A Guard came to the prison shoe shop where Jimmy Valentine was stitching a boot. The guard took Jimmy to the warden’s office. There, the warden passed Jimmy a pardon, which had been signed by the governor that morning. Jimmy took the document and looked bored. He had spent nearly ten months of his four-year sentence in jail, but he had expected to stay only about three months. Men like Jimmy Valentine had so many powerful friends outside of prison. It wasn’t even worth giving them a haircut and uniform, because they left prison so quickly.

 “Valentine,” said the warden, “you’ll be released in the morning. I know you have a good character. Stop breaking into safes, and get a real job. I know you can do it.”

 “Me?” said Jimmy. “I’ve never broken into a safe in my life.”

 “Oh, no,” laughed the warden, “of course not. Why were you convicted for that theft in Springfield, then? Did you take the blame for one of your powerful friends? Or was it because the jury didn’t like your face? I hear those excuses from criminals every day.”

 “Warden,” said Jimmy, innocently, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve never been to Springfield in my life.”

 “Take him back to his cell, officer,” smiled the warden, “and give him his street clothes. Unlock him at seven in the morning and bring him to my office. I advise you to think about my advice, Valentine – become an honest man.”

 At a quarter past seven the next morning Jimmy stood in the warden’s office. He wore the cheap suit and stiff, squeaky shoes that the state give to all freed prisoners.

 The clerk handed Jimmy a train ticket and a five-dollar bill. The law expected Jimmy to use them to begin a new life as an honest man. The warden gave him a cigar, and shook his hand. It was written in the record book that prisoner #9762 was pardoned by the Governor, and Mr.James Valentine walked free into the sunshine.

 Jimmy ignored the singing birds, the waving trees and the colorful flowers. He went straight to a restaurant. There he celebrated his freedom by eating a barbecued chicken, and drinking a bottle of white wine. Afterward, he smoked a cigar which was a lot better than the one the warden had give him. When he had finished smoking he walked slowly to the train station. On the way there he tossed a quarter into the hat of a blind man sitting on the ground.

 Then Jimmy got on the train. Three hours later he got off at a small town. He walked into Mike Dolan’s cafe, and shook hands with Mike, who was alone behind the bar.

 “Sorry we couldn’t get you out of prison sooner, Jimmy,” said Mike. “But there were some lawyers in Springfield we had to deal with. Then the governor almost changed his mind. How’re you doing?”

 “I’m fine,” said Jimmy. “Have you got my key?”

 Mike gave him his key and Jimmy went upstairs. He unlocked the door of a room and stepped inside. Everything was the same as when he left it. Detective Ben Price’s collar button still lay on the floor from the fight when Jimmy was arrested.

 Jimmy slid back a secret panel in the wall and pulled out a dusty suitcase. He opened the suitcase and gazed happily at the finest set of burglar’s tools ever made. The set was made of special steel and had all the most modern designs. It included drills, punches, clamps, and augers. Jimmy was particularly proud of the tools he had invented himself. He had spent more than nine hundred dollars to have them made at a secret workshop.

 In half an hour Jimmy went downstairs to the cafe. He was now dressed in expensive clothes. He carried his dusted and cleaned suitcase in his hand.

 “Do you have any safes to break into?” asked Mike, with a friendly smile.

 “Me?” asked Jimmy, in a puzzled tone. “I don’t understand. I’m a representative for the New York Short Biscuit and Cracker Company.”

 This joke made Mike laugh so much that he wanted to buy Jimmy a drink. Jimmy had a soft drink. He never drank alcohol.

 A week after the release of prisoner #9762, also known as James Valentine, there was a robbery. A safe was broken into in Richmond, Indiana. The criminal did not leave any clues. Eight hundred dollars were stolen. Two weeks after that a new, burglar-proof safe in Logansport was opened like a birthday present. Fifteen hundred dollars in cash was taken, but the gold and silver was left untouched. The police became concerned. The an old-fashioned bank-safe in Jefferson City gave up five thousand dollars. The losses were now so high that Ben Price took over the case. He found some obvious similarities between the burglaries.

 “This is Jimmy Valentine’s work,” said Ben Price. “He’s back in business. Look at that combination knob. It was taken out as easily as pulling out a radish in wet weather. He’s got the only clamps that can do it. And look how expertly those tumblers were punched out! Jimmy only ever drills one hole. Yes, I want Mr. Valentine back in prison. This time his stay will be a long one.”

 Ben Price knew Jimmy’s habits well. Ben had learned them while working on the Springfield case. Jimmy never cracked safes that were close to each other, he always left the scene quickly, he always worked alone, and he liked spending the money he stole. The detective had caught Jimmy once, and Ben knew he could catch Jimmy again. When people with safes heard that Ben Price was working on the case they felt better.

 One afternoon Jimmy Valentine and his suitcase got off the mail wagon at Elmore, a little town five miles from the railway line in the Arkansas countryside. Jimmy looked like an athletic young senior just home from college as he walked toward the hotel.

 A young woman walked towards Jimmy. As the passed each other he looked into her eyes and forgot who he was. She looked down and blushed. Young men with Jimmy’s style and looks were rare in Elmore.

 Jimmy turned and watched her walk into the Elmore Bank. He approached a boy sitting on the steps of the bank, and began to ask him questions about the townn. He gave the boy a dime every few minutes to keep him interested. After a while the young lady came out, pretending not to notice the young man with the suitcase, and went on her way.

 “Is that Miss Polly Simpson?” asked Jimmy.

 “No,” said the boy. “That’s Annabel Adams. Her dad owns this bank. Why did you come to Elmore? Is that a gold watch chain? I’m going to get a dog for my birthday. Have you got any more dimes?”

 Jimmy went to the Planters’ Hotel and registered under the name of Ralph D.Spencer. He told the clerk that he had come to Elmore to start a business. He asked about the shoe business in town, and if the town needed a shoe store.

 The clerk was impressed by Jimmy’s clothes and manner. The clerk was thought to be a fashionable young man by the young people in Elmore, but seeing Jimmy made him realize he had a lot to learn about fashion. As he tried to figure out the way Jimmy had tied his tie, he politely answered the man’s questions.

 “I think there’d be a lot of demand for a shoe store,” said the clerk. “There’s no shoe store in town. People buy shoes at the general store. And business is good here. I hope you decide to stay here Mr.Spencer. Elmore is a very pleasant town to live in, and the people are very friendly.”

 Jimmy told the boy he would stay in town for a few days to check out the situation. “I’ll carry my bag up to my room myself,” said Jimmy. “It’s quite heavy.”

 Jimmy changed his name to Ralph Spencer and stayed in Elmore. He opend a successful shoe store, and made many friends. And he achieved his heart’s desire – he met Miss Annabel Adams and began to fall in love with her.

 After a year had passed, Mr.Spencer had won the respect of the community. His shoe store was very successful, and he and Annabel were engaged to be married in two weeks. Mr.Adams was a typical, conservative country banker, and he approved of Mr.Spencer. Annabel was very proud of Ralph and very affectionate toward him. He felt very comfortable in her family.

 One day, Jimmy sat down in his room and wrote this letter, which he mailed to an old friend in St.Louis:

 Dear Old Friend:

 I want to meet you at Sullivan’s place, in Little Rock, next Wednesday night at nine o’clock. I want you to help me with some things. Also, I want to give you my tools. I know you’ll be happy – they’re worth about one thousand dollars.

 Billy, I’ve quit the old business. I’ve been living straight and honest for a year. I’ve got a nice store, and I’m going to marry the most beautiful girl in the world two weeks from now. This is the best way to live, Billy. I will never touch another man’s money again. After I get married I’m going to sell my store and travel west. I’ve never stolen anything there and no one will recognize me.

 Billy, I’m in love with an angel. She believes in me, and I will never do another dishonest thing in my life. You must meet me at Sullivan’s place. I’ll bring the tools with me.

 Your old friends,          

 On the Monday night after Jimmy wrote his letter, Ben Price arrived in Elmore. He hung around town quietly until he found out what he wanted to know. From the restaurant across the street from Spencer’s shoe store he got a good look at Ralph D.Spencer.

 “Are you going to marry the banker’s daughter, Jimmy?” said Ben to himself, softly. “Well, that’s interesting!”

 The next morning Jimmy had breakfast at the Adams’ house. He was going to Little Rock that day to order his wedding suit and buy something nice for Annabel. It would be his first trip out of Elmore since he arrived. It had been more than a year since his last “job” and he thought it would be safe to leave the small town.

 After breakfast at the Adams’ house, he went downtown with Mr.Adams, Annabel, Annabel’s married sister and her two girls, aged five and nine. They stopped at the hotel where Jimmy still stayed, and he ran inside and got his suitcase. The they went to the bank, where Dolph Gibson waited with a horse and carriage to take Jimmy to the train station.

 The whole family went into the banking room. Jimmy also went in because Mr.Adams trusted his future son-in-law. The clerks were happy to see the good-looking and friendly young man who was going to marry Miss Annabel. Jimmy put his suitcase on the floor. For fun, Annabel picked up the suitcase and said “Do I look like a Doctor? Wow! Ralph, it’s very heavy. It feels like it’s full of gold bricks.”

 “There are a lot of brass shoehorns in there,” said Jimmy, “that I’m going to return. I want to save money on the courier charges by taking them myself. I’m becoming very sensible with money.”

 The Elmore bank had just installed a new safe and vault. Mr.Adams was very proud of it, and wanted to show everyone. The vault was small but it was strong. Three solid steel bolts fastened the door. It also had a time lock. Mr.Adams proudly explained how it worked to Mr.Spencer, who showed a polite and not very intelligent interest. The two children, May and Agatha, were delighted by the shining metal and the funny clock and dials.

 While everyone was admiring the safe, Ben Price walked into the bank. He told the clerk that he was waiting for a friend, then casually leaned on a counter and looked into the banking room.

 Suddenly there was screaming. Somehow, May, The nine-year old girl, had shut Agatha in the vault. She had been playing and copied the way Mr.Adams had turned the handle and the combination dial.

 The old banker pulled the handle for a moment. “The door can’t be opened,” he groaned. “It’s a new safe. I haven’t set the clock and the combination yet.”

 Agatha’s mother screamed again, hysterically.

 “Quiet!” said Mr.Adams, and he raised a trembling hand. “Please be quiet for a moment. Agatha!” he called, as loudly as he could, “can you hear me?” In the following silence they could hear the faint sound of the child screaming in terror.

 “My precious darling,” wailed the mother. “She will die of fright in the dark! Open the door! Oh, break it open! Can’t you men do something?”

 “The nearest man who can open this door is in Little Rock,” said Mr.Adams, in a shaky voice. “My God! Spencer, what shall we do? The child won’t survive for long in there. There isn’t enough air, and she’ll probably die of fright.”

 Agatha’s mother desperately beat the door of the vault with her hands. Someone wildly suggested dynamite. Annabel turned to Jimmy. Her large eye were full of fear, but not despair. She believed that the man she loved could do anything.

 “Can’t you do something, Ralph,” she said. “Please try.”

 With a strange smile he said, “Annabel, give me that rose you’re wearing.”

 Annabel was confused, but she unpinned the rose from her dress and gave it to him. Jimmy put the rose in his shirt pocket, then took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. He was no longer Ralph Spencer. He had become Jimmy Valentine.

 “Get away from the door, all of you,” he ordered.

 He put his suitcase on the table and opened it. From that moment Jimmy seemed to be in a trance. He quickly took out the strange, shiny tools, and whistled softly as he worked. The others watched him in amazement.

 In a minute Jimmy’s favorite drill was biting into the steel door. In ten minutes he broke his own burglary record. He threw back the bolts and opened the door.

 Agatha was still conscious. She fell into her mother’s arms.

 Jimmy Valentine put on his jacket and walked towards the front door. He seemed to hear faraway voices crying “Ralph” but he didn’t hesitate. A big man was standing in a doorway.

 “Hello, Ben,” said Jimmy. “You found me at last. Well, let’s go. There’s no reason to stay here.”

 Then Ben Price did something unexpected.

 “I think you’re mistaken, Mr.Spencer,” he said. “I don’t think I know you.”

 And Ben Price turned and walked away down the street.


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