Easier burglary than this the world does not offer. Every bachelor quarters on the Isthmus, completely screened in, is entered by two or three screen-doors, none of which is or can be locked. In the building are from twelve to twenty-four wide-open rooms of two or three occupants each, no three of whom know one another’s full names or anything else, except that they are white Americans and ipso facto (so runs Zone philosophy) above dishonesty. The quarters are virtually abandoned during the day. Two negro janitors dawdle about the building, but they, too, leave it for two hours at mid-day. Moreover each of the forty-eight or more occupants probably has several friends or acquaintances or enemies who may drift in looking for him at any hour of the day or night. No negro janitor would venture to question a white American’s errand in a house; Panama is below the Mason and Dixon line. In practice any white American is welcome in any bachelor quarters and even to a bed, if there is one unoccupied, though he be a total stranger to all the community. Add to this that the negro tailor’s runner often has permission to come while the owner is away for suits in need of pressing, that John Chinaman must come and claw the week’s washing out from under the bed where the “rough-neck” kicked it on Saturday night, that there are a dozen other legitimate errands that bring persons of varying shades into the building, and above all that the bachelors themselves, after the open-hearted old American fashion, have the all but universal habit of tossing gold and silver, railroad watches and real-estate bonds, or anything else of whatever value, indifferently on the first clear corner that presents itself. Precaution is troublesome and un-American. It seems a fling at the character of your fellow bachelors—and in the vast majority of Zone cases it would be. But it is in no sense surprising that among the many thousands that swarm upon the Isthmus there should be some not averse to increasing their income by taking advantage of these guileless habits and bucolic conditions. There are suggestions that a few— not necessarily whites—make a profession of it. No wonder “our chief trouble is burglary” and has been ever since the Z. P. can remember. Summed up, the pay-day gold that has thus faded away is perhaps no small amount; compared with what it might have been under prevailing conditions it is little.
As for detecting such felonies, police officers the world around know that theft of coin of the realm in not too great quantities is virtually as safe a profession as the ministry. The Z. P. plain-clothes man, like his fellows elsewhere, must usually be content in such cases with impressing on the victim his Sherlockian astuteness, gathering the available facts of the case, and return to typewrite his report thereof to be carefully filed away among headquarters archives. Which is exactly what I had to do in the case in question, diving out the door, notebook in hand, to catch the evening train to Panama.