The Poisoned Pen by Arthur B. Reeve
VIII. The Forger
We were lunching with Stevenson Williams, a friend of Kennedy's, at the Insurance Club, one of the many new downtown luncheon clubs, where the noon hour is so conveniently combined with business.
"There isn't much that you can't insure against nowadays," remarked Williams when the luncheon had progressed far enough to warrant a tentative reference to the obvious fact that he had had a purpose in inviting us to the club. "Take my own company, for example, the Continental Surety. We have lately undertaken to write forgery insurance."
"Forgery insurance?" repeated Kennedy. "Well, I should think you'd be doing a ripping business - putting up the premium rate about every day in this epidemic of forgery that seems to be sweeping over the country."
Williams, who was one of the officers of the company, smiled somewhat wearily, I thought. "We are," he replied drily. "That was precisely what I wanted to see you about."
"What? The premiums or the epidemic?"
"Well - er - both, perhaps. I needn't say much about the epidemic, as you call it. To you I can admit it; to the newspapers, never. Still, I suppose you know that it is variously estimated that the forgers of the country are getting away with from ten to fifteen million dollars a year. It is just one case that I was thinking about - one on which the regular detective agencies we employ seem to have failed utterly so far. It involves pretty nearly one of those fifteen millions."
"What? One case? A million dollars?" gasped Kennedy, gazing fixedly at Williams as if he found it difficult to believe.
"Exactly," replied Williams imperturbably, "though it was not done all at one fell swoop, of course, but gradually, covering a period of some months. You have doubtless heard of the By-Products Company of Chicago?"
"Well, it is their case," pursued Williams, losing his quiet manner and now hurrying ahead almost breathlessly. "You know they own a bank out there also, called the By-Products Bank. That's how we come to figure in the case, by having insured their bank against forgery. Of course our liability runs up only to $50,000. But the loss to the company as well as to its bank through this affair will reach the figure I have named. They will have to stand the balance beyond our liability and, well, fifty thousand is not a small sum for us to lose, either. We can't afford to lose it without a fight."
"Of course not. But you must have some suspicions, some clues. You must have taken some action in tracing the thing out, whatever is back of it."
"Surely. For instance, only the other day we had the cashier of the bank, Bolton Brown, arrested, though he is out on bail now. We haven't anything directly against him, but he is suspected of complicity on the inside, and I may say that the thing is so gigantic that there must have been some one on the inside concerned with it. Among other things we have found that Bolton Brown has been leading a rather fast life, quite unknown to his fellow-officials. We know that he has been speculating secretly in the wheat corner that went to pieces, but the most significant thing is that he has been altogether too intimate with an adventuress, Adele DeMott, who has had some success as a woman of high finance in various cities here and in Europe and even in South America. It looks bad for him from the commonsense standpoint, though of course I'm not competent to speak of the legal side of the matter. But, at any rate, we know that the insider must have been some one pretty close to the head of the By-Products Company or the By-Products Bank."
"What was the character of the forgeries?" asked Kennedy.
"They seem to have been of two kinds. As far as we are concerned it is the check forgeries only that interest the Surety Company. For some time, apparently, checks have been coming into the bank for sums all the way from a hundred dollars to five thousand. They have been so well executed that some of them have been certified by the bank, all of them have been accepted when they came back from other banks, and even the officers of the company don't seem to be able to pick any flaws in them except as to the payee and the amounts for which they were drawn. They have the correct safety tint on the paper and are stamped with rubber stamps that are almost precisely like those used by the By-Products Company.
"You know that banking customs often make some kinds of fraud comparatively easy. For instance no bank will pay out a hundred dollars or often even a dollar without identification, but they will certify a check for almost any office boy who comes in with it. The common method of forgers lately has been to take such a certified forged check, deposit it in another bank, then gradually withdraw it in a few days before there is time to discover the forgery. In this case they must have had the additional advantage that the insider in the company or bank could give information and tip the forger off if the forgery happened to be discovered."
"Who is the treasurer of the company?" asked Craig quickly.
"John Carroll - merely a figurehead, I understand. He's in New York now, working with us, as I shall tell you presently. If there is any one else besides Brown in it, it might be Michael Dawson, the nominal assistant but really the active treasurer. There you have another man whom we suspect, and, strangely enough, can't find. Dawson was the assistant treasurer of the company, you understand, not of the bank."
"You can't find him? Why?" asked Kennedy, considerably puzzled.
"No, we can't find him. He was married a few days ago, married a pretty prominent society girl in the city, Miss Sibyl Sanderson. It seems they kept the itinerary of their honeymoon secret, more as a joke on their friends than anything else, they said, for Miss Sanderson was a well-known beauty and the newspapers bothered the couple a good deal with publicity that was distasteful. At least that was his story. No one knows where they are or whether they'll ever turn up again.
"You see, this getting married had something to do with the exposure in the first place. For the major part of the forgeries consists not so much in the checks, which interest my company, but in fraudulently issued stock certificates of the By-Products Company. About a million of the common stock was held as treasury stock - was never issued.
"Some one has issued a large amount of it, all properly signed and sealed. Whoever it was had a little office in Chicago from which the stock was sold quietly by a confederate, probably a woman, for women seem to rope in the suckers best in these get-rich-quick schemes. And, well, if it was Dawson the honeymoon has given him a splendid chance to make his get-away, though it also resulted in the exposure of the forgeries. Carroll had to take up more or less active duty, with the result that a new man unearthed the - but, say, are you really interested in this case?"
Williams was leaning forward, looking anxiously at Kennedy and it would not have taken a clairvoyant to guess what answer he wanted to his abrupt question.
"Indeed I am," replied Craig, "especially as there seems to be a doubt about the guilty person on the inside."
"There is doubt enough, all right," rejoined Williams, "at least I think so, though our detectives in Chicago who have gone over the thing pretty thoroughly have been sure of fixing something on Bolton Brown, the cashier. You see the blank stock certificates were kept in the company's vault in the bank to which, of course, Brown had access. But then, as Carroll argues, Dawson had access to them, too, which is very true - more so for Dawson than for Brown, who was in the bank and not in the company. I'm all at sea. Perhaps if you're interested you'd better see Carroll. He's here in the city and I'm sure I could get you a good fee out of the case if you cared to take it up. Shall I see if I can get him on the wire?"
We had finished luncheon and, as Craig nodded, Williams dived into a telephone booth outside the dining-room and in a few moments emerged, perspiring from the closeness. He announced that Carroll requested that we call on him at an office in Wall Street, a few blocks away, where he made his headquarters when he was in New York. The whole thing was done with such despatch that I could not help feeling that Carroll had been waiting to hear from his friend in the insurance company. The look of relief on Williams's face when Kennedy said he would go immediately showed plainly that the insurance man considered the cost of the luncheon, which had been no slight affair, in the light of a good investment in the interest of his company, which was "in bad" for the largest forgery insurance loss since they had begun to write that sort of business.
As we hurried down to Wall Street, Kennedy took occasion to remark, "Science seems to have safe-guarded banks and other institutions pretty well against outside robbery. But protection against employees who can manipulate books and records does not seem to have advanced as rapidly. Sometimes I think it may have lessened. Greater temptations assail the cashier or clerk with greater opportunity for speculation, and the banks, as many authorities will agree, have not made enough use of the machinery available to put a stop to embezzlement. This case is evidently one of the results. The careless fellows at the top, like this man Carroll whom we are going to see, generally put forward as excuse the statement that the science of banking and of business is so complex that a rascal with ingenuity enough to falsify the books is almost impossible of detection. Yet when the cat is out of the bag as in several recent cases the methods used are often of the baldest and most transparent sort, fictitious names, dummies, and all sorts of juggling and kiting of checks. But I hardly think this is going to prove one of those simple cases."
John Carroll Was a haggard and unkempt sort of man. He looked to me as if the defalcations had preyed on his mind until they had become a veritable obsession. It was literally true that they were all that he could talk about, all that he was thinking about. He was paying now a heavy penalty for having been a dummy and honorary officer.
"This thing has become a matter of life and death with me," he began eagerly, scarcely waiting for us to introduce ourselves, as he fixed his unnaturally bright eyes on us anxiously. "I've simply got to find the man who has so nearly wrecked the By-Products Bank and Company. Find him or not, I suppose I am a ruined man, myself, but I hope I may still prove myself honest."
He sighed and his eyes wandered vacantly out of the window as if he were seeking rest and could not find it.
"I understand that the cashier, Bolton Brown, has been arrested," prompted Kennedy.
"Yes, Bolton Brown, arrested," he repeated slowly, "and since he has been out on bail he, too, seems to have disappeared. Now let me tell you about what I think of that, Kennedy. I know it looks bad for Brown. Perhaps he's the man. The Surety Company says so, anyway. But we must look at this thing calmly."
He was himself quite excited, as he went on, "You understand, I suppose, just how much Brown must have been reasonably responsible for passing the checks through the bank? He saw personally about as many of them as - as I did, which was none until the exposure came. They were deposited in other banks by people whom we can't identify but who must have opened accounts for the purpose of finally putting through a few bad checks. Then they came back to our bank in the regular channels and were accepted. By various kinds of juggling they were covered up. Why, some of them looked so good that they were even certified by our bank before they were deposited in the other banks. Now, as Brown claims, he never saw checks unless there was something special about them and there seemed at the time to be nothing wrong about these.
"But in the public mind I know there is prejudice against any bank official who speculates or leads a fast life, and of course it is warranted. Still, if Brown should clear himself finally the thing will come back to Dawson and even if he is guilty, it will make me the - er - the ultimate goat. The upshot of it all will be that I shall have to stand the blame, if not the guilt, and the only way I can atone for my laxity in the past is by activity in catching the real offender and perhaps by restoring to the company and the bank whatever can yet be recovered."
"But," asked Kennedy sympathetically, "what makes you think that you will find your man, whoever he proves to be, in New York?"
I admit that it is only a very slight clue that I have," he replied confidentially. "It is just a hint Dawson dropped once to one of the men with whom he was confidential in the company. This clerk told me that a long time ago Dawson said he had always wanted to go to South America and that perhaps on his honeymoon he might get a chance. This is the way I figured it out. You see, he is clever and some of these South American countries have no extradition treaties with us by which we could reach him, once he got there."
"Perhaps he has already arrived in one of them with his wife. What makes you think he hasn't sailed yet?
"No, I don't think he has. You see, she wanted to spend a part of the honeymoon at Atlantic City. I learned that indirectly from her folks, who profess to know no better than we do where the couple are. That was an additional reason why I wanted to see if by coming to New York I might not pick up some trace of them, either here or in Atlantic City."
"And have you?
"Yes, I think I have." He handed us a lettergram which he had just received from Chicago. It read: "Two more checks have come in to-day from Atlantic City and New York. They seem to be in payment of bills, as they are for odd amounts. One is from the Lorraine at Atlantic City and the other from the Hotel Amsterdam of New York. They were dated the 19th and 20th."
"You see," he resumed as we finished reading, "it is now the 23rd, so that there is a difference of three days. He was here on the 20th. Now the next ship that he could take after the 20th sails from Brooklyn on the 25th. If he's clever he won't board that ship except in a disguise, for he will know that by that time some one must be watching. Now I want you to help me penetrate that disguise. Of course we can't arrest the whole shipload of passengers, but if you, with your scientific knowledge, could pick him out, then we could hold him and have breathing space to find out whether he is guilty alone or has been working with Bolton Brown."
Carroll was now pacing the office with excitement as he unfolded his scheme which meant so much for himself.
"H-m," mused Kennedy. "I suppose Dawson was a man of exemplary habits? They almost always are. No speculating or fast living with him as with Brown?"
Carroll paused in his nervous tread. "That's another thing I've discovered. On the contrary, I think Dawson was a secret drug fiend. I found that out after he left. In his desk at the By-Products office we discovered hypodermic needles and a whole outfit - morphine, I think it was. You know how cunningly a real morphine fiend can cover up his tracks."
Kennedy was now all attention. As the case unrolled it was assuming one new and surprising aspect after another.
"The lettergram would indicate that he had been stopping at the Lorraine in Atlantic City," remarked Kennedy.
"So I would infer, and at the Amsterdam in New York. But you can depend on it that he has not been going under his own name nor, I believe as far as I can find out, even under his own face. I think the fellow has already assumed a disguise, for nowhere can I find any description that even I could recognise."
"Strange," murmured Kennedy. "I'll have to look into it. And only two days in which to do it, too. You will pardon me if I excuse myself now? There are certain aspects of the case that I hope I shall be able to shed some light on by going at them at once."
"You'll find Dawson clever, clever as he can be," said Carroll, not anxious to have Kennedy go as long as he would listen to the story which was bursting from his overwrought mind. "He was able to cover up the checks by juggling the accounts. But that didn't satisfy him. He was after something big. So he started in to issue the treasury stock, forging the signatures of the president and the treasurer, that is, my signature. Of course that sort of game couldn't last forever. Some one was going to demand dividends on his stock, or transfer it, or ask to have it recorded on the books, or something that would give the whole scheme away. From each person to whom he sold stock I believe he demanded some kind of promise not to sell it within a certain period, and in that way we figure that he gave himself plenty of time to realise several hundred thousand dollars quietly. It may be that some of the forged checks represented fake interest payments. Anyhow, he's at the end of his rope now. We've had an exciting chase. I had followed down several false clues before the real significance of the hint about South America dawned on me. Now I have gone as far as I dare with it without calling in outside assistance. I think now we are up with him at last - with your help."
Kennedy was anxious to go, but he paused long enough to ask another question. "And the girl?" he broke in. "She must be in the game or her letters to some of her friends would have betrayed their whereabouts. What was she like?"
"Miss Sanderson was very popular in a certain rather flashy set in Chicago. But her folks were bounders. They lived right up to the limit, just as Dawson did, in my opinion. Oh, you can be sure that if a proposition like this were put up to her she'd take a chance to get away with it. She runs no risks. She didn't do it anyhow, and as for her part, after the fact, why, a woman is always pretty safe - more sinned against than sinning, and all that. It's a queer sort of honeymoon, hey?"
"Have you any copies of the forged certificates?" asked Craig.
"Yes, plenty of them. Since the story has been told in print they have been pouring in. Here are several."
He pulled several finely engraved certificates from his pocket and Kennedy scrutinised them minutely.
"I may keep these to study at my leisure?" he asked.
Certainly," replied Carroll, "and if you want any more I can wire to Chicago for them."
"No, these will be sufficient for the present, thank you," said Craig. "I shall keep in touch with you and let you know the moment anything develops.
Our ride uptown to the laboratory was completed in silence which I did not interrupt, for I could see that Kennedy was thinking out a course of action. The quick pace at which he crossed the campus to the Chemistry Building told me that he had decided on something.
In the laboratory Craig hastily wrote a note, opened a drawer of his desk, and selected one from a bunch of special envelopes which he seemed to be saving for some purpose. He sealed it with some care, and gave it to me to post immediately. It was addressed to Dawson at the Hotel Amsterdam. On my return I found him deeply engrossed in the examination of the forged shares of stock. Having talked with him more or less in the past about handwriting I did not have to be told that he was using a microscope to discover any erasures and that photography both direct and by transmitted light might show something.
"I can't see anything wrong with these documents," he remarked at length. "They show no erasures or alterations. On their face they look as good as the real article. Even if they are tracings they are remarkably line work. It certainly is a fact, however, that they superimpose. They might all have been made from the same pair of signatures of the president and treasurer.
"I need hardly to say to you, Walter, that the microscope in its various forms and with its various attachments is of great assistance to the document examiner. Even a low magnification frequently reveals a drawing, hesitating method of production, or patched and reinforced strokes as well as erasures by chemicals or by abrasion. The stereoscopic microscope, which is of value in studying abrasions and alterations since it gives depth, in this case tells me that there has been nothing of that sort practised. My colour comparison microscope, which permits the comparison of the ink on two different documents or two places on one document at the same time, tells me something. This instrument with new and accurately coloured glasses enables me to measure the tints of the ink of these signatures with the greatest accuracy and I can do what was hitherto impossible - determine how long the writing has been on the paper. I should say it was all very recent, approximately within the last two months or six weeks, and I believe that whenever the stock may have been issued it at least was all forged at the same time.
"There isn't time now to go into the thing more deeply, but if it becomes necessary I can go back to it with the aid of the camera lucida and the microscopic enlarger, as well as this specially constructed document camera with lenses certified by the government. If it comes to a show-down I suppose I shall have to prove my point with the micrometer measurements down to the fifty-thousandth part of an inch.
"There is certainly something very curious about these signatures," he concluded. "I don't know what measurements would show, but they are really too good. You know a forged signature may be of two kinds - too bad or too good. These are, I believe, tracings. If they were your signature and mine, Walter, I shouldn't hesitate to pronounce them tracings. But there is always some slight room for doubt in these special cases where a man sits down and is in the habit of writing his signature over and over again on one stock or bond after another. He may get so used to it that he does it automatically and his signatures may come pretty close to superimposing. If I had time, though, I think I could demonstrate that there are altogether too many points of similarity for these to be genuine signatures. But we've got to act quickly in this case or not at all, and I see that if I am to get to Atlantic City to-night I can't waste much more time here. I wish you would keep an eye on the Hotel Amsterdam while I am gone, Walter, and meet me here, to-morrow. I'll wire when I'll be back. Good-bye."
It was well along in the afternoon when Kennedy took a train for the famous seaside resort, leaving me in New York with a roving commission to do nothing. All that I was able to learn at the Hotel Amsterdam was that a man with a Van Dyke beard had stung the office with a bogus check, although he had seemed to come well recommended. The description of the woman with him who seemed to be his wife might have fitted either Mrs. Dawson or Adele DeMott. The only person who had called had been a man who said he represented the By-Products Company and was the treasurer. He had questioned the hotel people rather closely about the whereabouts of the couple who had paid their expenses with the worthless slip of paper. It was not difficult to infer that this man was Carroll who had been hot on the trail, especially as he said that he personally would see the check paid if the hotel people would keep a sharp watch for the return of the man who had swindled them.
Kennedy wired as he promised and returned by an early train the next day.
He seemed bursting with news. "I think I'm on the trail," he cried, throwing his grip into a corner and not waiting for me to ask him what success he had had. "I went directly to the Lorraine and began frankly by telling them that I represented the By-Products Company in New York and was authorised to investigate the bad check which they had received. They couldn't describe Dawson very well - at least their description would have fitted almost any one. One thing I think I did learn and that was that his disguise must include a Van Dyke beard. He would scarcely have had time to grow one of his own and I believe when he was last seen in Chicago he was clean-shaven."
"But," I objected, "men with Van Dyke beards are common enough." Then I related my experience at the Amsterdam.
"The same fellow," ejaculated Kennedy. "The beard seems to have covered a multitude of sins, for while every one could recall that, no one had a word to say about his features. However, Walter, there's just one chance of making his identification sure, and a peculiar coincidence it is, too. It seems that one night this man and a lady who may have been the former Miss Sanderson, though the description of her like most amateur descriptions wasn't very accurate, were dining at the Lorraine. The Lorraine is getting up a new booklet about its accommodations and a photographer had been engaged to take a flashlight of the dining-room for the booklet.
"No sooner had the flash been lighted and the picture taken than a man with a Van Dyke beard - your friend of the Amsterdam, no doubt, Walter, - rushed up to the photographer and offered him fifty dollars for the plate. The photographer thought at first it was some sport who had reasons for not wishing to appear in print in Atlantic City, as many have. The man seemed to notice that the photographer was a little suspicious and he hastened to make some kind of excuse about wanting the home folks to see how swell he and his wife were dining in evening dress. It was a rather lame excuse, but the fifty dollars looked good to the photographer and he agreed to develop the plate and turn it over with some prints all ready for mailing the next day. The man seemed satisfied and the photographer took another flashlight, this time with one of the tables vacant.
"Sure enough, the next day the man with a beard turned up for the plate. The photographer tells me that he had it all wrapped up ready to mail, just to call the fellow's bluff. The man was equal to the occasion, paid the money, wrote an address on the package which the photographer did not see, and as there was a box for mailing packages right at the door on the boardwalk there was no excuse for not mailing it directly. Now if I could get hold of that plate or a print from it I could identify Dawson in his disguise in a moment. I've started the post-office trying to trace that package both at Atlantic City and in Chicago, where I think it must have been mailed. I may hear from them at any moment - at least, I hope."
The rest of the afternoon we spent in canvassing the drug stores in the vicinity of the Amsterdam, Kennedy's idea being that if Dawson was a habitual morphine fiend he must have replenished his supply of the drug in New York, particularly if he was contemplating a long journey where it might be difficult to obtain.
After many disappointments we finally succeeded in finding a shop where a man posing as a doctor had made a rather large purchase. The name he gave was of course of no importance. What did interest us was that again we crossed the trail of a man with a Van Dyke beard. He had been accompanied by a woman whom the druggist described as rather flashily dressed, though her face was hidden under a huge hat and a veil. "Looked very attractive," as the druggist put it, "but she might have been a negress for all I could tell you of her face."
"Humph," grunted Kennedy, as we were leaving the store. "You wouldn't believe it, but it is the hardest thing in the world to get an accurate description of any one. The psychologists have said enough about it, but you don't realise it until you are up against it. Why, that might have been the DeMott woman just as well as the former Miss Sanderson, and the man might have been Bolton Brown as well as Dawson, for all we know. They've both disappeared now. I wish we could get some word about that photograph. That would settle it."
In the last mail that night Kennedy received back the letter which he had addressed to Michael Dawson. On it was stamped "Returned to sender. Owner not found."
Kennedy turned the letter over slowly and looked at the back of it carefully.
"On the contrary," he remarked, half to himself, "the owner was found. Only he returned the letter back to the postman after he had opened it and found that it was just a note of no importance which I scribbled just to see if he was keeping in touch with things from his hiding-place, wherever it is.
"How do you know he opened it?" I asked.
"Do you see those blots on the back? I had several of these envelopes prepared ready for use when I needed them. I had some tannin placed on the flap and then covered thickly with gum. On the envelope itself was some iron sulphate under more gum. I carefully sealed the letter, using very little moisture. The gum then separated the two prepared parts. Now if that letter were steamed open the tannin and the sulphate would come together, run, and leave a smudge. You see the blots? The inference is obvious."
Clearly, then, our chase was getting warmer. Dawson had been in Atlantic City at least within a few days. The fruit company steamer to South America on which Carroll believed he was booked to sail under an assumed name and with an assumed face was to sail the following noon. And still we had no word from Chicago as to the destination of the photograph, or the identity of the man in the Van Dyke beard who had been so particular to disarm suspicion in the purchase of the plate from the photographer a few days before.
The mail also contained a message from Williams of the Surety Company with the interesting information that Bolton Brown's attorney had refused to say where his client had gone since he had been released on bail, but that he would be produced when wanted. Adele DeMott had not been seen for several days in Chicago and the police there were of the opinion that she had gone to New York, where it would be pretty easy for her to pass unnoticed. These facts further complicated the case and made the finding of the photograph even more imperative.
If we were going to do anything it must be done quickly. There was no time to lose. The last of the fast trains for the day had left and the photograph, even though it were found, could not possibly reach us in time to be of use before the steamer sailed from Brooklyn. It was an emergency such as Kennedy had never yet faced, apparently physically insuperable.
But, as usual, Craig was not without some resource, though it looked impossible to me to do anything but make a hit or miss arrest at the boat. It was late in the evening when he returned from a conference with an officer of the Telegraph and Telephone Company to whom Williams had given him a card of introduction. The upshot had been that he had called up Chicago and talked for a long time with Professor Clark, a former classmate of ours who was now in the technology school of the university out there. Kennedy and Clark had been in correspondence for some time, I knew, about some technical matters, though I had no idea what it was they concerned.
"There's one thing we can always do," I remarked as we walked slowly over to the laboratory from our apartment.
"What's that?" he asked absent-mindedly, more from politeness than anything else.
"Arrest every one with a Van Dyke beard who goes on the boat to-morrow," I replied.
Kennedy smiled. "I don't feel prepared to stand a suit for false arrest," he said simply, " especially as the victim would feel pretty hot if we caused him to miss his boat. Men with beards are not so uncommon, after all."
We had reached the laboratory. Linemen were stringing wires under the electric lights of the campus from the street to the Chemistry Building and into Kennedy's sanctum.
That night and far into the morning Kennedy was working in the laboratory on a peculiarly complicated piece of mechanism consisting of electro-magnets, rolls, and a stylus and numerous other contrivances which did not suggest to my mind anything he had ever used before in our adventures. I killed time as best I could watching him adjust the thing with the most minute care and precision. Finally I came to the conclusion that as I was not likely to be of the least assistance, even if I had been initiated into what was afoot, I had as well retire.
"There is one thing you can do for me in the morning, Walter," said Kennedy, continuing to work over a delicate piece of clockwork which formed a part of the apparatus. "In case I do not see you then, get in touch with Williams and Carroll and have them come here about ten o'clock with an automobile. If I am not ready for them then I'm afraid I never shall be, and we shall have to finish the job with the lack of finesse you suggested by arresting all the bearded men."
Kennedy could not have slept much during the night, for though his bed had been slept in he was up and away before I could see him again. I made a hurried trip downtown to catch Carroll and Williams and then returned to the laboratory, where Craig had evidently just finished a satisfactory preliminary test of his machine.
"Still no message," he began in reply to my unspoken question. He was plainly growing restless with the inaction, though frequent talks over long-distance with Chicago seemed to reassure him. Thanks to the influence of Williams he had at least a direct wire from his laboratory to the city which was now the scene of action.
As nearly as I could gather from the one-sided conversations I heard and the remarks which Kennedy dropped, the Chicago post-office inspectors were still searching for a trace of the package from Atlantic City which was to reveal the identity of the man who had passed the bogus checks and sold the forged certificates of stock. Somewhere in that great city was a photograph of the promoter and of the woman who was aiding him to escape, taken in Atlantic City and sent by mail to Chicago. Who had received it? Would it be found in time to be of use? What would it reveal? It was like hunting for a needle in a haystack, and yet the latest reports seemed to encourage Kennedy with the hope that the authorities were at last on the trail of the secret office from which the stock had been sold. He was fuming and wishing that he could be at both ends of the line at once.
"Any word from Chicago yet?" appealed an anxious voice from the doorway.
We turned. There were Carroll and Williams who had come for us with an automobile to go over to watch at the wharf in Brooklyn for our man. It was Carroll who spoke. The strain of the suspense was telling on him and I could readily imagine that he, like so many others who had never seen Kennedy in action, had not the faith in Craig's ability which I had seen tested so many times.
"Not yet," replied Kennedy, still busy about his apparatus on the table. "I suppose you have heard nothing?"
"Nothing since my note of last night," returned Williams impatiently. "Our detectives still insist that Bolton Brown is the man to watch, and the disappearance of Adele DeMott at this time certainly looks bad for him."
"It does, I admit," said Carroll reluctantly. "What's all this stuff on the table?" he asked, indicating the magnets, rolls, and clockwork.
Kennedy did not have time to reply, for the telephone bell was tinkling insistently.
"I've got Chicago on the wire," Craig informed us, placing his hand over the transmitter as he waited for long-distance to make the final connection. "I'll try to repeat as much of the conversation as I can so that you can follow it. Hello - yes - this is Kennedy. Is that you, Clark? It's all arranged at this end. How's your end of the line? Have you a good connection? Yes? My synchroniser is working fine here, too. All right. Suppose we try it. Go ahead."
As Kennedy gave a few final touches to the peculiar apparatus on the table, the cylindrical drum before us began slowly to revolve and the stylus or needle pressed down on the sensitised paper with which the drum was covered, apparently with varying intensity as it turned. Round and round the cylinder revolved like a graphophone.
"This," exclaimed Kennedy proudly, "is the 'electric eye,' the telelectrograph invented by Thorne Baker in England. Clark and I have been intending to try it out for a long time. It at last makes possible the electric transmission of photographs, using the telephone wires because they are much better for such a purpose than the telegraph wires.
Slowly the needle was tracing out a picture on the paper. It was only a thin band yet, but gradually it was widening, though we could not guess what it was about to reveal as the ceaseless revolutions widened the photographic print.
"I may say," explained Kennedy as we waited breathlessly, "that another system known as the Korn system of telegraphing pictures has also been in use in London, Paris, Berlin, and other cities at various times for some years. Korn's apparatus depends on the ability of the element selenium to vary the strength of an electric current passing through it in proportion to the brightness with which the selenium is illuminated. A new field has been opened by these inventions which are now becoming more and more numerous, since the Korn system did the pioneering.
"The various steps in sending a photograph by the Baker telelectrograph are not so difficult to understand, after all. First an ordinary photograph is taken and a negative made. Then a print is made and a wet plate negative is printed on a sheet of sensitised tinfoil which has been treated with a single-line screen. You know a halftone consists of a photograph through a screen composed of lines running perpendicular to each other - a coarse screen for newspaper work, and a fine screen for better work, such as in magazines. Well, in this case the screen is composed of lines running parallel in one direction only, not crossing at right angles. A halftone is composed of minute points, some light, some dark. This print is composed of long shaded lines, some parts light, others dark, giving the effect of a picture, you understand?"
"Yes, yes," I exclaimed, thoroughly excited.
"Well, he resumed as the print widened visibly, this tinfoil negative is wrapped around a cylinder at the other end of the line and a stylus with a very delicate, sensitive point begins passing over it, crossing the parallel lines at right angles, like the other lines of a regular halftone. Whenever the point of the stylus passes over one of the lighter spots on the photographic print it sends on a longer electrical vibration, over the darker spots a shorter vibration. The ever changing electrical current passes up through the stylus, vibrates with ever varying degrees of intensity over the thousand miles of telephone wire between Chicago and this instrument here at the other end of the line.
"In this receiving apparatus the current causes another stylus to pass over a sheet of sensitised chemical paper such as we have here. The receiving stylus passes over the paper here synchronously with the transmitting stylus in Chicago. The impression which each stroke of the receiving stylus makes on the paper is black or light, according to the length of the very quickly changing vibrations of the electric current. White spots on the photographic print come out as black spots here on the sensitised paper over which this stylus is passing, and vice versa. In that way you can see the positive print growing here before your very eyes as the picture is transmitted from the negative which Clark has prepared and is sending from Chicago."
As we bent over eagerly we could indeed now see what the thing was doing. It was reproducing faithfully in New York what could be seen by the mortal eye only in Chicago.
"What is it?" asked Williams, still half incredulous in spite of the testimony of his eyes.
"It is a photograph which I think may aid us in deciding whether it is Dawson or Brown who is responsible for the forgeries," answered Kennedy, "and it may help us to penetrate the man's disguise yet, before he escapes to South America or wherever he plans to go."
"You'll have to hurry," interposed Carroll, nervously looking at his watch. "She sails in an hour and a half and it is a long ride over to the pier even with a fast car."
"The print is almost ready," repeated Kennedy calmly. "By the way, it is a photograph which was taken at Atlantic City a few days ago for a booklet which the Lorraine was getting out. The By-Products forger happened to get in it and he bribed the photographer to give him the plate and take another picture for the booklet which would leave him out. The plate was sent to a little office in Chicago, discovered by the post-office inspectors, where the forged stock certificates were sold. I understood from what Clark told me over the telephone before he started to transmit the picture that the woman in it looked very much like Adel DeMott. Let us see."
The machine had ceased to revolve. Craig stripped a still wet photograph off the telelectrograph instrument and stood regarding it with intense satisfaction. Outside, the car which had been engaged to hurry us over to Brooklyn waited. "Morphine fiends," said Kennedy as he fanned the print to dry it, " are the most unreliable sort of people. They cover their tracks with almost diabolical cunning. In fact they seem to enjoy it. For instance, the crimes committed by morphinists are usually against property and character and based upon selfishness, not brutal crimes such as alcohol and other drugs induce. Kleptomania, forgery, swindling, are among the most common.
"Then, too, one of the most marked phases of morphinism is the pleasure its victims take in concealing their motives and conduct. They have a mania for leading a double life, and enjoy the deception and mask which they draw about themselves. Persons under the influence of the drug have less power to resist physical and mental impressions and they easily succumb to temptations and suggestions from others. Morphine stands unequalled as a perverter of the moral sense. It creates a person whom the father of lies must recognise as kindred to himself. I know of a case where a judge charged a jury that the prisoner, a morphine addict, was mentally irresponsible for that reason. The judge knew what he was talking about. It subsequently developed that he had been a secret morphine fiend himself for years."
Come, come," broke in Carroll impatiently, we're wasting time. The ship sails in an hour and unless you want to go down the bay on a tug you've got to catch Dawson now or never. The morphine business explains, but it does not excuse. Come on, the car is waiting. How long do you think it will take us to get over to - "
"Police headquarters?" interrupted Craig. "About fifteen minutes. This photograph shows, as I had hoped, the real forger. John Carroll, this is a peculiar case. You have forged the name of the president of your company, but you have also traced your own name very cleverly to look like a forgery. It is what is technically known as auto-forgery, forging one's own handwriting. At your convenience we'll ride down to Centre Street directly."
Carroll was sputtering and almost frothing at the mouth with rage which he made no effort to suppress. Williams was hesitating, nonplussed, until Kennedy reached over unexpectedly and grasped Carroll by the arm. As he shoved up Carroll's sleeve he disclosed the forearm literally covered with little punctures made by the hypodermic needle.
"It may interest you," remarked Kennedy, still holding Carroll in his vise-like grip, while the drug fiend's shattered nerves caused him to cower and tremble, "to know that a special detective working for me has located Mr. and Mrs. Dawson at Bar Harbor, where they are enjoying a quiet honeymoon. Brown is safely in the custody of his counsel, ready to appear and clear himself as soon as the public opinion which has been falsely inflamed against him subsides. Your plan to give us the slip at the last moment at the wharf and board the steamer for South America has miscarried. It is now too late to catch it, but I shall send a wireless that will cause the arrest of Miss DeMott the moment the ship touches an American port at Colon, even if she succeeds in eluding the British authorities at Kingston. The fact is, I don't much care about her, anyway. Thanks to the telelectrograph here we have the real criminal."
Kennedy slapped down the now dry print that had come in over his "seeing over a wire machine." Barring the false Van Dyke beard, it was the face of John Carroll, forger and morphine fiend. Next to him in the picture in the brilliant and fashionable dining-room of the Lorraine was sitting Adele DeMott who had used her victim, Bolton Brown, to shield her employer, Carroll.