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   Chapter 4 GETTING DOWN TO WORK.

With Links of Steel, Or, The Peril of the Unknown By Nicholas Carter Characters: 9505

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


"Well, Nick, old man, what have you made of it?"

The question came from Chick Carter, in his familiar and cheerful fashion, several hours after the interview held by the two detectives with Rufus Venner and his partner in their Fifth Avenue store.

It was now about six o'clock in the evening, and Chick had just returned from having a confidential talk with one of the stage hands of the theater in which the then famous attraction, the mammoth European and American vaudeville troupe, of which Se?ora Cervera was a star attraction, had for several months been playing to crowded houses.

Chick found Nick seated at the table in his library, with a powerful magnifying glass in his hand, while the table was strewn with the papers he that morning had brought from the office of Venner & Co.

Nick looked up with a laugh, and knocked the ashes from his cigar.

"Well, there's no doubt about it, Chick," he replied. "We are finally up against them."

"The Kilgore diamond gang?"

"Precisely."

"I'm glad of it, Nick, as you remarked this morning."

"Well, I've not changed my mind since then. So am I."

"We shall now find out whether they are as crafty and desperate as they have been painted."

"I guess there is no doubt about it, Chick."

"Well, if we fail to throw them down, Nick, my money shall go on Kilgore from that moment," declared Chick, with a grin. "What have you dug out of that mess of papers, Nick? Have you arrived at any conclusions?"

"Rather!" smiled Nick, significantly. "Did you ever know me to study for five hours over anything of this kind without arriving at some conclusion?"

"Never!" laughed Chick. "And the best of it is, Nick, your conclusions nearly always prove to be correct. What's the verdict, old man?"

Nick glanced at the French clock on the mantel.

"Sit down and light up," he replied. "We have half an hour before getting down to work against this push. I will devote it to informing you of the case as it now appears."

"Good enough!" exclaimed Chick, drawing up a chair and lighting a cigar. "Let her go, Nick. I am all ears, as the donkey said to the deacon."

"To begin with," began Nick, more gravely, "this order sent to Hafferman, for the diamonds which he delivered at Venner's store, is merely a forgery. Neither Venner nor Garside wrote it, that's as plain as the nose on an elephant's face."

"Which is plain enough, surely," nodded Chick.

"Furthermore," continued Nick, "the forgery was not the work of any clerk employed in either store. I have compared the writing of each and every clerk with that of the forged order, and I will stake my reputation upon my conclusion. The forgery was committed by some outside party."

Nick was an expert chirographist. To have deceived him with a disguised handwriting would have been utterly impossible, and none knew it better than Chick, who now nodded approvingly.

"Some outside party, eh?"

"There is no doubt of it, Chick. And this conclusion at once suggests two very natural questions," Nick went on. "First, was one of the Kilgore gang in Hafferman's store when Venner went there yesterday, and did he overhear enough of what passed between them to enable him to plan the job done this morning?"

"Possibly."

"In opposition to that theory, however, is the fact that the forged order is written on one of Venner's printed letter sheets."

"By a little adroit work, Nick, one of the gang could have obtained a sheet of Venner's office paper."

"That is very true," admitted Nick. "But since this is a theory founded only upon conjecture, with no positive evidence to back it up, the stronger probability is rather to the contrary."

"Right, Nick, as far as that goes."

"I think so."

"And what is the second theory suggested?"

"That some clerk in one of the stores got wind of Venner's contemplated purchase, and revealed the fact to one of the Kilgore gang, by whom I am confident-bear in mind-that the crime was committed."

"That theory seems plausible," nodded Chick. "There is young Boyden, you know, at Hafferman's. He may have got wise to Venner's intentions. Garside remarked that he appeared quite anxious to leave the diamonds until Venner should return. That would have been very natural on his part, in case he was then co-operating with the party who finally secured them."

"The same objection again arises, however," argued Nick. "Boyden is not employed at Venner's, and therefore has not access to his letter paper. Furthermore, Venner's visit was made only yesterday afternoon, less than twenty-four hours before the robbery occurred. It seems hardly probable that Boyden was already in league with the Kilgore gang; and, if he was not, it is even less probable

that he so quickly got in touch with them."

"By Jove! that's so," cried Chick. "As a matter of fact, then, neither of these theories has a reliable leg to stand upon."

"That's exactly my conclusion," laughed Nick.

"And what then?"

"Concerning that side of the affair," replied Nick, "several irresistible convictions are therefore forced upon me. One of the Kilgore gang certainly knew of Venner's visit, and of the request he made Hafferman regarding the diamonds. Otherwise he could not have planned the job so neatly. Somebody must have informed him. Somebody must have provided him with one of Venner's letter sheets. If we eliminate the clerks, and the members of both firms, we are left very much in the dark."

"I should say so," rejoined Chick. "The affair becomes a dense mystery."

"It becomes a mystery that I don't quite fancy," declared Nick, with a significant nod. "In fact, Chick, I'm not at all favorably impressed with this robbery. To me it has a mighty fishy look."

"Why so, Nick?"

"It is not like this Kilgore gang, mark you, to have been dickering with a dirty little job of this kind, netting them only a few thousands at the best; yet a job in which they incurred as much danger of detection, Chick, as in one infinitely greater."

"By Jove! that's so. There's no getting away from that argument, Nick."

"Instead of trying to get away from it, Chick, I'm going to stay with it," continued Nick, with emphasis. "I am beginning to suspect that this paltry little robbery may in some way make a far deeper and darker game. At all events, Chick, we'll not wind ourselves in a search for those diamonds, at least not before we have sifted these side issues a little finer."

"Good enough!" cried Chick, heartily. "I agree with you on every point. Only your long head, Nick, old man, could have deduced such shrewd conclusions; and I believe, by Jove! that you have hit the nail on the head."

"If I have," rejoined Nick, grimly, "we'll drive the nail home a little later, and home to stay."

"That we will."

"There remains one other feature of the case," added Nick, "and, starting from that, we will begin work upon the affair this very night."

"You refer to that Spanish dancer, Cervera?"

"Precisely."

"And the fact that she requested Venner to call at her house this morning?"

"Exactly," nodded Nick. "She fixed the hour, mind you, probably knowing that Venner would comply with her request. Hence there exists a possibility that she designed to get him away from his store at just that time, in order that the robbery could be successfully executed."

"In which case, Nick, we necessarily must figure her in with the Kilgore gang, despite Venner's declaration of her honesty."

"Certainly we must, Chick, in case her note to Venner was written for the purpose mentioned," nodded Nick. "Of that, however, we have no positive evidence. It may have been purely accidental that her note was sent to-day, and mentioned the very hour when the theft was committed. Obviously, in that case, the thief outside was waiting for some opportunity when Venner should be away from his store. Cervera would then be out of the affair, as far as any criminal intent is concerned."

"Very probably."

"So there you are!" exclaimed Nick, with another glance at the clock. "Our half hour is up. You now have my measure of the case, and next we will get down to business. We will drop this fishy-looking robbery for the present, Chick, and first of all make a move to learn something about Se?ora Cervera, and her relations with Rufus Venner."

"A good scheme, Nick, and I'm with you."

"Have you been at the theater?"

"Yes, and fixed things with Busby."

"You can get in upon the stage to-night?"

"Sure thing, as I told you," laughed Chick. "Busby is the boss scene shifter there, and he consented to work me in as a stage hand."

"Ah! very good."

"I have got to make up for the part, however, and must soon be about it. I am due there at half-past seven."

"Get at it, then," said Nick, rising. "See what you can learn about Cervera, and what you make of her from observation. In case Venner is about there, keep your ears alert, so that you can overhear."

"You trust me for that, Nick," cried Chick, laughing.

"Meantime, Chick, I'll have a look at the show from the front," added Nick. "And after Cervera does her turn, in case Venner is there, and she departs with him, you then may leave the couple to me. I'll be waiting for them at the stage door."

"Right you are, Nick. So here goes!"

Shrewd deductions, indeed, those of Nick Carter.

Plainly enough, Garside was quite justified in his apprehension that Rufus Venner had barked up the wrong tree.

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