19. The First Clew
 

The janitor of the building was Mike Donovan, an aged Irishman, who was assisted in his work by his wife and his daughter Kittie, aged about fifteen.

"'Tis me yez want to see?" queried Donovan, as he shuffled into the inner office, hat in hand.

"You are the janitor of this building?" questioned Dick, looking him over carefully.

"I am that, sur."

"Can you tell me who is in the habit of cleaning this particular office?"

"Well, sur, we are all after takin' a hand at it. I ginerally do the swapin', and me wife or Kittie, me daughter, do the winder clanin' an' the dustin'."

"During the past four or five days, have you noticed anything unusual around this office?" went on Dick.

"Phat are ye after mainin'?"

"I'll tell you. There has been a robbery here, and we want to get at the bottom of it."

"I haven't touched a thing, sur, an' nather have me family!" cried the janitor, quickly.

"You look like an honest man, and I can't say that I suspect you," continued Dick, for he saw that the old janitor was evidently much hurt. "I want you to help me all you can, that is all."

"Sure, sur, an' I'll be after doin' that, Mr. Rover. Phat did they be after takin'?"

"This safe, here, has been looted, and a small box that contained sixty-four thousand dollars' worth of bonds is gone."

At this announcement the old janitor threw up both hands and faltered back a step or two.

"Sixty-four thousand, dollars, did you be after sayin'?" he gasped, thinking be had not heard aright.

"That is what I said. Now then, just put on your, thinking cap, and see if you can remember anything unusual that happened around here two or three days ago."

"Two or three days ago. Let me see," mused the janitor, scratching his head. "I don't remember anything-- Oh, yes, I do!" he burst out.

"What was that?" queried all three of the Rovers, while the office boy looked on with mouth wide open.

"'Twas one avenin' about siven or eight

o'clock. Me an' me family were up stairs, clanin' out an office that has just been rinted. Kittie, me gurrel, wint down stairs for some extra dustin' rags. Whin she came back, she said she saw a man a-walkin' through the hallway outside. She said that as soon as he saw her, he didn't wait for the illevator, but went down the stairs in a big hurry."

"Did she know the man?"

"She did not. At least, she said she didn't recognize him, for, you see, there was only one little light burnin' in the hallway, because nearly all the tinnents had gone home. The illevator wouldn't have been runnin', only we was goin' to take up the stuff to the office we was cleanin' on the fifth floor."

"Your daughter saw that man in the hallway?" questioned Tom. "Did he seem to come from these offices?"

"No, I axed her particular, and she said he seemed to be comin' from the back av the hall."

"What is back there?" asked Sam.

"A winder wid a fire escape outside," answered the janitor. "Likewise, I've a sink closet there, where I keep me brooms and me brushes and such."

"And you have no idea who the man was?" questioned Dick.

"No, sur. I axed Kitty how he looked, but she said she hadn't seen his face-- that he turned away from her and went down the stairs as fast as he could."

"More than likely that was the thief!" exclaimed Tom. "The question is: Who is he and where did he go?"

"Did your daughter say how the man was dressed?" asked Sam.

"Sure! She said he had on a dark suit of clothes and a dark, soft hat. That's all she knew."

"Was he a big man?"

"Oh, she said he was about middlin' big."

This was all the old janitor could tell, and a little later he brought in both his wife and his daughter to be interviewed. The girl was almost scared to death, and could add nothing to what her father had already told.

"Well, it's a clew, even if it is a slight one," was Tom's comment. "Dick, I guess the best thing you can do is to call up police headquarters."

"I'll do it. But please remember one thing," went on the oldest Rover boy, turning to the janitor and his family and also the office boy. "We want to keep this as quiet as possible for the present, so please don't say anything about it." And all of them promised to keep silent.

It did not take long for Dick to get into communication with the authorities, and after a short talk over the telephone, he was told that a couple of detectives would be sent down to his once without delay.

"Have you told Mr. Powell?" questioned Tom, suddenly.

"No, but I will call him up now," answered his older brother.

Of course the lawyer was astonished at the news, and asked what steps had been taken to apprehend the thief. When told that the authorities had been asked to take charge of the case, he wanted to know if he could be of any assistance.

"I don't see how you can help us, Mr. Powell," answered Dick, over the wire. "I suppose we will have to put the whole matter in the hands of the police."

"Well, if I can do anything at all, let me know," answered Songbird's uncle. "I am rather busy now, but as soon as I am at leisure, I will call and talk the matter over with you."

Inside of half an hour the two detectives from headquarters arrived. They were bright, sharp-eyed individuals, and they got down to business without delay. They asked Dick innumerable questions, and looked carefully at the safe, trying the combination several times, and then inspected the offices and the hallway. After that they subjected Kittie Donovan to a close examination, getting the girl to tell everything she could possibly think of regarding the strange man she had seen on the evening when the robbery had occurred.

"I think I know who did this job," said one of the detectives to the other.

"Looks like the work of one of three men to me," returned the other sleuth. "Baldy Jackson, Slim Martin, or Hank the Bluffer."

"You may be right, Joe, but I think it was Hank. If I've got the dope right, those other two fellows you mention are not near New York just now."

"Well, if Baldy and Slim can prove that they weren't around New York at the time, then I'll agree with you that it was Hank who lifted that box," returned the other detective.

"Who is this Hank the Bluffer?" questioned Dick, curiously.

"Oh, he's an old one at this sort of game," returned one of the detectives. "He is a wonder at opening safes. Somebody told me once that he made the assertion he could open any ordinary office safe inside of fifteen minutes. He's got it all in his finger ends. They are so sensitive that when he turns the safe knob, he can feel every movement of the tumblers inside."

"And he is at liberty now?" asked Sam.

"He was the last I heard of him. He got out of a Massachusetts prison about three months ago. Somebody told me he was in New York. I haven't seen him, but if he is here I think we can round him up sooner or later."

"Well, what we want are those bonds," declared Dick.

"Oh, sure! That's what we'll go after," declared the detective. "Even if we locate our man, we won't arrest him until we can get him with the goods."

Following this conversation, the detectives made a memorandum of all the bonds that had been taken, along with the numbers thereon.

"If the thief is an old one at the game, it's not likely that he'll try to use those registered bonds," said one of the detectives, "but he'll find plenty of places where he can use the others, if he knows the game."

"I'm inclined to agree with you on one point," said Dick. "And that is that no ordinary person could have worked the combination of that safe. It must have been some professional."

"You are right, Mr. Rover-- unless somebody got the figures of the combination on the sly," answered the sleuth; and a few minutes later he and his fellow- officer left, promising to make a report as soon as anything worth while was brought to light.

Having gotten rid of the detectives and also of the janitor and his family, the Rover boys shut themselves in the inner office to discuss the situation. They had requested the authorities to keep the whole matter quiet for the present, and this the detectives had agreed to do.

"Now, first of all, Dick, tell us: Will this loss affect any of our other investments?" asked Tom.

"Not for the present, Tom, but how we shall stand later on if the securities are not recovered, I am not prepared to say." Dick's face clouded. "You see, it is this way: We have our investments in the West as well as those we went into in Boston some time ago. We-- that is, dad-- was going to take a loan on that mining proposition. That would involve our putting up some of those bonds-- say forty or fifty thousand dollars' worth-- as collateral security with the banks. Now, if we don't get the bonds back, dad will either have to cancel that loan or, otherwise, put up something else as security-- and what else we can put up just now, I don't know. It's a bad state of affairs."

"Oh, we've just got to get those bonds back!" cried Sam, impulsively. "We've just got to!"

"Easy enough to say, Sam, but wishing them back isn't going to bring them back," came from Tom, grimly.

"If we only had a little more of a clew to work on, we, ourselves, might try to get those bonds back instead of relying on the detectives," said Dick. "But when you haven't any clews, how are you going to strike out?"

"We might try to find that strange man, whoever he is," suggested Tom. "Although looking for him would be a good deal like looking for the proverbial pin in the haystack. I would rather dig up the whole of the Atlantic seacoast looking for Captain Kidd's treasure;" and he smiled grimly.