Rodrigues Ottolengui.

Final Proof: or, The Value of Evidence



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"Do you think I could get into his room?" asked Mr. Barnes.

"I could get you our key, an' you could try," suggested the girl. "I reckon one key will open any door in this house. It's cheaper to get locks in a bunch that way, I guess, an' besides, poor folks don't get robbed much anyhow, an' so they ain't got no 'casion to lock up every time they go out. What little they've got don't tempt the robbers, I guess. Maybe the 'punushment fits the crime' too quick."

"'The punishment fits the crime,' you think," said Mr. Barnes with a smile. "Where did you get that from?"

"Oh, I seen the Mikado oncet," said the girl rather proudly. "But I didn't mean what you said; I said it fits 'too quick'; that's too snug, you know, though sometimes it's 'quick' too. You see, I guess they don't get enough out of flats like these to pay for the risk."

"You are quite a philosopher," said Mr. Barnes, approvingly. "Now run and get the key, and we will see whether it fits or not."

She hurried upstairs, and was awaiting Mr. Barnes, with the key in her hand, when he reached the third landing. This she gave to him, and then followed him up the remaining flights, where she pointed out the door which led into Morgan's flat. The key was not needed, as the door was not locked, and the detective pushed it open and entered. The room seemed bare enough, what little furniture there was being too evidently the product of a second-hand furniture store. There seemed little hope of finding anything helpful to his investigation in this room, yet the detective, with his usual thoroughness, examined every drawer, and every corner or crevice in which anything might have been hidden, or have been accidentally dropped, and at last he did discover something which more than repaid him.

In the darkest corner of the dark closet, where perhaps it had dropped unperceived, he found an old vest, of no value in itself. But a search of the pockets brought an exclamation of gratification to the detective's lips, as from one of them he drew forth a folded paper still containing a whitish powder. Mr. Barnes was certain that this powder was morphine, and at length he felt his feet on solid ground in trailing the criminal. No longer need he doubt Randal. His story of the probable drugging of the night watchman at the stable now became not only credible, but probable. Thinking that he might gain something by further questioning the girl, Mr. Barnes said:

"Why, here is some medicine! Perhaps he was sick and has gone away for his health."

With the keen intelligence of her class, the girl replied:

"Some folks go away for their health without bein' sick."

"How do you mean?"

"When it gets so it ain't healthy for them to stay in town, you know."

"You mean for fear of the police?"

"Sure! What else?"

"But do you think that this man Morgan would do anything that would make him afraid of meeting a policeman?"

"Oh, I don't know.

But 'birds of a feather flock together,' you know. One of his pals was pinched, and he's workin' for the country now, on the Island."

"Who was that?" Mr. Barnes did not regret the time spent in talking with this observing youngster.

"I don't know his right name. They called him Billy the Red, over to the saloon."

Mr. Barnes started. This was a clue indeed. This was a well-known criminal whom she had named; one who had earned his sobriquet by killing two men in a barroom fight, when he had been one of the celebrated Whyo gang. If Morgan consorted with such as he, there could be little doubt as to his social status.

"You say Billy the Red was one of Morgan's pals. Did he have any others that you know of?" Mr. Barnes continued.

"Well, he used to be with him most till he went up, but lately he's been travellin' with Tommy White."

"Where can I find him; do you know?"

"Better look him up on the Island, too, I guess. He ain't been round here for quite some days."

"Perhaps he does not come because Morgan is away?"

"Oh, no, that can't be, 'cause he stopped showin' up before Morgan left. The neighbors was beginnin' to wonder and talk, just 'bout the time Morgan skipped. You see, Tommy White he lived right next door, in the next flat, him and Nellie."

"Ah, he had a wife?"

"I don't know about that. She was his girl anyway, though some thought Morgan was sweet on her too."

Mr. Barnes thought the fog was lifting.

"Where is this Nellie now?"

"You can search me! She's gone too. The hull three has skipped out."

"What, all three at the same time?"

"No, that's the funny part of it. That's what makes folks talk. You see, we didn't see nothin' of Tommy White for two or three days, but Nellie she was round all right. But when Morgan he cut it, Nellie she lit out too."

"Let me get this right, my girl. And mind you make no mistake, for this is important."

"I ain't makin' no mistakes, mister. I'm givin' it to you dead right, and that's more 'n you'd get out of anybody else in this castle. But I've got my reasons, and," this she added with a sly wink, "you ain't fooled me any, you know. You're a detective, that's what you are."

"What makes you think so?"

"Oh, there ain't much to guess. People dressed like you don't come to a place like this and nose into another man's rooms just for amusement. Not much they don't. It's business with you."

"Well, never mind that. Tell me, are you sure that White disappeared first, and that the girl was here afterwards, but that she has not been seen since Morgan went away?"

"That's right. You got it straight the first time. Now what do you make of it? I know my own opinion."

"Suppose you tell me your opinion first," said Mr. Barnes, anxious to hear her answer.

"Well," said the girl, "it's very simple, what I think. I think Tommy's been done for."

"Done for?" Mr. Barnes comprehended her meaning but preferred to have her speak more plainly.

"Yes, done for, that's what I said. They've put him out of the way, those two. And if that's right, it's a shame, 'cause Tommy was a good fellow. It was him took me to the theatre, that time when I seen the Mikado."

Evidently this one visit to a theatre had been an event in her weary little life, and the man who had given her that bit of pleasure and had afforded her that one glimpse of what she would have described as the "dressed-up folks," had by that act endeared himself to her childish heart. If he had been injured, her little soul longed for vengeance, and she was ready to be the instrument which might lead Justice to her victim.

Mr. Barnes began to believe that the solution of this mystery was near at hand. He left the building, thanking the child for what she had told him, and promising to find out what had become of her friend Tommy White. Crossing the street he entered the saloon where the girl had told him that Morgan had been in the habit of buying his daily pint of beer. By talking with the bartender he hoped to elicit further information.

The gentlemanly dispenser of liquid refreshment, whose constant boast was that he knew how to manufacture over three hundred different mixed drinks without using any intoxicant, stood beside the mahogany counter, polishing up the glasses, which he piled in an imposing pyramid on the shelf at the back, where the display was made doubly attractive by the plate mirror behind. His hair was scrupulously brushed and his short white coat was immaculately clean. Fortunately there was no one else in the place, so that the detective was afforded a good opportunity for free conversation. He asked for a Manhattan cocktail, and admired the dexterity with which the man prepared the drink. Raising it to his lips and tasting it as a connoisseur might, Mr. Barnes said:

"Could not be better at the Waldorf."

"Oh, I don't know," said the fellow, deprecatingly, but pleased at the implied compliment.

"Your face is very familiar to me," said Mr. Barnes; "have you ever met me before?"

"Never in my life," said the bartender, without the slightest change of expression.

"That's odd," said Mr. Barnes, pursuing the point with a purpose; "I am pretty good at faces. I seldom forget one, and just as seldom make a mistake. I would almost swear I have seen you before."

"I was tending bar at the Astor House for two years. Perhaps you saw me there," suggested the man.

"Ah, that is it," said Mr. Barnes, pretending to accept this explanation; "I often take my luncheon there. By the way, I suppose you are pretty well acquainted around the neighborhood?"

"Oh, I know a few people," said the man, cautiously.

"You know Tommy White, of course?"

"Do I?"

"Don't you?"

"I might, without knowing his name. Our customers don't all leave their cards when they buy a drink. I don't know your name, for instance."

"Yes, but I do not live in the neighborhood. White must come here often."

"Well, he hasn't been in lately," said the bartender, and then stopped short as he noted the slip that he had made. The detective did not choose to appear to notice it, but asked:

"That is the point. Isn't it odd that he should have disappeared?"

"Oh, I don't know. A man can go out of town if he wants to, I guess."

"Do you know that White went out of town?"

"No."

"Have you seen Tommy White since Jerry Morgan skipped?"

"See here! what the devil are you asking me all these questions for? Who are you, anyway, and what are you after?"

"I am Jack Barnes, detective, but I'm not after you, Joe Allen, alias Fred Martin, alias Jimmy Smith, alias Bowery Bill, alias the Plug."

This sally left the man stolidly unmoved, but it affected his attitude towards his questioner, nevertheless, as he sullenly answered:

"There's nothing you can get against me, so I don't scare even if you know me. If you don't want me, what do you want?"

"Look here, Joe," said Mr. Barnes, in friendly, confidential tones, "a bluff does not go with me, and you know it never did. Now why did you not acknowledge that you knew me when I first came in?"

"What's the use of courtin' trouble? I wasn't sure you'd remember my face. It's quite a time since we met."

"True. It is five years since that Bond Street affair, and you got three years for that, if I remember rightly."

"Well, I served my time, didn't I? So that's ended, ain't it?"

"Yes. But what about that little business of the postage-stamp robbery out in Trenton?"

"Why, I didn't have no hand in that."

"Well, two of your pals did, and when they were caught and sent up they were square enough not to peach on you. The Mulberry Street crowd did not know how thick you were with those boys, or you might have got into trouble. But I knew, and you know that I knew."

"Well, what if you did? I tell you I wasn't in that."

"You would not like to be obliged to prove where you were that night, would you?"

"Oh, I suppose it's always hard to prove I was one place, when fellows like you go on the stand and swear I was somewhere else. So, as I said before, what's the use of courtin' trouble?"

"Now you are sensible, and as I said, I am not after you. All I want is some information. Give me another cocktail, and have one yourself."

"Thanks, I will. Go ahead with your catechism; I'll answer so long as you don't try to make me squeal on any of my friends. I'd go up before I'd do that. And you know that."

"That's all right. I know you're square, and that is why I feel sure you would not be mixed up in a murder."

"Murder?"

This time the fellow was frightened. How could he be sure that this detective was not trying to entrap him? How could he know positively that he had not been accused by some pal who wished to shift responsibility from himself to another? This is the Damocles sword that ever hangs over the head of the wrong-doer. His most chosen companions may either tell of what he has done, or accuse him of crime which he has not committed.

"I am afraid so. But what are you worrying over? Did I not tell you that you are not in it? Listen to me, Joe. This Jerry Morgan has skipped out of town, and it looks as though he took Tommy White's girl Nellie with him. Now, where is Tommy White?"

"I don't know a thing. I swear I don't."

"Yes, you do. You do not know what has become of him, but you know something. Morgan isn't any pal of yours, is he?"

"No."

"Very well. Then why not tell me what you know? If he has done anything to White, he ought not to go free, ought he? You do not stand in with murder, do you?"

"No, I don't. But how do I know there's been any murder?"

"You don't know it, but since I suggested it to you, you think so. I see that in your face. Now, what do you know?"

"Well, I don't know much, but what I know I don't want used to make another fellow go to the chair."

"That is no affair of yours. You are not responsible for what the law does. Come, I have no more time to waste. Tell me what you know, or say right out that you will not. Then I will know what to do."

The implied threat decided the man, and without further attempt at evasion he said:

"Well, I suppose there ain't any use my runnin' any risk for a man that's nothin' to me. It's this way: Morgan's an old-time crook – I suppose you know that?" Mr. Barnes nodded, although this was news to him. Allen continued: "He's been at it since he was a kid. Was in the reformatory, and learned more there about crooked work in a year than he would have picked up in ten outside. He's never done time, though, since he graduated from that institution. Learned enough, I guess, to keep out of sight of your crowd. Two years ago he moved into this neighborhood and since then I've seen him in here a good deal. He took up with Tommy White – a young fellow that would have lived straight only he was in bad company, and was railroaded with a gang for a job he really had no hand in. That settled him. When he came out of Sing Sing he wasn't likely to go for a straight job at a dollar a day, when he could lay around idle and pick up a good thing every now and then that would keep him going. I guess he and Morgan done a good many jobs together; anyway, they never was short of money. One thing was funny about those two – nobody ever seen them in the daytime. They used to say they was 'workin',' but that didn't go with the crowd that hangs out here. Neither Morgan nor White would work if they could help it. They was just like brothers, those two, till White took up with this girl Nellie. I think Morgan was jealous of his luck from the first, 'cause the girl is a peach. One of your real blondes, without no bleachin' stuff. She's got a skin like velvet, and hands and feet like a lady. White soon found out that his pal was sweet on the girl, and many a time they've rowed over her. Finally, about two weeks ago the two of them was in here, and they was drinkin' pretty hard and just ready for a scrap, when the girl comes in. Morgan goes up to her and puts his arm round her and kisses her plump. White was mad in a minute, but he turned on her instead of him and he says, says he: 'Nellie, I want you to hammer that duffer over the head for doin' that,' and he picks up a beer glass and hands it to her. Nellie she takes the glass, and she says: 'I've heard of a kiss for a blow,' she says, 'but a blow for a kiss is a new one on me. It ain't that way in the Bible, Tommy, so I guess if you want any hammerin' done, you'd better do it yourself. I'm thinkin' of joinin' the Salvation Army, you know.' This made Morgan and the crowd laugh, and White got fierce. He snatched the glass out of Nellie's hand and made for Morgan. But Morgan he ducks and lets White go by him, and he picks up a beer glass too; then when White came for him again he landed a terrible blow with the glass right back of White's ear. Tommy went down in a heap and lay on the ground quiverin'. The whole thing happened so quick nobody could interfere. Morgan got sober in a second, I tell you, and he was scared. Everybody crowded round, and the girl she was a wonder. You'd think bein' a woman she'd cry and make a fuss? Not a bit of it. She got some ice and put it on White's head, and threw water in his face, and she puts her ear down to his heart, and then she looks up after a bit, and she says, as cool as could be: 'Boys, he's only stunned. He'll come round all right. Some of you help get him home, and I'll look after him. He'll sleep off his liquor and he won't know what hurt him when he wakes in the mornin'.' Well, Morgan and the others they did what she said. They took White up and carted him over to his flat, and put him to bed. My! but he was limp, and his face was that blue it's been before me ever since."

"Did White get over that blow?"

"That's the point. Nellie and Morgan said he did; that he was a bit sore next day and had a headache. That was likely enough. But when you talked about murder a while ago, I admit I got scared, cause White's never been seen since that night."

"You are sure of that?"

"Dead sure. Nellie said he was gone out of town, and the boys swallowed the story. But when both Morgan and Nellie skipped it looked bad, and folks began to talk. As for me, I've been nervous for days. Why, when that body was picked out of the river I just couldn't keep away from the Morgue. I just had to have a peep at it. I was sure it would be White, and that Morgan had pitched him over. My, but wasn't I glad to see it was another man!"

Assuring Allen that his story would not be used in any way that would bring him into conflict with the authorities, Mr. Barnes left the saloon and went to his office, feeling that at last this problem had been solved. Evidently White had died of his wound, and when Morgan learned that the coffin of Mr. Quadrant was not to be opened before it was consigned to the crematory, he had conceived one of the most ingenious schemes ever devised for disposing of a murdered body. By placing White in the coffin and allowing his body to be incinerated, all traces of his crime would seem to have been obliterated. To accomplish this it was necessary to have the use of the undertaker's wagon, and this he had managed by drugging the watchman, as well as Mark Quadrant. The transfer made, he was still left with the other body, and his disposition of that was the most ingenious part of the plan. By throwing the corpse of Rufus Quadrant into the water he apparently took little risk. It could not be recognized as White of course, and if correctly identified a mystery would be created that ought to baffle the detectives, however clever they might be. Mr. Barnes felt that he had been fortunate, to learn so much from such unpromising clues.

At his office he found a telegram and a letter, both bearing on the case. The telegram was from Mr. Burrows, and informed him that Morgan had been captured in Chicago, and would be in New York on the following day. This was more than gratifying, and Mr. Barnes mentally praised the young detective. The letter was from Mr. Mitchel, and read:

"Friend Barnes:

"At last I have fathomed the Quadrant mystery. Will drop in on you about noon to-morrow and tell you how the affair was managed. You will be surprised, I am sure.

"Mitchel."

"Will I?" said Mr. Barnes to himself.

X

Mr. Burrows arrived at the offices of Mr. Barnes about eleven o'clock on the following morning, which much pleased the older detective, who wished to have his case complete before the arrival of Mr. Mitchel.

"Well, Tom," said Mr. Barnes, cordially, "so you have caught your man and brought him back?"

"Did I not promise you that I would?" replied Mr. Burrows.

"Yes, but even a cleverer man than yourself cannot always hope to keep such a promise. Do you know that this fellow, Morgan, is a professional crook who has never been caught at his work before?"

"So he has told me," said Mr. Burrows, modestly refraining from any boastfulness.

"He told you the truth in that instance, and I trust you have also succeeded in getting a confession from him as to his connection with this Quadrant matter?"

"He has pretended to make a clean breast of it, but of course we must verify his story. One cannot place too much faith in the confessions of a crook."

"Does he admit that he took the rings?"

"Yes, it seems you were right there."

"Does he explain how and why he took the body from the coffin?"

"On the contrary, he denies having done so."

"Then he lies," said Mr. Barnes. "I have not been idle since you went away, but my tale will keep. Let me hear first what Morgan's alleged confession amounts to."

"He admits that he stole the rings. He has a duplicate of that screw-driver of which old Berial is so fond of bragging, and when he was left alone with the body, he opened the coffin and took the rings, and, in keeping with his limited standard of morals, he offers a rather ingenious excuse for his act."

"I should like to hear a good excuse for robbing the dead."

"That is his point exactly. He says that as the dead cannot own property, the dead cannot be robbed. As the family had declared that the coffin was not to be opened again, Morgan says he considered the rings as practically consigned to the furnace, and then he asks, 'What was the use of seeing stuff like that burned up, when it was good money to me?' It is a nice point, Mr. Barnes. If the owner elects to throw away or destroy his property, can we blame a man for appropriating the same?"



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