Chapter XVII. The Paste Replica
 

Carefully Craig was going over the office. Outside of the safe, there had apparently been nothing of value. The rest of the office was not even wired, and it seemed to have been Schloss' idea that the few thousands of burglary insurance amply protected him against such loss. As for the safe, its own strength and the careful wiring might well have been considered quite sufficient under any hitherto to-be-foreseen circumstances.

A glass door, around the bend of a partition, opened from the hallway into the office and had apparently been designed with the object of making visible the safe so that anyone passing might see whether an intruder was tampering with it.

Kennedy had examined the door, perhaps in the expectation of finding finger prints there, and was passing on to other things, when a change in his position caused his eye to catch a large oval smudge on the glass, which was visible when the light struck it at the right angle. Quickly he dusted it over with the powder, and brought out the detail more clearly. As I examined it, while Craig made preparations to cut out the glass to preserve it, it seemed to contain a number of minute points and several more or less broken parallel lines. The edges gradually trailed off into an indistinct faintness.

Business, naturally, was at a standstill, and as we were working near the door, we could see that the news of Schloss' strange robbery had leaked out and was spreading rapidly. Scores of acquaintances in the trade stopped at the door to inquire about the rumor.

To each, it seemed that Morris Muller, the working jeweler employed by Schloss, repeated the same story.

"Oh," he said, "it is a big loss--yes--but big as it is, it will not break Mr. Schloss. And," he would add with the tradesman's idea of humor, "I guess he has enough to play a game of poker-- eh?"

"Poker?" asked Kennedy smiling. "Is he much of a player?"

"Yes. Nearly every night with his friends he plays."

Kennedy made a mental note of it. Evidently Schloss trusted Muller implicitly. He seemed like a partner, rather than an employee, even though he had not been entrusted with the secret combination.

Outside, we ran into city detective Lieutenant Winters, the officer who was stationed at the Maiden Lane post, guarding that famous section of the Dead Line established by the immortal Byrnes at Fulton Street, below which no crook was supposed to dare even to be seen. Winters had been detailed on the case.

"You have seen the safe in there?" asked Kennedy, as he was leaving to carry on his investigation elsewhere.

Winters seemed to be quite as skeptical as Schloss had intimated the public would be. "Yes," he replied, "there's been an epidemic of robbery with the dull times--people who want to collect their burglary insurance, I guess."

"But," objected Kennedy, "Schloss carried so little."

"Well, there was the Hale Protection. How about that?"

Craig looked up quickly, unruffled by the patronizing air of the professional toward the amateur detective.

"What is your theory?" he asked. "Do you think he robbed himself?"

Winters shrugged his shoulders. "I've been interested in Schloss for some time," he said enigmatically. "He has had some pretty swell customers. I'll keep you wised up, if anything happens," he added in a burst of graciousness, walking off.

On the way to the subway, we paused again to see McLear.

"Well," he asked, "what do you think of it, now?"

"All most extraordinary," ruminated Craig. "And the queerest feature of all is that the chief loss consists of a diamond necklace that belonged once to Mrs. Antoinette Moulton."

"Mrs. Lynn Moulton?" repeated McLear.

"The same," assured Kennedy.

McLear appeared somewhat puzzled. "Her husband is one of our old subscribers," he pursued. "He is a lawyer on Wall Street and quite a gem collector. Last night his safe was tampered with, but this morning he reports no loss. Not half an hour ago he had us on the wire congratulating us on scaring off the burglars, if there had been any."

"What is your opinion," I asked. "Is there a gang operating?"

"My belief is," he answered, reminiscently of his days on the detective force, "that none of the loot will be recovered until they start to 'fence' it. That would be my lay--to look for the fence. Why, think of all the big robberies that have been pulled off lately. Remember," he went on, "the spoils of a burglary consist generally of precious stones. They are not currency. They must be turned into currency--or what's the use of robbery?

"But merely to offer them for sale at an ordinary jeweler's would be suspicious. Even pawnbrokers are on the watch. You see what I am driving at? I think there is a man or a group of men whose business it is to pay cash for stolen property and who have ways of returning gems into the regular trade channels. In all these robberies we get a glimpse of as dark and mysterious a criminal as has ever been recorded. He may be--anybody. About his legitimacy, I believe, no question has ever been raised. And, I tell you, his arrest is going to create a greater sensation than even the remarkable series of robberies that he has planned or made possible. The question is, to my mind, who is this fence?"

McLear's telephone rang and he handed the instrument to Craig.

"Yes, this is Professor Kennedy," answered Craig. "Oh, too bad you've had to try all over to get me. I've been going from one place to another gathering clues and have made good progress, considering I've hardly started. Why--what's the matter? Really?"

An interval followed, during which McLear left to answer a personal call on another wire.

As Kennedy hung up the receiver, his face wore a peculiar look. "It was Mrs. Moulton," he blurted out. "She thinks that her husband has found out that the necklace is paste."

"How?" I asked.

"The paste replica is gone from her wall safe in the Deluxe."

I turned, startled at the information. Even Kennedy himself was perplexed at the sudden succession of events. I had nothing to say.

Evidently, however, his rule was when in doubt play a trump, for, twenty minutes later found us in the office of Lynn Moulton, the famous corporation lawyer, in Wall Street.

Moulton was a handsome man of past fifty with a youthful face against his iron gray hair and mustache, well dressed, genial, a man who seemed keenly in love with the good things of life.

"It is rumored," began Kennedy, "that an attempt was made on your safe here at the office last night."

"Yes," he admitted, taking off his glasses and polishing them carefully. "I suppose there is no need of concealment, especially as I hear that a somewhat similar attempt was made on the safe of my friend Herman Schloss in Maiden Lane."

"You lost nothing?"

Moulton put his glasses on and looked Kennedy in the face frankly.

"Nothing, fortunately," he said, then went on slowly. "You see, in my later years, I have been something of a collector of precious stones myself. I don't wear them, but I have always taken the keenest pleasure in owning them and when I was married it gave me a great deal more pleasure to have them set in rings, pendants, tiaras, necklaces, and other forms for my wife."

He had risen, with the air of a busy man who had given the subject all the consideration he could afford and whose work proceeded almost by schedule. "This morning I found my safe tampered with, but, as I said, fortunately something must have scared off the burglars."

He bowed us out politely. What was the explanation, I wondered. It seemed, on the face of things, that Antoinette Moulton feared her husband. Did he know something else already, and did she know he knew? To all appearances he took it very calmly, if he did know. Perhaps that was what she feared, his very calmness.

"I must see Mrs. Moulton again," remarked Kennedy, as we left.

The Moultons lived, we found, in one of the largest suites of a new apartment hotel, the Deluxe, and in spite of the fact that our arrival had been announced some minutes before we saw Mrs. Moulton, it was evident that she had been crying hysterically over the loss of the paste jewels and what it implied.

"I missed it this morning, after my return from seeing you," she replied in answer to Craig's inquiry, then added, wide-eyed with alarm, "What shall I do? He must have opened the wall safe and found the replica. I don't dare ask him point-blank."

"Are you sure he did it?" asked Kennedy, more, I felt, for its moral effect on her than through any doubt in his own mind.

"Not sure. But then the wall safe shows no marks, and the replica is gone."

"Might I see your jewel case?" he asked.

"Surely. I'll get it. The wall safe is in Lynn's room. I shall probably have to fuss a long time with the combination."

In fact she could not have been very familiar with it for it took several minutes before she returned. Meanwhile, Kennedy, who had been drumming absently on the arms of his chair, suddenly rose and walked quietly over to a scrap basket that stood beside an escritoire. It had evidently just been emptied, for the rooms must have been cleaned several hours before. He bent down over it and picked up two scraps of paper adhering to the wicker work. The rest had evidently been thrown away.

I bent over to read them. One was:

           --rest Nettie--
           --dying to see--

The other read:

           --cherche to-d
           --love and ma
           --rman.

What did it mean? Hastily, I could fill in "Dearest Nettie," and "I am dying to see you." Kennedy added, "The Recherche to-day," that being the name of a new apartment uptown, as well as "love and many kisses." But "--rman"--what did that mean? Could it be Herman--Herman Schloss?

She was returning and we resumed our seats quickly.

Kennedy took the jewel case from her and examined it carefully. There was not a mark on it.

"Mrs. Moulton," he said slowly, rising and handing it back to her, "have you told me all?"

"Why--yes," she answered.

Kennedy shook his head gravely.

"I'm afraid not. You must tell me everything."

"No--no," she cried vehemently, "there is nothing more."

We left and outside the Deluxe he paused, looked about, caught sight of a taxicab and hailed it.

"Where?" asked the driver.

"Across the street," he said, "and wait. Put the window in back of you down so I can talk. I'll tell you where to go presently. Now, Walter, sit back as far as you can. This may seem like an underhand thing to do, but we've got to get what that woman won't tell us or give up the case."

Perhaps half an hour we waited, still puzzling over the scraps of paper. Suddenly I felt a nudge from Kennedy. Antoinette Moulton was standing in the doorway across the street. Evidently she preferred not to ride in her own car, for a moment later she entered a taxicab.

"Follow that black cab," said Kennedy to our driver.

Sure enough, it stopped in front of the Recherche Apartments and Mrs. Moulton stepped out and almost ran in.

We waited a moment, then Kennedy followed. The elevator that had taken her up had just returned to the ground floor.

"The same floor again," remarked Kennedy, jauntily stepping in and nodding familiarly to the elevator boy.

Then he paused suddenly, looked at his watch, fixed his gaze thoughtfully on me an instant, and exclaimed. "By George--no. I can't go up yet. I clean forgot that engagement at the hotel. One moment, son. Let us out. We'll be back again."

Considerably mystified, I followed him to the sidewalk.

"You're entitled to an explanation," he laughed catching my bewildered look as he opened the cab door. "I didn't want to go up now while she is there, but I wanted to get on good terms with that boy. We'll wait until she comes down, then go up."

"Where?" I asked.

"That's what I am going through all this elaborate preparation to find out. I have no more idea than you have."

It could not have been more than twenty minutes later when Mrs. Moulton emerged rather hurriedly, and drove away.

While we had been waiting I had observed a man on the other side of the street who seemed unduly interested in the Recherche, too, for he had walked up and down the block no less than six times. Kennedy saw him, and as he made no effort to follow Mrs. Moulton, Kennedy did not do so either. In fact a little quick glance which she had given at our cab had raised a fear that she might have discovered that she was being followed.

Kennedy and I paid off our cabman and sauntered into the Recherche in the most debonair manner we could assume.

"Now, son, we'll go up," he said to the boy who, remembering us, and now not at all clear in his mind that he might not have seen us before that, whisked us to the tenth floor.

"Let me see," said Kennedy, "it's number one hundred and--er---"

"Three," prompted the boy.

He pressed the buzzer and a neatly dressed colored maid responded.

"I had an appointment here with Mrs. Moulton this morning," remarked Kennedy.

"She has just gone," replied the maid, off her guard.

"And was to meet Mr. Schloss here in half an hour," he added quickly.

It was the maid's turn to look surprised.

"I didn't think he was to be here," she said. "He's had some--"

"Trouble at the office," supplied Kennedy. "That's what it was about. Perhaps he hasn't been able to get away yet. But I had the appointment. Ah, I see a telephone in the hall. May I?"

He had stepped politely in, and by dint of cleverly keeping his finger on the hook in the half light, he carried on a one-sided conversation with himself long enough to get a good chance to look about.

There was an air of quiet and refinement about the apartment in the Recherche. It was darkened to give the little glowing electric bulbs in their silken shades a full chance to simulate right. The deep velvety carpets were noiseless to the foot, and the draperies, the pictures, the bronzes, all bespoke taste.

But the chief objects of interest to Craig were the little square green baize-covered tables on one of which lay neatly stacked a pile of gilt-edged cards and a mahogany box full of ivory chips of red, white and blue.

It was none of the old-time gambling places, like Danfield's, with its steel door which Craig had once cut through with an oxyacetylene blowpipe in order to rescue a young spendthrift from himself.

Kennedy seemed perfectly well satisfied merely with a cursory view of the place, as he hung up the receiver and thanked the maid politely for allowing him to use it.

"This is up-to-date gambling in cleaned-up New York," he remarked as we waited for the elevator to return for us. "And the worst of it all is that it gets the women as well as the men. Once they are caught in the net, they are the most powerful lure to men that the gamblers have yet devised."

We rode down in silence, and as we went down the steps to the street, I noticed the man whom we had seen watching the place, lurking down at the lower corner. Kennedy quickened his pace and came up behind him.

"Why, Winters!" exclaimed Craig. "You here?"

"I might say the same to you," grinned the detective not displeased evidently that our trail had crossed his. "I suppose you are looking for Schloss, too. He's up in the Recherche a great deal, playing poker. I understand he owns an interest in the game up there."

Kennedy nodded, but said nothing.

"I just saw one of the cappers for the place go out before you went in."

"Capper?" repeated Kennedy surprised. "Antoinette Moulton a steerer for a gambling joint? What can a rich society woman have to do with a place like that or a man like Schloss?"

Winters smiled sardonically. "Society ladies to-day often get into scrapes of which their husbands know nothing," he remarked. "You didn't know before that Antoinette Moulton, like many of her friends in the smart set, was a gambler--and loser--did you?"

Craig shook his head. He had more of human than scientific interest in a case of a woman of her caliber gone wrong.

"But you must have read of the famous Moulton diamonds?"

"Yes," said Craig, blankly, as if it were all news to him.

"Schloss has them--or at least had them. The jewels she wore at the opera this winter were paste, I understand."

"Does Moulton play?" he asked.

"I think so--but not here, naturally. In a way, I suppose, it is his fault. They all do it. The example of one drives on another."

Instantly there flashed over my mind a host of possibilities. Perhaps, after all, Winters had been right. Schloss had taken this way to make sure of the jewels so that she could not redeem them. Suddenly another explanation crowded that out. Had Mrs. Moulton robbed the safe herself, or hired some one else to do it for her, and had that person gone back on her?

Then a horrid possibility occurred to me. Whatever Antoinette Moulton may have been and done, some one must have her in his power. What a situation for the woman! My sympathy went out to her in her supreme struggle. Even if it had been a real robbery, Schloss might easily recover from it. But for her every event spelled ruin and seemed only to be bringing that ruin closer.

We left Winters, still watching on the trail of Schloss, and went on uptown to the laboratory.