The bringing together into close contact of Americans from every section of our broad land is tending to make a new amalgamated type. Even New Englanders grow almost human here among their broader-minded fellow-countrymen. Any northerner can say “nigger” as glibly as a Carolinian, and growl if one of them steps on his shadow. It is not easy to say just how much effect all this will have when the canal is done and this handful of amalgamated and humanized Americans is sprinkled back over all the States as a leaven to the whole. They tell on the Zone of a man from Maine who sat four high-school years on the same bench with two negro boys, and returning home after three years on the Isthmus was so horrified to find one of those boys an alderman that he packed his traps and moved to Alabama, “where a nigger is a nigger”—and if there isn’t the “makings” of a story in that I ’ll leave it to the postmaster of Miraflores.
“There is much in this police business,” said “the Captain,” with his slow, deliberate enunciation, “that must lead to a blank wall. Out of ten cases to investigate it is quite possible nine will result in nothing. This percentage could not of course be true of a thousand cases and a man’s services still be considered satisfactory. But of ten it is quite possible. As for knowing how to do detective work, all I bring to the department myself is some ordinary common sense and a little knowledge of human nature, and with these I try to work things out as best I can. This peeping-through-the-key-hole police work I know nothing whatever about, and don’t want to. Nor do I expect a man to.”
I had been discussing with “the Captain” my dissatisfaction at my failure to “get results” in an important case. A few weeks on the force had changed many a preconceived notion of police life. It had gradually become evident, for instance, that the profession of detective is adventurous, absorbing, heart-stopping chiefly between the covers of popular fiction; that real detective work, like almost any other vocation, is made up largely of the little unimportant every-day details, with only a rare assignment bulking above the mass. As “the Captain” said, it was just plain every-day work carried on by the application of ordinary common sense. Such best-seller artifices as disguise were absurd. Not only would disguise in all but the rarest cases be impossible, but useless. The A-B-C of plain-clothes work is to learn to know a man by his face rather than by his clothing—and at the outset one will be astonished to find how much he has hitherto been depending on the latter. It must be the same with criminals, too, unless your criminal is an amateur or a fool, in which event you will “land” him without the trouble of disguising. A detective furthermore should not be a handsome man or a man of striking appearance in any way; the ideal plain-clothes man is the little insignificant snipe whom even the ladies will not notice.