Appearances Are Deceiving

by George B. Jenkins, Jr.

The Black Mask | Apr. 1922 | Vol. 5, No. 1

It was the perfect crime, until Garbett took the wrong chance and lost it all.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

An Honest Man in New York

Garbett squeezed himself out of the East Side subway train, walked through the tunnel, and took a shuttle train that would disgorge its passengers at Times Square. He hung to a strap in complete oblivion of his surroundings, for his mind was busy with the “trick” he was planning.

Mazie had been loitering in the vicinity of the wholesale silk house for the last two weeks. On the following evening she would be ready to report. At that time she would give him a complete description of the location, together with a floor-plan of the building, showing all entrances and exits. Then, there remained the selection of the men he would use, and hiring the trucks to carry away the loot, and making arrangements for selling the silk.

Garbett was an executive. He planned crimes as business men plan advertising or selling campaigns, and with equal skill and intelligence. Not once during his long career had he ventured upon an undertaking without first making careful and thorough investigations. Quick to take advantage of every opportunity, he nevertheless had a code of ethics. He preferred to scheme and plan rather than to wait for a lucky chance. And he had the skilled worker’s justifiable contempt for blunderings and amateurish crudities.

As he stepped from the shuttle train and hurried through the underground tunnel that crawls under Broadway, his mind was busy. Nothing must be left to Fate, every possibility must be anticipated. For half of his thirty-four years he had been in active conflict with law and order. Consequently, even in his moments of concentration he was unconsciously alert.

A portly, white-haired gentleman, moving with the dignity demanded by his weight and build, was walking a short distance before Garbett. A thin clerk, sprinting for a train, collided with Peter Riddick, and raced on without apology. A bobbed, trim stenographer, after completing her toilette with the aid of a pocket mirror, jolted the white-haired gentleman. And Peter Riddick’s long, flat, leather wallet, disturbed from its repose in his hip pocket, fell to the grimy floor.

Temptation reared its tempting head within the crook’s mind. Unaware of his loss, Peter Riddick continued upon his peaceful though buffeted way. Garbett stopped and picked up the purse.

The thunderous roar of racing subway trains, the voices of bellowing subway guards as they called the name of the station, the conversations and shuffling feet of hundreds of subway dwellers, mingled and blended, sounding like the murmurous roar of angry surf breaking upon a rocky shore. Garbett stared at the purse a second, and then he smiled scornfully at the voice of Temptation. He had not acquired this purse and contents in a legitimate and honorable way. Neither had he secured it through his own skill or cunning. Anyone, irrespective of their intelligence or ability, might have found it.

Garbett had worked in crowds before when he had been serving under an instructor in pocket-picking. Therefore, he knew how to avoid unwelcome collisions, how to weave his way through tightly packed humanity. He squirmed his way through the flowing masses of people like a drop of water sliding down greased glass.

Peter Riddick turned at the firm touch on his arm and observed the young man who had stopped him. He saw a keen-eyed man, nervously assured in manner, who wore an inconspicuous blue serge suit, a soft brown felt hat, tan shoes, and at somber necktie.

“I think you dropped this,” said Garbett, presenting the purse to its portly owner.

Naturally, Peter Riddick was astonished when he saw what the young man offered him.

“Well, I’ll—Yes, that’s mine!” he said, his face breaking into a smile of startled happiness as he tapped a pocket and made sure his own wallet was missing. “Young man, I thank you.” He studied his benefactor again.

“I’ve been coming to New York for the last thirty-five years,” he announced, “but never before has anyone—I’ve been robbed, and cheated, and double-charged, but—In New York City, too!”

He took the purse.

Garbett smiled, and edged away.

“Wait a minute, young man!” commanded Peter Riddick. “I not only want to thank you, I want to— You’re an honest man, and while some people say that virtue is its own reward, I think that honesty is a virtue that—”

“I don’t want any reward,” Garbett interrupted. He didn’t mind being told that he was an honest man, for he had a sense of humor. “I saw your wallet drop, and so I brought it—”

“If you’re in a hurry,” said Peter Riddick amiably, “I’ll walk along with you a little ways. For I’m not through with you, young man. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but— Don’t you need a little help some way?”

“Not that I know of,” Garbett answered, smiling. “I don’t need a thing, thank you.”

“It certainly is strange to meet an honest man,” mused the white-haired gentleman, standing directly in the path of hundreds of hurrying people, “particularly when you’ve had to pay extra for theater tickets, and something for just sitting at a table when you want to eat, and—” His manner changed swiftly.

“Young man, I want you to come in and see me. I live in Velma, Delaware, and I need you in my business. I’m the president of the First National Bank, and I can certainly find a place for an honest young man in my bank. Now if you—”

Garbett’s ears twitched, and his eyes became introspective. Mr. Riddick thought these signs were good omens, and his shrewd, kindly eyes brightened.

“A young man, an honest young man—” the portly gentleman paused. “I suppose you have something to do—but—if you ever need a job, and come in to see me, I will see that you get it.”

“Well, I’m rather busy just now,” remarked Garbett, thinking of the wholesale silk house robbery.

“That’s too bad,” Peter Riddick was sincerely regretful. “But—the time may come when you’ll need some help: a position, or a loan. I want you to call on me then, young man.” He extracted a card and a banknote from the wallet. “Here’s my name and address, and here’s something for—for you to buy a present for your best girl.”

Garbett wanted the card, and he realized that Mr. Riddick really intended that he should accept the fifty-dollar bill.

Already, possibilities had flashed into the crook’s mind. Here was a perfect entree into the First National Bank of Velma, Delaware! The limitless opportunities here! Opportunities for an honest young man, of course.

Garbett shook hands with Peter Riddick, and they parted with mutual expressions of esteem. And the crook put the bank president’s card carefully away where he could find it in case of need.

The fifty dollars was invested in a present for Mazie.

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Chapter 2

Something I Can Wear In My Hair

Needs, unfortunately, have a habit of arising. Two days after Mazie had finished her work the proprietor of the wholesale silk establishment had a new burglar alarm system put in and engaged the services of a private detective agency.

Therefore when Garbett and his associates began their activities a number of things happened. Bells burst into sound, gray-clad private detectives rushed to the warehouse, and a rapid and undignified retreat was in order.

One of the gang, ‘Red’ Somer, the lookout, did not escape, and he was requested to mention the names of his fellow criminals.

Garbett heard the call of the far and distant places. Red might not squeal, and then again he might. A bullet had pierced his thigh, he was kept in a hospital with a policeman stationed at the foot of his bed, and he had always been talkative.

If Red made statements, Garbett would be visited by blue-coats, and the crook did not care to meet officers of the law in either a social or a business way.

Peter Riddick’s card was still in his possession, so Garbett decided to visit Velma, Delaware. With his usual care, he made thoughtful and intelligent preparations. First, he traveled to a small suburban town in New Jersey, and went straight to a hardware store on a side street.

Dan McKee was a black-haired man in the late forties who wore a ferocious mustache behind a long black cigar. In the rear of Dan’s tiny store was as complete and well-equipped a laboratory as even an instructor in chemistry could desire.

It was rumored that Dan had made a discovery that would be of great benefit to a certain section of the world’s inhabitants.

Several drops of water will soften a lump of sugar; gold will dissolve in chlorine and aqua regia, or nitromuriatic acid; and Dan’s solvent had a swift and penetrating effect upon even the hardest and most burglar-proof steel. Poured upon a knife-blade, it turned the blade into a paperlike substance. Properly applied to a safe, it would turn the metal into material of the consistency of cheese. The solvent did not attack aluminum or glass or rubber.

After a demonstration of the solvent, Garbett purchased a quart of the necessary liquid and returned to New York to say farewell, and ‘I’ll be back next week’ to Mazie.

In the Pennsylvania Station, Garbett made his farewell to Mazie. She was small and slender; she had a huge flood of golden brown hair; she wore a tan and deep blue scarf and a swagger coat suit of russet brown.

“Goodbye,” said Mazie bravely, wondering whether Garbett would think of her every moment that he was away. “Bring me back a souvenir—something pretty.”

“Any particular kind of souvenir?” he asked, glancing up at the enormous clock with its black hands and Roman numerals.

“Oh—something—something I can wear in my hair,” she suggested.

A moment of thoughtful silence. Mazie knew of a hundred things she wanted to say, but she couldn’t decide which one was the most important.

Garbett had the uncomfortable feeling that he hadn’t a thing to say, but he wished Mazie would not look as though she was about to cry. .

“Have you got it?” she asked. ‘It’ meaning Dan’s solvent.

“Yes, and a quart of something else.” And then the announcer wailed his unintelligible and garbled song, which rose high and echoed from the ceiling, a signal that a train going for somewhere was soon to depart.

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##Chapter 3

A Diamond Bar Pin

Long lines of apple trees, mostly plucked of their fruit, could be seen from the car windows. Velma was a thriving town, boasting a drug-store, several large stores that kept in stock everything from needles, on through clothing, china, typewriters, tobacco, furniture, up to literature—the works of Harold Bell Wright. It had a garage, and the county jail, as well as that prosperous, at present, financial institution—the First National Bank.

Garbett turned in between the stuccoed Colonial pillars of the bank, and entered the building. Behind a wire wall, beyond the desks and books, in the center of the ground floor, was the modern up-to-date bank safe.

“Young man. I’m glad to see you! Just in time for lunch!” said Peter Riddick, coming out from behind the wire wall. To this white-haired, portly, beaming bank president, every male was “young man.”

“Sit down, and rest yourself first,” he invited, leading the way into his private office, “and then we’ll go home for food.”

In the banker’s office Garbett told his carefully prepared story. He was, he said, on his way to Washington, but he had stopped off for an hour or two. He was expected in the Capital on the following morning, so he could not accept Mr. Riddick’s instant invitation to spend the night. All the time the crook was remembering the appearance of the inside of the bank; he had a mental picture of its interior now, and he would refresh it later, when they went to lunch.

Garbett opened his suitcase and extracted a bottle and a corkscrew. While Peter Riddick waited expectantly, the crook sent the steel deep into the cork.

“Have you got a glass?” asked Garbett, a trace of nervousness in his manner. He had made a mistake; he was about to open the bottle of solvent.

“I’ll get one,” the bank president said, and departed with a smile of anticipation.

The moment he was out of the room, Garbett tore the corkscrew out, and hastily changed bottles. Almost at once the white-haired man returned with two glasses. He saw Garbett trying to force a crumbling corkscrew into place.

“Very poor steel. Sorry.” The crook laughed at his own futile efforts. As fast as he thrust the corkscrew down it crumbled into bits.

Peter Riddick was plainly puzzled; he tapped the corkscrew with a blunt finger. The steel flaked off and fell to the floor, and he rubbed it with his shoe. Now, the flakes were a fine powder that disappeared into the rug beneath his foot.

Finally, the contents of the other bottle were sampled and approved, and then the crook was taken on a tour of the bank. He was shown the safe, and its various burglar-proof features, the workings of the time-lock, and an explanation of the way the safe was made fireproof.

Garbett professed a total lack of knowledge of bank safes, though such was far from the case.

Garbett felt not the slightest twinge of conscience. His profession was, in his opinion, an ancient and dishonorable one, but it was nevertheless his profession. From early days, according to the history he studied in college, there had been those who by skill or brute force, by cleverness or wit, had made their living in the same manner. By thrift and hard work, some men and nations rose to prosperity, and then other men, or other nations, came and conquered, or stole.

“This is an honest man—an honest man from New York,” said Mr. Riddick, introducing Garbett to the office force of the bank. And Garbett acknowledged the soft impeachment, and shook hands with them all.

At luncheon the crook met Mrs. Riddick, a matronly, gray-haired woman who dressed in startling elegance. The lady had soft hands, splashed with diamonds, earrings that contained two large blazing stones; a crescent pin of white fire sent sparks from her ample bosom.

And Garbett’s eyes held an odd expression as he saw the lavish use she made of such expensive bits of carbon.

In the afternoon Peter Riddick returned to the bank, while the crook strolled about the rambling streets of the town. He walked aimlessly, a frown of concentration on his face, as he planned his actions for later in the evening.

The train for Washington left at 9:45 from the railroad station at the southern end of the town. Riddick’s house was halfway between the bank and the station, five minutes from either one. Doubtless they would escort him to the station, and wait there with him until he had left the town.

Garbett stopped in his walk, and stared at the signboard as he thought. He must devise some way to keep the Riddick from going with him to the station.

He needed thirty minutes—an hour would be far better—between the time he left the house and the time the train left.

Also, he wanted to know whether the bank was guarded at night. If there was a watchman, that individual would have to be silenced. Doubtless there was a police force in the town, too; he must make inquiries.

Garbett came to himself, and his eyes read the signboard. Up to this time, he had been too busy thinking to look.

Cabaret and Dance
Velma Dramatic Club

Garbett chuckled with amusement and strolled toward the garage. The Riddicks could be disposed of very simply. He remembered, now, that Mrs. Riddick had drawn the conversation during luncheon to artistic channels.

Of course, she wanted to go to the “Cabaret and Dance” that evening; she was just the sort of woman who would desire to shine in society. Her diamonds insisted upon an audience.

A grime and grease covered mechanic willingly ceased his languid investigations into the interior of a flivver and indulged in the luxury of a new listener.

“We’ve only got one policeman,” he said, in answer to a question, “and he’s the worse one in the United States. Prohibition ruined Pop Gordon; he’s tried more recipes than any man in the county, and he makes the worst hooch in the State.

“Why, he fed some of his stuff to a yellow dog I found, and the dog chewed up a tire casing trying to get the taste out of his mouth!”

“Then who looks after traffic, and keeps an eye on things at night?”

“Nobody,” answered the mechanic. “There’s not much traffic anyhow. Well, the next day, I saw that yellow dog looking sick, and—”

Garbett let the youth continue, and finally satisfied himself that he had nothing to fear from an unwelcome interrupter. By the time the garage monologist had come to the end of his seventh saga of the town of Velma, it was time for dinner.

As he smoked a cigarette after the evening meal, the crook recalled his promise to Mazie. He had promised her “something for her hair,” yet he had not made a single purchase so far.

A kerosene motor chugged in the cellar of the Riddick home, manufacturing electricity for the illumination of the house. Resplendently attired in a jade canton crepe evening gown, with bouffant draperies over the hips, Mrs. Riddick wore, also, her complete collection of diamonds.

“Since you insist upon our going,” she said, when she returned to the room after a short absence, “I think we had better start.”

Garbett rose instantly and took her opera cloak from her hands. She wore a bar pin of astonishing brilliancy in her hair at the side. The pin was crescent-shaped, large, with the usual simple clasp.

Peter Riddick clambered into his overcoat and put his hand on the electric light button preparatory to pressing it. Mrs. Riddick held her cloak closely about her. Garbett stood near her, waiting until the lights should be extinguished. When they went out he would take the pin.

“We are sorry that you are going,” said the bank president, as darkness dashed into the room. “An honest man, such as you, Mr. Garbett, is a rarity. But I know—”

At the words “honest man,” Garbett had unclasped the crescent bar pin, and by the time the sentence was finished he had slipped it into his pocket. Mazie was going to have a souvenir for her hair!

Turning, the crook followed Mrs. Riddick from the room, leaving Peter Riddick to follow from the farther corner. The hour was 8:30, so he had plenty of time.

The walk through the crisp, fragrant air to the station was a pleasure. Not a cloud threatened from the sky; there was no moon; only the faint radiance of stars softened the darkness. Once in the railroad station, Garbett opened his suitcase and took out the bottle of Danny’s solvent.

He had, in the breast pocket of his coat, an eye-dropper, and he made sure that this was in working order. The station clock read 8:37. Garbett waited five minutes more, and then retraced his steps as far as Riddick’s home.

Then the crook turned down an alley, passed in the rear of the garage and the drug store, and kept on to the back entrance of the bank. His mind was at ease; he even had an explanation prepared in case he was stopped.

Next door to the bank was the hall where the “Cabaret and Dance” was in progress.

If questioned, Garbett was prepared to say that he had changed his mind and thought he would look in on the festivities until train time, but had lost his way in the darkness owing to his unfamiliarity with the town.

The explanation might not be convincing, but if said with an air of surprise and apology it would probably be believed.

He reached the rear door of the bank without trouble and extracted a short bar of aluminum from a pocket.

With this he pushed down the cork in the bottle of solvent until the liquid rose above it. Then he pressed the rubber bulb of the eye-dropper and half-filled the glass tube,

He carefully squirted the solvent into the keyhole of the door, directing the stream toward the bolt.

A moment later he pulled upon the door and it opened. The solvent had acted instantly upon the metal lock of the door. Garbett waited, straining every muscle in an effort to hear a sound from the interior of the darkened building.

There was the bare possibility that Peter Riddick had dropped into the bank for some purpose. But the bank was deserted.

From the adjoining building a strong and untrained masculine voice sang a negro dialect song written and composed by two Jews.

Garbett was grateful for the noise; it made him feel safe and secure. He slipped noiselessly through the bank, looking into every room to make sure that a watchman would not surprise him later.

Once absolutely convinced that he alone was in the building, he began operations upon the safe.

The bottle of solvent was tilted against the back of the steel safe, and a small stream poured. Then, with the aluminum bar, Garbett dug the now soft and crumbling steel out in a thin line.

Four feet to the left he poured more of the solvent, and then a horizontal line that connected the two cavities. He worked in complete darkness, thrusting with aluminum bar, trusting to the messages of his fingers, and he worked desperately fast.

The singer in the adjoining building had now received assistance. A dozen voices joined in on the chorus in an attempt at harmony.

Garbett tore and thrust at the crumbling wall of the steel safe, digging a hole that led into the depths of the strong-box. Like a barrier, the wire wall cut off one-quarter of the room, and the long desk were heavy black shadows.

Suddenly, every electric light in the bank flashed into life. Garbett froze, every muscle rigid, one arm elbow deep into the wall of the safe. He had been caught!

One swift glance over his shoulder and hope fell from him like a discarded garment.

A huge and well-polished blue steel revolver, with a barrel eight inches long, was being pointed straight at the crook’s back. If he rose or moved that ponderous gun would explode. It was held by a nervous and excited man, whose rubicund face identified him as Pop Gordon, the town policeman.

“Don’t move—don’t you dare move!” ordered Pop, dragging a pair of handcuffs from a sagging pocket of his ancient overcoat. He clicked one handcuff on Garbett’s right ankle, and the other on his left.

“Stay right where you are.” He produced another pair of handcuffs, and fastened the crook’s hands behind his back.

Peter Riddick had remained silent; now he put his small automatic back into his pocket.

“Young man,” he said, “I am certainly disappointed. I thought you were honest. When I saw you steal that crescent pin from my wife’s hair I was the most surprised man in Velma, Delaware. I didn’t think—”

“I’ll bet he’s a big New York crook,” said Pop Gordon. “Come look at the big hole in your safe, Mr. Riddick! If we had waited—”

Peter Riddick observed the opening with brooding eyes. “That’s remarkable, but—I am sorry this young man made it. In about ten minutes he has—” He turned once more to Garbett.

“I recall that your corkscrew fell to pieces. You are a clever young man,” he shook his head sadly, “but you are not an honest one.”

Garbett knew that the evidence against him was complete and damning. He was helpless and hopeless. So he refused to answer any of the questions that were asked.

Pop Gordon led the crook through the starlit cool night, while the sound of dance music lilted gaily through the air. The huge, long-barreled revolver was pressed nervously against the crook’s side.

“What’d you steal that pin for, anyway?” asked Pop Gordon. “You New Yorkers think you’re smart, but you ain’t! You ain’t smart at all. There was all that money in the bank, and you’d ’a got it, if you hadn’t been so smart. Stealing a two-dollar dingus from Mrs. Riddick’s hair and letting her husband see you. Why, he came right away and got me, and we followed you the whole way from the railroad station back to the bank. And all because of that two-dollar pin.

Garbett sneered, and his mouth twisted in an unbelieving smile. “Two dollars? It’s worth five hundred! Isn’t she the wife of the president of the bank?”

“Yes, sure she is,” cackled Pop, his watery eyes swimming with amusement. “But she ain’t stuck up. She bought that pin when she was a waitress in the Busy Bee Restaurant; bought it from a peddler long before she was married. And she wears it just to show folks that she ain’t stuck up, now that she can afford the real thing. She says the peddler told her the stones were real— were real white sapphires that came from Peru. And you thought you were smart!”

Long after he had heard the whistle of the 9:45 train on its way to Washington, Garbett stayed awake. Pop Gordon was right. He wasn’t smart. He was a fool.

Shackled and manacled, locked in the county jail while the New York police were being notified, Garbett realized he was a fool.

If he had only been honest—

~ The End ~

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