Bernard Dobie’s Judgement
The visitor to Dover Street leaned forward anxiously in his chair.
“I — I just had to come, Mr. Hawke! You see, I’m worried out of my mind.
And the police — “
“Suppose we begin at the beginning, Mr. Humphrey,” said the famous private detective gently. “I see from your card that you’re manager of the Tottenham Court Road branch of the Home Counties Bank.”
“For the moment,” said Mr. Humphrey bitterly. “They’re going to transfer me any day now. As it is, the branch is being supervised by the inspection staff. After thirty years of service and experience, Mr. Hawke! That’s what riles me. They’ll put me back as a clerk again — and say I’m lucky to be so well treated!”
There was no doubt that the bank manager was in a very worried state of mind. His drawn face and his dark-ringed eyes showed clearly that he had not slept for nights.
“I’ve had a customer at my branch, Mr. Hawke, for about eighteen months. A youngish man named Bernard Dobie. Well-spoken sort of fellow, always very pleasant. Neither my clerks nor myself have ever had any trouble with him. He seemed to have a private fortune of some twelve thousand pounds, which we kept for him — in cash.”
Dixon Hawke looked surprised.
“A little unusual, surely? All that money, yet not invested?”
“No, it wasn’t unusual in this case, for the simple reason that Dobie used to act as a sort of money-lender in West End circles. And sometimes he’d even go in for big-scale gambling. He was very shrewd, and he very rarely lost money — most times he made a handsome profit. He’d come in and draw a cheque for several thousands, and a few days or occasionally a month later he’d pay in a cheque for the same sum, plus a handsome percentage of profit.
“He’d back some new theatrical show he had confidence in — or perhaps some new restaurant that was opening — that sort of thing. And his judgment was usually pretty sound.”
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The Manager’s Misfortune
Mr. Humphrey sighed sadly.
“Well, about a week ago — on September the seventh, to be accurate — he came in and wanted to draw the sum of nine thousand pounds. Naturally, a thing like that couldn’t be dealt with at the counter, and my cashier brought him into my office. He signed the cheque to self in front of us and we were able to secure the necessary money in hundred-pound notes within about twenty minutes. You understand, Mr. Hawke, that branches rarely carry big reserves of the higher-valued notes, but can get them delivered by messenger from other branches or from the City.
“During the whole of that twenty minutes Bernard Dobie and I were talking together, I never suspected that anything was wrong. When the notes were ready he took them away, and I didn’t think any more about it. Why should I? Dobie often came in like that to draw large sums.
“Three days later I received a letter from an address in Sussex — a country hotel — written by Dobie and asking me to credit the local branch with ten thousand pounds in his name. Well, as his account now stood at only just over three thousand, I had a bit of a shock, and immediately telephoned the hotel.
“When I explained, he said I’d been tricked, that he hadn’t called personally at all on the seventh, that, as a matter of fact, he’d been staying at the hotel ever since the sixth. Naturally, I asked him to come up to London at once. I told the head office, and they called the Yard in.
“And all that the Yard have been able to do so far, Mr. Hawke, is to prove that Bernard Dobie was down in Sussex all that day he was supposed to be cashing the cheque to self in my office! And I’m to be the scapegoat because the head office think I was slack.”
Mr. Humphrey jumped out of the chair excitedly.
“But I wasn’t slack, Mr. Hawke! I swear I wasn’t! That man looked like Dobie, talked like him — he was even dressed in a suit I’ve seen the real Dobie often wearing. And he signed the cheque in front of me! “
“Was it a perfect signature?” asked Hawke.
The bank manager frowned and seated himself again. “Well — since — under the microscope, experts have spotted one or two little discrepancies. That’s where I’m criticised. But when you see a man you know well sign a cheque in front of you, when you can recognise every inch of him just like you’d know your own son — “
Dixon Hawke nodded sympathetically.
“Besides,” Humphrey went on, “I’d have expected his signature to be a little wobbly. He’d got two damaged fingers on his right hand — he told me he’d caught them in a door. The nails were black; I saw them. Very black. That’s one of the reasons the man couldn’t really have been Dobie, because there’s nothing wrong with Dobie’s right hand, and never has been. And these bruised nails would have taken weeks to heal.”
“What about the cheque-book?” asked Hawke. “Surely you could have checked if it had been issued to Dobie?”
“The impostor didn’t use a book. He said he’d run out of cheques, and we issued him a new one. Why not? There was no reason to be suspicious.”
“And he used the first cheque from the new book?”
“Yes. And the rest of the book was found two days ago in a flower-bed in St James’s Park. As we have our address on the cheques, it was sent to us by the park-keeper who found it.”
“It certainly seems you’ve been very neatly tricked, Mr. Humphrey,” said the Dover Street criminologist. “But just how do you think I can help you?”
“By finding out the truth! I’m convinced that if the truth is known, there isn’t a man in the banking profession who could blame me for what has happened! Whereas now — “
“But if the Yard — “
“They’re beaten, Mr. Hawke. So is the bank’s detective. They can’t find any trace of the impostor. He’s clever enough to outwit them, yet I’m blamed for being taken in by him. I say he must have been Dobie’s double.”
“Who’s in charge for the Yard?”
“An Inspector Harris.”
Dixon Hawke’s eyes twinkled. He and Harris had crossed swords before.
“Very well, Mr. Humphrey, I’ll see if I can help you,” said Hawke.
“Thank you! “ exclaimed the bank manager. “It — it isn’t the loss of salary I’m worried over. It’s the shame, the disgrace — to be pushed down after — after — “
“I know,” said Hawke gently. “I’d feel the same way about it. By the way, this impostor fellow didn’t make up any sort of story as to why nine thousand pounds was wanted!”
“No; oh, no.”
“Wasn’t that suspicious?”
Humphrey shook his head.
“Dobie always kept things to himself. If he told me anything, it wasn’t till afterwards.”
“I see. Pretty secretive about his coups?”
Yes,” said Humphrey miserably.
* * * * *
Less than an hour later Hawke had secured a reluctant interview with Inspector Harris.
“Had the sauce to hire his own detective, eh?” snorted that official. “That won’t make the bank like him any better. A bit of impertinence, that’s what they’ll think about it. Same as I do. Everything’s being done that can be. If Humphrey hadn’t been such an incompetent fool in the first place — “
“You’re making headway, then?”
“Well, the imposter was obviously either Slim Vincent or Bugs Carter; they’re the only two clever and cool enough to tackle this sort of job. We thought Vincent was still in the States, but perhaps he’s slipped back again. We’ll soon get the scent of both of them, anyway.”
“You’re certain this Dobie fellow —”
Harris waved a sheet of paper under Hawke’s nose.
“Take a look at that, if you want to waste time! Eight witnesses! Except for intervals of less than half an hour, Dobie was seen in the hotel or grounds right through the day.”
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A Talkative Porter
Hawke studied the neatly-compiled time-table that Inspector Harris handed him. It showed that Dobie had watched tennis on the hotel court, had slept in a deck-chair in the garden, had strolled in the hotel grounds, had read in the lounge, had had breakfast and lunch and dinner — and had been witnessed doing these things by no less than eight reliable pairs of eyes!
“Think you can break that up by suggesting the witnesses were all in collaboration, eh?” inquired Harris nastily.
Hawke did not appear to have heard the gibe.
“Is Dobie still at the Tenfield Manor Hotel?” he asked.
“And does he stay in like this every day?”
“No. Apparently he thought he’d got a cold coming on. He’s been going about since.”
“Humphrey told me that Dobie had arrived at the hotel the day before the fraud.”
“Yes. In the evening. Signed the book — no doubt about the signature. A darned sight better than the one on the cheque which your fool of a client passed! “
“Did he stay in all that night as well?”
Inspector Harris sniffed. “How should I know? We’re not worried about what happened on the sixth, are we? It’s the seventh we’re working on — the day it happened! “
The Dover Street man smiled.
“I think I’ll take a trip down to Tenfield. You never know, do you?”
Two hours later Hawke arrived at the Tenfield Manor Hotel. He had left Tommy Burke a few moments before in the High Street of the old Sussex market town.
“Just in case,” he had said, “that it turns out better for us to seem unconnected.”
Bernard Dobie was out, and Hawke contented himself with checking up the accounts of the various witnesses as to Dobie’s whereabouts on the day of the fraud.
As he had expected, however, there was no loophole to be discovered. Harris’s work was invariably sound and methodically accurate.
The porter was the most talkative and observant of those he questioned.
“Now, tell me,” said Hawke, “what did Mr. Dobie do when he arrived? The first night, I mean.”
“And after that?”
“He went for a stroll, sir.”
“And for how long?”
“Well, the nights are drawing in now — he was back as soon as it was really dark. Couldn’t have been gone for more than an hour, sir.”
“I see. What time was dinner over?”
“Seventy-thirty or so.”
Hawke nodded. “So he was strolling from, say, seven-thirty to eight-thirty?”
The porter nodded.
“That’s about it, sir, I reck’n.”
“He didn’t go out the next night, I suppose?”
“No — not at all that day, I don’t think. ‘Ad a bit of a cold, he did.”
“Do you know when he left the hotel the next time?”
“Yes, sir. Next morning before breakfast. Got up early, he did. I know that because I met him in the hall, and I asked him if ‘is cold was better. He said it was and he was going out to get up an appetite.”
“What time was that?”
“Well, I was doing the porch over, so it must ‘ave been about eight.”
“And he was back at nine for breakfast?”
“Yes. Pretty close on, anyway.”
“H’m. An hour again,” murmured Hawke. “Well, thanks very much,” he said in a louder voice, pulling some silver from his pocket. Five shillings exchanged ownership. “Now, just keep quiet about this little chat, and I may want you to repeat it.”
He was in the act of turning away when another point seemed to cross his mind, and he wheeled round on the porter with the question :
“By the way, what does Mr. Dobie do with himself down here, do you know?”
“Fishing mostly. Down on the Bedder, sir. Anyone who stays here can use the fishing — special arrangement it is.”
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“Dr. Miller’s” Mistake
Hawke drove back to the town well satisfied with these preliminary inquiries. He found Tommy Burke in the newspaper room of the Public Library, as they had arranged.
“Youngster,” he said, “I want you to do some research. I believe a car has pulled up recently at some lonely spot on the London road about half a mile or three-quarters from the Manorly Hotel.
At any rate, about as far as a man could walk in fifteen or twenty minutes. There may still be traces.”
Tommy grinned. “If there are, I’ll find ‘em, guv’nor.”
“Unfortunately, if it did happen, it’s eight days ago,” Hawke went on. “Other cars may have pulled up since. But wherever you find any signs of them, search the whole vicinity — collect anything and everything that might mean a clue. The weather’s been dry — that at least is in our favour.”
After a few further words telling Tommy his future plans, Hawke proceeded to the station and went back to London and Dover Street.
When at nine that night a car pulled up outside the Manor Hotel, and a boarded, scholastic-looking gentleman inquired if he could stay for a few days, not even the talkative porter recognised Hawke’s voice or face.
To the reception-clerk he gave his name as : “Dr. Miller. Philosophy, not medicine! I always say that — in case someone’s taken ill and time is lost looking for me. I’m told the fishing’s very good here.”
In less than half an hour the inhabitants of Tenfield Manor Hotel were only too well aware that an excessively talkative addition had been made to their community.
Hawke soon spotted Bernard Dobie. He was reading a paper in the lounge and looking restlessly bored. The disguised criminologist pounced on him.
“Excuse me, sir, but haven’t I seen you before?”
Dobie looked up irritably, but before he could say a word Hawke answered his own question.
“No, I can see now — it’s someone frightfully like you. Almost your double, but not quite. Very peculiar. And I’ve seen him several times in the last few days, too. In London, of course — in London. Not here.”
Dobie’s face paled slightly. “Er — that’s interesting,” he said slowly. “Where — where abouts?”
“Oh, in the West End, you know. I’ve been having a little holiday myself there, you see. But I’m glad you aren’t the fellow I saw — for your sake.” Hawke laughed feebly. “He’s rather gay, I fear.”
“Gay — gay? — What do you mean? Drink?”
Hawke nodded sadly. “I fear so. That’s why I’ve noticed him. Twice I saw him in Piccadilly, and — “ Hawke sighed and shook his head.
“Look here, was he really like me?”
Hawke raised his eyebrows at the sharpness of Bernard Dobie’s tone. “Why, do you actually know someone who might be your double? How odd! People so rarely meet their own doubles.”
“Well, I don’t, anyway,” snapped Dobie. “Only if he’s like me, as you say, people might make mistakes. I happen to be quite well known in the West End myself.”
“How very awkward! I — I wish I’d said nothing. I’ve disturbed your peace of mind. Thoughtless of me. But perhaps he isn’t so much like you after all — “
Dobie got up abruptly. “Excuse me,” he said. “I have to go out.”
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A minute or so later Hawke saw him come downstairs in a light coat, and go out of the hotel.
At a discreet distance Hawke followed, exercising all his long experience in the art of seeing without being seen. As he had expected, Dobie stopped as soon as he came to the nearest public telephone box, and went inside.
The call lasted ten minutes.
Dobie emerged from the box, and turned back to the hotel. Hawke hid himself in the bushes at the side of the road, and waited for Dobie to pass. Then he hurried on to the call-box.
“Operator,” he said, “you’ve just got a number for the last user of this line. Probably a London number. I want you to jot it down before you forget it.”
“But — “
“I’m not asking you to break your regulations and give it to me. But I’ll call at your exchange to-night with the proper authority to demand it. So just make a note of it! My name’s Hawke — Dixon Hawke — and I’m on a case Scotland Yard are interested in.”
“Well, all right,” said the operator doubtfully.
Hawke immediately hurried into Tenfield. There he made for the police station and introduced himself.
“You don’t look like the pictures I’ve seen of Mr. Hawke,” said the sergeant in charge.
“I’m glad to hear it. I’m doing my best not to,” Hawke chuckled. “Put a call through, to the Yard and try to get Inspector Harris. He’ll tell you I’m supposed to be in Tenfield, if you’re doubtful.”
It took time. Harris was only reached at his home. But eventually the message came through.
“Well, I suppose it’s all right, sir,” said the sergeant. “What do you want us to do?”
“I want you to come with me to the local telephone exchange,” Hawke explained. “They put through a call for someone to-night and I want to know the number! “
The sergeant’s authority was sufficient to impress the operator. The number Dobie had rung was Trafalgar 2376, and Hawke’s mouth set itself in a line of grim satisfaction as he noted down the information.
When Hawke got back to the hotel he found that his room had been searched in his absence. There was no untidiness, but things had been slightly moved from their proper places.
He smiled. He was too experienced to let down his disguises with undisguised luggage. There was nothing in his room that might not have belonged to the tedious Dr. Miller.
Dobie was rattled, was he?
The next morning Hawke ran the car into Tenfield, and contacted with Tommy.
He saw at once from Tommy’s face that his assistant had something to report.
“I found one place,” said the young assistant. “Just off the road on the common. The grass had been crushed down by a car, and there were stains as if oil had dropped. And I found this near it.”
“This” was a small piece of cotton wool. About half of its outside surface was hard and matted where a pinkish deposit had dried and bound the fibers together.
“I could never have hoped for so much proof,” said Hawke.
“I found the spot last night, and I spent more than an hour up there before breakfast to-day,” said Tommy. “But that was all I could find — “
“Ah! “ smiled the famous criminologist. “Enough to transform pure guesswork into hard fact! “ He got into the car again. “I’m going up to the Yard. Meanwhile, I want you to keep your eyes glued on a man here.”
Hawke described Bernard Dobie. “I don’t think he’ll risk leaving Tenfield — but he might,” he concluded as he climbed into his car.
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In little over seventy minutes Hawke’s car was running over Westminster Bridge. Removing his facial disguise in the nearest cloakroom, he went straight to New Scotland Yard. Harris was in his office.
The Dover Street man smiled at the pile of papers on the inspector’s desk.
“Back soon,” Harris grunted.
“Yes. It’s got a bit too big to handle from Sussex.”
Harris jerked his head up. “Eh?”
“The impostor you want is keeping himself quiet at the address corresponding to the telephone number, Trafalgar 2376. I want you to dig out that address from the G.P.O., and then we’ll go there together.”
“Yon mean he’s the man who cashed the cheque — “
Harris snorted. “Then what the dickens do you mean?”
The famous criminologist explained developments to the amazed Harris as the two left the office.
Half an hour later the two detectives arrived at 33 Gwynn Street — the boarding-house in the Covent Garden area that corresponded to the Trafalgar telephone number.
The landlady was quickly impressed by Inspector Harris’s official manner. Yes, one of her lodgers was in — the others all had work and were out, but this one didn’t.
Nervously she led them upstairs to the top landing.
She knocked on the door. “Mr. Brown, some gentlemen to see you.”
“Who? No one I want to see! “ a voice answered.
“I think you’d better see us,” said Harris loudly and firmly.
“Who the devil are you?”
There was delay and the sound of movements. Hawke motioned to the landlady to stand well aside.
“Come on — open up, now! “ Harris shouted.
Hawke placed himself close against the wall on the lock side of the door.
Suddenly the door swung violently open. A man rushed out and hurled a handful of some powdery substance straight in the face of Inspector Harris. Harris reeled back choking.
Dixon Hawke Hung himself on the man’s back. Tears ran down both their eyes during the struggle as grains of pepper spread in the narrow space. But the man was flabby and no match for Hawke’s trained fitness. In a few minutes he was pinned down and winded.
“Very silly to throw pepper,” said the criminologist. “Now we can arrest you — not just ask questions! “
Slowly recovering from the effects of the pepper attack, Inspector Harris handed Hawke the “bracelets.” Hawke snapped them over Brown’s wrists.
Then he studied his prisoner’s face and build.
“Yes, you’re very like Dobie, aren’t you? A little older, a little paler — but make-up would soon change that.”
“I — I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Brown, in a desperate attempt at a final bluff.
“No? Where were you from the night of September the sixth to the morning of the eighth? Here? Or at Tenfield?”
“I — I went away. I — “
“Remember, we shall check up on anything you say. We know the part you played in this affair.”
Brown squirmed. A bitter expression set in on his face.
“He’s ratted, has he?”
“No, not yet,” said Hawke smoothly. “But he will — when he meets you face to face at Tenfield this afternoon! “
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At four o’clock a police car glided through the narrow streets of Tenfield. Dixon Hawke sat in front with the driver; Harris in the back with the now resigned Brown.
As they drove across the ancient bridge that spanned the Bedder, Hawke caught sight of Tommy Burke leaning over the parapet.
“Stop!” he said sharply. “Our man must be here.”
The car slowed down and Hawke leapt out.
Tommy jerked his head towards the river below. “There he is.”
The detective saw Dobie sitting on a small canvas chair and holding a rod listlessly over the water.
He turned round and beckoned to the occupants of the car.
Then, with Brown firmly pinioned between them, Hawke and Inspector Harris went down the steps by the side of the bridge on to the towpath.
“Good-afternoon, Mr. Dobie,” said Hawke as they drew near the angler.
Dobie looked up and gave a gasp of astonishment.
“Who — who are you?” he spluttered.
The man from Dover Street enlightened him as he slipped a pair of handcuffs on his wrists. Dobie was too overcome by surprise to offer either resistance or protest.
At a quiet tea party in the grounds of the Manor Hotel after Dobie and Brown had been safely housed at Tenfield Police Station, Hawke explained.
“I never felt that the impersonation took place at the bank. How much more likely that the real Dobie did call at the bank while the impostor took his place at the hotel. The hotel was far easier to bluff — nobody there really knew Dobie.
“The more facts I learned, the more probable this theory became. At the bank Dobie’s signature wasn’t quite a perfect specimen. Also, he had his finger-nails coloured to look bruised. Why? To make his visit seem like an impersonation afterwards.
“Yet it was a perfect signature in the hotel register. Which showed that the real Dobie had arrived there. But he left for an hour’s stroll immediately after dinner that night, and he did the same before breakfast the morning after the fraud. At once I guessed that these strolls were the occasions for the changeover at the hotel.
“At some pre-arranged and lonely spot Dobie and Brown exchanged clothes that first night. And Brown came back to the hotel. All the next day he stayed in with an assumed bad cold. Remember, there is plenty of evidence that he was seen — but the same evidence establishes that he did practically no talking. The following morning out goes Brown, the process is repeated — and back comes the real Bernard Dobie again.
Hawke paused and smiled.
“I guessed that the impostor was lying low somewhere in the West End. Dobie moved about in the West End — it seemed probable that the plot had been hatched there. I took a big chance and startled Dobie by making him think his accomplice had been doing some dangerously public celebrating. It came off and Dobie was terrified.
“The urgent telephone call followed and the rest you know.”
Hawke fumbled for a moment in his pocket.
“Oh — and there’s this clue,” he added. “Maybe you’d like it, Inspector. Brown being paler than Dobie, a little make-up was needed. This is a piece of the cotton-wool it was wiped off with — carelessly dropped on the morning Dobie came back. Tommy found the spot where the exchange of identity took place.
“I guessed it must be about fifteen or twenty minutes’ walk from the hotel. Nearer would have been risky; farther would hardly have allowed enough time for the dressing and undressing. A car must have been used, so that Dobie wasn’t seen on his journeys — as he would have been had he gone by train.”
Harris gave one of his customary grunts.
“But where’s the money — the nine thousand?” he demanded.
Dixon Hawke smiled.
“Why worry where they’ve hidden it? It’s Dobie’s own money, anyway! My client, Mr. Humphrey, was perfectly correct — it was Dobie who visited him that day, and Dobie had every right to draw nine thousand pounds.
“Dobie intended to draw the whole of his account, and so make the bank lose the nine thousand an ‘ impostor ‘ had drawn in his name.” Hawke got up. “Now I’m going to telephone Mr. Humphrey and tell him he’s absolutely cleared, and then my job’s done.”
“Well, it beats me,” said Inspector Harris. “I could have sworn it was one of Vincent’s or Carter’s jobs.”
“You looked for the impostor at the wrong end,” grinned Hawke.
A few weeks later Dobie and Brown, who proved to be a cousin of Dobie’s, were sentenced to two years imprisonment each for attempt to defraud the Home Counties Bank.