave his message to Snider hesitatingly, cautiously, in veiled terms, for fear some one might overhear him; and he was almost back to the dining-room before he recollected that he was to get a Tribune, Consequently, Babbing, in his spectacles, seated at a side-table, back to back with the suspected Sullivan, was concluding his order to the waiter when Barney joined them; and it was evident that there had been some difficulty over the menu. “Now, oatmeal porridge; mind that!” Babbing said. “Real oatmeal. No cattle mashes or health mushes for me. Sit here, boy.” He put Barney at right angles to him. “And cream. Plenty of it. I don’t care what it costs. And here. Wait a minute. I don’t want my bacon fried to a cinder, either.”
He was talking in an insistent, querulous grumble. The waiter kept saying “No, sir. Yes, sir,” with a sort of cool servility that was professional to the point of contempt. Barney glanced at Mr. Sullivan. He was sipping his coffee, with his head turned slightly. Barney could see that he was “getting an ear full.” The waiter departed.
“Well,” Babbing asked, “did you get them?”
“What did they say?”
“They said they ’d call you up.”
“Well, they ’d better hurry,” he blustered. “If they don’t want my money, I can find lots of people in this town that do. Did they say they had those Bonanza shares for me?”
“They did n’t say.”
“Huh! Give me that Tribune." He spread the pages impatiently. “I don’t see why these New York papers don’t have some Western news in them.” And Sullivan, turning, took an appraising look at him over the shoulder.
“There is n’t a line here from Kansas City,” Babbing complained. “A New York newspaper ’s the most provincial sheet in the universe, bar none!”
“Aw, gee. Uncle,” Barney laughed. “Quit knockin’ little ol’ New York.”
“Boy!” Babbing said sternly, “you talk as if your maw had raised you on the Bowery. Where did you ever learn to speak like that? If that ’s the sort of grammar you get in your New York public schools, y’ ought to be ashamed of them.”
Barney had no reply to make, and his uncle’s eye forbade him to make any. He had “caught on to” the game that Babbing was playing, and he was enjoying it precociously; but Babbing was evidently not willing to have him join in it. They waited, in silence, for the call boy.
And when the call boy came, crying “Mr. Thomas Sullivan” the game developed with the most prosperous rapidity. Babbing interrupted the colloquy between the uneasy Sullivan and the boy, and claimed the call. “My name ’s Oliphant. I ’ve been waiting here all morning for a telephone message, and these idiots go around bawling ‘Sullivan! Sullivan!’ when I bet they want Oliphant. If you ’ve no objection, I ’ll take this call Mr. Sullivan—”
“None whatever,” Sullivan said affably. “I ’m sure it ’s not for me.”
“Come on, boy. Show me the ’phone.”
As he passed, he laid his hand on Barney’s shoulder, and gave him a warning squeeze. It was needed, for as soon as he was out of hearing, Sullivan turned to Barney with a plump, suave smile. “Is n’t that Thomas Oliphant of Kansas City?”
Barney nodded cheerfully.
“I thought so. I ’ve heard of him. Well, well! So that ’s Thomas Oliphant.”
Barney grinned. “I guess everybody out there knows Uncle Tom.”
“Did I understand that he ’s buying mining stock.”
“Yep. I guess so. He’s got money to burn.”
“You ’re not from Kansas City?”
Barney shook his head scornfully.
“I wonder if he knows my brother-in-law, Billy Smith.”
“I dunno. You better ask him,”
“What does he do?”
“What does who do?”
“What does he do!”
“Yes. What business is he in?”
“Say!” Barney answered. “What are you tryin’ to do to me? You know what he does as well as I do.”
Sullivan said hastily: “Well, I thought he might have retired, and— Well, well! I must speak to him when he comes back. Tom Oliphant, eh? It ’s a small world. Well, well!” And Barney saw their fish on the hook.
The fish proceeded to climb up the line and fight his way into the creel as soon as Babbing returned; and Babbing at first held him off, suspiciously. Yes, he was Thomas Oliphant of Kansas City. No, not cattle. Leather, sir; leather. William Smith? No, he didn’t know William Smith. He thought he had heard of William Smith, but couldn’t place him. His brother-in-law? A pleasure. A pleasure. Much obliged to Mr. Sullivan for letting him take that telephone call. It was pressing business. They had been trying all morning to get him on the ’phone.
In ten minutes the engaging Sullivan had moved to the vacant chair opposite Barney, had lighted one of his Padages Palmas rather gaudily, and was listening to Babbing with a flattering admiration showing in his bluish-gray eyes. It developed that Sullivan was interested in Cobalt mines, heavily interested; in fact, he owned one in partnership with some New York mining experts. Being questioned by Babbing upon the rating of the Bonanza mine in the Beaver district, he remarked that it was a hole in the ground, hopeless as an investment. It was not a mine at all but merely a trap for suckers. Babbing was much taken aback. He drank in Sullivan’s knowledge and advice greedily—with occasional hasty gulps of oatmeal porridge and noisy draughts of hot coffee; and Barney’s innocent hunger and absorbed attention were not more childish and convincing than his uncle’s.
Sullivan blossomed and expanded in that atmosphere of trust. He and his partners were building a hotel for the tourist trade near their mine. He had been working on the plans for the building. They had discovered one of the finest, if not the finest spring of mineral water on the continent. And so forth.
He leaned back in his chair, making large gestures with his cigar and smiling a broad indulgent smile. He flattered Barney. “A mighty bright boy, your nephew. A mighty bright boy. I ’d like to have a boy like that in my business.”
“Not much!” Barney said pertly. “I ’m goin’ in with uncle.”
Some of Babbing’s coffee got in his windpipe at that moment, and he coughed himself red in the face. Barney kept a straight mouth.
“I don’t know that you ’ll ever be as successful as your uncle,” Sullivan said. “But you ’ll succeed. You ’ve got it in you! I can see that.”
He exacted a promise from Babbing that he should go no further in the matter of the Bonanza mine until he had come to the office of Sullivan’s friends, with Sullivan, to look into the “proposition” there. “Excuse me a moment,” he said, when Babbing had paid the waiter. “I ’ll just run upstairs and get the plans of our hotel. I want to take them with me. I ’ll meet you at the desk.”
He strutted off importantly. Babbing sat a moment. “If he brings down his satchel with those plans in it,” he said, “you ’ll get it to carry. And, at the first opportunity, you ’ll cut away with it. Understand? Take it to the office. They ’ll have keys to open it there. I ’ll get in touch with Chal as soon as I can, by ’phone. If he ’s still carrying his Chicago outfit in that bag, we ’ve got our case complete. Now, don’t get cheeky. If you ’re not careful, you ’ll stub your toe!”
A half hour later, a round-faced and sturdy youth of sixteen, breathing hard because he had been running, sat in a downtown express on the Subway, holding a small black hand-bag on his knees. He was struggling with a dimpled smile that continually escaped control and exploded in a snort. The other passengers smiled at him, amusedly. He retreated to the back platform, giggling, and grinned at his ease out the door.
He was still grinning and still breathing hard when he entered the Babbing Bureau at room 1056, and hurried into Babbing’s private office to find Chal Snider reading a morning paper at Babbing’s desk. “Here ’s his bag!”
Snider looked over the top of his newspaper. “Whose bag?”
“What!” The cry was not wholly incredulous; it had the quality, too, of envious amazement.
“Sure! Hurry up an’ see what ’s in it. The Chief wants to know. Hurry up. He ’s got him.”
Snider dropped his paper and grabbed the ’phone. “Hello? Hello! Bring me in a bunch of skeletons for a small satchel. Quick.” He caught the bag from Barney. “Well, I ’ll be switched. How the hell?”
Barney wiped the perspiration of haste from his forehead with his coat cuff. “We roped him at the Beaumont. He ’d been buyin’ them long cigars.”
“Well, the old devil!” He sat with the satchel on his lap, expressing a profane admiration to it in a sort of dumbfounded undertone. “The damn old fox! How did he think of that!”
“Search me!” Barney grinned.
A clerk came in with the keys. Snider had the bag opened in a jiffy. He dumped its contents on the desk—blue-prints, catalogues, a scratch block, loose sheets of memoranda, an assortment of blank checks, and a roll of money in a rubber band. “The old man’s wad!” Snider exulted. “By G—— he’s got the swag back too! Where is he?”
“He ’s off with Palmer. He ’s goin’ to ’phone you. He tol’ me to grab the bag an’ beat it. That boob was tryin’ to sell him stock in some fake hotel he ’s buildin’ some’rs, when I dropped off.” Snider went through the swindler’s papers with appropriate remarks, and then began thoughtfully to pack them back in the bag. “Where did you go from here?”
Barney told the story in an excited incoherency. Snider nodded and nodded. “He ’s slick!” he commented primly, again and again. “He ’s pretty damn slick!”
“Well, how did he know the guy was at the Beaumont?” Barney asked.
“He did n’t know. He took a chance. He figured that Palmer would n’t go far from the depot in the rain. Did n’t you hear him say it was raining hard last night at eight-thirty? He just played a hunch and got away with it.”
“What’s he goin’ to do next?” Barney demanded in the delighted impatience of youth to know the end of the story.
The ringing of the telephone bell interrupted them with what proved to be the answer. “Hello?” Snider said. “Yes, Chief. Yes. His whole outfit ’s in it. And four thousand of the old man’s money. Yes. Yes.” He tittered. He shook over the ’phone silently. “Ye-e-s. I ’ll ha-ave them.” And he dropped the receiver into its hook and lay back in his chair in a grimacing sputter of fat laughter. “He ’s bringing him hee-here. He ’s pretending he thinks you-you ’ve been ki-ki-kidnapped. Hee-hee-hee!” He wiped his wet eyes helplessly. “Palmer won’t let him go to the police station. They ’re co-coming here to get us out to find you.” He jumped up, suddenly, and slapped himself on top of the head with a comical gesture. “I ’ve got to get papers for him. Put Archibald wise to what ’s coming.” He darted out the door with unexpected agility, and Barney hastened to find Archibald.
Either Archibald had no sense of humor or it was inhibited by a stronger sense of dignity. Barney’s story provoked no smile from him. “Wait in the operatives’ room,” he said drily. “If we need you, we ’ll call you. Leave the bag here.”
The operatives’ room was a large inner office fitted up with desks that showed inky evidences of long use, typewriters that rattled loosely, and battered filing cabinets. Two men were getting out reports on their typewriters; a third was searching the pages of a telephone directory, page after page, slowly, as if he had been at it for hours and expected to continue it for hours. Barney sat down in a corner and waited. No call came for him. He imagined the scene between Archibald, Babbing and Mr. Thomas Sullivan, when they should put the swindled swindler under arrest; but he had to take it out in imagining. The operatives came and went as busily as reporters turning in their copy, but no one spoke to him.
And Barney became vaguely aware of one fact about the fife of detectives for which fiction had not prepared him. Like the private soldier in a campaign, the operative of a detective bureau obeys orders without knowing the reason for them and executes commands without seeing their results. He participates in events of which he does not always understand the beginning and sometimes never learns the end. He comes in for a single scene in one drama, and leaves it to play an equally brief part in another. Barney was no longer needed in the affair of Charles Q. Palmer, and he was not invited to watch the swindler’s astonishment when his bag was produced as evidence against him and the police arrived with the warrant for his arrest.
It was nearly midday when Babbing appeared, and Barney stood up smiling to greet him.
“Go home and tell your mother what you ’re doing,” Babbing said. “And tell her to keep it to herself. I want you to come to Philadelphia with me to-night. Get yourself a suit-case. And bring a suit of old clothes—the shabbiest you ’ve got. . . . Here, Clark!” he called. “Show this boy how to make out a requisition for expense money. He ’ll need twenty-five or thirty dollars. Be back here at four o’clock.”
“Yes, sir.” Barney hesitated. “Did you get him?”
“Who? Palmer? Oh, yes. Yes. He ’s held for return to Chicago. Run along now. Be here sharp at four, with your bag packed. And tell your mother not to mark your linen—except with your initials. Understand?”
Babbing regarded him whimsically. “How do you like being a detective?”
“Oh, gee!” Barney grinned. “It ’s great, Chief.”
Babbing gave him a parting pat on the shoulder. “All right, boy,” he said. “I ’m glad you like it.” And Barney did not understand why his tone of voice was depreciative!