The Marionettes

The policeman was standing at the corner of Twenty-fourth Street and a prodigiously dark alley near where the elevated railroad crosses the street. The time was two o’clock in the morning; the outlook a stretch of cold, drizzling, unsociable blackness until the dawn.

A man, wearing a long overcoat, with his hat tilted down in front, and carrying something in one hand, walked softly but rapidly out of the black alley. The policeman accosted him civilly, but with the assured air that is linked with conscious authority. The hour, the alley’s musty reputation, the pedestrian’s haste, the burden he carried—these easily combined into the “suspicious circumstances” that required illumination at the officer’s hands.

The “suspect” halted readily and tilted back his hat, exposing, in the flicker of the electric lights an emotionless, smooth countenance with a rather long nose and steady dark eyes. Thrusting his gloved hand into a side-pocket of his overcoat, he drew out a card and handed it to the policeman. Holding it to catch the uncertain light, the officer read the name “Charles Spencer James, M.D.” The street and number of the address were of a neighbourhood so solid and respectable as to subdue even curiosity. The policeman’s downward glance at the article carried in the doctor’s hand—a handsome medicine case of black leather, with small silver mountings—further endorsed the guarantee of the card.

“All right, doctor,” said the officer, stepping aside, with an air of bulky affability. “Orders are to be extra careful. Good many burglars and hold-ups lately. Bad night to be out. Not so cold, but—clammy.”

With a formal inclination of his head, and a word or two corroborative of the officer’s estimate of the weather, Doctor James continued his somewhat rapid progress. Three times that night had a patrolman accepted his professional card and the sight of his paragon of a medicine case as vouchers for his honesty of person and purpose. Had any one of those officers seen fit, on the morrow, to test the evidence of that card he would have found it borne out by the doctor’s name on a handsome door-plate, his presence, calm and well dressed, in his well-equipped office—provided it were not too early, Doctor James being a late riser—and the testimony of the neighbourhood to his good citizenship, his devotion to his family, and his success as a practitioner the two years he had lived among them.

Therefore, it would have much surprised any one of those zealous guardians of the peace could they have taken a peep into that immaculate medicine case. Upon opening it, the first article to be seen would have been an elegant set of the latest conceived tools used by the “box man,” as the ingenious safe burglar now denominates himself. Specially designed and constructed were the implements—the short but powerful “jemmy,” the collection of curiously fashioned keys, the blued drills and punches of the finest temper—capable of eating their way into chilled steel as a mouse eats into a cheese, and the clamps that fasten like a leech to the polished door of a safe and pull out the combination knob as a dentist extracts a tooth. In a little pouch in the inner side of the “medicine” case was a four-ounce vial of nitro-glycerine, now half empty. Underneath the tools was a mass of crumpled bank-notes and a few handfuls of gold coin, the money, altogether, amounting to eight hundred and thirty dollars.

To a very limited circle of friends Doctor James was known as “The Swell ‘Greek.’ ” Half of the mysterious term was a tribute to his cool and gentleman-like manners; the other half denoted, in the argot of the brotherhood, the leader, the planner, the one who by the power and prestige of his address and position, secured the information upon which they based their plans and desperate enterprises.

Of this elect circle the other members were Skitsie Morgan and Gum Decker, expert “box men,” and Leopold Pretzfelder, a jeweller downtown, who manipulated the “sparklers” and other ornaments collected by the working trio. All good and loyal men, as loose-tongued as Memnon and as fickle as the North Star.

That night’s work had not been considered by the firm to have yielded more than a moderate repayal for their pains. An old-style, two-story, side-bolt safe in the dingy office of a very wealthy, old-style dry- goods firm on a Saturday night should have excreted more than twenty-five hundred dollars. But that was all they found, and they had divided it, the three of them, into equal shares upon the spot, as was

  By PanEris using Melati.

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