I confess that in the excitement of the anarchists I had forgotten it, but now I recalled that for several days I had been reading little paragraphs about robberies on the big estates on the Long Island shore of the Sound. One of the local correspondents had called the robber a “phantom bandit,” but I had thought it nothing more than an attempt to make good copy out of a rather ordinary occurrence.
“Well,” he hurried on, “that’s the reason why I have been ’taken up by society,’ as you so elegantly phrase it. From the secret hiding-places of the boudoirs and safes of fashionable women at Bluffwood, thousands of dollars’ worth of jewels and other trinkets have mysteriously vanished. Of course you’ll come along. Why, it will be just the story to tone up that alleged page of society news you hand out in the Sunday Star. There—we’re quits now. Seriously, though, Walter, it really seems to be a very baffling case, or rather series of cases. The whole colony out there is terrorized. They don’t know who the robber is, or how he operates, or who will be the next victim, but his skill and success seem almost uncanny. Mr. Verplanck has put one of his cars at my disposal and I’m up here at the laboratory gathering some apparatus that may be useful. I’ll pick you up anywhere between this and the Bridge—how about Columbus Circle in half an hour?”
“Good,” I agreed, deciding quickly from his tone and manner of assurance that it would be a case I could not afford to miss.
The Stuyvesant Verplancks, I knew, were among the leaders of the rather recherche society at Bluffwood, and the pace at which Bluffwood moved and had its being was such as to guarantee a good story in one way or another.
“Why,” remarked Kennedy, as we sped out over the picturesque roads of the north shore of Long Island, “this fellow, or fellows, seems to have taken the measure of all the wealthy members of the exclusive organizations out there—the Westport Yacht Club, the Bluffwood Country Club, the North Shore Hunt, and all of them. It’s a positive scandal, the ease with which he seems to come and go without detection, striking now here, now there, often at places that it seems physically impossible to get at, and yet always with the same diabolical skill and success. One night he will take some baubles worth thousands, the next pass them by for something apparently of no value at all, a piece of bric-a-brac, a bundle of letters, anything.”
“Seems purposeless, insane, doesn’t it?” I put in.
“Not when he always takes something—often more valuable than money,” returned Craig.
He leaned back in the car and surveyed the glimpses of bay and countryside as we were whisked by the breaks in the trees.
“Walter,” he remarked meditatively, “have you ever considered the possibilities of blackmail if the right sort of evidence were obtained under this new ‘white-slavery act’? Scandals that some of the fast set may be inclined to wink at, that at worst used to end in Reno, become felonies with federal prison sentences looming up in the background. Think it over.”