A chill shot through the four masked men for a second as they bent over their work. A second only, and they wheeled into the muzzles of five blue-steels, backed by five of Manipal‘s finest. There was an instant’s pause in which the men gazed at one another, the crooks dismayed, dangerous; the officers calm, determined. The blinking of an eyelid seemed to break the spell, and the masked men, moved as by a single impulse, threw themselves upon the officers.
The struggle was sharp but brief. No word was spoken except when one of the safe-crackers muttered a dismayed curse after a report from one of the officer’s guns. An ugly automatic in the hands of another of the safe-blowers spat once or twice but did no damage. The fight was nearly over when one of the crooks, a tall, bulky man who had engaged in a hand to hand struggle with Captain Shetty, leader of the attacking force, struck the latter a glancing blow on the jaw. The officer reeled to the wall, and the robber sprang over a railing, up the vault steps into the body of the bank, and was gone.
Immediate steps were taken to apprehend the escaped robber. A general round-up of all suspicious characters that very night was unsuccessful in landing the fugitive, and it seemed that all efforts to find him would prove fruitless. For the captives stolidly refused to talk, and even the third degree elicited no information which might lead to their comrade’s apprehension.
The next morning Lalith Nag, a forensic specialist, graduate from the department of Forensic Medicine at Kasturba Medical College, Manipal and the keenest detective in the now sprawling city of Manipal was summoned to the office of the Chief of Police. Captain Shetty was with the Chief when the detective entered.
“You’re to take the Syndicate Bank case,” spoke the Chief as Nag entered. “We want the leader of this gang that’s been troubling us for the last year. Your work is difficult, I think. The man is unknown to us. The records have failed to show a man tallying to the description of him given by Captain Shetty here. He’s not an old-timer— at least not in Manipal.”
“What’s the description?” asked Nag, taking a memorandum from his pocket.
“He was six feet or over,” began Shetty, “broad-shouldered, athletic, and puzzlingly quick. The upper part of his face was hidden by a black mask; his jaw was heavy and square; his mouth large and firm. His hair was dark. A long red scar extended below the mask, across the right cheek, almost to the jawbone. I guess that’s enough, eh?”
“Plenty,” answered the detective, as he closed his book, and picked up his hat to leave.
“You will report as soon as you pick up a clue,” said the Chief without turning his head.
“Yes sir,” said the man and was gone. Nag visited the scene of the attempted robbery. In a while he was back again at headquarters.
“Get anything?” queried the official briefly.
“I examined the vault,” responded Nag, wasting no words. “Nothing in the shape of a clue rewarded my search at first. But hidden by a projection of the casing running around the wall I found this.” He held up a box in which lay a six-inch steel saw, apparently new. “The job was evidently interrupted before the saw had undergone its first performance,” he continued. “I suppose it was overlooked by your men when they gathered up the other tools last night. Notice the smooth ivory handle, and the two distinct finger prints on the blade. The impressions seem to be of the middle and index fingers of the right hand. I obtained a box from one of the clerks and brought the saw with me. Here it is.”
He handed the box to the Chief who gave a grunt of satisfaction. Then his face fell.
“But perhaps one of captured crooks handled this saw ?”
“No,” answered Nag, “I have compared these marks with records of other crooks. The impressions are totally unlike.”
“Good! What will you do next?”
“Interview the captured men,” responded Nag.
“All right, I’ll go with you.” And the men left the office together.
From the prisoners very little information could be obtained—in fact none which had a direct bearing on the case. The men steadfastly refused to divulge a word on their leader, towards whom they seemed to have extraordinarily strong feeling of regard.
Nag was somewhat at sea. True, he had a good clue in the saw. But without some connecting link between the saw and the man it was almost worthless. The following five days he spent in hard work. He started with several different theories but they all fell flat.
…. To Be Continued