DICK MARTIN'S last official job (as he believed) was to pull in Lew Pheeney, who was wanted in connection with the Helborough bank robbery. He found Lew in a little Soho cafe, just as he was finishing his coffee.
"What's the idea, colonel?" asked Lew, almost genially, as he got his hat.
"The inspector wants to talk to you about that Helborough job," said Dick.
Lew's nose wrinkled in contempt.
"Helborough grandmothers!" he said scornfully. "I'm out of that bank business - thought you knew it. What are you doing in the force, Martin? They told me that you'd run into money and had quit."
"I'm quitting. You're my last bit of business."
"Too bad you're falling down on the last lap!" grinned Lew. "I've got forty - five well - oiled alibis. I'm surprised at you, Martin. You know I don't 'blow' banks; locks are my speciality - -"
"What were you doing at ten o'clock on Tuesday night?"
A broad smile illuminated the homely face of the burglar.
"If I told you, you'd think I was lying."
"Give me a chance," pleaded Dick, his blue eyes twinkling.
Lew did not reply at once. He seemed to be pondering the dangers of too great frankness. But when he had seen all sides of the matter, he spoke the truth.
"I was doing a private job - a job I don't want to talk about. It was dirty, but honest."
"And were you well paid?" asked his captor, polite but incredulous.
"I was - I got one hundred and fifty pounds on account. That makes you jump, but it is the truth. I was picking locks, certainly the toughest locks I've ever struck, and it was a kind of horrible job I wouldn't do again for a car - load of money. You don't believe me, but I can prove that I spent the night at the Royal Arms, Chichester, that I was there at eight o'clock to dinner and at eleven o'clock to sleep. So you can forget all that Helborough bank stuff. I know the gang that did it, and you know 'em too, and we don't change cards."
They kept Lew in the cells all night whilst inquiries were pursued. Remarkably enough, he had not only stayed at the Royal Arms at Chichester, but had stayed in his own name; and it was true that at a quarter to eleven, before the Hedborough bank robbers had left the premises, he was taking a drink in his room, sixty miles away. So authority released Lew in the morning and Dick went into breakfast with him, because, between the professional thief - taker and the professional burglar there is no real ill - feeling, and Sub - Inspector Richard Martin was almost as popular with the criminal classes as he was at police headquarters.
"Ho, Mr Martin, I'm not going to tell you anything more than I've already told you," said Lew good - humouredly. "And when you call me a liar, I'm not so much as hurt in my feelings. I got a hundred an' fifty pounds, and I'd have got a thousand if I'd pulled it off. You can guess all round it, but you'll never guess right."
Dick Martin was eyeing him keenly. "You've got a good story in your mind - spill it," he said.
He waited suggestively, but Lew Pheeney shook his head. "I'm not telling. The story would give away a man who's not a good fellow, and not one I admire; but I can't let my personal feelings get the better of me, and you'll have to go on guessing. And I'm not lying, I'll tell you how it happened." He gulped down a cup of hot coffee and pushed cup and saucer away from him. "I don't know this fellow who asked me to do the work - not personally. He's been in trouble for something or other, but that's no business of mine. One night he met me, introduced himself, and I went to his house - brr!" he shivered. "Martin, a crook is a pretty clean man - at least, all the crooks I know; and thieving's just a game with two players; me and the police. If they snooker me, good luck to 'em! If I can beat them, good luck to me! But there's some dirt that makes me sick, just makes my stomach turn over. When he told me the job he wanted me for, I thought he was joking, and my first idea was to turn it in right away. But I'm just the most curious creature that ever lived, and it was a new experience, so, after a lot of think, I said 'Yes'. Mind you, there was nothing dishonest in it. All he wanted to do was to take a peep at something. What was behind it I don't know. I don't want to talk about it, but the locks beat me."
"A lawyer's safe?" suggested the interested detective, The other shook his head. He turned the subject abruptly; spoke of his plans - he was leaving for the United States to join his brother, who was an honest builder.
"We're both going out of the game together, Martin," he smiled. "You're too good a man for a policeman, and I'm too much of a gentleman to be on the crook. I shouldn't be surprised if we met one of these days."
Dick went back to the Yard to make, as he thought, a final report to his immediate chief. Captain Sneed sniffed.
"That Lew Pheeney couldn't fall straight," he said; "if you dropped him down a well, he'd wear away the brickwork. Honest robber! He's got that out of a book. You think you've finished work, I suppose?" Dick nodded.
"Going to buy a country house and be a gentleman. Ride to hounds and take duchesses into dinner - what a hell of a life for a grown man!"
Dick Martin grinned at the sneer. He wanted very little persuasion to withdraw his resignation; already he was repenting - and, despite the attraction of authorship which beckoned ahead, he would have given a lot of money to recall the letter he had sent to the commissioner.
"It's a queer thing how money ruins a man," said Captain Sneed sadly. "Now if I had a six - figure legacy I should want to do nothing." His assistant might sneer in turn.
"You want to do nothing, anyway," he said; "you're lazy, Sneed - the laziest man who ever filled a chair at Scotland Yard."
The fat man, who literally filled and overflowed the padded office chair in which he half sat and half lay, a picture of inertia, raised his reproachful eyes to his companion.
"Insubordination," he murmured. "You're not out of the force till tomorrow - call me 'sir' and be respectful. I hate reminding you that you're a paltry sub - inspector and that I'm as near being a superintendent as makes no difference. It would sound snobbish. I'm not lazy, I'm lethargic. It's a sort of disease."
"You're fat because you're lazy, and you're lazy because you're fat," insisted the lean - faced young man. "It's a sort of vicious circle. Besides, you're rich enough to retire if you wanted."
Captain Sneed stroked his chin reflectively. He was a giant of a man, with shoulders of an ox and the height of a Grenadier, but he was admittedly inert. He sighed heavily, and, groping in a desk basket, produced a blue paper. "You're a common civilian tomorrow - but my slave today. Come along to Bellingham Library; there has been a complaint about stolen books."
Sub - Inspector Dick Martin groaned.
"It's not romantic, I admit," said his superior with a slow, broad smile; "kleptomania belongs to the dust and debris of detective work, but it is good for your soul. It will remind you, whilst you're loafing on the money you didn't earn, that there are a few thousand of your poor comrades wearin' their feet into ankles with fool inquiries like this!"
Dick (or 'Slick' as he was called for certain reasons) wondered as he walked slowly down the long corridor whether he was glad or sorry that police work lay behind him and that on the morrow he might pass the most exalted official without saluting. He was a 'larceny man', the cleverest taker of thieves the Yard had known. Sneed often said that he had the mind of a thief, and meant this as a compliment. He certainly had the skill. There was a memorable night when, urged thereto by the highest police official in London, he had picked the pocket of a Secretary of State, taken his watch, his pocket - book and his private papers, and not even the expert watchers saw him perform the fell deed.
Dick Martin came to the Yard from Canada, where his father had been governor of a prison. He was neither a good guardian of criminals or youth. Dick had the run of the prison, and could take a stick pin from a man's cravat before he had mastered the mysteries of algebra. Peter du Bois, a lifer, taught him to open almost any kind of door with a bent hairpin; Lew Andrevski, a frequent visitor to Port Stuart, made a specially small pack of cards out of the covers of the chapel prayer books; in order that the lad should be taught to conceal three cards in each tiny palm. If he had not been innately honest, the tuition might easily have ruined him.
"Dicky's all right - he can't know too much of that crook stuff," said the indolent Captain Martin, when his horrified relatives expostulated at the corruption of the motherless boy. "The boys like him - he's going into the police and the education's worth a million!"
Straight of body, clear - eyed, immensely sane, Dick Martin came happily through a unique period of test to the office. The war brought him to England, a stripling with a record of good work behind him. Scotland Yard claimed him, and he had the distinction of being the only member of the Criminal Investigation Department who had been appointed without going through a probationary period of patrol work.
As he went down the stone stairs, he was overtaken by the third commissioner.
"Hello, Martin! You're leaving us tomorrow? Bad luck! It is a thousand pities you have money. We're losing a good man. What are you going to do?"
Dick smiled ruefully.
"I don't know - I'm beginning to think I've made a mistake in leaving at all."
The 'old man' nodded.
"Do anything except lecture," he said, "and, for the Lord's sake, don't start a private agency! In America detective agencies do wonderful things - in England their work is restricted to thinking up evidence for divorces. A man asked me only today if I could recommend - -"
He stopped suddenly at the foot of the stairs and viewed Dick with a new interest.
"By, Jove! I wonder - -! Do you know Havelock, the lawyer?"
Dick shook his head.
"He's a pretty good man. His office is somewhere in Lincoln's Inn Fields. You'll find its exact position in the telephone directory. I met him at lunch and he asked me - -"
He paused, examining the younger man with a speculative eye.
"You're the very man - it is curious I did not think of you. He asked me if I could find him a reliable private detective, and I told him that such things did not exist outside the pages of fiction."
"It doesn't exist as far as I'm concerned," smiled Dick. "The last thing in the world I want to do is start a detective agency."
"And you're right, my boy," said the commissioner. "I could never respect you if you did. As a matter of fact, you're the very man for the job," he went on, a little inconsistently. "Will you go along and see Havelock, and tell him I sent you? I'd like you to help him if you could. Although he isn't a friend of mine, I know him and he's a very pleasant fellow."
"What is the job?" asked the young man, by no means enthralled at the prospect.
"I don't know," was the reply. "It may be one that you couldn't undertake. But I'd like you to see him - I half promised him that I would recommend somebody. I have an idea that it is in connection with a client of his who is giving him a little trouble. You would greatly oblige me, Martin, if you saw this gentleman."
The last thing in the world Dick Martin had in mind was the transference of his detective activities from Scotland Yard to the sphere of private agencies; but he had been something of a protege of the third commissioner, and there was no reason in the world why he should not see the lawyer. He said as much.
"Good," said the commissioner. "I'll phone him this afternoon and tell him you'll come along and see him. You may be able to help him."
"I hope so, sir," said Dick mendaciously.