Constance Dunlap/Chapter 9

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


CHAPTER IX
THE SHOPLIFTERS

"Madam, would you mind going with me for a few moments to the office on the third floor?"

Constance Dunlap had been out on a shopping excursion. She had stopped at the jewelry counter of Stacy's to have a ring repaired and had gone on to the leather goods department to purchase something else.

The woman who spoke to her was a quietly dressed young person, quite inconspicuous, with a keen eye that seemed to take in everything within a radius of a wide-angled lens at a glance.

She leaned over and before Constance could express even surprise, added in a whisper, "Look in your bag."

Constance looked hastily, then realized what had happened. The ring was gone!

It gave her quite a shock, too, for the ring, a fine diamond, was a present from her husband, one of the few pieces of jewelry, treasured not only for its intrinsic value but as a remembrance of Carlton and the supreme sacrifice he had made for her.

She had noticed nothing in the crowd, nothing more than she had noticed scores of times before. The woman watched her puzzled look.

"I've been following you," she said. "By this time the other store detectives must have caught the shoplifter and bag-opener who touched you. You see, we don't make any arrests in the store if we can help it, because we don't like to make a scene. It's bad for business. Besides, if she had anything else, we are safer when the case comes to court, if we have caught her actually leaving the store with it. Of course, when we make an arrest on the sidewalk, we bring the shoplifter back, but in a private, back elevator."

Constance was following the young woman mechanically. At least there was a chance of recovering the ring.

"She was standing next to you at the jewelry counter," she continued, "and if you will help identify her the store management will appreciate it—and make it worth your while. Besides," she urged, "It's really your duty to do it, madam."


Constance remembered now the rather simply but richly gowned young woman who had been standing next to her at the counter, seemingly unable to decide which of a number of beautiful rings she really wanted. She remembered because, with her own love of beauty, she had wanted one herself, in fact had thought at the time that she, too, might have difficulty in choosing.

With the added feeling of curiosity, Constance followed the woman detective up in the elevator.

In the office, apart in a little room curiously furnished with a camera, innumerable photographs, cabinets, and filing cases, was a young woman, perhaps twenty-six or seven. On a table before her lay a pile of laces and small trinkets. There, too, was the beautiful diamond ring which she had hidden in her muff. Constance fairly gasped at the sight.

The girl was sitting limply in a chair crying bitterly. She was not a hardened looking creature. In fact, her face bore evident traces of refinement, and her long, slender fingers hinted at a nervous, artistic temperament. It was rather a shock to see such a girl under such distressing circumstances.

"We've lost so much lately," a small ferret-eyed man was saying, "that we must make an example of some one. It's serious for us detectives, too. We'll lose our jobs unless we can stop you boosters."

"Oh—I—I didn't mean to do it. I—I just couldn't help it," sobbed the girl over and over again.

"Yes," drawled the man, "that's what they all say. But you've been caught with the goods, this time, young lady."

A woman entered, and the man turned to her quickly.

"Carr—Kitty Carr. Did you find anything under that name?"

"No, sir," replied the woman store detective. "We've looked all through the records and the photographs. We don't find her. And yet I don't think it is an alias—at least, if it is, not an alias for any one we have any record of. I've a good eye for faces, and there isn't one we have on file as—as good looking," she added, perhaps with a little touch of wistfulness at her own plainness and this beauty gone wrong.

"This is the woman who lost the ring," put in the other woman detective, motioning to Constance, who had accompanied her and was standing, a silent spectator.

The man held up the ring, which Constance had already recognized.

"Is that yours?" he asked.

For a moment, strangely, she hesitated. If it had been any other ring in the world she felt sure that she would have said no. But, then, she reflected, there was that pile of stuff. There was no use in concealing her ownership of the ring. "Yes," she murmured.

"One moment, please," answered the man brusquely. "I must send down for the salesgirl who waited on you to identify you and your check—a mere formality, you know, but necessary to keep things straight."

Constance sat down.

"I suppose you don't realize it," explained the man, turning to Constance, "but the shoplifters of the city get away with a couple of million dollars' worth of stuff every year. It's the price we have to pay for displaying our goods. But it's too high. They are the department store's greatest unsolved problem. Now most of the stores are working together for their common interests, seeing what they can do to root them out. We all keep a sort of private rogue's gallery of them. But we don't seem to have anything on this girl, nor have any of the other stores who exchange photographs and information with us anything on her."

"Evidently, then, it is her first offense," put in Constance, wondering at herself. Strangely, she felt more of sympathy than of anger for the girl.

"You mean the first time she has been caught at it," corrected the head of the store detectives.

"It is my weakness," sobbed the girl. "Sometimes an irresistible impulse to steal comes over me. I just can't help it."

She was sobbing convulsively. As she talked and listened there seemed to come a complete breakdown. She wept as though her heart would break.

"Oh," exclaimed the man, "can it! Cut out the sob stuff!"

"And yet," mused Constance half to herself, watching the girl closely, "when one walks through the shops and sees thousands of dollars' worth of goods lying unprotected on the counters, is it any wonder that some poor woman or girl should be tempted and fall? There, before her eyes and within her grasp, lies the very article above all others which she so ardently craves. No one is looking. The salesgirl is busy with another customer. The rest is easy. And then the store detective steps in—and here she is—captured."


The girl had been listening wildly through her tears. "Oh," she sobbed, "you don't understand—none of you. I don't crave anything. I—I just—can't help it—and then, afterwards—I—I hate the stuff—and I am so—afraid. I hurry home—and I—oh, what shall I do—what shall I do?"

Constance pitied her deeply. She looked from the wild-eyed, tear-stained face to the miscellaneous pile of material on the table, and the unwinking gaze of the store detectives. True, the girl had taken a very valuable diamond ring, and from herself. But the laces, the trinkets, all were abominably cheap, not worth risking anything for.

Constance's attention was recalled by the man who beckoned her aside to talk to the salesgirl who had waited on her.

"You remember seeing this lady at the counter?" he asked of the girl. She nodded. "And that woman in there?" he motioned. Again the salesgirl nodded.

"Do you remember anything else that happened?" he asked Constance as they faced Kitty Carr and he handed Constance the ring.

Constance looked the detective squarely in the face for a moment.

"I have my ring. You have the other stuff," she murmured. "Besides, there is no record against her. She doesn't even look like a professional bad character. No—I'll not appear to press the charge—I'll make it as hard as I can before I'll do it," she added positively.

The woman, who had overheard, looked her gratitude. The detectives were preparing to argue. Constance hardly knew what she was saying, as she hurried on before any one else could speak.

"No," she added, "but I'll tell you what I will do. If you will let her go I will look after her. Parole her, unofficially, with me."

Constance drew a card from her case and handed it to the detective. He read it carefully, and a puzzled look came over his face. "Charge account—good customer—pays promptly," he muttered under his breath.

For a moment he hesitated. Then he sat down at a desk.

"Mrs. Dunlap," he said, "I'll do it."

He pulled a piece of printed paper from the desk, filled in a few blanks, then turned to Kitty Carr, handing her a pen.

"Sign here," he said brusquely.

Constance bent over and read. It was a form of release:


"I, Kitty Carr, residing at — East —th Street, single, age twenty-seven years, in consideration of the sum of One Dollar, hereby admit taking the following property... without having paid therefor and with intent not to pay therefor, and by reason of the withdrawal of the complaint of larceny, OF WHICH I AM GUILTY, I hereby remise, release, and forever discharge the said Stacy Co. or its representatives from any claims, action, or causes of action which I may have against the Stacy Co. or its representatives or agents by reason of the withdrawal of said charge of larceny and failure to prosecute."

"Signed, Kitty Carr."


"Now, Kitty," soothed Constance, as the trembling signature was blotted and added to a photograph which had quietly been taken, "they are going to let you go this time—with me. Come, straighten your hat, wipe your eyes. You must take me home with you—where we can have a nice long talk. Remember, I am your friend."


On the way uptown and across the city the girl managed to tell most of her history. She came from a family of means in another city. Her father was dead, but her mother and a brother were living. She herself had a small annuity, sufficient to live on modestly, and had come to New York seeking a career as an artist. Her story, her ambitions appealed to Constance, who had been somewhat of an artist herself and recognized even in talking to the girl that she was not without some ability.

Then, too, she found that Kitty actually lived, as she had said, in a cozy little kitchenette apartment with two friends, a man and his wife, both of whom happened to be out when they arrived. As Constance looked about she could see clearly that there was indeed no adequate reason why the girl should steal.

"How do you feel?" asked Constance when the girl had sunk half exhausted on a couch in the living room.

"Oh, so nervous," she replied, pressing her hands to the back of her head, "and I have a terrible headache, although it is a little better now."

They had talked for perhaps half an hour, as Constance soothed her, when there was the sound of a key in the door. A young woman in black entered. She was well-dressed, in fact elegantly dressed in a quiet way, somewhat older than Kitty, but by no means as attractive.

"Why—hello, Kitty," she cried, "what's the matter!"

"Oh, Annie, I'm so unstrung," replied the girl, then recollecting Constance, added, "let me introduce my friend, Mrs. Dunlap. This is Mrs. Annie Grayson, who has taken me in as a lodger and is ever so kind to me."

Constance nodded, and the woman held out her hand frankly.

"Very glad to meet you," she said. "My husband, Jim, is not at home, but we are a very happy little family up here. Why, Kitty, what is the matter?"

The girl had turned her face down in the sofa pillows and was sobbing again. Between sobs she blurted out the whole of the sordid story. And as she proceeded, Annie glanced quickly from her to Constance, for confirmation.

Suddenly she rose and extended her hand to Constance.

"Mrs. Dunlap," she said, "how can I ever thank you for what you have done for Kitty? She is almost like a sister to me. You—you were—too good."

There was a little catch in the woman's voice. But Constance could not quite make out whether it was acted or wholly genuine.

"Did she ever do anything like that before?" she asked.

"Only once," replied Annie Grayson, "and then I gave her such a talking to that I thought she would be able to restrain herself when she felt that way again."


It was growing late and Constance recollected that she had an engagement for the evening. As she rose to go Kitty almost overwhelmed her with embraces.

"I'll keep in touch with Kitty," whispered Constance at the door, "and if you will let me know when anything comes up that I may help her in, I shall thank you."

"Depend on me," answered Mrs. Grayson, "and I want to add my thanks to Kitty's for what you have done. I'll try to help you."

As she groped her way down the as yet unlighted stairs, Constance became aware of two men talking in the hall. As she passed them she thought she recognized one of the voices. She lowered her head, and fortunately her thin veil in the half-light did the rest. She passed unnoticed and reached the door of the apartment.

As she opened it she heard the men turn and mount the stairs. Instinctively she realized that something was wrong. One of the men was her old enemy, Drummond, the detective.

They had not recognized her, and as she stood for a moment with her hand on the knob, she tried to reason it out. Then she crept back, and climbed the stairs noiselessly. Voices inside the apartment told her that she had not been mistaken. It was the apartment of the Graysons and Kitty that they sought.

The hall door was of thin, light wood, and as she stood there she could easily hear what passed inside.

"What—is Kitty ill?" she heard the strange man's voice inquire.

"Yes," replied Mrs. Grayson, then her voice trailed off into an indistinguishable whisper.

"How are you, Kitty?" asked the man.

"Oh, I have a splitting headache, Jim. I've had it all day. I could just get up and—screech!"

"I'm sorry. I hope it gets better soon."

"Oh, I guess it will. They often go away as suddenly as they come. You know I've had them before."

Drummond's voice then spoke up.

"Did you see the Trimble ad. to-night?" he asked, evidently of Annie. "They have a lot of new diamonds from Arkansas, they say,—one of them is a big one, the Arkansas Queen, I believe they call it."

"No, I didn't see the papers," replied Annie.

There was the rustle of a newspaper.

"Here's a picture of it. It must be great. I've heard a good deal about it."

"Have you seen it?" asked Annie.

"No, but I intend to see it."

They had passed into the next room, and Constance, fearing to be discovered, decided to get away before that happened.

Early the next morning she decided to call on Kitty, but by the time Constance arrived at the apartment it was closed, and a neighbor informed her that the two women had gone out together about half an hour before.


Constance was nervous and, as she left the apartment, she did not notice that a man who had been loitering about had quickened his pace and overtaken her.

"So," drawled a voice, "you're traveling with shoplifters now."

She looked up quickly. This time she had run squarely into Drummond. There was no concealment possible now. Her only refuge was silence. She felt the hot tingle of indignation in her cheeks. But she said nothing.

"Huh!" exclaimed Drummond, walking along beside her, and adding contemptuously, "I don't know the young one, but you know who the other is?"

Constance bit her lip.

"No?" he queried. "Then I'll show you."

He had taken from his pocket a bunch of oblong cards. Each bore, she could see from the corner of her eye, a full face and a profile picture of a woman, and on the back of the card was a little writing.

He selected one and handed it to Constance. Instantly she recognized the face. It was Annie Grayson, with half a dozen aliases written after the name.

"There!" he fairly snorted. "That's the sort of people your little friend consorts with. Why, they call Annie Grayson the queen of the shoplifters. She has forgotten more about shoplifting than all the rest will ever know."

Constance longed to ask him what had taken him to the Grayson flat the night before, but thought better of it. There was no use in angering Drummond further. Instead, she let him think that he had succeeded in frightening her off.

She went back to her own apartment to wait and worry. Evidently Drummond was pretty sure of something, or he would not have disclosed his hand to her, even partially. She felt that she must see Kitty before it was too late. Then the thought crossed her mind that perhaps already it was too late. Drummond evidently was working in some way for an alliance of the department stores outside.

Constance had had her own ideas about Kitty. And as she waited and watched, she tried to reason how she might carry them out if she had a chance.


She had just been insured, and had been very much interested in the various tests that the woman doctor of the insurance company had applied to her. One in particular which involved the use of a little simple instrument that fitted over the forearm had interested her particularly. She had talked to the doctor about it, and as she talked an idea had occurred to her that it might have other uses than those which the doctor made of it. She had bought one. While she was waiting it occurred to her that perhaps it might serve her purpose. She got the instrument out. It consisted of a little arrangement that fitted over the forearm, and was attached by a tube to a dial that registered in millimeters a column of mercury. Would it really show anything, she wondered?

There was a quick call on the telephone and she answered it, her hand trembling, for she felt sure that it was something about the little woman she had befriended.

Somehow or other her voice hardened as she answered the call and found that it was from Drummond. It would never do to betray even nervousness before him.

"Your friend, Miss Carr," shot out Drummond with brutal directness, "has been caught again. She fell into something as neatly as if she had really meant to do it. Yesterday, you know, Trimble's advertised the new diamond, the Arkansas Queen, on exhibition. Well, it was made of paste, anyway. But it was a perfect imitation. But that didn't make any difference. We caught Kitty just now trying to lift it. I'm sorry it wasn't the other one. But small fry are better than none. We'll get her, too, yet. Besides, I find this Kitty has a record already at Stacy's."

He added the last words with a taunting sneer. Constance realized suddenly the truth. The whole affair had been a plant of Drummond's!

"You are at Trimble's?" she inquired quickly. "Well, can you wait there just a few minutes? I'd like to see Miss Carr."

Drummond promised. His acquiescence in itself boded no good, but nevertheless she decided to go. As she left her apartment hurriedly she picked up the little instrument and dropped it into her hand-bag.

"You see, it's no use," almost chortled Drummond as Constance stepped off the elevator and opened the door to a little room at Trimble's much like that which she had already seen at Stacy's. "A shoplifter becomes habitual after twenty-five. They get to consorting with others of their kind."


Kitty was sitting rigidly motionless in a chair, staring straight ahead, as Constance entered. She gave a start at the sight of a familiar face, rose, and would almost have fainted if Constance had not caught her. It seemed as if something had snapped in the girl's make-up. For the first time tears came. Constance patted her hand softly. The girl was an enigma. Was she a clever actress—one minute hardened Miss Sophisticated, the next appealing Miss Innocence?

"How did you—catch her?" asked Constance a moment later as she found an opportunity to talk to Drummond alone.

"Oh, she was trying to substitute a paste replica for the alleged Arkansas Queen. The clerk noticed the replica in time, saw a little spot of carbon on it—and she was shadowed and arrested just as she was leaving the store. Yes, they found the other paste jewel on her. She was caught with the goods."

"Replica?" repeated Constance, thinking of the picture that had appeared in the papers the night before. "How could she get a replica of it?"

"How do I know?" shrugged Drummond coldly.

Constance looked him squarely in the eyes.

"What about Annie Grayson?" she asked pointblank.

"I have taken care of that," he replied harshly. "She is already under arrest, and from what I have heard we may get something on her now. We have a record against the Carr girl. We can use it against her friend. We're just about taking her to the flat to identify the Grayson woman. Would you like to come along?" he added in a spirit of bravado. "I think you are a material witness in the Stacy case, anyhow."

Constance felt bitterly her defeat. Still she went with them. There was always a chance that something might turn up.

As they entered the door of the kitchenette loud voices told them that some one was disputing inside.

Drummond strode in.

The sight of a huge pile of stuff that two strange men had drawn out of drawers and closets and stacked on the table riveted Constance's eyes. Only dimly she could hear that Annie Grayson was violently threatening Drummond, who stood coolly surveying the scene.

The stuff on the table was, in fact, quite enough to dazzle the eyes. There were articles of every sort and description there—silks, laces, jewelry and trinkets, little antiques, even rare books—everything small and portable, some of the richest and most exquisite, others of the cheapest and most tawdry. It was a truly remarkable collection, which the raiding detectives had brought to light.


As Constance took in the scene—the raiding detectives holding the stormy Annie Grayson at bay, Drummond, cool, supercilious, Kitty almost on the edge of collapse—she wondered how Jim Grayson had managed to slip through the meshes of the net.

She had read of such things. Annie Grayson was to all appearances a "fence" for stolen goods. This was, perhaps, a school for shoplifters. In addition to her other accomplishments, the queen of the shoplifters was a "Fagin," educating others to the tricks of her trade, taking advantage of their lack of facility in disposing of the stolen goods.

Just then the woman caught sight of Constance standing in the doorway.

In an instant she had broken loose and ran toward her.

"What are you," she hissed, "one of these department store Moll Dicks, too?"

Quick as a flash Kitty Carr had leaped to her feet and placed herself between them.

"No, Annie, no. She was a real friend of mine. No—if your own friends had been as loyal as she was to me this would never have happened—I should never have been caught again, for I should never have given them a chance to get it on me."

"Little fool!" ground out Annie Grayson, raising her arm.

"Here—here—ladies!" interposed Drummond, protruding an arm between the two, and winking sarcastically to the two other men. "None of that. We shall need both of you in our business. I've no objection to your talking; but cut out the rough stuff."

Constance had stepped back. She was cool, cool as Drummond, although she knew her heart was thumping like a sledge-hammer. There was Kitty Carr, in a revulsion of feeling, her hands pressed tightly to her head again, as if it were bursting. She was swaying as if she would faint.

Constance caught her gently about the waist and forced her down on the couch where she had been lying the night before. With her back to the others, she reached quickly into her hand-bag and pulled out the little instrument she had hastily stuffed into it. Deftly she fastened it to Kitty's wrist and forearm.

She dropped down on her knees beside the poor girl, and gently stroked her free hand, reassuring her in a low tone.

"There, there," she soothed. "You are not well, Kitty. Perhaps, after all, there may be something—some explanation."

In spite of all, however, Kitty was on the verge of the wildest hysterics. Annie Grayson sniffed contemptuously at such weakness.


Drummond came over, an exasperating sneer on his face. As he looked down he saw what Constance was doing, and she rose, so that all could see now.

"This girl," she said, speaking rapidly, "is afflicted with a nervous physical disorder, a mania, which is uncontrollable, and takes this outlet. It is emotional insanity—not loss of control of the will, but perversion of the will."

"Humph!" was Drummond's sole comment with a significant glance at the pile of goods on the table.

"It is not the articles themselves so much," went on Constance, following his glance, "as it is the pleasure, the excitement, the satisfaction—call it what you will—of taking them. A thief works for the benefit he may derive from objects stolen after he gets them. Here is a girl who apparently has no further use for an article after she gets it, who forgets, perhaps hates it."

"Oh, yes," remarked Drummond; "but why are they all so careful not to get caught? Every one is responsible who knows the nature and consequences of his act."

Constance had wheeled about.

"That is not so," she exclaimed. "Any modern alienist will tell you that. Sometimes the chief mark of insanity may be knowing the nature and consequences, craftily avoiding detection with an almost superhuman cunning. No; the test is whether knowing the nature and consequences, a person suffers under such a defect of will that in spite of everything, in the face of everything, that person cannot control that will."

As she spoke, she had quickly detached the little instrument and had placed it on Annie Grayson's arm. If it had been a Bertillon camera, or even a finger-print outfit, Annie Grayson would probably have fought like a tigress. But this thing was a new one. She had a peculiar spirit of bravado.

"Such terms as kleptomania," went on Constance, "are often regarded as excuses framed up by the experts to cover up plain ordinary stealing. But did you wiseacres of crime ever stop to think that perhaps they do actually exist?

"There are many things that distinguish such a woman as I have described to you from a common thief. There is the insane desire to steal—merely for stealing's sake—a morbid craving. Of course in a sense it is stealing. But it is persistent, incorrigible, irrational, motiveless, useless.

"Stop and think about it a moment," she concluded, lowering her voice and taking advantage of the very novelty of the situation she had created. "Such diseases are the product of civilization, of sensationalism. Naturally enough, then, woman, with her delicately balanced nervous organization, is the first and chief offender—if you insist on calling such a person an offender under your antiquated methods of dealing with such cases."

She had paused.

"What did you say you called this thing?" asked Drummond as he tapped the arrangement on Annie Grayson's arm.

He was evidently not much impressed by it, yet somehow instinctively regarded it with somewhat of the feelings of an elephant toward a mouse.

"That?" answered Constance, taking it off Annie Grayson's wrist before she could do anything with it. "Why, I don't know that I said anything about it. It is really a sphygmomanometer—the little expert witness that never lies—one of the instruments the insurance companies use now to register blood pressure and discover certain diseases. It occurred to me that it might be put to other and equally practical uses. For no one can conceal the emotions from this instrument, not even a person of cast-iron nerves."

She had placed it on Drummond's arm. He appeared fascinated.

"See how it works?" she went on. "You see one hundred and twenty-five millimeters is the normal pressure. Kitty Carr is absolutely abnormal. I do not know, but I think that she suffers from periodical attacks of vertigo. Almost all kleptomaniacs do. During an attack they are utterly irresponsible."

Drummond was looking at the thing carefully. Constance turned to Annie Grayson.

"Where's your husband?" she asked offhand.

"Oh, he disappeared as soon as these department store dicks showed up," she replied bitterly. She had been watching Constance narrowly, quite nonplussed, and unable to make anything out of what was going on.

Constance looked at Drummond inquiringly.

He shook his head slowly. "I'm afraid we'll never catch him," he said. "He got the jump on us—although we have our lines out for him, too."

She had glanced down quickly at the little innocent-looking but telltale sphygmomanometer.

"You lie!" she exclaimed suddenly, with all the vigor of a man.


She was pointing at the quivering little needle which registered a sudden, access of emotion totally concealed by the sang-froid of Drummond's well-schooled exterior.

She wrenched the thing off his wrist and dropped it into her bag. A moment later she stood by the open window facing the street, a bright little police whistle gleaming in her hand, ready for its shrill alarm if any move were made to cut short what she had to say.

She was speaking rapidly now.

"You see, I've had it on all of you, one after another, and each has told me your story, just enough of it for me to piece it together. Kitty is suffering from a form of vertigo, an insanity, kleptomania, the real thing. As for you, Mr. Drummond, you were in league with the alleged husband—your own stool pigeon—to catch Annie Grayson."

Drummond moved. So did the whistle. He stopped.

"But she was too clever for you all. She was not caught, even by a man who lived with her as her own husband. For she was not operating."

Annie Grayson moved as if to face out her accusers at this sudden turn of fortune.

"One moment, Annie," cut in Constance. "And yet, you are the real shoplifter, after all. You fell into the trap which Drummond laid for you. I take pleasure, Mr. Drummond, in presenting you with better evidence than even your own stool pigeon could possibly have given you under the circumstances."

She paused.

"For myself," she concluded, "I claim Kitty Carr. I claim the right to take her, to have her treated for her—her disease. I claim it because the real shoplifter, the queen of the shoplifters, Annie Grayson, has worked out a brand-new scheme, taking up a true kleptomaniac and using her insanity to carry out the stealings which she suggested—and safely, to this point, has profited by!"