Cart
(
Professional Sleuth

The Bird Burglar's Last Crime

A Dixon Hawke Mystery

Dixon Hawke Library | | No. 559

Can Dixon Hawke unmask the mysterious Bird Burglar before he flies the coop?

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

The Bird Man Strikes!

Constable Simpson, of the Shoreditch Division of the Metropolitan Police, stopped to turn up the collar of his oilskin cape as the fog from the river clamped down like a wet hand. It was a horrible night, and the mean streets through which the officer was patrolling were completely deserted.

Even the inevitable down-and-outs had vanished. Probably those unfortunate people were crouching in doorways for shelter. Simpson's powerful bull's-eye only made a blur in a fog, and he switched the light off as he started down Canal Street to the end of his beat.

Something flashed by him with a terrified squawk. It was a cat, tail stiff and fur bristling. Only for a moment did the constable see it, and then the animal was swallowed up by the fog.

"Wonder what scared it?" Simpson mused.

As if in answer a scream echoed down the street. Never had the constable heard such a frightful sound. He felt his blood run cold, and for several moments was unable to move. Then he began to run as the scream broke on a high note and died away in a rattling gurgle.

The fog made it difficult for him to locate the direction from which the cry had come. He ran the length of the long street, and turned into Potter's Lane, shouting as he went along. His own voice was thrown back to him in a muffled echo, but the scream was not repeated.

In the neighbourhood doors were opened, and harsh Cockney voices demanded to know what was the matter. Simpson turned back. The cry must have come from higher up the street.

As he went along Simpson, heard a slight squeaking mingled with the sound of somebody breathing hard. A trolley, made out of a shallow box and fitted with bicycle wheels, rolled out of the darkness. On the trolley a man squatted. He was propelling the vehicle by moving the wheels with his hands, and from the open front of the box projected a pair of wooden legs.

Simpson recognised a character of the neighbourhood, a beggar who was known as Peg-Leg. He was often to be seen rolling himself through the streets on his homemade trolley. A placard on his hack stated that he had lost his legs in the war, and the tin cup he held up to passers-by was always well filled.

Peg-Leg carried a handful of shoe laces and a few boxes of matches as a pretence that he was a hawker and not a beggar. He rolled his big bead back and looked up at the constable with frightened eyes.

"Did you 'ear that?" he gasped.

"I did," snapped Simpson. "Who yelled?"

"Dunno. Seemed to come from about 'arf way down the street."

He turned the trolley with his powerful hands, and followed the officer. They reached an alleyway which cut off at right angles from the street. It was a cul-de-sac which led to the yard of a bottle works. Simpson went down it a little way, but could see nothing.

A hoarse cry from Peg-Leg brought him running back to the head of the alley. It had started to rain, and the fog had been driven away. There was sufficient light to make out a huddled shape which sprawled over the sill of a window over twenty feet from the ground.

Simpson turned his bull's-eye on the object. The light picked up the yellow face of an old man who was hanging half out of the window. His mouth was slightly open, and his eyes bulged. Simpson shuddered as he snapped out the light.

"That's Levy, the pawnbroker!" Peg-Leg said in an awed voice. "What's the matter with him, guv'nor?"

"None of your business!" Simpson snapped. "Get away home just now. You'll probably have to answer a few questions later.''

With a surly grunt, Peg-Leg wheeled himself off.

Simpson blew a shrill blast on his whistle; and then hurried round the angle of the block to the front door of the pawnshop. There was no answer to his hammerings. He knew that the old pawnbroker lived alone up there, and promptly put his sturdy shoulders to the door. The flimsy lock snapped, and the constable stumbled into the shop.

Pushing his way by the racks of old clothes and similar pledges, he mounted a winding flight of stairs which led to the room where Levy slept. The old house was three storeyed, and the uncarpeted stairs creaked as the officer hurried up.

He tried two rooms on the top floor, but they were used for storage. When he tried a third door on the landing he found it locked. Flashing his light into the keyhole, he could see the key on the other side.

He tried to force the door. It was much stronger than the one on the street, however, and it took several charges to send it crashing inwards. Simpson rushed in and crossed to the figure that sprawled over the window-sill.

One glance was sufficient to tell him that the old pawnbroker was dead. There were ugly bruises on his scrawny throat, his lips were blue, and his tongue was swollen. He had been strangled.

The room itself showed plenty of signs that the dead man had struggled valiantly. A table was overturned, and even the black-out curtains had been torn down. A cash-box lay on the floor, wads of notes scattered in all directions. The killer had been scared away before he could complete the robbery he had attempted.

The thing that puzzled Simpson, however, was how the criminal could have entered the room and left it.

The door had been locked on the inside, there was no hiding-place, and the only exit was by the window. A wall of smooth red brick went down for twenty feet into the alley, and there was no drain-pipe or anything else by which the man could have climbed.

Constable Simpson almost stopped breathing. He turned off the light, and with his powerful flashlamp began to look carefully over the floor. He gave an exclamation when he found strange marks close to the window. They were the marks of claws, exactly like those of some gigantic bird.

"The Bird Burglar!" gasped Simpson. "A killing this time, too. I've got to telephone Scotland Yard. Those fellows are in charge of this case."

He closed the broken window as best he could, and then hurried down to the shop, where there was a telephone.

Back to Top

Chapter 2

Hawke Takes Charge

The Bird Burglaries, as they were called by the newspapers, had started about a month before. They were sensational, because the criminal always entered by a window far above the ground, and there were never any traces to show how he had climbed up.

In every case the claw marks of a giant bird had been found on the scene of the robbery. There were no footmarks and no finger-prints. The crimes were carried out swiftly and silently, sometimes while the victim was peacefully asleep in the same room.

The police had been completely baffled, and finally Scotland Yard authorities had been called in. Equally as puzzled as the police, they had at last put the case in the hands of Dixon Hawke, the famous criminologist.

Hawke had checked the alarming number of robberies by suggesting that people with valuables should keep their upstairs windows as securely closed as those on the ground floor. For over a week after the suggestion had been made public the Bird Burglar had been quiet.

The murder of Levy was likely to cause a panic. Nobody was safe from a criminal who seemed capable of flying twenty feet into the air.

Within one hour of Simpson discovering the crime, Dixon Hawke was on the scene, together with his assistant, Tommy Burke, and several of the Yard officials. A police doctor had just finished examining the body.

"Strangled all right," he said. "The murderer had very powerful hands, too. I have rarely seen such marks made by human fingers."

"Any finger-prints, doctor?" Hawke asked.

"None. He wore gloves."

Hawke nodded. The Bird Burglar had always worn gloves. The only telltale marks he left on the scene of his crimes were these giant claw-marks. In this instance they were clear and sharp, and made a deep dent in the worn carpet near the window. The raider was of heavy build.

Looking round the room, the criminologist noticed the remains of a fish supper on a side table. He judged that the dead pawnbroker had prepared his meal and opened the window to let out the smell of the cooking. Forgetful of the open window, and the black-out, he had sat down to go over his accounts.

Levy was something of a miser. He did not trust banks, and kept a large sum of money in his rooms. There was a safe of the very latest design in one corner.

"He was asking for trouble to keep so much money here, chief," Tommy Burke said. "Gosh! No wonder the Bird Burglar paid him a visit!"

"I wonder how he knew Levy had so much money here?" Hawke mused. "H'm! It seems to me the killer knew this district very well, and waited a long time for that window to be left open."

He went to the window as he spoke and began to examine the sill with the aid of a powerful flash. The freestone was covered with a layer of soot and grime from the factories in the neighbourhood.

It was possible to make out the smudgy marks of Levy's body. The killer had apparently carried his victim to the window with the intention of throwing him out, but had abandoned that idea when the shouts of Constable Simpson alarmed him.

Looking further along the stone ledge, Hawke found two sets of broad marks, four in each. They had been made by the gloved hands of the raider hooking over the ledge to haul himself into the room.

"And twenty feet to the ground," Hawke said. "How could he jump so far? And he either jumped or flew to reach this window."

They left the room and went down to the alley. After searching round, Hawke found the claw-marks of the Bird Burglar's feet deeply imprinted in mud. A few yards away he found another set, and then close to the first marks some further ones. It was just as if the amazing criminal had been hopping round bird fashion.

The marks grew fainter and fainter, however, and the last set Hawke found were just a blur. His keen eyes noticed something else, a double track on the greasy road made by the worn tyres of bicycle wheels.

"Were there any cyclists round here, Simpson?" Hawke asked the constable, who was standing near.

Simpson shook his head.

"No, sir. What you're looking at are the tracks of Peg-Leg's trolley."

"Peg-Leg?"

"Something of a character, sir. He's a beggar with wooden legs. He saw Levy before I did. I sent him home, and told him he might be questioned later."

"Good," said Hawke. "Still, it's a bad night for a beggar to be out," he added thoughtfully.

"Oh, he often prowls round, sir. Really amazing the way he handles that sugar-box trolley of his."

"Was he the only person you saw on your beat? Nothing else happened before you heard the scream?"

Simpson fingered the strap of his helmet thoughtfully. He was a man of keen intelligence, and carefully reviewed every detail of what had happened before the cry of the dying man echoed through the street.

"Well, there was a cat," he began.

"A cat?"

"Yes. sir. It ran past me through the fog, squawking with fright and its hair bristling. It takes a lot to scare an alley cat. I suppose the Bird Burglar must have frightened it."

"That's possible," Hawke agreed. "The cat probably smelt Levy's fish supper, and was prowling in the alley. Humph! So our flying criminal must have reached the window from the alley. Apparently he does not fly until he reaches the scene of his crime—if he does fly."

Tommy Burke looked at his chief swiftly. There was a lot of meaning in the criminologist's last words.

"If he doesn't fly he must jump," Tommy reminded him.

"I think it is more likely that he does jump," Hawke replied. " Well, we'd better complete Our investigations by interviewing Peg-Leg. If he was near Levy's place at the time, perhaps he can give us some help. Where does he lodge, constable?"

"I'll show you, sir."

Back to Top

Chapter 3

Tommy's Orders

They tramped through the mean streets, finally reaching a mews which had given stabling to many horses in the old coaching days. Some of the stalls were now used to garage the lorries of a nearby factory, and some of the others had been made into rooms. The district was dirty and ugly.

"They've condemned these places for dwellings," Simpson said, "but there are one or two people hanging on still. We'll find Peg-Leg here, sir."

He pointed to an iron-barred window at the end of the mews. When he banged on the door and called out who he was, a surly voice answered. Then there was the squeak of wheels, and the door was opened.

Peg-Leg still squatted in his trolley, but he had removed his wooden legs, and the folded ends of his trousers flapped over his stumps. Gripping the wheels of his trolley, he turned the little vehicle with amazing skill, backing into the room so that the visitors could enter.

It was certainly a terrible hovel to be the home of a cripple man.

A mattress and a few ragged blankets formed the bed. They were indescribably dirty. In another corner of the room was a rusty Primus stove and a few cooking pots. The only other furniture was a rough bench, built about knee-high, on which were various tools, and several toys made out of wood.

"My bloomin' 'appy 'ome!" Peg-Leg snarled. "'Ow would you like to live here, mister?"

The remark was addressed to Hawke. The criminologist finished looking round, and then met the angry stare of the cripple.

"I'm sorry," he said gravely.

"You'd be more sorry if you tried to get round on wooden pegs and sell kid's toys for a living."

"Haven't you ever been given artificial legs?" Hawke demanded. "With your war service you're entitled to them. You could walk then. I'll see what I can do for you."

Peg-Leg sat bolt upright on his trolley. There was a queer look in his eyes. He put a hand on the end of the wooden stumps which were in the trolley by his side.

"I don't want any of those things!" he shouted. "I much prefer the legs I made myself."

There was no trace of Cockney in his voice, but suddenly he slipped back into the harsh and whining dialect.

"Don't trust no bloomin' thing I ain't made," he mumbled. "Whatcher want to see me for, mister? A 'tec, ain't yer? Well, I don't know nuffin' about the croaking of Levy."

"The constable tells me that you were with him when the body was discovered."

"Yus, I saw it first. He was 'anging head downwards out of the window."

"What were you doing out at that hour of the night?" Peg-Leg scowled. He hesitated before he answered the question, but then he went on with his old confidence.

"The wet made me stumps ache," he said. "I couldn't stop it, so I went out. I like going around at night. People don't look at a bloke so much then."

"Where were you when Levy screamed?"

"Sheltering in the archway of Pump Court from the rain."

"Didn't you see or hear anything?"

"Well, yes and no, mister." Peg-Leg scratched his head thoughtfully. "I 'eard a flapping noise," he said in awed tones. "Like wings it was. Then there was a scream, and then the copper shouted and ran by me. I wheeled out of me shelter and met him. Lumme, but just before that I could swear I saw something flying over the roofs!"

"Flying?"

"Yus, like a great bat."

Constable Simpson moved uncomfortably, and even Tommy, accustomed to weird angles of crime, shot a quick look over his shoulder. Only Hawke remained unconcerned. He was even smiling as he turned away from Peg-Leg.

"All right," he said. "Thank you for your information, Peg-Leg. I'm going to have something done for you."

For answer he received a surly grunt, and hardly had the party left the room than the door was slammed and a bolt slipped into place. Peg-Leg did not like his visitors.

They walked back to Canal Street. Hawke parted from the constable with a few kindly words. Then, with Tommy, he entered the car which had brought them from Dover Street.

"Home, chief?" the young fellow asked, slipping into place behind the wheel.

"Home for me, but not for you, lad," Hawke said. "There's something for you to do."

Tommy grinned. He was glad of work, although he wondered what he could do at that stage of the case. The next words of the criminologist startled him.

"Get back to the mews," Hawke said, "and watch Peg-Leg. I want a full report of where he goes and what he does."

"But he's just a beggar, chief!"

"Perhaps, but he's not the product of the slums that he pretends to be. Although that room looked so dirty, Peg-Leg was very clean. He's never slept in that awful bed, Tommy, and he never used those greasy cooking pots. He's got some other home."

"Gosh!"

"His Cockney dialect is put on, too," Hawke went on. "When he got excited, he slipped up and spoke good English. He also pronounced window as window, and not a winder, as the real Cockney would do. He might just be a professional beggar who makes a good thing out of it. I want you to find out."

Tommy nodded. There was no job which he could do better than shadowing a suspect. It was going to be interesting to find out what mystery there was behind Peg-Leg.

"Telephone me at once if you find out anything," Hawke said. "I'll be at Dover Street."

The car purred away in the grey light of a typical London morning, and young Burke walked back slowly towards the mews. He could watch Peg-Leg's doorway from the alleyway entrance to the court, and there was a convenient fence behind which he could hide when the man came out.

Back to Top

Chapter 4

Peg-Leg's Trail

It was nearly six o'clock when the door of the hovel opened and the cripple propelled himself into the court. He paused to lock the door, and then, turning the wheels of the trolley with his strong hands, headed in Tommy's direction.

At once the young fellow slipped behind the fence. Through a crack he watched Peg-Leg pass him. The man glanced cautiously this way and that, and then trundled down Canal Street and turned into the Aldgate Road.

Tommy followed at a distance, his coat collar turned up, and the brim of his hat down. He knew that in the grey light and the morning drizzle he would look like some weary worker returning from a night job. He went along slowly, shuffling his feet in keeping with the part he was playing.

There was some morning traffic about, drays and carts loaded with vegetables making for the markets. Peg-Leg manoeuvred neatly until he came to a small garage near Fenchurch Station. He whirled his trolley inside.

Puzzled, Tommy stopped near the garage. A cart loaded with vegetables, which had halted while the driver and his mate tightened the ropes which held their load, gave him cover. He lent the man a hand, but all the time he worked his eyes were on the garage.

Nearly twenty minutes passed. The carter was ready to drive away, and fumbled in his pockets for some coin to give his helper. His mouth opened when the "loafer" flipped out a pound note and pushed it into his hand.

"Keep your cart here for a bit," Tommy said quickly. "I want to work on this job a bit longer."

"Crazy, ain't yer?" gasped the carter.

"Well, you get a pound because I'm crazy," Tommy grinned.

He ducked under the cart and pretended to tighten a rope. A two-seater was driving out of the garage, and turned slowly into the street. The driver turned his head to see if there was enough room for him to clear the cart.

Tommy had difficulty in pretending to be interested in nothing but his work. Although the motorist was quite well dressed and had a clipped military moustache, the keen eves of the young detective saw through the disguise. The man was Peg-Leg.

He waited until the car was on its way, and then he ducked out from under the cart and jumped for the running-board of a motor milk van which was passing. The man at the wheel shouted angrily.

"Keep your shirt on," Tommy said. "Do you see that car ahead? Then follow it."

"'Ere, whatcher think I am?"

"A fellow who's going to do what he's told," young Burke snapped. "I'm connected with the police. There'll be a couple of pounds for you if you follow that car."

The driver licked his lips and headed after the two-seater. A couple of pounds was not much less than his weekly wage, and he was certainly not going to pass the money up. While Tommy huddled back behind the tarpaulin which protected the front seat from the rain, the van sped along directly behind Peg-Leg.

They passed through Holborn into Oxford Street. Near Hyde Park, Peg-Leg entered a quiet square, where there were some fashionable apartment buildings. Tommy ordered the van to stop, for he saw that Peg-Leg was slowing up outside one of the houses.

The man took a couple of crutches from the dickey of his car, and then neatly scrambled from his seat. He was wearing artificial limbs now, those marvels of medical science which make it possible for a cripple to move round comfortably.

Limping up to the door of the building, Peg-Leg fumbled for a latchkey. A constable walked by, saluted him, and called out a cheery good morning.

"All right," Tommy said to the driver of the van.

He gave the man the money he had promised, and waited until he drove oft.

Just then the constable came up.

"Wasn't that Mr. Wilson you spoke to, then?" Tommy asked.

"No. Captain Gosling," the officer said briefly.

Tommy nodded and strolled away. He was bewildered by the sudden change in Peg-Leg. Certainly Hawke had been right to suspect there was some mystery about the man, but whether it was connected with the case or not was another matter.

Peg-Leg might be a prince of beggars, one of those clever rascals who trade on human sympathies, and make real money out of it. The young fellow knew of several such cases.

Reaching a corner phone booth, he dropped in his twopence and called Dover Street. Dixon Hawke's clear voice came over the wire, and Tommy quickly told him what he had discovered.

"Smart work !" the criminologist said. "So Peg-Leg becomes Captain Gosling, and lives in fashionable Laurel Gardens."

"He's just a fraud, chief."

There was a long silence at the other end. Then Hawke spoke again.

"Young 'un, I want you to wait round until Peg-Leg comes out again. This time I want you to be clumsy. Let him recognise you."

"But that'll scare him !"

"I want him scared," came the brief reply. "Soon as you're sure he's recognised you come back here."

"If that isn't the blinkin' limit!" Tommy gasped, hanging up the receiver. " The chief's got something up his sleeve all right."

He went back to the square, and after hesitating a moment walked slowly through the place. The City was waking up, and already maids could be seen busy cleaning. Tommy leaned against the railing of the tiny park and watched the windows of the house he had seen Peg-Leg enter.

The mysterious fellow would notice him and become suspicious. Tommy knew that he hadn't long to wait.

After some ten minutes, he was sure that the face of Captain Peg-Leg Gosling showed itself at a window on the third floor. The curtains moved as if the man was standing behind them, looking down into the square. Tommy walked slowly away, and pretended to examine the car at the kerb.

Suddenly the door opened, and Peg-Leg hobbled out. He was only using one crutch now, and it was really amazing how well be walked. Tommy turned his back as the man came over to his car and began to fumble in one of the door pockets as if he was searching for something.

Out of the corner of his eyes Tommy saw that the man was watching him intently. He was apparently not quite sure of his suspicions.

Finally, his curiosity grew stronger than his caution. He coughed loudly to attract Tommy's attention.

"Hey, you!"

Tommy turned round, making a clumsy attempt to hide his face.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

"Has anybody been near my car? I had something in this pocket, and now—"

His voice died away in a thick gasp of alarm. He had recognised the loiterer as the young man who had been with the detective and constable at Canal Street. He ducked his head and pulled a map from the car.

"All right, I've got it," he mumbled.

Peg-Leg swung round and limped swiftly back to the house. Obeying his master's instructions, Tommy walked slowly out of the square and hailed a taxi from the nearest rank.

"Dover Street," he said briefly.

Tommy looked back as they drove round the fringe of Hyde Park. He saw a familiar two-seater dodging through the traffic. Peg-Leg was following.

Back to Top

Chapter 5

Tommy the Decoy

Dixon Hawke was sprawling in his chair near the window, puffing at a pipe, when Tommy came in.

The young fellow shook his head as he met the quizzing stare of his chief.

"I don't understand," he said. "It cost me three quid to keep hidden from Peg-Leg while I followed him, and then you go and make me let him know who I am."

Hawke laughed.

"Don't worry, young 'un. Your work's not going to be spoilt. By the way, Tommy, how. are your nerves?"

"Pretty good. Going to give me a shock?"

"No, but you'll have a shock tonight. You must stay in this house for the rest of the day, and round about midnight you can go to bed—with the window open."

"A bird might fly in, chief."

"I'm hoping a very big bird will fly in," Hawke said quietly.

For the rest of the day Tommy lounged round, reading, and wondering what scheme the criminologist had formed. Obviously he was expecting a visit from Levy's murderer, but for the life of him the young fellow could not see the connection between the Bird Burglar and Peg-Leg.

Certainly a man who had no legs could not be under suspicion.

Big Ben was booming midnight when Tommy went to his room. Acting on Dixon Hawke's instructions, he did not undress. Instead he went to the window and leaned his arms on the sill, looking down into narrow Dover Street. It was moonlight, and even in this war-time London there were still a number of people moving about, coming from the neighbouring clubs, but in another hour all would be still.

Finally Tommy yawned, and, stretching himself, left the window, and lay down on his bed.

A soft tap came at the door, and Dixon Hawke's lean figure slipped into the room. He stretched himself on the floor by Tommy's bed, and placed an automatic by his side.

"I once went hunting tigers in India this way," he whispered. "We had a goat tied up for bait."

"And so I'm the goat," Tommy grinned.

They were silent. Long minutes ticked by, and the noise of the vast city slowly died down. Tommy was sleepy and began to doze. He had forgotten, until he came to bed, that he had not slept the previous night.

A sharp, clicking noise had come from somewhere. Tommy wondered if he was still dreaming, and looked slowly round the dark room. Suddenly he was wide awake.

When he glanced at the window he was sure that he was mixed up in a nightmare.

Something black sailed up against the sky. It was the figure of a man. For half a second it seemed to remain poised in mid-air, and then dropped again below the level of the window. Tommy saw a pair of large hands hook over the sill. The creature was there, clinging to the ledge of his window after rising a sheer thirty feet into the air.

Slowly a head and then a pair of shoulders came over the sill. The Bird Burglar waited a moment, and then pulled his body into the room. He stood there crouching, looking towards the bed with eyes that glittered in the darkness.

Tommy knew that he could not last out much longer. He would have to jump up and yell. He had never been so scared in his life. The creature approaching him was absolutely ghostly.

Abruptly a vivid beam of light snapped out from the other side of the bed.

"Put up your hands!" roared the voice of Dixon Hawke.

A muffled cry came from the raider. He stood for about a second blinking through the silk mask which covered his face. Then suddenly he threw up his hands.

A white powder filled the room, and was carried towards Hawke and Tommy by the draught from the open window. They coughed and then began to sneeze violently. The Bird Burglar had flung sneezing powder at them, and no better weapon could have been used to break from the trap which had been set for him.

Turning, he put one hand on the sill of the window and vaulted out. Hawke's gun roared twice but the shots were wide. It was impossible to shoot straight when caught by a fit of sneezing.

The criminologist and his assistant ran to the window. They were in time to see the raider strike the centre of the road, landing on his feet like a cat. Instead of rolling over seriously injured, he bounced up a good ten feet with a sharp, clicking noise. To and fro he hopped like some gigantic bird.

Suddenly from the basement of a club over the way several men emerged. A whistle shrilled, and two more parties of men appeared to left and right of the hopping murderer. They closed in with a swift rush.

"Ah, Baxter and his flying squad men didn't fail me!" Hawke said.

Tommy sneezed.

"Gosh!" he gasped. "That blighter almost got away. Sneezing powder! What a trick to pull on us!"

"We'd better be in on this," said Hawke, and the pair hurried down to the street. The officers had secured their prisoner, who lay on the ground, spitting defiance.

"A wooden-legged man, Mr. Hawke," Detective-Inspector Baxter said. "He popped into the air like a clay pigeon shot oil at a rifle range."

Hawke nodded.

"The Bird Burglar," he said. "Alias our friend Peg-Leg of Shoreditch. Alias Captain Gosling, the war hero of Laurel Gardens."

Quickly he unstrapped one of the man's artificial legs. He turned it to show the rubber pad, which was fitted on the end of the stump. In the rubber was the design of a bird's claw.

"So much for the clawmarks,'' he said. "Now to show you how this man flew."

He threw the leg sharply down on the pavement. With a click it bounced nearly six feet into the air.

"A spring!" gasped Tommy.

"Yes," Hawke added. "These stumps consist of two tubes sliding one inside the other, and containing a powerful spring. Here is a rack arrangement by which the springs can be drawn up. By releasing this catch the wearer of the legs would be shot into the air. When he dropped back the shock of the fall would compress the springs far enough to throw him to a third-storey window." He smiled as he watched the expressions of amazement on the faces of his audience.

"Of course, the man had to know how to balance, and I expect Peg-Leg had some bad falls before he learned the art. Then he was able to stage those sensational robberies, and finally the murder. Nobody would suspect a poor cripple who trundled along on a trolley."

"And I suppose he made such a good thing out of his crimes that he was able to keep that smart flat on Laurel Gardens," Tommy whistled. "What I would like to know, chief, is how you began to suspect him."

"Well, that began when Constable Simpson told me about the cat which ran by him, scared to death, just before Levy screamed. Obviously it had been frightened by something unusual—very likely somebody bounding twenty feet from the alley to Levy's' window. When I looked round I noticed how the bird marks became fainter as the raider hopped round. I realised that must be caused by the man getting nearer to the ground with each hop, and at once I decided that he was a Spring-heeled Jack."

He shrugged his shoulders.

"After that I was lucky. I saw Peg-Leg, realised that there was something mysterious about him, and when Tommy found out what it was, I gambled on what the Americans call a hunch. I knew that if Gosling was the Bird Burglar he would come and try to kill Tommy, realising that he knew too much."

"I was the goat for the tiger hunt, chief," Tommy grinned.

"Yes, you were the decoy," said Dixon Hawke.

"And it certainly worked," added Tommy.

~ The End ~

Back to Top