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- The War Terror - 30/65 -


have never written it down or told anyone, not even Muller. You understand what I am up against?"

"There's the touch system," I suggested. "You remember, Craig, the old fellow who used to file his finger tips to the quick until they were so sensitive that he could actually feel when he had turned the combination to the right plunger? Might not that explain the lack of finger prints also?" I added eagerly.

"Nothing like that in this case, Walter," objected Craig positively. "This fellow wore gloves, all right. No, this safe has been opened and looted by no ordinarily known method. It's the most amazing case I ever saw in that respect--almost as if we had a cracksman in the fourth dimension to whom the inside of a closed cube is as accessible as is the inside of a plane square to us three dimensional creatures. It is almost incomprehensible."

I fancied I saw Schloss' face brighten as Kennedy took this view. So far, evidently, he had run across only skepticism.

"The stones were unset?" resumed Craig.

"Mostly. Not all."

"You would recognize some of them if you saw them?"

"Yes indeed. Some could be changed only by re-cutting. Even some of those that were set were of odd cut and size--some from a diamond necklace which belonged to a--"

There was something peculiar in both his tone and manner as he cut short the words.

"To whom?" asked Kennedy casually.

"Oh, once to a well-known woman in society," he said carefully. "It is mine, though, now--at least it was mine. I should prefer to mention no names. I will give a description of the stones."

"Mrs. Lynn Moulton, for instance?" suggested Craig quietly.

Schloss jumped almost as if a burglar alarm had sounded under his very ears. "How did you know? Yes--but it was a secret. I made a large loan on it, and the time has expired."

"Why did she need money so badly?" asked Kennedy.

"How should I know?" demanded Schloss.

Here was a deepening mystery, not to be elucidated by continuing this line of inquiry with Schloss, it seemed.

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.


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