from Illustrated Detective Magazine
$100 Thousand Reward; Oliver Spotts, Near-Detective
by Ellis Parker Butler
It was ten o'clock in the morning when Oliver Spotts, clam-digger and near-detective, entered the front door of the Cornelius Cuff College for Detectives at Mud Cove, Long Island. He was hot and flustered. Just as he was starting for the college Jed Peters, proprietor of the Mud Cove Hotel, who was to serve a clambake for the North Shore Undertakers and Coffin Trimmers Association that day, had come to Mr. Spotts' clam boat saying he had to have another bushel of clams, and Mr. Spotts had had to go out on the mud flat and dig them. He had thus missed the first class -- Criminal Psychology.
The least Mr. Spotts expected was that Old Cap Cuff, the proprietor of the college, would give him hail-columbia, because Mr. Spotts had given the wrong answer to the only question Old Cap had asked him in that class the day before.
"What," Old Cap Cuff had asked, "do criminals always do? You answer, Spotts."
"Commit crimes," was the answer Mr. Spotts gave.
"Dumb!" exclaimed Old Cap Cuff with disgust. "That's what you are, Spotts -- dumb! At the rate you're going, Spotts, you'll be a detective in about one million years. You answer, Mr. Clancy."
"The criminal -- even the shrewdest criminal -- always makes some slip that leads inevitably to his detection," said Mr. Clancy.
"Right!" said Old Cap Cuff. "And if he was as dumb as you, Spotts, he'd make a couple of thousand. Class is dismissed."
But now Mr. Spotts heard Emmaline, the college cook, going through the halls ringing the big dinner bell and crying in her rich voice: "Assembly! Assembly!" The call to assemble at this time of day was most unusual. It portended something important.
When Mr. Spotts entered the assembly hall the other forty-nine students of the College for Detectives -- ranging from eighteen to seventy-one years of age -- were already in their seats, and on the platform sat the six professors and Old Cap Cuff himself, and at the side of Old Cap Cuff sat a large and handsome lady who was weeping copiously into a handkerchief. As Oliver Spotts took his seat, Old Cap Cuff arose and rapped for order and without further preliminaries introduced the weeping lady as Mrs. Elmus Cutminster.
"Gentlemen," said Old Cap Cuff, "Mrs. Cutminster has come to ask our aid in her dire distress. Yesterday her beloved dog --"
"It was a pup-pup-pup --" sobbed Mrs. Cutminster.
"It was a pup," said Old Cap Cuff.
"No; it was a pup-pup-Pekingese," sobbed the lady.
"A Pekingese," Old Cap corrected himself. "Yesterday morning Mrs. Cutminster set a plate of food outside her door close to the hedge. The dog had a collar and a silver chain and Mrs. Cutminster fastened the chain to a stake and put the dog down --"
"And I gave it a kick-kick --" sobbed Mrs. Cutminster, and Old Cap Cuff looked at her doubtfully.
"And gave it a kick," he said.
"No; I gave it a kick-kick-kiss," the lady sobbed.
"She put the dog down and gave it a kiss," said Old Cap Cuff, "because she loved the dog. When she went out half an hour later she found the dog gone -- ah -- dog gone -- I mean she found the dog was not there. The chain had evidently been cut with a pair of nippers. In her distress she has come to us -- and may I say she has come to the right place, gentlemen? -- and she asks us to recover the dog. She has, of course, notified the police, but she expects nothing from them."
"Why don't she?" asked Mr. Spotts.
"Spotts, shut up!" said Old Cap Cuff. "Are there any questions?"
"Why don't she expect the police to do nothing?" asked a senior named Bulwinzer. "That's what I want to know -- why don't she?"
"Because twice," said Old Cap Cuff, "the dog bit the Chief of Police. So she has come to us. She offers five dollars reward. I want five volunteers. Whoever captures and returns the dog will be advanced one full grade in the college. I warn you that you may have to battle against desperate men. Who will volunteer?"
Immediately every student, including Oliver Spotts, raised hands.
"A splendid spirit!" exclaimed Old Cap Cuff. "Men, I am proud of you! I will select, since I must, five of you noble fellows. I will select Mr. Clancy, Mr. Bulwinzer, Mr. Bopp, Mr. Cuffick and Mr. Jullups. Assembly is dismissed."
The five gentlemen named by Old Cap Cuff immediately left the hall to don their disguises and begin the search for the missing dog. That night when they returned to the college they were able to report "progress" only, but Old Cap Cuff was pleased -- or said he was -- for each had secured one clue. Mr. Clancy had the tag end of the silver chain, Mr. Bulwinzer had seven of the dog's hairs that had caught on the hedge, Mr. Bopp had the feeding platter on which was a clear impress of the dog's foot, Mr. Cuffick had a sheet setting forth the dog's pedigree, and Mr. Jullups -- not having been able to secure anything better -- had a piece of the hedge through which the dog had been pulled.
That same evening Mr. Oliver Spotts sat in the forward room of his clam boat sorting clams while his sister Lotta washed the dinner dishes. Outside all was dark when two men paused before the clam boat, keeping in the darkest shadow. One of these men was a tall, thin man, who looked hungry; the other was a plumpish man who, in spite of his plumpness, looked even hungrier. The tall man wore a dark suit that was extremely shabby and a black derby hat that had seen far better days; the plumper man was clad in a suit of light gray plaid and had a soft gray felt hat on his head.
"There -- that's him," said the man in gray plaid in a whisper. "He goes and digs clams every morning. Soon as the tide goes out he goes."
"I'll know him," said the thin man. "He looks like a boob sure enough."
"If he ain't a boob, I'm the Queen of Spain," said the plump man, and with that they moved away into the night.
The next morning early, as soon as the tide went out, Oliver Spotts took a large empty gunnysack and his spade-fork and went out onto the mud flat to dig clams. There was a slight fog, but as Mr. Spotts neared his favorite clamming spot he saw a man who appeared to be digging clams. A surge of anger went through Mr. Spotts. This strip of mud flat was supposed to be his by mutual consent.
The man's back was toward Mr. Spotts, but he seemed to be fearful of being seen, looking over his shoulder frequently. He was digging as no professional clam-digger ever dug. He had only a stick to dig with and he dug but a moment in one place, leaving it to dig in another. He dug with one hand only, for in his left hand he held a rope and at the end of the rope was a dog.
"Hey, you!" shouted Mr. Spotts.
When he heard this the man, who was clad in a shabby dark suit and wore a miserable derby hat, jumped as if shot. He instantly cast his stick away and after seeming to consider flight, started toward Mr. Spotts, dragging the dog at the end of the rope.
The dog was a reluctant dog. It might have been a bulldog if it had not been mostly something else. It was a heavy dog and hard to drag, keeping all legs stiff and braced against the mud, so that it made a furrow such as a plow might have made. As it neared him Mr. Spotts saw that the dog carried in its mouth a scrap of light gray plaid cloth, but it did not appear to want to carry this and dropped it. When the dog dropped the scrap of cloth the thin man picked up the scrap and put it in the dog's mouth again, and slapped the dog sharply on the ear, saying, "Hold it, you cur, hold it!"
"What you digging in my clam bed for?" demanded Mr. Spotts when the thin stranger neared him. "This here is my clam bed."
"Diggin'?" said the thin stranger. "I wasn't diggin'. Why, friend, I wouldn't go and dig in your clam bed."
"I seen you," said Mr. Spotts.
"Not me," said the stranger. "It must have been somebody else. I come out here to --" he hesitated and looked around as if trying to think of some lie to tell, and when his eyes reached the dog he brightened instantly. "I come out here to sell you a dog," he said. "That's it -- I come out here to see if you wanted to buy a clam-hound."
"A what-hound?" asked Oliver Spotts.
"A clam-hound," said the stranger. "That's it -- a clam-hound. A full-blood Cape Cod clam-hound. Now, this here hound he noses out the places where the clams are and saves you a lot of time. This here clam-hound --" He stopped because the clam-hound had again dropped the scrap of plain cloth, and he pushed the cloth into the dog's mouth again and said, "Hang onto that, dang you!" and turned to Mr. Spotts again.
In the short interval while the thin man's back had been turned to him, Mr. Spotts had observed something. In the stranger's hip pocket, with the tail of his coat caught up over it, was a package that even Mr. Spotts knew was composed of a large number of bonds or stocks or other securities. There were twenty or more of them tied together with a strip of red tape.
"Now, seeing I ain't no clammer," said the stranger, but he saw that Mr. Spotts' eyes were aimed toward the hip pocket and he hastily pulled his coattail down over the bundle of securities. "Seeing that I ain't no clammer," he repeated, "I'll sell you this genuine Cape Cod clam-hound for ten dollars and ninety-eight cents."
"What's the ninety-eight cents for?" asked Mr. Spotts, whose suspicions were aroused and who wished to draw the stranger into further conversation.
"Ten dollars for the dog and ninety-eight cents for war tax," said the thin man. "And a bargain. Only you've got to look out for one thing. Don't let him get no cloth in his mouth, because when he once gets a piece of cloth in his mouth he never lets go of it."
"He's let go of that piece now," said Mr. Spotts.
"That's because he smells clams," said the man. "That's the only way to make him drop a piece of cloth -- let him smell clams. Well, if you don't want to buy a clam-hound --"
"I never said I didn't," said Mr. Spotts.
"Oh, well!" said the stranger. "We won't argue about it. It's damp all around out here, ain't it?" No sort of place to bury anything."
"Was you thinking of burying anything?" asked Mr. Spotts. "Anything like stocks or bonds, as it might be?"
"No!" shouted the stranger. "You mind your own business!" and with that he dragged the dog's rope and ran for the shore as fast as his legs could carry him, and the clam-hound loped after him, barking joyously as if he thought it was a game of play.
For a while Mr. Spotts stood looking after the man and then he shook his head.
"There ain't no sense to it," he said. "There ain't no meaning into it nowhere. Crazy, that's what he is -- plumb crazy!" and with that he picked up the scrap of plaid cloth and looked at it. "Clam-hound, huh!" he scoffed, turning the piece of cloth over. "There ain't no clam-hounds. Crazy as a loon!" and he put the piece of cloth in his pocket and proceeded to tread for clams, it being the nature of the soft clam to squirt a jet of water when its hiding place is trod upon, thus giving itself away.
It was not yet nine o'clock when Mr. Spotts returned to his clam boat that nosed the Harbor Road and he had hardly emptied the sack of clams onto the sorting table when a plump gentleman in a light gray plaid suit and a felt hat stopped before the clam boat and looked up at the sign over the door.
"Ah!" he exclaimed in a voice loud enough for Mr. Spotts to hear, and he read the sign over the door as if it contained glad tidings: "'Oliver Spotts -- Clams -- Gardens Dug -- Janitoring Done -- Near-Detective!'" and he went down the few steps and entered the clam boat.
"How do?" Mr. Spotts saluted him.
"Good morning," said the stranger. "You are Mr. Spotts? That is fine! I see, sir, by the sign outside, that you are a detective."
"Well, nearly -- nearly," said Mr. Spotts. "I ain't a full and complete detective and won't be till I graduate and get my diploma, but I ain't a Freshman no more. I'm a Sophomore, anyways."
"Just so! Excellent!" said the plump stranger heartily. "A Sophomore but willing to undertake a case, am I right?"
"If there's any money into it," said Mr. Spotts.
"And that's just what there is," said the stranger. "Are you married?"
"No, I ain't," said Mr. Spotts.
"My sister Lotta keeps house for me. If you've got to have a married detective --"
"No! No!" said the stranger hastily. "No, indeed! But what do I smell? Can be it clam chowder?"
"Yes, 'tis," said Mr. Spotts. "Would you like to eat some?"
"Well, I would!" said the stranger frankly. "The truth is, Mr. Spotts, I have been so agitated by my loss that I have neither slept nor eaten but have walked the streets of this village all night. When a man loses two million dollars -- --"
"Lotta!" called Mr. Spotts. "Fetch one chowder. And a cup of coffee, if it's on the stove. If you set down at that table, Mr. --"
"Vanderbilt," said the stranger, supplying the name: "Cadwallader G. Vanderbilt in full. This chair?" As Mr. Vanderbilt -- for we must call him that for the present -- seated himself Mr. Spotts saw something that startled him. It was a jagged hole in the rear of Mr. Vanderbilt's coat. Through the small serving window Miss Lotta Spotts handed a bowl of chowder and a cup of coffee, and when Mr. Spotts had placed these on the table he drew the scrap of plaid cloth from his pocket and, as he was standing behind Mr. Vanderbilt he compared the scrap with the hole in Mr. Vanderbilt's coat. They agreed exactly. Mr. Spotts put the scrap of cloth back into his pocket.
"When I asked if you were a married man," Mr. Vanderbilt said when he had eaten a few spoonfuls of chowder, "I thought that if you were you might understand better how wives are. Some wives. My wife, especially. You know, of course, that I am a multi-millionaire. Two million dollars is nothing to me -- mere chicken feed. But, Mr. Spotts, the two million dollars in stock that was stolen from me last night was my wife's private property. She'll be furious with me."
"I should think most any wife would be," said Mr. Spotts.
"And the trouble is," said Mr. Vanderbilt, "that it was my fault. Allura -- that's my wife -- wanted to keep the stock on the yacht until we reached New York, but I said, 'Let me take it uptown here and mail it.' Two million dollars, Mr. Spotts. Too much to keep on a yacht; suppose the craft should sink! So I persuaded her, and she trusted me, and last night I had myself rowed ashore."
"And you was robbed," said Mr. Spotts.
"Ah! there's clever work for you! Deduction -- real Sherlock Holmes' deduction. Yes, I was robbed. As I walked up Harbor Road a tall man in a dark suit stepped out of a shadow and thrust a pistol in my face. If it had not been for the dog I would have fought him off, perhaps, but the dog grasped my coattail and threw me down --"
"Describe the dog," said Mr. Spotts.
"A large dog," said Mr. Vanderbilt. "You might call him a sort of bulldog, but I have traveled largely and I knew him at once for a Cape Cod clam-hound. A very rare dog. But ferocious. Very ferocious. When he threw me down I was stunned. When I recovered consciousness -- this is excellent chowder, if I might have another bowl? -- The parcel of stock was gone and the micreant had fled."
When the second bowl of chowder was before Mr. Vanderbilt he continued.
"Now, sir," he said, "My yacht has gone on to Port Jefferson and will be back tonight and I must get those stocks by the time my wife stops here for me. I want you to get them for me. And if you do, sir, I will pay you one hundred thousand dollars reward."
"That's a lot of money," said Mr. Spotts.
"Not for me, sir, under the circumstances," said Mr. Vanderbilt, smiling. "You don't know my wife. Mr. Spotts. The question is, will you try to get the stolen stocks back for me?"
"I would be glad to try an attempt to do so," said Mr. Spotts, remembering the stranger he had met on the mud flat.
"Good!" exclaimed Mr. Vanderbilt. "And to show I mean business -- because, after all, you do not know me from Adam -- I shall put the reward now in hands we both can trust. Your sister's hands, shall we say."
"Lotty is honest, day or night," said Mr. Spotts.
"In her hands, then," said Mr. Vanderbilt. "One hundred thousand dollars in gilt edged securities. What shall we say -- one hundred thousand dollars in stock of the Bright Sunshine Oil Company?"
With that he felt in his pockets and drew out a blank stock certificate of the Bright Sunshine Oil Company, beautifully engraved.
"Now a pen," he said, and Mr. Spotts supplied one. "You see," said Mr. Vanderbilt, "it is printed right here, 'Shares $100.' And I will tell you something, Mr. Spotts -- these shares will be worth $200 each in a month or I'm a spotted lizard. Now, one hundred into one hundred thousand -- that's one thousand shares. Exactly."
Quite deftly he filled in the blanks for one thousand shares. He waved the certificate until it was dry. He held it toward Mr. Spotts and then drew it back.
"I don't know," he said, shaking his head. "I don't know you, come to think of it, do I? I'm leaving this stock in your hands -- you say you're a detective, and you say that your sister is honest, but how do I know? Spotts," he said frankly, "you ought to put up something with me as evidence of good faith. That's only fair. How about some trifling sum -- shall we say five hundred dollars?"
"I ain't got that much of a sum of cash money or nowheres near it," said Mr. Spotts.
"Well, how much have you got?" asked Mr. Vanderbilt.
"Twenty dollars," said Mr. Spotts, and Mr. Vanderbilt's face fell, but he made the best of it, as multimillionaires often do.
"All right," he said. "I'll take it." When Oliver Spotts had pushed the "No Sale" button of his cash register and had given Mr. Vanderbilt twenty dollars that gentleman put the money in his pocket and said he would drop in about six o'clock that evening to learn what success Mr. Spotts had had and, after shaking Mr. Spotts' hand warmly, he departed. Mr. Spotts was eager to be out and after the miscreant who had robbed Mr. Vanderbilt, for he had little doubt that he would capture him. He had no doubt whatever that the stranger he had met on the mud flat with the clam-hound had done the deed, for the dog answered Mr. Vanderbilt's description, and the near-detective had seen the stolen stocks -- or something very much like them -- in the thin stranger's hip pocket. He was about to tell Lotta that he would be out all day, when Lotta herself came into the room. Her first glance was at the cash register.
"What's that mean?" she asked. "'No sale'! You didn't go and give that man two bowls of chowder and a cup of coffee for nothing, did you, Oliver Spotts?"
"Why, yes, Lotty," said Mr. Spotts. "I done so. I was having a business transaction with him in the detective line. That was Mr. Vanderbilt -- Mr. Cadwallader G. Vanderbilt, the multi-millionaire."
Oliver Spotts said this bravely enough but even as he said it a suspicion that it sounded fishy came to him, and when he had told Lotta of the hundred thousand dollar stock certificate and the twenty-dollar deposit and the clam-hound and the thin man and the scrap of plaid coattail, she put up her nose and sniffed disdainfully.
"Well!" she said. "Well! Of all the poor silly goomps I ever did hear tell of, Oliver Spotts! You a detective! You ain't even a nearly near-detective. You ain't even fit to be in the kindergarten detective school. That slicker ain't no more a Vanderbilt than I am, and he's made a sucker out of you. Humph! Let me see that stock thing you're talking about."
Reluctantly Mr. Spotts handed the certificate to his sister. As she studied it she sniffed again.
"It ain't even signed," she said in a tone that was even worse than a sniff. "'Tain't even worth the paper it's printed on, I'll warrant. 'Tain't even clean -- scrawled all over the back!"
"What say?" asked Mr. Spotts, taking the certificate from Lotta.
"Twenty good dollars gone for nothing, to say nothing of good chowder and coffee. Well, maybe not so good coffee -- it had been standing quite some time. The next time any big-talking fellow comes --"
But Oliver Spotts, near-detective and clam-digger, hardly heard her. He was holding the stock certificate in two hands, looking at its back. It was indeed scrawled over with words and sentences, and many of them had been marked out and other words and sentences written above them.
"Now, hush up. Lotty," Mr. Spotts said. "You'd talk a man's head off, give you a chance. Keep still a minute -- I'm detecting something right now, if you want to know it."
"You? What?" asked Miss Lotta, and she looked over Oliver's shoulder. The words written on the back of the certificate were these:
"Mrs. Cutminster -- unless ten dollars" (but the "ten dollars" was stricken out and "twenty dollars" written above it) "are wrapped in a white cloth and put on your gate" (here "on your gate" was marked out and "in the hole in the hedge where we took your dog from" was written in) "by midnight tonight, your mutt will die."
There was more of this, evidently the tentative framing of a threatening letter that was to be transcribed and sent to the weeping Mrs. Cutminster, and it was evident that the plump stranger in the plaid suit had used the wrong certificate. He had given Mr. Spotts one he had not meant to give him. But what interested Mr. Spotts even as much was a map or diagram that was crudely sketched at one side of the written words. Mr. Spotts turned this one way and another, studying it.
"You goomp, you've got it upside down!" exclaimed Miss Lotta. "This is the way it goes. Here's Hill Road, and this x is where Mrs. Cutminster lives, and here -- hum! this, where the other x is, is that old boat-house of Wince Hudder's out to Cutter's Point --"
But Mr. Spotts was no longer listening. Pulling the stock certificate from Lotta's hands he rushed into the back rooms and came forth immediately with an ancient pistol that would have done for an elephant gun.
"In the detective business you don't never know how things is going to end up, Lotty," he said.
With these words he ran out of the houseboat and up the steps into Harbor Road. Miss Lotta followed him to the top of the steps, but he was already far down the road.
"Ollie! Ollie!" she screamed. "Is that pistol loaded?"
"No!" he yelled back. "But don't tell nobody it ain't."
He was panting as he burst into the Criminal Psychology classroom at the Cornelius Cuff College for Detectives, and Old Cap Cuff frowned angrily at the disturbance.
"Cap -- Cap Cuff," Oliver Spotts panted. "Hurry up! I'm onto a clue to where Mrs. Cutminster's dog is. Come along quick!"
A minute later Mr. Spotts was running in the direction of the abandoned and rotting boat-house that had been owned by the late Wince Hudder and, strung out along the road behind him were Old Cap Cuff with a black automatic in each hand, the forty-four students who were not out hunting for Mrs. Cutminster's dog, the six professors and, bringing up the rear, Emmaline the cook.
Oliver Spotts, reaching the boat-house first, threw open the door. Inside were the tall thin man in the dark suit, the plump man in the light gray plaid suit, the clam-hound and Mrs. Cutminster's stolen Pekingese. As the two men saw the pistol in the hand of Mr. Spotts they threw up their hands.
The next morning when Mr. Spotts appeared in the Criminal Psychology classroom Old Cap Cuff scowled at him.
"Well --" said Oliver Spotts.
"Don't well at me!" said Old Cap Cuff. "You don't belong here -- you're promoted to Junior year, and if you wasn't so dumb you'd surely know it."
"I do know it," said Mr. Spotts, "only I thought I'd come and say I know the answer to that question I didn't know before."
"What question?" asked Old Cap Cuff.
"'What do criminals always do?'" said Oliver Spotts. "And the answer is, 'They always make some slip that leads inevitably to their getting caught.'"
"Right!" said Old Cap Cuff, and then he added, "For a wonder!"