Michael Brent, a Montreal lawyer who occasionally acts as a detective, goes north for a vacation at isolated Lone Wolf Camp.
There, he meets Peter Hope, the mener ; Grover Carey, a jovial business man; a handsome bachelor named Kennedy; young Ted Hope, nephew of the camp owner; Pauline, a pretty waitress; Mike Monday, a guide who is Pauline’s father; an employee, named Frenette who is her admirer; Professor Winant and his wife; Tom and Mrs. Seldon, a young married couple; a mysterious man named Duke Rose; and Ruth Owen, Mrs. Seldon’s sister, who is being courted by Ted Hope.
Grover Carey hands Brent $50 which he says he owes Kennedy and asks Brent lo deliver it. On his way to Kennedy's cabin Brent meets Rose; and, approaching closer, he notices the figure of a woman flitting across the cabin screen.
At the cabin, Brent, discovers Kennedy stabbed to death Brent learns that Kennedy had flirted with Pauline, though both her father and her admirer. Frenette, had warned him not to. Brent discovers also that the Seldons quarrelled because Mrs. Seldon was meeting Kennedy ; and that Ruth Owen, too, was on very friendly terms with the murdered man. But these women, as well as Rose, and others who might have had a motive for killing Kennedy, disclaim all knowledge of the tragedy.
MICHAEL BRENT sent Ted Hope back to the cookhouse and proceeded to a detailed examination. First he took the lantern and circled the cabin, paying particular attention to the ground immediately in front of the verandah on the river side. Although the soil was spongy he found no footprints. Nor did he find the knife, although his search took him to the rocks above the river. Michael Brent looked down at the rapids, foaming in the gloom, and thought he knew where the knife had gone.
Back in the cabin a close scrutiny of the verandah yielded nothing new. He turned the glaring beam of the lantern full on the dead man.
It had been a quick, sure, merciless job. There had been no struggle. One swift stroke had ended it. Thoughtfully, he examined the victim’s half-clenched hands. Across the middle of the palm of the left hand and the top joints of the fingers lay a streak of blood. Similar streaks marked the right hand, but they were much lighter, mere dry stains. Other than that the hands were quite clean.
Michael Brent frowned. He was very puzzled. He examined the wound itself—very deep, very narrow, with the flesh ragged and broken at the skin, as if the weapon had not been withdrawn swiftly and cleanly but had been turned before it was removed from the body.
He was frowning thoughtfully as he went back into the living room. Brent made a swift, minute search.
Wedged in beside one of the chair cushions he found a woman’s compact. It was an expensive, gold trinket and Brent slipped it into his pocket. Other than that he discovered nothing of interest. Then he went into the bedroom.
A search of Kennedy’s clothing revealed a roll of bills, nearly $500 in all, a watch and a cigarette case. An inside coat pocket of a blue suit contained a letter in an envelope marked with the crest of a New York hotel.
Without any compunction Michael Brent read the letter. It had been written four days previously. The Canadian postmark was that of the little village at the foot of the lake. Kennedy, then, must have received the letter from the mail boat that morning.
“Dear Slim: Everything quiet here, but it looks as if you’ll have to stay a couple of weeks more. Sit tight. J."
“Ah !” murmured Brent.
Then he turned his attention to the dead man’s luggage. Not until he came to a leather wallet in a side pocket of the big club bag did he find anything of the most remote importance. There were no personal papers, no old letters, nothing that would throw any light on the dead man’s past history. This in itself was intriguing because it was unusual. But in the leather wallet he found half a dozen newspaper clippings.
Michael Brent sat down to read them :
STATE WITNESS MISSING,
FOUL PLAY FEARED
Actor Drops Out of Sight on Eve of Kernahan Murder Trial
“Detectives attached to the District Attorney’s office launched a determined search for Harry Somerset, well-known Broadway actor, today when it became known that Somerset had not appeared at the Lyric Theatre for the afternoon performance of “Forgotten Lady,” and that he had not been seen at his hotel since early last evening. It is feared that Somerset has met with foul play. The actor was to appear as a State witness in the trial of Dan B. Kernahan, who will face Judge Manson Arkell and jury next month, charged with the murder of Isadore “Busy Izzy” Marcowitz, gambler and race-track follower, in July of last year. Somerset, whose presence at the scene of the sensational shooting in a Madison Avenue hotel became known to police only a few days ago, was to have been a surprise witness for the prosecution, it is said.”
There was more to the item and Michael Brent read it through to the end, but the gist of it was in the lead.
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” he said aloud.
The other clippings, with one exception, also dealt with the disappearance of Harry Somerset, detailing the widespread search for the actor, reiterating the importance of the testimony he was to have given at the Kernahan trial.
The last clipping, however, dealt with another matter. Brent read it curiously, wondering why Kennedy had deemed it of sufficient importance to keep.
“Washington, Aug. 10—(AP)—Harris P. Albrecht, missing Boston financier and former head of the defunct Albrecht Investment Corporation, is no longer in the United States, according to the belief of Department of Justice officials. Departmental information is to the effect that Albrecht and his wife were seen in Mexico City less than a week ago and that from there they flew to Central America. The middle-aged couple disappeared from Boston shortly before the sensational collapse of the Albrecht Corporation three weeks ago. Albrecht is sought on warrants charging him with embezzlement of more than half a million dollars of funds entrusted to hi? corporation by hundreds of investors in New England. Rewards to the amount of $50,000 have been posted.”
Michael Brent folded the clippings, put them back in the wallet and placed the wallet carefully in his pocket. He continued his search of Kennedy’s effects, but found nothing else that aroused his interest. Finally he picked up the lantern and went back to the cookhouse.
THEY WERE having sandwiches and coffee. Michael Brent set the lantern down beside one of the tables, deftly put the expensive little compact on the floor nearby. He said to Hope:
“Were you surprised when Kennedy said he wanted to go out tomorrow?”
“Well, yes,” admitted Hope. “When he came here he planned to stay on into September.”
“Did he give any reason for his change of mind?”
“A letter came for him by the mail boat yesterday. He said he was called back to Philadelphia.”
"Did he get very much mail?”
"As a matter of fact that letter was the only mail that came for Kennedy all the time he was here.” Hope frowned. “And he didn’t send out any mail. It didn’t strike me before, but that’s odd, isn’t it?”
“What do we know about Kennedy? His history, his background? Did he confide in anyone?”
Mrs. Seldon looked down at the table and reached for a sandwich. Her husband stirred his coffee meditatively. Grover Carey scratched the back of his neck. Ruth and Ted, sifting side by side, glanced at each other. Ted said Kennedy had told him he worked for a bond house. But by and large, although minor details were contributed, it appeared that Kennedy hadn’t been in the habit of making personal confidences.
“By George, that ’s strange, too, when you come to think of it,” said Grover Carey when it became evident that none of them knew very much about the dead man after all. “He comes here, lives among us for a couple of weeks, and when the showdown comes what do we know about him? Nothing.”
Michael Brent went out into the kitchen, beckoning to old Mike Monday as he went. The old foreman followed him. Out of earshot of the others, Brent said:
"You were across the lake with Mr. Seldon all afternoon, Mike?”
"Dat’s right, m’sieu. We come back here ’bout ten o’clock, mebbe a little after.”
“Was Duke Rose down at the dock when you came in?”
“He walk down jus’ after we tie up.”
“Did he go back up the hill with you?”
Old Mike blinked.
“No, he go back up de trail all by heemself. M’sieu Seldon, he take de left-hand trail and go up to his own cabin. M’sieu Rose, he go up de trail by de river, up by your place. Me, I tie up de boat. I find M’sieu Seldon’s sweater on de dock so I bring it up to his place. He wasn’t dere, so I lef’ his sweater inside de door.”
"There was no one at home?”
“Where did you go then?”
“I come here, to de cookhouse. Loo and Adelard was here.”
Brent went back into the dining room. As he came in he walked close to the lantern on the floor, kicked the little compact with his foot. It skittered out beyond the table. Ted Hope reached down and picked it up.
“This looks like yours, Ruth.”
The girl reached for it calmly.
“Why, it is mine. I didn’t know I had lost it. I must have dropped it when I was in here for dinner tonight.”
“Duke,” said Michael Brent, “why did you say you didn’t pass Kennedy’s cabin when you came up from the dock?”
Duke Rose goggled at him. He had been sitting with his chair tilted back, munching a sandwich. The legs of the chair came down with a crash.
“Say, lissen,” he choked. “What are you tryin’ to do— pin this on me?”
“I’m trying to get the truth and I didn’t get it from you. I met you on the bridge a few minutes before I found the body. You had been down at the dock to meet the boat, but you came up the trail past Kennedy’s cabin, although you told me you didn’t.”
“You’re askin’ for it,” growled Duke hoarsely. "I'm a guy that minds my own business, see. If folks get themselves jammed up I’m not goin’ to go outa my way to make it worse for them. I told you I didn’t pass the cabin because it would get somebody in wrong. But if you’re tryin’ to make out that I went in there and rubbed the guy out, I’ve gotta protect myself. A party right in this room came out of Kennedy’s place just as I came up the trail.”
Everything was very quiet.
"Who came out?” asked Brent.
Duke Rose flicked his thumb toward Ruth.
TED HOPE sprang from his chair, lists clenched.
"Why, you lying polecat !”
Peter Hope swiftly extended a long arm and grabbed Ted’s sleeve.
"Perhaps you were mistaken, Duke,” said Brem. He turned to Ruth. “How about it. Miss Owen?”
Ruth flushed. She looked steadily at the floor.
“I haven’t anything to say,” she replied in a low voice.
“But, Ruth!” cried Ted. “You can deny it! You told me—you swore to me—you said you hadn’t been there.”
Ruth didn’t look at him. “I haven’t anything to say,” she repeated, a note of stubbornness in her voice. “I didn't kill Mr. Kennedy, if that’s what you think,” she said, looking up at Brent.
Mrs. Seldon suddenly broke into a convulsive sob.
"There’s nothing to say, Connie,” returned the girl swiftly. "I’m not going to be cross-examined by you, Mr. Brent. You have my word that I didn't— didn’t do it—”
“Then you were there!” said Ted dully. “After what you told me, promised me, you went there after all.”
"I found the compact in behind one of the chair cushions in Kennedy’s place,” Brent remarked. “I dropped it on the floor here, just wondering who would claim it.”
"That was a dirty trick !” Ted snapped.
"Was Mr. Kennedy dead when you went into the cabin. Miss Owen?” asked Brent gently. “If you discovered the body it will help us a lot in fixing the time of death. After all, I’m only trying to get at the truth.”
“I have nothing to say, I tell you!” she cried hotly and got up from her chair. “You can talk and talk and question me all you wish, but you’ll get nothing from me.” Her voice broke. “Connie—”
Mrs. Seldon got up quickly. They went out. Tom Seldon, his hand shaking, put down his coffee cup and followed them. Michael Brent was sorry for Ted. His was the face of a man tortured by a struggle between doubt and faith.
“Now I hope you’re satisfied, wise guy,” sneered Duke Rose. “If that dame knifed Steve Kennedy I’ll eat my socks. And if she did, then he musta had it comin’ to him.” He glanced at Ted. “As for you, kid, maybe you’d better take back that crack about me bein’ a polecat.”
Ted nodded. He looked completely crushed.
“I still don’t believe it,” he muttered. “She told me Kennedy had invited her to his cabin—but she promised me she’d never go.”
“I don’t wanna hurt your feelin’s, kid,” said Duke Rose, wagging his head sagely, “but you’ve got a lot to learn about women.”
“Shut up!” Ted snarled at him.
“Okay. Okay. Don’t get sore.”
“We can’t do much tonight,” Brent said. “I’ll sleep at Kennedy’s place if you like, Mr. Hope. Not that it’s really necessary, but after all we can’t move the body until the police get here, and I suppose someone should stay there."
“You’re welcome to the job,” replied Hope with a shiver.
“I’ll sit up with you for a while, if you like,” Carey volunteered.
“Fine. By the way, Mr. Hope, have you a magnifying glass in the camp?”
Hope seemed a little surprised at the request.
“Why, yes, I have. I’ll get it for you.”
They left the cookhouse and went over to Hope’s cabin. Ted, Duke Rose and Carey remained, chatted outside the door while Hope and Michael Brent went in. Hope picked up the magnifying glass from the litter of playing cards on the table.
“Here you are.”
“And a few sheets of paper and a pencil.” Brent requested.
Hope turned to a writing desk near the window. By the time he turned back again with the pencil and paper half, a dozen playing cards were reposing in Brent’s pocket.
MICHAEL BRENT left Carey at the Kennedy cabin while he went on to his own place with the purpose of closing the doors and windows against the damp night air. He took the lantern with him.
He set the light down on a chair and closed the bedroom windows. He was just about to pick up the lantern again when his glance fell upon the gilt initials on the side of his club bag, resting on a chair.
Michael Brent was an orderly man and he had an orderly mind. He remembered distinctly that when he last saw that club bag the initials had not been visible from where he stood. That side of the bag, in short, had been nearest the wall.
He opened the club bag. It contained only a few articles of clothing, a couple of books and an extra fishing reel, but a glance told Michael Brent that these objects had been disturbed. The reel had been in a side pocket of the bag. It was now on the bottom. The books had been laid flat; one was now on edge against the side of the bag.
He investigated a small trunk that held his other belongings. Nothing had been taken, he discovered, but certainly his effects had been disturbed, especially a sheaf of papers he had brought with him from the office.
Michael Brent was very thoughtful when he left the cabin, locking the door behind him. Someone had been sufficiently curious to enter the place in his absence and prowl through his belongings. Who? And why?
Back in Kennedy’s cabin, Grover Carey watched curiously as Brent took the playing cards from his pocket and compared them with the card he had picked up and put on the mantelpiece earlier that night.
“These were the cards used in the poker game this afternoon, weren't they?” said Brent.
The fat man scrutinized the backs.
“Do you know if they belonged to Kennedy?” asked Brent, holding one of the cards under the light and squinting at the back through the magnifying glass.
“They were here when we sat in to play. I think they belong to the camp, though. Every cabin is provided with a couple of decks. Say—you don’t think they were marked, do you?” asked Carey, his plump, ruddy face distressed.
“Mr. Kennedy won all the money, didn’t he?”
“Oh, but we’ve played with that deck half a dozen times. This was the first time Kennedy was a heavy winner. Besides—well, I just can’t figure that. It was only a small game of five-and-ten. Why would he take the chance of using a marked deck in a game like that?”
“It developed into a pretty big game later on,” Brent reminded him, picking up another card and subjecting it to the same careful scrutiny through the glass. Carey rubbed his chin doubtfully. Brent examined all the cards, then put the glass away and held them at arm’s length. He nodded.
“Yes, when you know where to look for them, the marks are clear enough. A clever ink job. No wonder Kennedy took you all for a ride.”
CAREY’S face was troubled.
“I wouldn’t have thought it of him,” he said slowly. “Never! But even at that, he didn’t win more than four hundred bucks in all.”
“Four hundred is a lot of money to some people. And Hope stayed on playing showdown with him after you left.”
“That’s true,” admitted Carey reflectively.
“Did anyone have to write a cheque?”
“Oh, no. Duke Rose paid cash, I said I’d give him the fifty I owed before he went out in the morning, Ted was about even, and Mr. Hope hadn’t settled up when I left.”
“Hope likes poker?”
“He would rather play it than eat. I guess that’s the Wall Street influence,” grinned Carey, chuckling. “Natural-born gambler.”
“Maybe that showdown game got serious.”
“Marked cards wouldn’t do Kennedy much good in showdown.” Carey looked at the scattered pasteboards, shaking his head. “Well, the low-down son-of-a-gun. Taking us for a ride with a marked deck on his last day in camp!” Then he glanced toward the verandah door, realizing that he was speaking of the dead. “Well, it didn’t do him any good, at that.”
“No, it didn’t in the long run. I think he was gunning for Hope, though. He was smart enough to let Ted break even, smart enough to wait until his last day before he rang in the marked deck. He might have been just smart enough to suggest changing that showdown game to something else when he had Hope alone.”
Talk languished. After a while Brent said:
“What’s your idea of it?”
“I dunno,” replied the fat man seriously. “I didn’t want to say it in public but my own notion is that Duke Rose has got a lot of explaining to do, even if he says he did see Miss Owen coming out of Kennedy’s cabin. Between you and me and the gatepost, Mr. Brent, I’ve always had a hunch that Kennedy and Duke Rose knew each other before they ever saw this camp.”
“I’m beginning to come around to that way of thinking myself,” yawned Brent.
Carey helped him carry the body into the bedroom. It seemed callous to let the corpse remain on the verandah overnight, and it would have to be moved in any case. Hope had decided that the dead man should be taken to the foot of the lake on the morning boat. They covered the stiffening form with a sheet.
Michael Brent settled down in the big chair and closed his eyes.
“I wish we could find that knife,” he said.
“The river is too blamed near the front of this cabin,” rumbled Carey. “I don’t think you’ll ever see it.”
“Well, then,” remarked Brent sleepily, “I’m going to look forward to meeting the Winants in the morning.”
“The Winants!” exclaimed Carey, astonished. Then he laughed. “Wait until you see them. I can’t even imagine Professor Winant killing a rabbit.”
“Rabbits aren’t dangerous. But almost any man will kill a rattlesnake if he thinks it is getting ready to strike.”
MICHAEL BRENT met the Winants next morning and they interested him exceedingly, but long before he made the acquaintance of that middle-aged pair he had an illuminating talk with Loo in the kitchen.
It was a bright, crisp morning. Out on the lake the fog wreaths were rising. Across the river the great trees loomed dark and shadowy behind the mist. The air was cool and sweet, the grass soaked with dew. Before he went up to the cookhouse and while Carey was still snoring prodigiously on the living-room couch, Michael Brent prowled outside the cabin, exploring the rocks right to the water’s edge. He found no knife.
But up in the kitchen where Loo was already busy beside the crackling stove, he found the Chinese cook bewailing the loss of his favorite bread-knife. Loo, fat. smooth-faced and sleek, was upset about it, for he was a man who took pride in his kitchen. He had washed the knife after dinner the previous evening, he said, and put it on a shelf, but it had been missing when he wanted to use it for slicing sandwiches for the midnight lunch.
“What did it look like?” asked Brent. Loo extended his hands about eighteen inches apart. “Long knife,” he said. “Velly thin.”
"Loo, was anyone up here after dinner last night?”
The Chinese nodded energetically. “Pauline, Flenette, Mistah Lose sit aloun’ and talk long time. I play my flute. Pauline and Flenette have fight, velly mad. Miss Luth and Mrs. Seldon come in foh few minutes, ask if Mistah Seldon come up from boat. Mike come in foh something to eat.”
“What did Pauline and Frenette fight about?”
Loo hesitated. Michael Brent had examined Chinese witnesses before. He hazarded a guess.
“Frenette didn’t want Pauline to go down to Kennedy’s cabin?”
Loo nodded. "Pauline go jus' same. Flenette, he go out, too.”
"He went with her?”
Loo shook his head negatively. “He wait, talk to himself, velly mad, then go out.”
“Did they come back?”
“No come back.”
Loo thereupon decided that he had talked enough, retired into his shell and lost all recollection of the events of the previous evening. He didn’t know when Duke Rose had gone down to the boat, when Mike had arrived, when Ruth and Mrs. Seldon had come to the cookhouse or how long they had stayed.
Finally Brent gave up. His glance fell upon a crumpled copy of The New York Times in the wood-box.
“Any old newspapers around, Loo?”
Loo pointed to a stack of them in a corner of the kitchen. Brent investigated the newspapers. Lone Wolf Camp evidently received its news of the outside world from the columns of The Times, the Montreal Star and the Toronto Globe.
Michael Brent sorted them over. When he left the kitchen he had a bundle of newspapers under his arm, all dated from mid-July, and with them, he went to his cabin.
Page after page was discarded as Brent methodically ran his eye over the printed columns. He found several sheets from which items had been clipped. Comparing the cut spaces with the clippings he had found in Kennedy’s wallet he found that some fitted exactly.
In one of the July issues of The Times he came upon a lengthy article dealing with the Albrecht case. It covered the collapse of the investment firm, recounted the police search for the embezzler, and gave a fairly complete history of both Albrecht and the wife who had fled with him.
“Intimate friends of the pair were shocked and incredulous when they learned of Mr. and Mrs. Albrecht’s disappearance and of the embezzlement charges that have been laid against the missing financier. They lived quietly and were not prominent socially. Mr. Albrecht was a member of the University Chess Club, the Bay view Golf Club, the American Archery Association, the Boston Skeet Club and several service organizations. His entire business career was spent in Boston.”
“What the dickens is a Skeet Club?” wondered Michael Brent. He cast the newspaper aside. The case was interesting to him merely because of its association with the clipping he had found in Kennedy’s wallet. He wondered why Kennedy had kept it. Brent pawed through other newspapers in search of further information about the Somerset case, but most of them were of a date prior to the actor’s disappearance.
LUNCH and dinner at Lone Wolf Camp were served at regular hours, but breakfast was a go-as-you-please affair. When Michael Brent went up to the dining room he found Grover Carey at a table with a quiet, middle-aged couple whom Brent assumed to be Professor and Mrs. Winant.
The professor was a tall, serious-looking man with sparse, iron-grey hair and a pair of extraordinarily sharp blue eyes. His wife was a dumpy, meek little woman with gold-rimmed spectacles. They were talking about the murder. The Winants were greatly shocked, but not so perturbed that they were neglecting their ham and eggs.
Winant extended a bony hand when he was introduced to Michael Brent.
“Pleasure, Mr. Brent. Yes. Pleasure to meet you,” he said jerkily. “Mr. Carey has been telling us about the dreadful affair last night. Terrible. Shocking. Yes. Someone should have called us.”
“It’s awful,” said Mrs. Winant tremulously. “Who could have done such a terrible tiling? Mr. Kennedy seemed to be such a nice man, too.”
She spoke as if Kennedy had committed a grave breach of the proprieties by being murdered.
“I can’t fathom it.” said the professor. “No, I can’t understand it.” Since he had just heard of the affair within the past ten minutes it was hardly reasonable to expect that he would have a logical solution in readiness. Nevertheless he appeared to feel that he was making a surprising admission. “Can’t fathom it at all. Why? That is the question. Why?”
“The motive is obscure,” said Brent. “Motive!” exclaimed Winant, jumping at the word like a trout after a fly. “That’s it. What’s the motive? Yes.”
“I didn’t think Mr. Kennedy had an enemy in the camp,” said Mrs. Winant, reaching for the marmalade.
“Well, evidently he did,” said Carey heavily.
Professor Winant asked eager questions. They discussed the affair from all angles. Mrs. Winant insisted that it was all too dreadful and that she didn’t want to talk about it. Her vacation was quite spoiled.
“I don’t suppose you can throw any light on it, professor?” said Brent. “As I came up I noticed that your cabin commands a fair view of Kennedy’s place. You didn’t see anyone going to his cabin or coming away from it last night?”
Winant shook his head.
“I was working on my book until after ten o’clock. Yes. On my book. A laborious task, Mr. Brent. Very fagging. Yes. But once I’m at my manuscript—dear, dear—” “I think the house could fall down about his ears and he wouldn’t notice it,” contributed Mrs. Winant with a fond smile.
“By the way, professor,” said Brent idly, “I ran across a word this morning that puzzled me. Perhaps you can explain it to me. What are sheets? Or what is a skeet?” Grover Carey chuckled. “Sounds like something you swat mosquitoes with,” he volunteered happily.
“A skeet club!” exclaimed the professor, beaming, delighted to bestow information and instruction. “Yes. Oh, yes, indeed. A skeet club.”
“Why, Orville belongs to one,” exclaimed Mrs. Winant.
“It’s a shooting club,” the professor said with a dark glance at his wife. “A variety of trap-shooting. Yes. Skeet-shooting, you understand. Clay birds are sprung from a trap and you bring them down. Or try to. Yes. Very fascinating sport indeed. I’ve been a skeet enthusiast for a long time. Yes, indeed.”
Professor Winant expatiated upon the mysteries of skeet at some length. The sport was a great rest for the brain, he said, while at the same time it developed co-ordination and eyesight. He wasn’t in the twenty-five-straight class himself, but he believed his skeet form was improving.
Professor Winant talked skeet. It was much more important than murder.
THE MAIL BOAT called at Lone Wolf shortly after nine o’clock and departed shortly afterward with Kennedy’s body.
Hormisdas Goulet, both captain and crew, was in a state of apoplectic excitement over the news he was to convey to the police at the foot of the lake.
Michael Brent remained on the dock with Peter Hope as the launch pulled out.
“Five bucks that he doesn’t try it,” said Hope.
“I’ll take you.”
They were watching a canoe that lay about fifty yards south of the rocky point on the other side of the river. Duke Rose, who was in the canoe, had mysteriously yielded to a sudden passion for morning fishing, and for some time previous to the arrival of the mail boat had been drifting slowly out of the river mouth and down the lake shore. By this time Duke was well out of sight of the camp but still visible to the watchers on the dock. If the launch held its normal course the canoe lay almost directly in its path.
The launch chugged closer and closer to the canoe. Michael Brent and Hope saw Duke Rose raise his arm, signalling violently. And at the same moment the launch altered its course and headed out toward mid-lake.
Duke grabbed his paddle but he was no canoeist and his craft made slight progress. He gestured frantically again and again, but Hormisdas Goulet paid no heed, passed the wildly signalling Duke with a good fifty yards to spare and left his canoe rocking in the wake.
“By George, you were right!” exclaimed Hope. “I lose five. He tried to skip out.”
“That’s why I told Goulet to give the canoe a wide berth.”
Disconsolately, Duke Rose was paddling back toward the river mouth.
“You called the turn,” Hope admitted as they walked back up the trail. “If you hadn’t warned Goulet he would have fallen for it.”
“Duke would have hailed him and pulled up alongside. If Goulet had refused to take him on board, I imagine Duke would have backed up his request with a gun.”
“Duke must have killed Kennedy, then,” said Hope quietly.
“I didn’t say that.”
“Why else would he try to skip out?”
“That’s a question Duke will have to answer. We won’t let him know that we saw his little attempt to sneak out. By the way, Mr. Hope, what bank do you deal with?”
“The Royal. Why?” asked Hope, surprised.
“Kennedy won quite a lot of money from you yesterday, didn’t he? You wrote a cheque and after you discovered Kennedy had been playing with marked cards, you went after him about it and got your cheque back. Isn’t that right?”
Hope had been caught completely off guard. He stopped, swung around facing Brent, astonished and confused.
“How—why, what gave you that idea?”
“I know the cards were marked because I looked at them. I think you lost money because you were playing against a man who was using marked cards. I think you wrote a cheque because your account is in the Royal Bank and that bank issues a blue cheque form. There were a couple of scraps of blue cheque paper in Kennedy’s fireplace last night. One of them was torn from the bottom of a cheque—the signature corner. And the last letters of the signature were “pe,” which are the last letters of your name and of no other name in the camp. How about it, Mr. Hope?”
HOPE THRUST his thumbs into his belt.
“Well, that’s true enough,” he admitted slowly. “You figured that out pretty well, Mr. Brent.”
“How much did you lose—on paper, that is?”
“Kennedy got you alone after the others pulled out; you began doubling up, and before you knew it you were two thousand down.”
“That’s right. After I got back to my own place I began to figure there was something wrong, so I got Ted to go down and get the cards when Kennedy was in the dining room. They were marked, all right.”
“How did you get your cheque back?”
“I simply went down to Kennedy’s place, showed him the cards, told him what I thought of him and made him cough up. He gave me the cheque and I tore it up and threw it in the fire. I told him he couldn’t get on the boat in the morning until he turned back the rest of the money he had won.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this last night?”
“The man was murdered. What would you think? What would the police think? Maybe you’re thinking it right now.”
“There is the possibility that Kennedy refused to admit the marked cards, that he refused to give back your cheque and that you had to battle him to get it.”
“Exactly. That’s why I didn’t say anything about it. I didn’t kill Kennedy. When he saw he was caught he gave me back my cheque without any fuss. But I thought I’d save myself a lot of trouble if I kept my mouth shut about the business. Wouldn’t you have done the same in my place?”
“It’s hard to say. You were in an awkward position.”
They walked on.
“I didn’t kill Kennedy,” Hope insisted doggedly.
“Well, why did Duke try to flag that boat a few minutes ago?”
“Yes, that’s damaging,” Brent admitted. “But perhaps Duke doesn’t want to meet the police on general principles.”
“I think Duke did it.”
“Who knows? But he came up with Kennedy on the same boat and, although neither of them said so, I have a pretty good idea that Duke and Kennedy knew each other before they came here. They said they met each other down at the foot of the lake, discovered they were both heading for the same camp and hired a launch to bring them up, but I have always figured there was something between them, something in common. I don’t know what it was, but they gave me that impression.”
“They didn’t come up on the mail boat then?”
“No, the mail boat came up the previous day.”
There was food for thought in that.
“By the way,” said Brent, “did you get any New York newspapers yesterday?”
“Yes. There are three or four copies up in my cabin. Want to see them?”
“If you don’t mind.”
Michael Brent did not take the papers away with him. Sitting beside the writing desk in Hope’s cabin, he swiftly perused the sheets. The Kernahan trial was in its second week, featured by a District Attorney’s charge that the defense was responsible for the disappearance of Somerset, important State witness, and by a defense counterattack to the effect that Somerset’s evidence would have been more helpful to the defense than to the prosecution.
Hope left him there reading the paper and went outside to talk to Mike Monday on camp business. The moment he left the room, Michael Brent’s hand shot toward one of the pigeonholes above the desk.
Brent was the soul of honor in his private and professional dealings. What he did now was not pleasant; it went against the grain. But, after all, he was investigating a murder, and murder is an unpleasant business. He could not be too scrupulous in his search for evidence.
He had noticed the bank book in the pigeonhole when he picked up the newspapers. That was why he had chosen to sit beside the writing desk.
One swift motion and he flipped open the book. He found what he sought—the final entry that showed Peter Hope’s bank balance, as of two days previous when the camp proprietor had visited the bank at the foot of the lake, the amount was $275.
When Peter Hope came back a few minutes later Michael Brent was deeply engrossed in the columns of The Times.
DUKE ROSE was still in the canoe, out in the river-mouth pretending to fish, when Brent crossed the little bridge and headed toward Duke’s cabin.
“Too many people are holding out on me,” the lawyer reflected. “Why did Ruth Owen go to Kennedy’s place last night? Why won’t she talk about it? Where was Seldon when Mike Monday brought his sweater up to the cabin? Where was Mrs. Seldon? Why didn’t Pauline tell me about her row with Adelard? Why didn’t Hope admit he gave Kennedy a bum cheque? And why did Duke Rose try to duck out of camp?”
Duke Rose’s cabin was hidden from the river-mouth. Brent went inside. He wasn’t worrying about the ethics of this visit. If people wouldn’t open up and tell the truth, they would have to take the consequences.
Duke Rose’s luggage consisted of one large suitcase which Michael Brent located beneath the bed. He dragged it out. The suitcase was locked. Brent looked on top of the bureau, on the washstand, but couldn’t find the key. He spied a grey suit hanging behind the door and deftly went through the pockets. The key was in the waistcoat.
He knelt beside the suitcase, snapped it open and went through the contents.
A heavy, snub-nosed automatic, a leather shoulder holster and a box of ammunition lay beneath some miscellaneous articles of clothing. Then, most surprising of all, he came upon a gleaming metal shield, stamped as the property of the New York City Police Department.
Michael Brent slowly dropped the shield back into the suitcase. In the pocket of the cover he found a little black notebook. He went through the pages carefully but found only a few scribbled telephone numbers accompanied by cryptic annotations such as: “After 8.30,” or “Ask for Jake.” He put the book away, covered up the automatic again, was just closing the suitcase . . .
“Reach!” gritted a hoarse voice behind him. “Get your hands up fast.”
Michael Brent was startled. Duke Rose had entered the cabin without making a sound. Brent swung around, raising his arms.
“I thought so!” growled Duke, standing in the doorway, a revolver gripped in his hand. “I thought so. The wise guy himself, heh?”
“Just checking up on you, Duke,” said Michael Brent calmly. “What’s the trouble? Anything you don’t want me to see?”
“He asks me!” choked Duke Rose, as if communing with an invisible court of appeal. “He asks me what’s the trouble! I catch him friskin’ my keister and he asks if there’s anythin’ wrong about it.” His voice suddenly became savage. “Come out here, you rat ! By rights I oughta plug you.”
Michael Brent obediently walked out into the other room. Duke pushed him into a chair.
“I thought you was headin’ here when I saw you crossin’ the bridge,” said Duke.
“What of it? Sit down and let’s have a talk.”
“We’re gonna have a talk, all right,” Duke assured him grimly, “but I’m gonna do all the talkin’.”
“That’s what you think!” snapped Brent icily. He leaned forward in the chair. “Tried to lam out of here on that boat a little while ago, eh? Why shouldn’t I check up on you? Harry Somerset has been rubbed out. You can’t laugh that off. You’re going to have a chance to do plenty of talking when those Quebec dicks get here tonight. What happened? Did Somerset decide to go back to the Big Town and say his little piece after all? You’re in a fine spot. Maybe Dan Kernahan won’t go to the chair, but how’s it going to look to a Quebec jury when they know why you came up here? How about it, Duke? You bet we're going to have a little talk."
His voice was acid, biting, convincing. Michael Brent was a veteran of a few poker games and criminal trials.
There was a little gasp from Duke, then a moment of heavy silence.
"Well!” muttered Duke at last. "Where did you get all your information? And what were you puttin’ in my keister? The knife? Tryin’ to frame me?”
“Be yourself,” retorted Brent contemptuously. “Why should anyone try to frame you? There’s enough evidence to hang you right now. You were sent up here to see that Somerset stayed put until the trial was over. He insisted on going away, so you killed him.”
DUKE LOOKED at Brent, frowning. He was puzzled and worried. He was on the defensive now. His tone had changed when he said :
“How come you know so much? How do you know his real monicker? How do you know about the Kernahan business?"
“Somerset left some papers in his luggage.’
"The fool!” growled Duke sourly. “Look here,” he said in a placating voice. “I didn’t knock Harry off.”
“How should I know. But there was no sense in me doin’ it. If he had pulled outa camp, I would have pulled out, too.”
“Why did he decide to leave?”
“I don’t know,” muttered Duke slowly. “He wouldn’t tell me. But there was somethin’. I didn’t think he’d go. He didn’t have any money. Of course, that poker game yesterday gave him a break. I was in charge of his cash, see, so he wouldn’t be tempted to duck out, but he could have gone quite a ways on what he won in the game.”
“You were in my cabin last night checking up on me, weren’t you? Thought maybe I’d been sent up from New York to find Somerset?”
“You’re a good guesser.”
“He didn’t need to be afraid of me.”
“No, it wasn’t you. He made up his mind about leavin’ before you showed up. There was somethin’ on his mind. When he said he was goin’ to check out I told him he couldn’t shake me. He said he didn’t care. He said he had a chance to make a lot of dough in a hurry.”
“Did he tell you how he was going to make the dough?”
“No. I asked him and he just laughed. ‘Harry,’ he said, ‘they tell me there’s mines up in this country and I’ve found one. A little gold mine.’ And that’s all I could get outa him.”
“Why did Somerset come to this particular camp?”
“How do I know? He just got an idea in Montreal one night and pulled out of town. I thought he was tryin’ to shake me. At that, he nearly did.”
“He knew you were following him?” asked Brent.
“I wasn’t followin’ him. I was travellin’ with him. He got his orders in New York— to get out of town and stay out until the trial was over. I was told off to go along and see that he did what he was told.”
“Why did you try to scram this morning?”
“Am I a sap to stick around here and wait for the dicks?” asked Duke scornfully. “They come up here and find that the dead guy is Harry Somerset. Then I go on the griddle. That phoney police badge in my keister might help me bluff my way out of a small jam, but this is murder.”
“I thought it was a phoney, that badge.”
“Man, I got a record!” exclaimed Duke. “If they find out that I tailed Harry all the way up here just to see that he stayed away from that trial—zowie! Brother, I’m in a spot. Why shouldn’t I try to get out from under?”
“I’ll say you’re in a spot. Unless I can find out who did the job, you’re going to be thrown in the can, and I don’t know that I’d like to have the job of defending you.”
“The Owen dame must ’a’ done it. What was she doin’ in Harry’s cabin? Mebbe he got too gay, mebbe there was a rough-house and she grabbed up a knife and let him have it. That’s my notion.”
“Tell me just what you did last night.”
“I leave the shack here at about eight o’clock and go over to Hope’s place. We chew the rag for a while and then I drift into the cookhouse. Pauline is there, and Loo and young Frenette. Loo gives us a few tunes on his flute and we sit around gassin’ for a while. Then I drift down to your place and give it the once-over, for it worries me, you bein’ a lawyer. Then I hear the boat come in, so I go down to the dock. Then I come up the trail. I see the Owen skirt come out of Harry’s shack and cut across the trail that goes over to the clearing.”
“Did you see her face?”
“No, she had her head turned away, but I know it’s her because she’s wearin’ the red windbreaker she always wears. Well, I don’t think nothin’ of it, except that you never can tell about women and I can’t see why the dames fall right and left for a rat like Harry Somerset, just because he’s got a good-lookin’ pan. For he was a rat, Mr. Brent. He’d doublecross his own grandfather for a dime or a dame.”
“Did you go into the cabin?”
“No, sir—not me. I go on up the trail. Pauline and Frenette are havin’ some kind of an argument up near one of the cabins, but I don’t get it because they’re talkin’ in French. Then I go on up to the bridge, where I met you, and come on home and go to bed.”
It had the ring of truth.
MICHAEL BRENT went to the cookhouse and asked Loo one question. Then he went over to the Seldon cabin.
Ruth Owen and Ted were sitting on the verandah. Ruth, it was obvious, had been crying. Ted, moody and grave, looked up at Brent with tormented eyes.
“She won’t tell you, Ted?” asked Brent. Ted Hope got up, his fists clenched.
“I wish you’d stay out of this!” he said thickly. “There’s been enough trouble. I don’t care what you think—I don’t care what Ruth says—she had nothing to do with that murder. And if she went to Kennedy’s place she had a good reason for it.” He stood in front of the girl, his attitude curiously challenging and protective.
“She wasn’t there,” said Michael Brent quietly. He leaned against the verandah railing, looking at Ruth. “Why did you let us think you went to Kennedy’s cabin last night? You didn’t, you know.”
A look of fear flashed into Ruth’s eyes. “Who—who told you?”
Michael Brent gestured toward the open doorway leading into the cabin.
“Are they at home?” he said in a low voice.
Ruth shook her head. “They’re both out.”
Ted looked utterly bewildered.
“She was wearing your red windbreaker. Isn’t that right?”
Ruth nodded silently.
“That’s why Duke Rose thought he saw you coming out of the cabin. That’s why your compact was left there.”
“But, Ruth!” exclaimed Ted, relief and astonishment in his voice. “Why in the name of commonsense didn’t you speak up? If you weren’t there, why didn’t you—?”
“Man, she was protecting her sister!” snapped Brent. “Can’t you see it?”
Ruth reached out and her fingers closed about Ted’s hand.
“You believed in me anyhow, Ted,” she told him. “If you hadn’t, I don’t think I’d have wanted to see you again --ever.”
“Rather stiff test of faith, in my opinion,” remarked Michael Brent cheerfully. “I have all kinds of respect for your desire to shield your sister, Miss Owen, but it complicated things for me a little. I don’t suppose you’d care to give me an explanation. Has she told you anything?”
“Mr. Brent”—Ruth’s voice was anxious and strained—“she didn’t do it. Connie didn’t kill him ! I’m sure—I know she didn’t. She couldn’t.”
“Was he alive when she left his cabin?”
“Yes—oh, you mustn’t ask me. You’ll have to talk to her yourself, now that you know. But please, Mr. Brent—not when Tom is around. He doesn’t know she was there.”
“When Mrs. Seldon comes back, will you ask her to come down to my cabin? You could come with her. I’m afraid unchaperoned cabin visiting is going to be very unpopular around Lone Wolf for a while.”
“I’ll ask her,” Ruth promised dully.
“How did you know Connie was wearing Ruth’s windbreaker?” asked Ted, still puzzled.
“I asked Loo. They went up to the cookhouse together after the boat came in. Is it too much to ask, Miss Owen, if you slipped down to Kennedy’s cabin to warn your sister when you heard the boat arrive?”
“Yes. I met her on the trail. Then we went up to the cookhouse.”
“An alibi in case Tom made awkward enquiries.” Brent shook his head regretfully. “I thought that was the explanation. It might have been better if you had gone directly back to your cabin.”
He was thinking of the sounds he had heard when he approached Kennedy’s cabin the previous night—the slam of the screen door, the footfalls beneath the trees. And of Mike Monday’s story that the Seldon cabin was deserted when the old foreman called there with Tom Seldon’s sweater.
Michael Brent was remembering, too, his conviction that Ruth Owen and the Seldons knew that Steve Kennedy was dead when he called at their cabin with Peter Hope to break the news. A conviction strengthened by his recollection of the tense voices—of Connie Seldon crying hysterically, “But I wasn’t! I wasn’t there, Tom ! You’ve got to believe me!”—of Tom Seldon’s rasping reply: “I don’t know whether to believe you or not. One thing’s certain, we’ve got to sit tight.”
To be Concluded