The Shadow Crook - Aidan de Brune - ebook

The Shadow Crook ebook

Aidan de Brune

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Aidan de Brune has been described as the Edgar Wallace of Australia. De Brune was a Canadian-born writer who settled in Australia. His latest novel, „The Shadow Crook,” certainly justifies the claim. It is an amazing story of a master criminal who terrorized Sydney, taunted the police, and baffled the finger-print experts. „The Shadow Crook” raided the detective offices in Sydney, bound and gagged the fingerprint expert, and ransacked his records. Who was he? Why did he take the tremendous risk of breaking into police headquarters? What connection had he with the death of Stacey Carr, and the disappearance of valuable jewels? A very private vengeance stalks Sydney’s underground.

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Liczba stron: 436

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER I

“Night, Mason!” Detective-Sergeant Grime, walking through the main hall at Police Headquarters, Hunter-street, Sydney, halted beside Inspector Robert Mason. “Working back?”

“Waiting for Anderson,” Mason answered, pacing towards the main doors with the sergeant. “What a night! You’ll have trouble in getting to North Sydney through this fog. Better telephone home and stay over here. I can put you up.”

“Thanks, no. The missus is always nervous nights like these, alone in the house. I’ll have a shot for the ferry. If I can’t get across I’ll come back and knock you up.”

“Do.” Mason peered out on the dark streets up which the fog was rolling in long, white billows. “About the worst fog Sydney’s ever had.”

“Bur-r-r!” Grime turned up the big collar of his overcoat and snuggled his hands into the pockets. “Glad I’m not on duty. Just the night for the Shadow Crook!”

“The Shadow Crook?” Mason laughed. “Is there such a person?”

“You wouldn’t ask that question if you were up in Darlinghurst.” Grime shrugged his shoulders. “They’re convinced the Shadow Crook’s real believe me. Well. I’ll get along. See you to-morrow, if nothing happens.”

The sergeant ran down the half-dozen steps to the pavement and went to cross to The Hunter-Phillip streets corner. He had barely stepped from the pavement when a thick billow of fog rolled up Phillip-street, and blotted him from the Inspector’s sight.

Mason stood on the steps for some seconds, peering out on the ill-lit streets. With an involuntary shudder he turned to re-enter the building. Then he noticed a man leaning against one of the stone pillars of the entrance. At the moment, the man looked up and their eyes met. The man turned away, immediately, and his sparse, ill-covered frame was shaken with violent spasms of coughing.

“Better get under cover, my friend, with that cough.” Mason spoke kindly. “This is not the sort of night for you to be out in. Here, wait a minute.”

He strode: in to the hall, and to the Inquiry Desk. In a few seconds he returned to the street, carrying a glass of water. The man had disappeared. For a time the Inspector stood on the pavement searching the street so far as he could see in the fog. Then, with an impatient exclamation, he poured the water in the gutter and returned the glass to the desk.

“Wonder where Sergeant Anderson’s got to?” he remarked to the constable on duty. “I’ve been waiting for him a full quarter of an hour.”

“Came down the stairs a few minutes ago, Inspector, and went toward his room,” the man replied. “Seemed in a bit of a hurry.”

“Did he?” Mason turned toward the corridor on the right of the hall. “I’ll hurry him for those records he promised to let me have to-night.”

At the third door on the left-hand side of the corridor Mason stopped and tried the handle. The door was locked. He listened but could hear no movement within the room. As he stepped hack he noticed under the door a thin line of light. Anderson must have left a light burning in his office. That meant he would return in a very short time. Thrusting his pockets, Mason strolled towards the main hall.

“Not there!” The Inspector leaned against the counter. “Anderson seems to be doing a lot of travelling to-night. Wish he’d hurry up. This isn’t a night to be standing about waiting–”

The lights in the hall suddenly failed. The Inspector felt in his pocket for a match. By the faint light he saw the constable in a corner fumbling at the switches. He stepped cautiously through the hall. Not a light was to be seen anywhere. He went to the foot of the stairs and looked up. The upper floor was in darkness and from the distance came sounds as of bees disturbed in their hive. With a slight laugh he turned back to the Inquiry Desk, guided by the matches the constable was striking.

“Total eclipse, Clarke,” he said lightly. “Thick darkness all over the building. Looks to me as if the main fuse’s blown out.”

By the light of matches he made his way to the swing doors leading to offices. As he came to them, a man from the Criminal Investigation Branch pushed through, colliding sharply with him. Mason caught him by the shoulder.

“Who’s this?”

“Constable Swartz, sir.” The man flashed the light of a torch on the Inspector. “There’s not a light in the place. Did you see a man come through here?”

“A man come through here?” Mason repeated the question, reflectively. “Now, who the devil did you expect me to see in this darkness?”

“No one came through the hall.” The desk constable spoke quickly. “I’ve had my eyes on the outer door ever since the lights went out and not a soul’s passed. Anything wrong Swartz?”

“Can’t say,” Swartz scratched his head. “I was in the Long Room when the lights went out and just before that Andrews called out that there was someone in the passage. Collins says he saw a man in a worn brown overcoat and dark grey hat pulled down low over his eyes, peering in at the side window, but he may have been mistaken, The lights went out just as he called out.”

“A man in a worn overcoat and hat pulled down over his eyes,” repeated the inspector. His thoughts flew to the man he had seen leaning against one of the stone pillars of the door. The description was accurate. “How did he get in?”

“Must have come up the steps from the yard.” Constable Clarke made the suggestion. “He never came through the main doors. I’ve seen everyone who’s come through the hall, to-night and there’s been no one as answered to that description. Any way, I wouldn’t let anyone go down to D.B. offices at this time of the night unless I knew their business.”

“Humph!” The Inspector took the torch from Swartz’s hand and swept the light round the hall. “Swartz, go to the door. Let anyone in who wants to enter but let no one out until I’ve had a word with them. Clarke, keep all callers at the desk. Get a torch, or better still a candle quick.”

Sweeping the light around him Mason pushed through the swing door and walked down the passage to the Long Room. At the corner of a short branch passage on his left leading to the Superintendent’s room and a door to the C.I.B. general offices he hesitated, then turned up it, testing the doors. They were both locked. He retraced his steps and entered the Long Room. Here he found four men illuminating their surroundings with a couple of electric torches.

“Who’s looking to the fuses?” he asked, as he entered the room.

“Smith, sir.” One of the men advanced from the group.

“You, Andrews. What’s this about someone being in the passage just before the lights, blacked out?”

“I was seated over there, Inspector.” Andrew’s face, illuminated by the Inspector’s torch looked worried and perplexed. “I happened to glance towards the side-window and thought I saw someone peering in at the corner. I was getting up from my chair to go across to the window when he raised his hand and the lights went out.”

“He raised his hand and the lights went out?” Mason repeated the statement, incredulously. “Didn’t happen to be dozing, Andrews? No. You saw something, Collins?”

“Just what Andrews saw, Inspector,” Collins answered promptly. “I saw the man plainly. He was dressed in an old brown overcoat with the collar turned well up. His hat, a shabby dark grey one, was pulled down over his eyes. Hardly any of his face was to be seen. He stood at the side-window for a full half-minute and I had a good look at him. Then he raised his arm in the air, about shoulder high and the lights went out.”

“Where did he go?”

“The lights went out, inspector.”

“I went to the yard at once, Inspector,” a third constable spoke. “There was, no one there. I searched the motor shed and all.”

“He didn’t come down the passage and into the main hall!” Mason spoke emphatically. “He wasn’t in the passage when I came down it just now. You say he wasn’t in the Yard. Where did he go to? How many minutes were you getting from this room to the yard after the lights failed, Brown?”

“Not more than ten seconds, Inspector. Immediately Andrews called out there was a man at the slide and the lights went out, I jumped for the door. If he went through the yard I must have seen him.”

The lights in the Long Room sprang to life, turning the glow from the torches to ghost-rings of light. The Inspector snapped the trigger of his torch and laid it on the table. He glanced at the men before him. Their faces reflected the perplexity he knew showed on his.

Had someone been in the passage, outside the Long Room? The men on duty, all experienced officers, swore they had seen someone peering in at the side-window. Mason could not doubt their truth or sincerity. They were puzzled and confused by the strange happenings, yet their stories tallied to the smallest detail.

Who could have come into the passage from the yard? It was possibly some stranger, having business at Police Headquarters, who had mistakenly tried to enter the offices from the yard. But, if that had happened, on seeing the constables in the Long Room, he would have asked for directions.

Constable Brown was certain he had arrived in the yard within ten seconds of Andrews’ exclamation. Had the stronger been in the passage he must have collided with him. But Brown had stated he had seen no one. It would be impossible for any one to run down the steps from the passage to the yard, along the line of buildings to the driveway and to Philip-street, without the constable noticing him, even if Brown had taken twice the time he had stated.

If this man, seen by three of the constables in the Long Room had not escaped through the yard, where was he? The Inspector had come down the passage from the hall. Swartz had come up the passage immediately following Brown’s dash for the yard. There had been no one in the yard. Neither, he, nor Swartz had seen anyone in the passage.

There was a queer air of improbability over the whole story. Yet Mason was certain some stranger had been in Police Headquarters within the last quarter of an hour. The man had acted strangely and had disappeared mysteriously, when challenged.

Who was the man and what was his business? Again the Inspector’s thoughts turned to the man he had spoken to at the main-door. That man had been dressed in the manner described by Collins. He remembered the worn brown overcoat, the collar turned up high to conceal the features. The man had huddled it around him in the paroxysm of coughing.

The man had disappeared when he had gone to the desk for the water. Mentally, Mason measured the time. The man would have been able to sprint from the entrance doors to the drive-way in the interval. But, what did he want within Police Headquarters? He was of the type more likely to avoid the police than to invade their stronghold.

Sergeant Grime’s parting words came to Mason suddenly. “Just the night for the Shadow Crook.” The Shadow Crook. If there existed such a person, and Mason was beginning to believe there did, this adventure would be in his line. But, what would the Shadow Crook want at Police Headquarters?

A man ran up the steps from the yard and entered the Long Room. Seeing Inspector Mason seated on the edge of the table he went across to him.

“All right now, Inspector. Main fuse blew out.”

“Accident. I suppose.” Mason slipped to his feet and went to the door. “Looks as if you fellows got a shock when the lights failed and thought you saw things. Strange enough, you should mention a man in a worn brown overcoat and dark-grey hat. Just a few minutes before Swartz came to the hall I was speaking to a fellow dressed like that on the front steps. He had a beastly cough and I–”

He hesitated at the head of the steps leading from the passage to the yard. A globe hung low from the ceiling, but was not alight. He turned to the men who had accompanied him from the Long Room.

“Bring a chair here, Smith.” He spoke abruptly. “This globe’s broken. Better get another or someone’ll break their neck in the dark.”

The man fetched a chair and unscrewed the globe from its socket. As it came free in his hand something fell with a slight tinkle to the floor. Mason drew a match from his pocket and searched the bare boards. A moment and he straightened himself. Between his fingers was a small piece of metal. Slipping it into his palm he closed his fingers over it.

“All right, you fellows. Show’s all over. Fix that light, Smith and if any of you see a man in a worn brown overcoat and dark grey hat, bring him to me. Good-night.”

As the men turned to re-enter the Long Room Mason touched Collins on the arm and led the way up the passage to the swing doors. As he went he tested the doors on either side of the passage. They were all locked. Just before he came to the swing doors he halted abruptly and turned to the constable.

“What’s this, Collins?” The Inspector opened his hand under the man’s eyes.

“Three-penny piece, Inspector.”

“What’s, the effect of a threepenny bit played across the contacts of a globe and the switch snapped on?”

“Burn out the fuse, sir.”

“Thought so. You’re certain you saw the man at the slide-window, just before the lights failed?”

“Absolutely certain, Inspector.”

“The man raised his arm as the lights failed?”

“Yes.”

For a moment the Inspector was silent, turning the little coin on his palm. Suddenly he looked up at the constable.

“Know anything of the Shadow Crook, Collins?”

“Only the tales that come down from Darlinghurst.” The man hesitated. “I think there’s someone operating in that district who’s got them on the raw. He seems to be able to cover his tracks jolly well.”

“The Shadow Crook!” Mason spoke almost under his breath. “If it was him who came here to-night, he’s got a nerve. What do you think, Collins?”

“Sounds something like the tales they tell of him, Inspector,” the constable spoke dubiously.

“Well, I don’t know what he was after,” Mason laughed. “But, I do know this. If that was the Shadow Crook, Collins, then he’s out, and the Police Department’s in, the sum of threepence. Not much, I grant, but it’s the first penalty in the shape of a fine against him.”

CHAPTER II

Inspector Mason pushed through the swing doors into the main hall, closely followed by Collins and looked around him. Immediately he noticed there was a stranger in the hall. Lounging against the Inquiry Desk was a tall, lanky young man; keen faced, his most noticeable feature being a crop of unruly black hair, worn somewhat long. At the Inspector’s entrance he looked up and moved forward, briskly, to meet him.

“Raid on Police Headquarters, Mason.” He spoke in a deep voice, carrying a hint of laughter. “Clarke tells me headquarters have been shrouded in a mysterious darkness for the last quarter of an hour. Anything wrong?”

“Darkness, certainly,” Mason spoke thoughtfully. “But so far I have failed to discover anything but a fuse blown out. Alec Branston of the Morning Mirror staff, if I’m not mistaken.”

“On night rounds,” Branston nodded affirmatively. “You’ve got a good memory, Inspector. By the way, there’s congratulations due on a well-earned step, I believe.”

“Thanks. Anything interesting happened to-night?”

“I should ask you that, but I suppose you’re too big a swell in the police department now. I gathered at Darlinghurst that one of their men claimed to have disturbed the Shadow Crook at work, to-night.”

“The Shadow Crook.” Mason spoke quickly. “Where and at what time?”

“Early in the evening, just after dusk.” The reporter looked inquisitively at the Inspector. “I believe at one of the flats in Walcott-road.”

For a full minute the Inspector remained silent. If the Shadow Crook had been operating at Darlinghurst early in the evening it was improbable he would be hanging about police headquarters a couple of hours later. Yet there had been plenty of time for him to cover the intervening distance.

“Who is the Shadow Crook?” The detective turned to the newspaper-man. “Remember, Branston, I’ve been in the country for the past two years. Down here you seem full of him. Grime mentioned him to-night. The Superintendent had a word to say about him yesterday. What’s the strength of it all? Seems to be a hobby to place everything otherwise unexplainable, on the shoulders of the Shadow Crook. What’s your theory?”

“Answer your own questions correctly and I’ll have a fine front-page story in the Mirror to-morrow morning,” Branston laughed. “All that’s known is that the Shadow Crook appears to have a marvellous ability to get out of tight corners. He appears at unexpected places and just when it seems he’s corner he melts into thin air. There’s a dozen mysterious burglaries placed to his credit and everyone has unique features. There’s half a hundred or so ordinary affairs, so far unexplained, accredited to him, I believe, without the slightest evidence. I’m prepared to accept the dozen. The others well, any of them could have been committed by well-known Sydney hooks.”

“Been seen? Of course. You mentioned the Darlinghurst man saw him to-night. Has he booked a description?”

“Over medium height. Thin, hollow-chested. Wears a brown overcoat, collar turned up, grey hat, much stained, pulled well down over his eyes.” Branston was reading from a pad he had taken from his pocket. “Moves absolutely silent–like a shadow. Probably wore rubber heels and soles.”

“Humph!” The Inspector swung round to face Collins, standing just behind him. “How’s that?”

“Fits him to a ‘t’,” exclaimed the constable.

“He’s been here?” The journalist produced a pencil. “What’s happened?”

“That’s what I’d like to know. By the way, Branston, anyone beside the Darlinghurst man seen him?”

“Two or three people who have been robbed are said to have seen him.” Branston was writing rapidly. “But they weren’t, able to provide a description. All they could say was that a shadow slipped past them. No sound, no substance, according to their account–nothing tangible. That’s how he got the name of the Shadow Crook.”

“Then it wasn’t the sudden darkness acting on fevered imaginations.” Mason, was musing to himself. “But I didn’t think there was a crook in Sydney with the cheek to walk into police headquarters and fuse the electric light.”

“Fuse the electric light!” The newspaper-man’s pencil flew over the paper.

“Here, hold hard!” Mason made a grab at the wad of paper the journalist held. “That’s’ not for publication, you know.”

“Stalled!” Branston grinned cheer fully, evading the clutching hand. “What’s the good of being mean, over the-best story I’m likely to get to-night. Got into police headquarters did he, and fused the lights. Well, what happened? Gold plate safe?”

“We must erect a wing at Long Bay for inquisitive journalists!” Mason laughed. “Yes, the gold plate’s quite safe. Use the tale, if you like, Branston, but don’t quote it as official. What the Shadow Crook was after I can’t understand. Why, it wouldn’t pay even a newspaper-man to try and rob headquarters at this time, of the night. Say, Clarke, have you seen Anderson, through all this commotion?”

“No, Inspector.”

“I’ll have another look in his office. If he’s not there this time, I’m off. You needn’t wait, Swartz. Fun’s all over for the night. Good-night, Branston. Hope to be able to give you a better story one day.”

He turned down the corridor in the direction of the Fingerprints Department. Anderson’s door was shut and locked, and under the edge of the door still showed the thin line of light. It seemed strange that so careful a man as Sergeant Anderson should be away from his room for any considerable length of time and leave the lights burning. Mason placed his ear against the panel of the door and listened intently. For some moments he could hear nothing. Then he thought he heard the sounds of muffled scrapings within the room: He knocked sharply, but no answer came, only the dulled shuffling–now more plainly. He swung, round and went to the Inquiry Desk.

“Where are the keys of the doors, Clarke?”

“On the board, in the main office, Inspector. Anything wrong?”

“Don’t know. Anderson’s room is locked, but the light is still burning. I think I can hear someone inside but when I knocked I got no answer.”

The constable took a key from his desk and disappeared into the main office. In a few seconds he returned, dangling a bunch of keys on his fingers, and walked down to Sergeant Anderson’s office, followed by the Inspector, Branston and Const. Collins.

All the lights were on in the rather large office. The four men stood just within the door, searching the room with their eyes. It appeared empty–as if the Sergeant had left it to obtain something he required from another part of the building. On the table stood one of the file drawers. Other drawers were pulled out half-way from the steep cabinets. By the file on the table was a blotting-pad and on it lay a few record cards, across which lay a gold-mounted fountain pen.

Constable Clarke walked slowly into the room, around the large table, and halted with an exclamation of dismay. The others crowded after him, to look down on a man, bound and gagged, lying half under the table. It was Sergeant Anderson. Mason dropped to his knees and sawed at the bonds with his pocket knife. Branston stood watching for some moments, then wandered carelessly around the room, searching the files with eager eyes. At length, he stopped and bent over a half-opened drawer.

“Someone’s been at this cabinet, Mason,” he called.

“What’s that?” The Inspector left the two constables to complete the releasing of Anderson from his bonds and came to the journalist’s side. For a moment he carefully examined the records Branston indicated. “These seem complete. What makes you think they have been tampered with?”

“Anderson’s been working on a line of drawers on the other side of the room, and there’s no connection between them and these records. Ask him.” The newspaper-man spoke curtly.

Mason looked round. The sergeant was struggling to his feet dazed and groggy. One of the constables was drawing towards him a swivel-chair. The Inspector waited until the man was seated before he spoke.

“Been working over here, Anderson?” The men swung the chair round so that the sergeant faced the isle of cabinets against which Mason stood.

“No.” Anderson struggled to his feet and, supported by the two constables, staggered across to where the officer and Branston stood. “I’ve been working BX3, W11, and ZE2–the particulars you asked me to get out for you to-night. These filers are PUR4. I haven’t touched them to-day.”

“Sit down, man.” The Inspector dragged a chair forward. “Now. What happened? I’ve been to and from your room half a dozen times during the past hour and never caught sight of you’ve not been lying under the table all that time?”

“So far as I know I’ve only been here a few minutes.” The man answered in a weak voice. “Your particulars wanted some searching out and I’ve had to run about the building collecting details.”

“How long since you entered this room for the last time–when you got that smack on the head?” Mason looked at his watch. “It’s ten-five now.”

“Then I’ve lain there about a quarter of an hour.” Anderson, a slight, grey-haired man with a thin clever face, spoke painfully. “I was in the Commissioner’s office, when the quarter-to-ten chimed. I came down here and found I wanted some record cards and went to the store down stairs for them. As I went to re-enter this room, something struck me on the head, and I went out.”

“Sandbag.” The Inspector was exploring the sergeant’s head with gentle fingers. “You’ve a whale of a bruise here. We’ll get the surgeon in a minute and have you doctored up. First, tell me what happened after you were knocked down.”

“Don’t know. I was knocked out.” Anderson spoke after a considerable pause. “I have a hazy notion there was someone in the room, moving about, but there wasn’t a sound. It was just like a dream-shadow fitting between my closed eyelids and the lights, every now and then.”

“The Shadow Crook!” came from Branston. The newspaper-man spoke the word under his breath but Mason heard and turned a frowning face towards him.

“Then I heard someone at the door and tried to cry. out.” Anderson continued: “I tried to cry out but I was gagged. I shuffled my bound feet on the floor and tried to drum with my heels, but I was tied too tight for that. Whoever was at the door went away, and I thought I was to lie here all night, unless Clarke discovered my lights burning and opened the door to switch them off. I tell you I was relieved when I heard the key in the lock.”

The inspector looked from the sergeant to the disordered files-drawer. For some minutes he was silent, frowning thoughtfully.

“Let’s get this straight,” he spoke suddenly. “Do you remember the lights going out? Where were you then?”

“Here!” Anderson answered promptly. “I had a candle in the room and found it. I had just commenced to work by its light when I found I wanted the cards and went downstairs for them.

“Leaving your door unlocked?”

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