He rose suddenly from his chair and led the way into an adjoining room, busy with several young Americans over desks and typewriters.
“Inspector,” he said, as a tall and slender yet muscular man of Indian erectness and noticeably careful grooming rose to his feet, “Here’s one of those rare people, an American who speaks some foreign languages. Have a talk with him. Perhaps we can arrange to fix him up both for his good and our own.”
“Ever done police duty?” began the Inspector, when “the Captain” had returned to the corner office.
“Nor that either.”
“Well, we usually require it,” mused the Inspector slowly, flashing his diamond ring, “but with your special qualifications perhaps—
“You’d probably be of most use to us in plain clothes,” he continued, after a dozen questions as to my former activities; “We could put you in uniform for the first month or six weeks until you know the Isthmus, and then—
“Our greatest trouble is burglary,” he broke off abruptly, rising to reach a copy of the “Canal Zone Laws”; “If you have nothing else on hand you might run these over; and the ’Police Rules and Regulations,’” he added, handing me a small, flat volume bound in light brown imitation leather.
I sat down in an arm-chair against the wall and fell to reading, amid the clickity-click of typewriters, telephone calls even from far-off Colon on the Atlantic, and the constant going and coming of a negro orderly in shiningly ironed khaki uniform. By and by the Inspector drifted into the main office, where his voice blended for some time with that of “the Captain,” At length he came back bearing a copy of the day’s Star and Herald, turned back to the “Estrella de Panama” pages so rarely opened in the Zone.
“Just run us off a translation of that, if you don’t mind,” he said, pointing to a short paragraph in Spanish.
Some two minutes later I handed him the English version of the account of a near-duel between two Panamanians, and took once more to reading. It was more than an hour later that I was again interrupted.
“You’ll want to catch the 5:25 back to Corozal?” inquired the Inspector;” Mr.—–, give him transportation to Culebra and back, and an order for physical examination.
“You might fill out this application blank,” he added, handing me a long legal sheet, “then in case you are appointed that much will be done.”
The document began with the usual, “Name——, Birthplace——, and so on.” There followed the information that the appointee “must be at least five feet eight; weigh one hundred and forty, chest at least thirty-four inches—” Then suddenly near the bottom of the back of the sheet my eyes caught the startling words;—“Unless you are sure you are a man of physical appearance far above the average do not fill out this application.”