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7: The Bank Smasher

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Author Topic: 7: The Bank Smasher  (Read 37 times)
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« on: April 11, 2023, 05:43:09 am »

THREE men sat in the inner room of a City office. The outer door was locked, the door communicating between the outer office and the sanctum was wide open.

The men sat at a table, discussing a frugal lunch which had been brought in from a restaurant near by, and talking together in low tones.

George Wallis, who spoke with such authority as to suggest that he held a leading position above and before the others, was a man of forty, inclined a little to stoutness, of middle height, and with no distinguishing features save the short bristling moustache and the jet-black eyebrows which gave his face a somewhat sinister appearance. His eyes were tired and lazy, his square jaw bespoke immense determination, and the hands which played idly with a pen were small but strong; they were the hands of an artist; and indeed George Wallis, under one name or another, was known as an artist in his particular profession in every police bureau on the Continent.

Callidino, the little Italian at his side, was neat and dapper. His hair was rather long, he suggested rather the musical enthusiast than the cool-headed man of business. And yet this dapper Italian was known as the most practical of the remarkable trio which for many years had been the terror of every bank president in France.

The third was Persh, a stout man with a pleasant, florid face, and a trim cavalry moustache, who, despite his bulk, was a man of extraordinary agility, and his escape from Devil’s Island and his subsequent voyage to Australia in an open boat will be fresh in the minds of the average newspaper readers.

They made no disguise as to their identities, they did not evade the frank questioning which was their lot when the City Police smelt them out and came in to investigate the affairs of this “outside brokers.” establishment. The members of the City force were a little disappointed to discover that quite a legitimate business was being done. You cannot quarrel even with convicted bank robbers if they choose to get their living by any way which, however much discredited, is within the law; and beyond warning those of their clients with whom they could get in touch that the heads of this remarkable business were notorious criminals, the police must needs sit by and watch, satisfied that sooner or later the men would make a slip that would bring them within the scope of police action.

“And they will have to wait a jolly long time,” said Wallis.

He looked round his “Board” with an amused smile.

“Have they been in to-day?” asked Callidino.

“They have been in to-day,” said Wallis gravely. “They have searched our books and our desks and our clothes, and even the legs of our office stools.”

“An indelicate proceeding,” said Persh cheerfully.

“And what did they find, George?”

George smiled.

“They found all there was to be found,” he said.

“I suppose it was the burglary at the Bond Guarantees that I have been reading about that’s excited them,” said the Italian coolly.

“I suppose so,” said Wallis, with grave indifference. “It is pretty terrible to have names such as we possess. Seriously,” he went on, “I am not very much afraid of the police, even suppose there was anything to find. I haven’t met one of them who has the intelligence of that cool devil we met at the Foreign Office, when I had to answer some questions about Persh’s unique experiences on Devil’s Island.”

“What was his name?” asked Persh, interested.

“Something associated in my mind with South Africa---oh, yes, Standerton. A cool beast---I met him at Epsom the other day,” said Wallis. “He’s lost in a place like the Foreign Office. Do you remember that quick run through he gave me, Persh?”

The other nodded.

“Before I knew where I was I admitted that I’d been in Huntingdonshire the same week as Lady Perkinton’s jewels were taken. If he’d had another five minutes I guess he’d have known”---he lowered his voice to little more than a whisper---“all this hidden treasure which the English police are seeking was cached.”

The men laughed as at some great joke.

“Talking of cool people,” said Wallis, “do you recall that weird devil who held us up in Hatton Garden?”

“Have you found him?” asked Callidino.

George shook his head.

“No,” he said slowly, “only I’m rather afraid of him.”

Which was a remarkable confession for him to make. He changed the subject abruptly.

“I suppose you people know,” said Wallis, “that the police are particularly active just now? I’ve reason to be aware of the fact, because they have just concluded a most exhaustive search of my private belongings.”

He did not exaggerate. The police were, indeed, most eager for some clue to associate these three known criminals with the acts of the past month.

Half an hour later Wallis left the building. He paused in the entrance hall of the big block of offices, lighted a cigar with an air that betokened his peace with the world and his approval of humanity.

As his foot touched the pavement a tall man stepped to his side. Wallis looked up quickly and gave a little nod.

“I want you,” said the tall man coldly.

“Do you indeed?” said Wallis with exaggerated interest. “And what may you want with me?”

“You come along with me, and not so much of your lip,” said the man.

He called a cab, and the two men were rapidly driven to the nearest City police station. Wallis continued smoking his cigar, without any outward indication of apprehension. He would have chatted very gaily with the officer who had effected his arrest, but the officer himself was in no mood for light humour.

He was hustled into the charge room and brought before the inspector’s desk.

That officer looked up with a nod. He was more genial than his captor.

“Well, Wallis,” he said with a smile, “we want some information from you.”

“You always want information from somebody,” said the man with cold insolence. “Have you had another burglary?”

The inspector nodded.

“Tut, tut!” said the prisoner with an affectation of distress, “how very annoying for you Mr. Whitling. I suppose you have got the culprit?” he asked blandly.

“I’ve got you at present,” said the calm inspector. “I should not be surprised if I had also got the culprit. Can you explain where you were last night?”

“With the greatest of pleasure,” said Wallis; “I was dining with a friend.”

“His name?”

The other shrugged his shoulders. “His name is immaterial. I was dining with a friend whose name does not matter. Put that down, inspector.”

“And where were you dining with this unknown friend?” asked the imperturbable official.

Wallis named a restaurant in Wardour Street.

“At what hour were you dining?” asked the inspector patiently.

“Between the hours of eight and eleven,” said the man, “as the proprietor of the restaurant will testify.”

The inspector smiled to himself. He knew the restaurant and knew the proprietor. His testimony would not carry a great deal of weight with a jury.

“Have you anybody respectable,” he asked, “who will vouch for the fact that you were there, other than your unknown friend and Signor Villimicci?”

Wallis nodded.

“I might name, with due respect,” he said, “Sergeant Colebrook, of the Central Investigation Department of Scotland Yard.”

He was annoyingly bland. The inspector looked up sharply.

“Is he going to vouch for you?” he asked.

“He was watching me the whole of the time, disguised, I think, as a gentleman. At least, he was in evening dress, and he was quite different from the waiters. You see, he was sitting down.”

“I see,” said the inspector. He put down his pen.

“It was rather amusing to be watched by a real detective-sergeant, from that most awe-inspiring wilderness of bricks,” the man continued. “I quite liked it, though I am afraid the poor fellow was bored sooner than I was.”

“I understand,” said the inspector, “that you were being watched from eight o’clock last night till----?”

He paused inquiringly.

“Till near midnight, I should imagine. Until our dress-suited detective, looking tragically like a detective all the time, had escorted me to the front door of my flat.”

“I can verify that in a minute,” said the inspector. “Go into the parade room.”

Wallis strolled unconcernedly into the inner room whilst the inspector manipulated the telephone.

In five minutes the prisoner was sent for.

“You’re all right,” said the inspector. “Clean bill for you, Wallis.”

“I am glad to hear it,” said Wallis. “Very relieved indeed!” He sighed heavily. “Now that I am embarked upon what I might term a legalised form of thefts from the public, it is especially pleasing to me to know that my actions are approved by the police.”

“We don’t approve of everything you do,” said the inspector.

He was an annoying man. Wallis thought; he would neither lose his temper nor be rude.

“You can go now---sorry to have bothered you.”

“Don’t mention it,” said the polite man with a little bow.

“By the way, before you go,” said the inspector, “just come into my inner office, will you?”

Wallis followed him. The inspector closed the door behind them. They were alone.

“Wallis, do you know there is a reward of some twelve thousand pounds for the detection of the men engaged in these burglaries?”

“You surprise me,” said Mr. Wallis, lifting his eyebrows.

“I don’t surprise you,” said the inspector; “in fact, you know much more about it than I do. And I tell you this, that we are prepared to go to any lengths to track this gang, or, at any rate, to put an end to its operations. Look here, George,” he tapped the other on the chest with his strong, gnarled finger, “is it a scream?”

“A scream?” Mr. Wallis was puzzled innocence itself.

“Will you turn King’s evidence?” said the other shortly.

“I should be most happy,” said Wallis, with a helpless shrug, “but how can I turn King’s evidence about a matter on which I am absolutely uninformed? The reward is monstrously tempting. If I had companions in crime I should need very little persuading. My conscience is a matter of constant adjustment. It is rather like the foot-rule which shoemakers employ to measure their customers’ feet---terrifically adjustable. It has a sliding scale which goes up and down.”

“I don’t want to hear any more about your conscience,” said the officer wearily. “Do you scream or don’t you?”

“I don’t scream,” said Mr. Wallis emphatically.

The inspector jerked his head sideways, and with the bow which the invitation had interrupted, Mr. Wallis walked out into the street.

He knew, no one better, how completely every action of his was watched. He knew, even as he left the station, that the seemingly idle loafer on the corner of the street had picked him up, would follow him until he handed him over to yet another plain clothes officer for observation. From beat to beat, from one end of the City to another, those vigilant eyes would never leave him; whilst he slept, the door, back and front of his lodging would be watched. He could not move without all London---all the London that mattered as far as he was concerned---knowing everything about that move.

His home was the upper part of a house over a tobacconist’s in a small street off Charing Cross Road. And to his maisonette he made a leisurely way, not hastening his steps any the more because he knew that on one side of the street an innocent commercial traveller, and on the other a sandwich man apparently trudging homeward with his board, were keeping him under observation. He stopped to buy some cigars in the Charing Cross Road, crossed near the Alhambra, and ten minutes later was unlocking the door of the narrow passage which ran by the side of the shop, and gave him private access to the suite above.

It was a room comfortably furnished and giving evidence of some taste. Large divan chairs formed a feature of the furnishing, and the prints, though few were interesting by reason of their obvious rarity.

He did not trouble to make an examination of the room, or of the remainder of the maisonette he rented. If the police had been, they had been. If they had not, it did not matter. They could find nothing. He had a good conscience, so far as a man’s conscience may be good who fears less for the consequence of his deeds than for the apparent, the obvious and the discoverable consequences.

He rang a bell, and after a little delay an old woman answered the call.

“Make me some tea, Mrs. Skard,” he said. “Has anybody called?”

The old woman looked up to the ceiling for inspiration.

“Only the man about the gas,” she said.

“Only the man about the gas,” repeated George Wallis admiringly. “Wasn’t he awfully surprised to find that we didn’t have gas at all?”

The old lady looked at him in some amazement.

“He did say he had come to see about the gas,” she said, “and then when he found we had no gas he said ‘electricity’—a most absent-minded young man.”

“They are that way, Mrs. Skard,” said her master tolerantly; “they fall in love, don’t you know, round about this season of the year, and when their minds become occupied with other and more pleasant thoughts than gas mantles and incandescent lights they become a little confused. I suppose he did not bother you---he told you you need not wait?” he suggested.

“Quite right, sir,” said Mrs. Skard. “He said he would do all he had to do without assistance.”

“And I will bet you he did it,” said George Wallis with boisterous good humour.

Undisturbed by the knowledge that his rooms had been searched by an industrious detective, he sat for an hour reading an American magazine. At six o’clock a taxi-cab drove into the street and pulled up before the entrance of his flat. The driver, a stoutish man with a beard, looked helplessly up and down seeking a number, and one of the two detectives who had been keeping observation on the house walked across the road casually towards him.

“Do you want to find a number, mate?” he asked.

“I want No. 43,” said the cabman.

“That’s it,” said the officer.

He saw the cabman ring, and having observed that he entered the door, which was closed behind him, he walked back to his co-worker.

“George is going to take a little taxi drive,” he said; “we will see where he goes.”

The man who had waited on the other side of the road nodded.

“I don’t suppose he will go anywhere worth following, but I have the car waiting round the corner.”

“I’ll car him,” said the second man bitterly. “Did you hear what he told Inspector Whitling of the City Police about me last night?”

The first detective was considerably interested.

“No, I should like to hear.”

“Well,” began the man, and then thought better of it. It was nothing to his credit that he should keep a man under observation three hours, and that the quarry should be aware all the time that he was being watched.

“Hullo!” he said as the door of No. 43 opened, “here is our man.”

He threw a swift glance along the street, and saw that the hired motor-car which had been provided for his use was waiting.

“Here he comes,” he said, but it was not the man he expected. The bearded chauffeur came out alone, waved a farewell to somebody in the hall-way whom they could not see, and having started his engine with great deliberation, got upon his seat, and the taxi-cab moved slowly away.

“George is not going,” said the detective. “That means that we shall have to stay here for another two or three hours---there is his light.”

For four long hours they kept their vigil, and never once was a pair of eyes taken from the only door through which George Wallis could make his exit. There was no other way by which he could leave, of that they were assured.

Behind the house was a high wall, and unless the man was working in collusion with half the respectable householders, not only in that street but of Charing Cross Road, he could not by any possible chance leave his flat.

At half-past ten the taxi-cab they had seen drove back to the door of the flat, and the driver was admitted. He evidently did not expect to stay long, for he did not switch off his engine; as a matter of fact, he was not absent from his car longer than thirty seconds. He came back almost immediately, climbed up on to his seat and drove away.

“I wonder what the game is?” asked the detective, a little puzzled.

“He has been to take a message somewhere,” said the other. “I think we ought to have found out.”

Ten minutes later Inspector Goldberg, of Scotland Yard, drove into the street and sprang from his car opposite the men.

“Has Wallis returned?” he asked quickly.

“Returned!” repeated the puzzled detective, “he has not gone out yet.”

“Has not gone out?” repeated the inspector with a gasp. “A man answering to his description was seen leaving the City branch of the Goldsmiths’ Guild half an hour ago. The safe has been forced and twenty thousand pounds’ worth of jewelry has been taken.”

There was a little silence.

“Well, sir,” said the subordinate doggedly, “one thing I will swear, and it is that George Wallis has not left this house to-night.”

“That’s true, sir,” said the second man. “The sergeant and I have not left this place since Wallis went in.”

“But,” said the bewildered detective-inspector, “it must be Wallis, no other man could have done the job as he did it.”

“It could not have been, sir,” persisted the watcher.

“Then who in the name of Heaven did the job?” snapped the inspector.

His underlings wisely offered no solution.

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