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FINGER-PRINTS NEVER LIE
by John G. Brandon
WHICH TELLS OF A CERTAIN MISSION
The night ’plane of the Berlin-Paris air-mail wheeled and glided slowly down upon the aviation ground of Le Bourget. For the fifteen or so who made up its complement of passengers it had not been the most pleasant of trips, for almost from the starting-point they had run into a succession of storms which had troubled, not only the nerves but the stomachs of most of them. It was, therefore, with something like a sigh of intense relief that they felt the bump of the ’plane’s wheels upon the ground as she taxied forward across the rain-spattered field.
They were a curious assortment of humanity, those passengers, including types so far removed from one another as an aged Mother Superioress of a convent, a bediamonded lady who might have been a Folie Bergère star if vividness was any indication of calling—or, again, she might have belonged to the oldest profession in the world. Cheek by jowl with her was a young French lieutenant who never took his eyes off her, and upon the other side of the ’plane was a young school-miss who, for her part, never took her eyes off him.
Just ahead of her was a fat, and decidedly oily-looking Hebrew who had sat motionless and, indeed, cringingly in his seat until the ’plane had passed out of German territory, when he became a very different person, and showed every sign of becoming self-assertive. From somewhere or another he suddenly produced two enormous diamond rings, one of which speedily decorated each hand, and had just passed some remark to a meek-looking little man who might have been a confidential clerk in some business house, when a person seated alone in the fore-part of the cabin turned and looked at him. From that instant and for the rest of the trip he shriveled away into both insignificance and silence.
The man in question, tall, erect, heavy and paunchy, of the true Prussian type, square-headed, with bristling, cropped hair and upturned moustaches, was undoubtedly of that order which ruled German destinies in some form or other. As a matter of fact he was one of the pillars of its industrial world.
To judge him by his face, a ruthless man, this; one who would have few scruples about trampling to the ground any who dared to oppose his will by any means at hand, fair or foul. A man not to be taken lightly as an adversary; as grimly tenacious as he was unmalleable! One look from his cold, contemptuous, light-blue eyes was quite sufficient to reduce the Semitic passenger to nothingness, even though, by some miraculous means, he had escaped from the land in which this man was very probably a power.
In the extreme rear of the cabin, and seeming wishful to avoid contact with any of his fellow passengers, was a little, insignificant-looking man, dressed in new clothes of the cheapest kind obtainable in Germany to-day. That travel by air was an entirely new experience to him, was shown very plainly by the starts of little less than fear he gave when the ’plane heeled over to the fury of the storms which never ceased to beset her on the whole of the run. At such moments, his face blanched to the greyness of death! It was a face, by the way, which showed unmistakable signs of long want and hardship, and in the sunken eyes was a strange expression—a curious mixture of furtivity, cunning, and fear. A trained observer of his fellowman, would have unhesitatingly said that he was an habitual criminal.
With the landing of the ’plane it was extraordinary how little time it took for her complement of passengers to vanish completely. The first out of it was the little man who had sat in the rear, the little man with the quick-furtive eyes, who seemed of even less significance when he stood upon the ground than he had when in the ’plane. He, the necessary formalities of landing over, quickly got a taxi, but sat in it waiting until the last to leave it—the heavily-built, Prussian-looking man—did the same. Then the one taxi followed the other into Paris.
But it was to none of the great and fashionable hotels in which he was well known that the big, hard-eyed man was driven, but to a decidedly shady-looking and not over-clean resort in Montmartre, just off the Place Pigalle. Dismissing his taxi, he walked straight through to a large apartment at the rear of the place; a dance-den patronised for the greater part by that particular class of men and their vicious-looking femina, generally placed under the category of ‘les Apaches!’
Most of those present turned their eyes upon him at his arrival, and in them was the same, furtive look, though infinitely more vicious, which was to be seen in those of the little man who, a moment or two later, followed, and crept rather than walked to a seat at the same secluded table that the big man had chosen.
“Bring two books of lager!” the first ordered in French which betrayed his German nationality instantly, then, with a contemptuous gesture, waved the other to a seat. He sat perfectly still until the waiter, having fulfilled his order, had been paid and gone.
“Take, now, your last, final orders,” he said curtly in their native tongue, then for ten minutes or so, spoke in that same, curt, tone of authority, but in a voice so low that it was impossible for it to reach the ears of any others but the man he was addressing.
Once or twice the little man wrote something down laboriously with a stub of pencil upon a piece of paper he had taken from his pocket; a name, an address, or a direction. Once the man who was issuing his orders, took from a bulky pocket-book a legal-looking document which he handed over to the other, who placed it carefully in his pocket.
“You thoroughly understand what to do with that?” he asked.
“Quite,” he was answered promptly, “it is to be deposited . . . ”
The other stopped him with an imperious gesture.
“That is enough!” he said abruptly. “Walls have ears. You speak a little English?” he asked suddenly.
“Enough, sir,” the little man answered. “I learned it as a prisoner of war.”
“That will help. Have you friends in London?”
“I have a cousin, Hans Bredel, who lives at a place called Camberwell. He is a baker by trade, and naturalised.”
“You have the money and passports I sent you?”
You thoroughly understand where we are to meet, three days after the—the event?”
“Yes, sir. At the Café Bavaria, in Greek Street, Soho.”
“Good. You can go now. Travel to England the first thing in the morning. I shall remain here in Paris until—until your mission is completed.”
Once more the icy blue eyes fixed upon the shrinking ones of the little man, in them a mercilessness which did not in any way belie the mind of their owner.
“You quite realise the penalty should there be any failure upon your part to carry out what has been entrusted to you to do?”
“Quite, sir,” the other answered in a voice but little more than a whisper. “I shall not fail.”
Without another word he turned and left the place.
For some time the big man sat, his heavy, bulging forehead grooved deeply in concentrated thought, then, taking that bulky pocket-book from his overcoat again, extracted a letter stamped with a London postmark. Although every word of it was fixed indelibly in his mind, he went through it carefully again. It was a curious epistle, one that, read aloud to them, would have made the shareholders of one of England’s largest maritime concerns hasten to sell their holdings at the first possible opportunity, and for the best price they could get.
It ran as follows:
“Further to your instructions, I beg to inform you that since writing to you last week I have succeeded in acquiring still more important information relative to Lord Warnecke, and the affairs of the Amalgamated British Shipping Trust, Ltd.
“There is not the slightest doubt, although it has been concealed from the shareholders and public most carefully, but that the business of the Trust is in an extremely bad way; in fact verging upon crash. That Lord Warnecke, as chairman, has greatly assisted towards this condition, if not been entirely responsible for it, there can be no doubt whatever.
“My confrère, Stuber, has, by diligent work, ascertained that his lordship is secretly converting every asset of his own and most of those of the Trust into ready money. By this I mean Bank of England notes got in from all sources and, therefore virtually untraceable, and also readily-negotiable securities.
“He has also, I, personally, have discovered, taken out a ticket available by any boat for Callao, Peru, from which country, I understand, there is no extradition. By judicious bribery, I have learned from his lordship that he keeps his reserves of cash and security in a large safe in his bedroom. I enclose you interior plans of the house and that bedroom in particular.
“In conclusion, I have only to say that everything indicates that his lordship contemplates making an early flight from England.
“Awaiting your further instructions, honoured sir,
“Your obedient servant,
“Fricker & Stuber,
Private Detective Agency, Berlin.”
The big man carefully folded the letter and replaced it in his pocket-book.
“Flight!” he snarled. “We will see!”
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