"Of course, De Roque, who was merely the drug-crazed tool of the real criminal, would have told where the bonds were," declared Thornley Colton, when they were once more in the shade-drawn library of the big, old-fashioned house. "But Simpson would have had time to be on his guard. The finding of the bonds, as I did, before he had time to recover his nerve, drew from him those last betraying words. The police can establish his connection with the telephone message to Miss Richmond, the booking of the two passages under the name of Morris, and the place where he and De Roque met while the fake Mrs. Bowden was supposed to be out at day's work. Those details were not even worth bothering with, for me, because the keyboard of silence told me the guilty persons before the robbery was committed."
"I am as much at sea as ever," confessed Sydney Thames.
"In the Regal we saw the first act. Simpson, with the dare-devilishness that characterises the type, introduced me to the accomplice. It was not wholly dare-devilishness, however, for it was to prepare the get-away. He wanted, before the time came for her to disappear, to arouse your sympathy and my interest in the deaf-and-dumb woman, whom he had married to accomplish his reformation. After a fruitless search he would need a long vacation in Europe, with the bonds, of course, to recover from the shock. There could be no suspicion attached to him. No sane man would look for a deaf-and-dumb wife in the person of a vaudeville actor dying of tuberculosis and cocaine who had drug dreams of money coming his way. Once Simpson had gotten out of the country, De Roque could have raved and stormed, even confessed, and his confession would have been accepted as nothing but cocaine dementia. Simpson never intended to play fair; it isn't his nature. From the first time I ever shook his hand I have known him to be a born criminal, for I can read hands as the physiognomist reads faces. And I have the advantage, because men like Simpson, with the aid of their strong wills, can mask their emotions behind eyes and faces so that no man can read their minds. But they have never given a thought to their hands."
"Do you mean to say you could tell what Simpson was planning by shaking his hands there in the Regal?" demanded Thames incredulously.
"Not quite," protested Colton laughingly. "But you know how I shake hands. My long index finger always rests lightly on the keyboard of silence-the wrist. With a touch like mine, so light that I can read handwriting by feeling the ridges left on the blank side of the paper, not one person in a million could feel it. I think Miss Richmond did, when I shook hands with her, because I felt a responsive thrill. In the case of Simpson his heart was working like a steam-engine, though his face and eyes were a mask that neither you nor any man with eyes could read; my finger-tip on his pulse told me that he was labouring under some strong excitement. When I shook hands with his 'wife' I discovered why."
"Why?" echoed Thames blankly. "Because the wife was a man, and a drug-fiend."
"Your hand told you that, and my eyes were deceived!"
"My knowledge of anatomy told me the man part. Don't you know that over the muscles of a woman is a layer of fat that gives the beautiful feminine curves? The man's muscles play directly under the skin, and the curves of female impersonators are due to flabby muscles, and not the feminine fat layer. Besides the cocaine pulse of the 'wife' my finger-tip immediately felt the play of the muscles as the hand gripped mine. Knowing Simpson, the impersonation could mean nothing else but a contemplated crime. I further proved it by getting her to put out her hand before she could have had any knowledge, by signs, of my intention to say good-bye. Remember my reference to lip-reading? Simpson was taking no chance of letting her talk. The cocaine gave her the brightness of eye, and the heavily-daubed rouge I knew would have to be there to convince you that she was really a country girl who didn't know the use of cosmetics, and also to cover any trace of man's beard and cocaine pastiness of skin. It would have deceived any one who had eyes, where an artistic make-up would immediately have aroused suspicion. Simpson was a wonderful detailist.
"Common sense told me that Simpson could not risk working with an amateur. Therefore I set Shrimp to looking up actors who had been forced to leave the stage on account of ill health within the last two months. The whole thing must have been rehearsed many times, for the detailist would overlook no detail. In Shrimp's list was De Roque. A few telephone inquiries proved that he was really a cocaine fiend of the worst kind, also that he had returned, yesterday morning, from a sanatorium, no better, to his old boarding-house. It was Simpson's scheme to let him do that, for it eliminated him. As soon as I found out that Simpson would not risk visiting him, Shrimp and John got him on the pretence that they were from Simpson. Cocaine snufflers as far gone as he need the drug every hour. For three hours before the time arranged for Shrimp to bring him to the bank De Roque hadn't had a pinch; he was insane with craving. The visit to Third Avenue, and the finding of the quills which cocaine snufflers use to hide the stuff on their bodies and conceal it in their palms so that no one can see them snuff it gave me the things I needed to make him talk. You saw how they worked."
"But the detectives who helped him out of the room? How did you ever figure the possibility of the bonds being in the scrub water?"
"The protective-agency men told me. Their eyes saw what my lack of eyes understood. The yellow bar of soap bobbing on top of the water, I think one of them expressed it. An instant's intelligent thought would tell any one that the yellow soap used for scrubbing floors never floats. The finding of the powdered sulphur showed me the clever ice-bag trick, for powdered sulphur is always used by druggists to keep the thin rubber from sticking together when the bags are in the boxes. Of course, De Roque carried it with him every night waiting for his opportunity, and in pulling it out the powder scattered on the carpet. The natural thing was to brush it under the safe, where my handkerchief found it after my slapping hand had raised the scattered grains he had missed.
"The ringing of the burglar-alarm was a master-stroke. It was the link necessary to establish the innocence of Mrs. Bowden. Simpson, of course, knew of the connection. De Roque probably removed his shoes and stood on the rubber ice-bag while he opened the safe and took out the bonds and papers Simpson had so accurately described. Then, when they had all been packed and the safe closed, a natural stumbling against the safe would bring the protective-agency men to swear that nothing could have been taken from the room. When the time came to leave the building, the pail, still full of water, was carefully put in a far, dark corner of the cellar closet, where the scrub pails and mops are kept. It would have been safe until Simpson was ready to take the bonds away. That was why I worked to keep Jamison and his partner around the bank; I didn't want Simpson to have any opportunity to get the loot out.
"Of course, it was he who suggested the calling of the regular police to the flustered President Montrose. Because, while he was sure that he could deceive me, he wasn't taking any foolish risks. He wanted the central-office men to muddle the thing as much as possible, and he was shrewd enough not to overdo the casting of suspicion on Norris and his wife; the way he put in a word here and there, and looks, of course, was quite in keeping with the other details. This morning, I think, he had begun to realise what I was doing, but there was nothing he could do but count on a bluff. I took him off his guard."
For several minutes the two men smoked in silence.
"But why didn't you warn some one instead of letting the robbery go on?" Sydney asked finally.
Colton 's expressive lips framed a wry smile. "You will insist on showing the fly in the ointment, Sydney. The truth is, I was caught napping. But I guess it's just as well I didn't. Jails are built for the protection of society, and Simpson is the one man in a thousand against whom society needs protection."