from Grit (Story Section)
Jiffers on the Job
by Ellis Parker Butler
The depression had tossed that elegant young bond salesman, Augustus Jiffers, so far out of a job that he had practically no assets left but his clothes, his spats, his cane, and his inextinguishable optimism, and even his optimism flickered low as he stepped out of a taxicab before the towering Tulkington Building with his friend Alfred Klemp. Tackling Uncle Benjamin for a loan was enough to make any optimist quiver and grow dim.
Alf Klemp, himself a bond salesman out of a job, was accompanying Augustus Jiffers as a morale stiffener, but he had a personal interest in Mr. Jiffers' visit to his uncle. In the near past Mr. Klemp had loaned Gus Jiffers various small sums that now totaled $67, and he had broached the matter of repayment.
It was only after vain racking of his brain for some other source of cash that Augustus decided to tackle his Uncle Benjamin. His mother, usually a reasonable fountain of small sums, had the financial jitters in a big way and had tied her purse strings in double knots, sealing them with adamant, and Augustus had touched all his friends to the limit of their friendship.
He did not hope for much from his Uncle Benjamin. Augustus had begun his adult career in his Uncle Benjamin's office and the words used by Mr. Tulkington in chucking Augustus out, when translated into printable language, had been to the effect that Augustus was the most trifling idiot that ever cluttered the surface of the earth.
In the Tulkington outer office, on the thirty-ninth floor of the Tulkington Building, Augustus told Alfred Klemp to wait.
"Sit down, Alf," he said, "while I wrangle an interview with the old boy. This is going to take a bit of diplomacy. And, Alfy, stand by to catch me if I come out head first."
To the secretary who took his card Augustus presented a brave front.
"He'll see me," he said. "Tell him it's about mother's accident," and a few minutes later he was shown into Benjamin Tulkington's private office.
"What's this?" demanded the big man as he swung around and scowled at Augustus. "What's this accident your mother had?"
"Stocks," said Augustus. "And bonds, uncle. The bottom dropped out and crushed poor mother."
"And you can't pull her leg," growled Uncle Benjamin, "so you want to pull mine. Well, you can't. Not for a dollar. Not for a cent. Get out I'm busy,"
With these few unkind words, Mr. Tulkington turned his broad back on Augustus. Augustus swung his cane gently and sighed.
"Very well, Uncle Benjamin," he said to the unfeeling back, "but some day you may regret this. Some day when you see my name in headlines, 'Augustus Jiffers, nephew of Benjamin Tulkington, sentenced to Sing Sing because refused a paltry pittance by his uncle,' you may regret this. There is nothing left for me but a life of crime. Good day, Uncle Benjamin."
"Ur-umph!" growled Mr. Tulkington and buried his nose in a brochure replete with graphs and charts.
Augustus had his hand on the door when Mr. Tulkington called his name.
"Yes, Uncle Benjamin?"
"Come back here."
"Yes, Uncle Benjamin."
"Urumph! What's this about a life of crime? You mean it?"
"Absolutely. Driven to it, uncle. The young men of this country, refused the common means of support --"
"Never mind that. Can you steal a dog?"
"For money? I'm your man, Uncle Benjamin."
"Then look at this," said
Mr. Tulkington, and he bent down and unsnapped his right garter and turned down his sock. On his ankle were minute red scratches. "That's what a blasted cur did to me."
"Outrageous!" Augustus exclaimed. "Horrible! What is this country coming to when a citizen can be torn limb from limb by a ravening hound?"
"In his own home," said Mr. Tulkington bitterly. "And I only stepped on the sniveling beast's tail."
"Toto?" asked Augustus, brightening.
"Toto," declared Mr. Tulkington. "And what sympathy did your Aunt Clara show me? She called me a hulking blunderer. It is what comes of pampering a woman. Three years ago, your Aunt Clara wanted a dog and I bought her that dog and put him in her arms."
"An error," said Augustus. "Never give them dogs."
"And since that day," said Uncle Benjamin, "my life has not been the same. That cursed cur hates me. Your aunt is a changed woman. That dog rules my home -- all three of my homes. I'm nothing. I'm nobody. Your aunt yells, 'Benjamin, don't sit on itty petty-pet.' It makes me sick."
"And now he's bit me. I won't stand it. I won't have the dangerous beast in my house. I depend on you. Get rid of him."
"It is as good as done."
"You'll need some one to help you."
"I have the very chap out yonder this minute -- absolutely reckless devil."
"Then I leave it to you," said Mr. Tulkington. "Your Aunt Clara and the cur are down on Long Island at Graywood. And you won't find it too easy to -- er -- appropriate the dog. When your aunt does not take him out for his airing, the maid does."
"Marya? I've noticed that."
"You may have to overpower the maid. I suggest that you climb the gate in the lane. Ten o'clock is the hour when the dog has his last airing. When the job is done, come to me. And keep me out of this, you understand?"
"Positively. And -- er -- how about a small advance?"
Mr. Tulkington frowned but he took out his wallet. After thumbing one bill, he took out another reluctantly. It was a ten.
"There," he said. "And whatever happens," he repeated, "keep me out of this. If your Aunt Clara hears of it, there'll be the devil and all to pay."
"Positively. Raging lioness deprived of young," agreed Augustus and, having folded the bill and slipped it in his pocket, he rejoined Alf Klemp in the outer office.
"Did you get the cash?" Alfred asked eagerly.
"Big money is as good as nestling in my pocket this minute, Alf," Augustus assured him. "The old boy will cough up. All we have to do is steal a dog."
"Steal a what?"
"Dog. Very small dog. Almost no dog at all."
"Dear Aunt Clara's. Little Toto."
Alf Klemp seemed greatly relieved. When Augustus mentioned dog, he had imagined a Great Dane or a wolfhound, but he had seen Toto when visiting the Tulkington house with Gus Jiffers. It seemed no task at all to steal such a small dog and, in fact, the two criminals had little trouble.
At 10 o'clock exactly, that night, Alf Klemp, his face masked by a cloth, stepped from a clump of bushes and threw an arm around the neck of Marya, stiffling her cries with his coat sleeve, while Gus Jiffers jerked Toto's leash from her hand and made for the lane gate. The small dog, thrust head downward into a bag, was too surprised to make more than a few indignant yips.
About an hour later. Alf Klemp and Gus Jiffers emptied the dog onto the floor of Mr. Jiffers' room in Mrs. Benk's rooming house in New York and, after one nip at Mr. Jiffers' ankle, the canine loot crawled under the bed.
To Mrs. Tulkington, the maid Marya reported that she had been overpowered by a gigantic ruffian at least seven feet tall and with arms like barrels. Mrs. Tulkington's hysterics lasted until well after midnight and, when she was able to demand that the police be notified, Mr. Tulkington was positive in advising against such a course.
"That's the worst thing you can do," he said. "That dog was kidnapped -- kidnapped for ransom, and what'll happen if you stir up the police? They'll kill it -- the kidnappers will kill the dog."
"But what shall we do?"
"You leave it to me. I'll put private detectives on the job," said Mr. Tulkington and, having deceived his poor wife, he went to bed and slept like a log.
It was with high hopes that Gus Jiffers and Alf Klemp entered the offices of Benjamin Tulkington the next morning, and the secretary's "Come right in, Mr. Jiffers; Mr. Tulkington is expecting you," seemed a good omen. Mr. Tulkington, in fact, was standing with his fat wallet in his hand when Augustus entered the private office, and without a word he put two banknotes in his nephew's hand. It needed hardly a glance to tell Augustus that they were two tens.
"What's this for?" he asked.
"That pays you," said Mr. Tulkington, putting his wallet in his pocket. "Divide that with your confederate any way you like."
"But, Uncle Benjamin, $20!"
"Go away and don't bother me," Mr. Tulkington growled. "Take that or leave it; it's all you'll get. And remember this, young man -- you stole a dog; you can go to jail for that. That's all. I'm busy."
It was not until they were on the street that Augustus ventured to show Alf Klemp the pitifully small sum their crime had produced, and Mr. Klemp's indignation flared in words.
"The tight wad!" he exclaimed. "Why didn't you slam the money into the old buzzard's face, Gus? You're not going to stand it, are you, Gus?"
"Twenty dollars is $20, Alf. What can we do about it? We did steal the dog, Alf; he can put us in jail."
"We could take the cur back," Alf suggested. "We could tell her the old buzzard put us up to stealing it."
"I say!" cried Augustus, but the next moment his enthusiasm fled again. "She wouldn't believe us," he said. "She wouldn't believe that of Uncle Benjamin."
"Couldn't you, do the repentant nephew act, Gus? Tempted by uncle, steals dog, conscience ripped to frazzles when he thinks of poor Aunt Clara, returns dear Toto to aunt's hungering arms? It would touch her to the quick, Gus. Give her the story of a young man driven to desperation by poverty. She ought to get out the checkbook, Gus, if you pile it on thick enough."
"It won't work, Alf. She has too much faith in Uncle Benjy to swallow it."
They strode up Broadway in silence, thinking their bitter thoughts.
"Alf!" Gus Jiffers ejaculated, stopping short. "Alf, wait!"
Augustus had stopped before the window of a half-portion bookshop. The window was filled with gaudily jacketed books, and every book was a crime mystery novel.
"What now?" Alf Klemp asked.
"I'm getting an idea. I've got it! First the crime --"
"And then the bright young detective. Don't you get it yet, Alf? Dog stolen, Aunt Clara in tears, all hope gone. Then Jiffers on the job, clever work by the keen young sleuth, dog rescued from ruthless scoundrels and bright young detective rewarded."
"What a brain; what a brain!" whispered Alf Klemp with awe. "It's a wow, Gus. It's stupendous!"
Swinging his cane blithely, Augustus led the way to the railway station and, an hour later, Mr. Jiffers and Mr. Klemp were ushered into the presence of Mrs. Tulkington. Aunt Clara was reclining on a divan, sobbing quietly, and Augustus crossed the room and kissed her softly on the cheek.
"Poor dear auntie!" he murmured. "This is a sad, sad blow. I was frightfully shocked when I heard. Wasn't I frightfully shocked, Alf?"
"Absolutely. Positively knocked out," agreed Mr. Klemp.
"But how did you hear, Augustus?" asked Aunt Clara, dabbing at her wet eyes. "We haven't told any one yet."
"Fortunately," said Augustus, "I had some financial business with Uncle Benjy; he told me. 'Go to your aunt,' he said. 'She needs you.' He was distressed. Aunt Clara, direly distressed."
Mrs. Tulkington stopped dabbing her eyes long enough to look into the face of Augustus. She could hardly imagine Uncle Ben distressed.
"Don't forget that about detectives, Gus," Alf Klemp put in hurriedly. "You said to me, 'Here is where my talents are needed by Aunt Clara,' didn't you? Meaning the talents that -- the detective talents, you know -- that served you so splendidly in solving the Burnaby case."
"I'd rather you didn't mention that case, Alf," said Augustus. "That was only a stolen cat case."
"The Gallup case was a dog case," said Alf. "That was a greyhound, Mrs. Tulkington. Wonderful work Augustus did. And the Hiller case, Gus -- that was a whole litter of puppies. You got back all six of them, Gus."
"But I did not know you were a detective, Augustus," said Mrs. Tulkington.
"Under cover," said Alf Klemp. "Absolutely under cover. Positive secrecy. That's the secret of your success, ain't it, Gus? Gus Jiffers is the man to handle this case, ain't you, Gus? You know all the pet-stealers and their haunts and habits like a book, don't you, Gus?"
"Like two books, Alf," agreed Augustus.
"So how about it, Mrs. Tulkington?" asked Mr. Klemp. "Does Gus get the job?"
"It's going to need money, Alf," said Gus. "You can't get anywhere without money these days."
"Don't be crude, Gus; your Aunt Clara understands that. Money means nothing to Mrs. Tulkington when the life of her darling is at stake, does it, Mrs. Tulkington?"
"I'd pay anything to have my Toto back," answered Toto's mistress, again pressing her handkerchief to her eyes. "I wanted to offer a reward and tell the police --"
"No police!" declared Augustus. "No police or I drop the case instantly. Call the police and what happens? The kidnappers take fright; a black bag, a rope, a stone; 'glub-glub,' a few bubbles, and a dead dog. Absolutely no police! What reward were you going to offer?"
"I thought $200 --"
"For a lovely little dog like Toto?"
"Three hundred? Would you say $300, Augustus?"
"If you ask me," said Alf Klemp, "I'd say $400 or not a cent."
"With $100 cash in advance for expenses, Alf," said Augustus. "Don't forget the expenses."
"Absolutely not. Five hundred dollars in all, and Toto is practically back in your arms this minute. Old Gus knows who did the job and where the dog is."
"What do you mean by that, Alf?" Augustus asked, with a scowl.
"Well, you do, don't you?" said Mr. Klemp, with a confidential wink. "Didn't you say it was a Black Jack Gross job by the looks of it -- maid strangled and all that, Gus?"
"Absolutely," said Augustus, much relieved. "Positively, Alf. And a frightful scoundrel, that Black Jack Gross. Thinks nothing of torturing a poor brute for the fun of it. Well, how about it, Aunt Clara?"
By this time, Mrs. Tulkington was so shaken that she begged Augustus to take the case and, immediately after a light luncheon, she put the $100 expense money in the hands of Augustus, and Jiffers was on the job.
The somewhat unexpected success of this important part of the detective operations of Gus Jiffers and Alf Klemp made a private consultation necessary, and Augustus and his friend retired to the library and closed the doors. In the silence of that vast room, the expense money was divided fifty-fifty.
"Alf," said Augustus, "$500 is a lot of money these days. Aunt Clara deserves a run for her money. We must let the dear old soul see us in action, Alf."
"Finding clues. Interviewing the servants. Hawkshaw on the trail. Sherlock deducting. Jiffers on the job. Unquestionably, Gus!"
"And a cryptogram, Alf -- how about a cryptogram? Good old Jiffers finds the cryptogram, finds the key, finds the dog."
"Ripping -- positively ripping."
Writing a cryptogram message when one has had no experience is not an easy matter, and Augustus spoiled a dozen sheets of his Aunt Clara's best notepaper before he had one that satisfied him. As he worked he ejaculated "Good!" and "Splendid!" and the cryptogram when completed certainly looked cryptogramic enough to satisfy any one. It was:
144 -- V-12-V -- II -- 100cm -- mm -- 830 14441 -- 35 -- 6 -- 7 -- K8.
Augustus copied this on the back of an envelope -- it had contained a bill from his tailor, but he discarded the addressed side -- and on another he wrote a ransom message.
This being done, he sent Alf for Mrs. Tulkington and had her send for the servants and interviewed them one by one But none knew anything about the crime except the maid Marya and, when Augustus was through with her, she left the room in tears and with a belief that Augustus suspected her of being a confederate of the thief.
For the rest of the afternoon, Gus Jiffers and his efficient aide, Alf Klemp were the busiest detectives on Long Island, searching the scene of the crime for clues and, about 4 o'clock, Gus Jiffers discovered the ransom note in a bed of pansies.
He took it to Mrs. Tulkington immediately. This was the note, printed in a disguised hand:
Mis Tukkinton -- if you wan't to see ure mutt alive agen fetch 3000$ in 5$ bills to bak dore of place sumbuddy will telephone you at 8 oclok too-morrow nite. Kum aloan or deth to dog wil follo sure. I wil meet you. 144.
"I told you so, Alf," said Gus Jiffers exultantly. "It's Black Jack Gross or I'm a fool, Aunt Clara Signed '144' and that's twelve times twelve. Twelve dozen make one gross. We're on the right track, Alf."
"Sure to be, old man."
"But we're up against a clever rascal this time, Alf. We guess who did the deed, but where is the dog, Alf?"
"Ah! That's what you've got to dig up, Gus. But you'll do it old man."
"Absolutely! Don't despair, Aunt Clara; I'm on the job every minute now. Can I use your car? Thanks. And, Aunt Clara, don't -- no matter what happens, don't give any one $3,000."
"I won't, Augustus."
In a few minutes, Augustus and his friend were speeding from the Graywood estate in Mrs. Tulkington's own sedan. Not until they were well out of sight did Gus slow down.
"A perfect job so far, Alf," he said cheerfully. "We find the dog tonight. We get him now and park him at Freddie Beach's. He's a good scout, Freddie is. I owe him 30 bucks, Alf. He'll play along."
"Positively. Where does he live, Gus?"
"Flushing, 14441 Thirty-Fifth Avenue. And I say, Alf --"
"When we park the dog, I take the car back to Aunt Clara. Report progress and hunt for clues. Keep the old dear's spirits up. And you find the cryptogram. You intercept it, Alf, and bring it to me; you wrest it from a boy's hands. Not with a struggle."
"And get to dear old Graywood by 7, Alf; they eat like kings there."
It was with nothing less than amazement that Benjamin Tulkington, returning to Graywood from his daily labor, saw his nephew, Augustus Jiffers, down on his hands and knees apparently raking the lawn with his fingers. He hurried into the house and accosted Aunt Clara.
"What's that fellow doing out there?" he demanded angrily.
"He's looking for clues."
"Clues? What does he think he is, a detective?"
"But he is, Benjamin dear. He's hunting for Toto. He works under cover. And, Benjamin, he says he's sure to have Toto by morning. He says he practically knows where Toto is."
"He knows where -- er -- umph!" said Mr. Tulkington.
"He says he knows who took Toto."
"He says -- er -- umph!"
"Yes, and he's wonderful, Benjamin. He found this ransom note.
Mr. Tulkington's thoughts as he read the ransom note were of a character that turned his face to a shade of purple that was far from attractive.
When Augustus entered the living room Mr. Tulkington ignored the hand his nephew extended and gave him in greeting what was no more than a grunt, but young Mr. Jiffers ignored the crustiness of his Uncle Benjamin.
"Great luck, auntie," he cried. "Found a footprint, undoubtedly Black Jack Gross."
"Confounded nerve!" exploded Mr. Tulkington.
"Absolutely," agreed Gus Jiffers, looking his uncle straight in the eye. "Nerviest old boy I ever went up against. Uncle Benjamin. Hires gangs to steal dear little doggies. He ought to be well punished but I may let him off this time if I can put Aunt Clara's darling back in her arms. You agree with me, uncle?"
"Er-umph!" said Uncle Benjamin.
He might have said more but a taxicab dashed up to Graywood and stopped with a scream of brakes, and Alf Klemp leaped from the car and up the steps to the veranda. As the door opened Alfred shouted "Gus!" and ran to the living room.
"Gus! Gus;" he cried. "A cryptogram! I intercepted it, Gus."
"Give it to me, Alf," Augustus said, calmly. "Yes, a cryptogram but an easy one. Ha! So Pagnozzi is in this, is he?"
"How do you know that, Gus?"
"That's easy, Alf; it says here his daughter Millicent is mixed up in the affair. And Kate Bunderby, the fence. Alf, we get the dog tonight. The dog is in Flushing."
Mr. Tulkington, during this conversation, sat in an easy chair scowling at Augustus, but as her nephew declared the prompt return of little Toto, Aunt Clara uttered a great cry of delight. She stood on tiptoe and kissed Augustus on the cheek.
"But I don't see how you can read that, Augustus dear," she said now. "It doesn't mean anything to me."
"It is all very simple, Aunt Clara," said Augustus.
"Let us see what we have -- '144 -- V-12-V -- II -- 100cm -- mm -- 830 -- 14441 -- 35 -- 6-7 -- K8.' We begin with '144' and that, we know, is 'Gross' -- Black Jack Gross. 'K8' is Kate. The 'V-12-V might puzzle us if we did not know that 'V is five, and that two fives make ten. '12' is a dozen, so we have for 'V-12-V the words 'dozen in ten'."
"Marvelous, I call it," said Alf Klemp, but from Mr. Tulkington came a sound much like "Er-umph!"
"The next -- 'II' -- is merely 'two' in Roman numerals, Aunt Clara," Gus Jiffers continued. "And then we have '100cm.' or '100 centimeters,' but one hundred centimeters make a meter, so we will say the word is 'meter'."
"He's a wiz," said Alf Klemp.
"What have we next?" said Augustus, smiling his acknowledgment of the compliment. "We have 'mm,' the abbreviation of 'millimeter,' and the rest is easy. '830' is '8:30 o'clock,' and '14441-34' can be nothing but '144-41 Thirty-fourth Avenue' which -- according to the numbering system in the Borough of Queens -- can be nowhere but in Flushing. '6' means the sixth month, and '7' means the seventh day, or June seventh, which is tomorrow.
"So let us see what we have. We have 'Gross -- dozen -- in -- ten -- two -- meter -- millimeter -- eight -- thirty -- 144-41 -- Thirty-five -- June -- seven,' which is 'Gross doesn't intend to meet her. Millie meet her. eighty-thirty, 144-41 Thirty-fifth Avenue, June seventh.' 'Her' means you, Aunt Clara."
"But I'd never dare," declared Mrs. Tulkington.
"And you will not have to," said Augustus. "No one will meet this Millie person tomorrow night because we will have Toto safe in your hands tonight."
Before he could say more, he was interrupted by Hodges, who announced "Dinner is served, madam," and Mrs. Tulkington took Alf Klemp's arm and crossed the hall to the dining room.
Mr. Tulkington got out of his chair.
"Jiffers," he growled, "I won't have you make a fool of my wife. I won't stand for this confounded impertinence. You and that fellow Klemp are a couple of -- of cheap crooks."
"Detectives, Uncle Benjy," Augustus corrected him. "And not cheap. Expensive. Positively."
"Crooks," insisted Mr. Tulkington. "I paid you money to get rid of that dog."
"Money? Was that money?"
"Money," repeated Mr. Tulkington. "I paid you --"
"We haven't told Aunt Clara that," said Augustus. "Might be a good idea, what? Everything open and above board -- 'Dear Auntie, you'll be surprised --'"
"Er -- umph! Now wait a minute --"
But Hodges interrupted again, saying that Mrs. Tulkington would be obliged if the gentlemen would delay no longer than necessary. Mr. Tulkington grasped Gus Jiffers' arm.
"I warn you!" he said with the concentrated venom of a viper's poison sac. "You tell her and I'll make you suffer for it. I'll hound you out of New York. I'll --"
"Dinner is waiting, Unky," said Augustus, and tore himself away.
Although Gus Jiffers and his friend Alf did their best to make the meal merry and gay, the surly taciturnity of Mr. Tulkington dampened the occasion and it was not until the final coffees had been swallowed that Augustus was able to interest Mr. Tulkington. He managed to do so then.
"Aunt Clara," he said, "I have a confession to make about your dog."
"Now wait! Wait a minute!" cried Mr. Tulkington. "Stop there, Augustus. Don't say another word."
"Yes, Aunt Clara," Augustus continued, "I have a confession to make; often as I have seen dear Toto, I am not sure I would recognize him in unusual surroundings."
"What -- er -- umph!" ejaculated Mr. Tulkington.
"So I think Uncle Benjamin should go with us tonight to identify the dog."
"Of course he will," said Mrs. Tulkington. "You will, won't you, Benjamin?"
"I'll go," said Mr. Tulkington, but without even a trace of enthusiasm. "All right, I'll go."
"We won't let Black Jack Gross and his gang harm you, you know," said Alf Klemp. "Gus and I will protect you. You can run if there is any shooting."
"Absolutely, Uncle Benjamin," agreed Augustus. "We'll bring you back without a wound."
An hour and a half later, Gus Jiffers and Alf Klemp reentered the Graywood living room, and Mrs. Tulkington, her well-filled purse in her hand, scrambled from her divan. She had in her hand the $400 that were to reward the peerless Jiffers and his Operative No. 1, but her expression of eagerness faded as she saw no Toto.
"Didn't you get him?" she asked. "Didn't you find him, Augustus?"
"Absolutely, Aunt Clara," said Augustus. "Uncle Benjamin is bringing him," and Mr. Tulkington at that moment entered, carrying Toto.
As Mrs. Tulkington saw her beloved dog, she pressed the money into Augustus' hand and ran forward, but Mr. Tulkington dropped the dog on the floor and grasped his wrist.
"Curse the cur!" he cried as Augustus counted the reward. "He bit me on the wrist this time!"