The Poisoned Pen and Other Stories
We were lunching with Stevenson Williams, a friend of Kennedy's, at the Insurance
Club, one of the many new downtown luncheon clubs, where the noon hour is so
conveniently combined with business.
"There isn't much that you can't insure against nowadays," remarked Williams when the
luncheon had progressed far enough to warrant a tentative reference to the obvious fact
that he had had a purpose in inviting us to the club. "Take my own company, for
example, the Continental Surety. We have lately undertaken to write forgery insurance."
"Forgery insurance?" repeated Kennedy. "Well, I should think you'd be doing a ripping
business - putting up the premium rate about every day in this epidemic of forgery that
seems to be sweeping over the country."
Williams, who was one of the officers of the company, smiled somewhat wearily, I
thought. "We are," he replied drily. "That was precisely what I wanted to see you about."
"What? The premiums or the epidemic?"
"Well - er - both, perhaps. I needn't say much about the epidemic, as you call it. To you I
can admit it; to the newspapers, never. Still, I suppose you know that it is variously
estimated that the forgers of the country are getting away with from ten to fifteen million
dollars a year. It is just one case that I was thinking about - one on which the regular
detective agencies we employ seem to have failed utterly so far. It involves pretty nearly
one of those fifteen millions."
"What? One case? A million dollars?" gasped Kennedy, gazing fixedly at Williams as if
he found it difficult to believe.
"Exactly," replied Williams imperturbably, "though it was not done all at one fell swoop,
of course, but gradually, covering a period of some months. You have doubtless heard of
the By-Products Company of Chicago?"
"Well, it is their case," pursued Williams, losing his quiet manner and now hurrying
ahead almost breathlessly. "You know they own a bank out there also, called the By-
Products Bank. That's how we come to figure in the case, by having insured their bank
against forgery. Of course our liability runs up only to $50,000. But the loss to the
company as well as to its bank through this affair will reach the figure I have named.
They will have to stand the balance beyond our liability and, well, fifty thousand is not a
small sum for us to lose, either. We can't afford to lose it without a fight."