In the rear room of a small frame building, the front of which was occupied as a coal office, located on West Lake street, Chicago, three men were seated around a square pine table. The curtains of the window were not only drawn inside, but the heavy shutters were closed on the outside. A blanket was nailed over the only door of the room, and every thing and every action showed that great secrecy was a most important factor of the assembly.
The large argand burner of a student's lamp filled the small room with its white, strong light, The table was covered with railroad time-tables, maps, bits of paper, on which were written two names a great number of times, and pens of different makes and widths of point were scattered amidst the papers.
One man, a large, powerfully-built fellow, deep-chested, and long-limbed, was occupied in writing, again and again, the name of "J.B. Barrett." He had covered sheet after sheet with the name, looking first at a letter before him, but was still far from satisfied. "Damn a man who will make his 'J's' in such a heathenish way."
"Curse you," shouted the man called Wittrock. "How often must I tell you not to call me that name. By God, I'll bore a hole through you yet, d'ye mind, now."
"Oh, no harm been done, Cummings; no need of your flying in such a stew for nothing. We're all in the same box here, eh?"
"Well, you be more careful hereafter," said "Cummings," and again he bent to his laborious task of forging the name of "J.B. Barrett."
Nothing was heard for half an hour but the scratching of the pen, or the muttered curses of Cummings (as he was called).
Suddenly he threw down his pen with a laugh of triumph, and holding a piece of paper before him, exclaimed: "There, lads, there it is; there's the key that will unlock a little mint for us."
Throwing himself back in his chair, he drew a cigar from his pocket, and, lighting it, listened with great satisfaction to the words of praise uttered by his companions as they compared the forged with the genuine signature.
These three men were on the eve of a desperate enterprise. For months they had been planning and working together, and the time for action was rapidly approaching.
The one called "Cummings," the leader, was apparently, the youngest one of the three. There was nothing in his face to denote the criminal. A stranger looking at him, would imagine him to be a good-natured, jovial chap, a little shrewd perhaps, but fond of a good dinner, a good drink, a good cigar, and nothing else.
One of his colleagues, whom he called "Roe," evidently an alias, was smaller in size, but had a determined expression on his face, that showed him to be a man who would take a desperate chance if necessary.
The third man, called sometimes Weaver, and sometimes Williams, was the smallest one of the conspirators, and also the eldest. His frame, though small, was compact and muscular, but his face lacked both the determination of Roe and the frank, open expression of Cummings.
After scrutinizing the forgery for a time, Roe returned it to Cummings and said, "Jim, who has the run out on the Frisco when you make the plant?"
"A fellow named Fotheringham, a big chap, too. I was going to lay for the other messenger, Hart, who is a small man, and could be easily handled, but he has the day run now."