FROM BAD TO WORSE

With unerring skill, the more amazing because of the inky darkness,
Bill’s opponent grasped his right wrist, twisted it and the automatic
dropped to the floor. The flashlight Bill had discarded at the man’s
first spring. In vain he sought to slip his free hand beneath the
other’s armpit to try for a half-Nelson or some other effective hold.
The man was as sinewy and lithe as a snake, and blocked Bill’s every
move. He tried _jiu jitsu_, but here again he was foiled; and only with
the greatest difficulty was he able to keep those tenacious hands from
his throat.

Panting and straining, the two swayed back and forth, crashing into
packing cases, banging into walls, their hot breath on each other’s
faces—twisting, slipping, recovering—and drenched in perspiration from
their terrific exertions.

Then, in one of his lunges, Bill stepped on the electric torch—and
instantly a dim glow spread along the floor and threw their figures and
faces into relief against the gloom.

“Bill Bolton!” gasped the stranger, and released him.

“Osceola!”

Too winded for further speech the friends stared at each other.

“Great snakes!” exclaimed the young Seminole chief at last. “A jolly way
you have of receiving callers!”

“Well, why on earth didn’t you come to the front door and ring the bell
like a Christian?” growled Bill. “What’s the idea? Snooping in through
the wine cellar and scaring me half to death? This confounded house is
creepy enough without you adding to the spooks!”

“The front door,” retorted Osceola, “was out of the question. How did I
know you were in the place? Sanders has his men posted all around here.
He came out of the back door with another guy less than half an hour
ago, and I saw them.”

Bill picked up the torch and the automatic before replying. “You don’t
happen to know how they got in?” he asked. “I locked the back entry from
the inside, so they couldn’t have come that way.”

Osceola shook his head. “No. They got in the same way I did. Their
footprints are all over the place.”

“But which way is that?”

“There’s an old shed in the woods about fifty yards from the house. Mr.
Evans told me about it. Once upon a time it was used for storing
firewood, and it connects with the cellar by a kind of tunnel. They
broke in there, picked the cellar lock, and went on up into the house.”

“But they couldn’t have come through this cellar—I found both doors
locked.”

“They didn’t have to come through here. There’s a circular stair that
leads from where the phone is, up through that wall and out into the
hall above.”

Bill nodded, remembering the speed with which Sanders and his man had
disappeared. “Just where and how does it connect with the hall?”

“There’s a sliding panel in the wall by the fireplace.”

“Humph! You and Sanders,” said Bill, “seem to know a lot more about this
place than I do.”

“Mr. Evans put me hep. How Sanders got his information, I don’t know,
but he’s evidently got it all down pat. That old brick shed out there
takes some finding. It’s all overgrown with vines and bushes—I had a job
finding it myself.”

“But tell me, Osceola—” Bill perched on the edge of the table, “how did
you happen to be telephoning in here—how did you get here? I must get
straightened out on this business before I hike over to see Parker at
Twin Heads Harbor tonight.”

“Parker flew me up to Clayton from New Canaan,” the chief told him.
“Then he drove me over here in his car—or that is, I left him where the
road to Turner’s leaves the Harbor Highway, and came the rest of the way
on foot.”

“Please start at the beginning, won’t you? I’m still all at sea—”

“All right, all right—don’t get all het up now! Well, Deborah Lightfoot,
the girl I’m engaged to—”

“_What!_ Not the girl on the island—Evans’ secretary?”

“She’s the girl—”

“But you never told me you were engaged!”

“Didn’t I? Well, we’re going to get married next year, just as soon as
I’m graduated from Carlisle.”

“Gee, that’s fine,” said Bill. “I certainly congratulate you both. But
say, let’s get on with the business end of this gab. Begin with Mr.
Evans—when you saw him or heard from him first.”

“Have it your own way,” grinned Osceola. “I came out from New York on an
early train to New Canaan yesterday afternoon, after seeing your father
off for Washington. The servants were in a great state about the night
before. It seems that the shooting woke them up after you and Charlie
got out of the house. I read your note and reckoned that since neither
you nor Charles nor the plane were on the premises, you’d managed to get
off all right. You had told me in your note to stay put till I heard
from you, so I stuck round the house all evening, waiting for a wire, or
a phone call. I was especially worried about Deborah. She graduated from
Barnard in June, and shortly after this Flying Fish affair was cleaned
up, I got her the job with Mr. Evans. I knew she was up here in Maine
with him, but from what you wrote, it looked as if old Evans had got
himself mixed up in a thug war or something, and I didn’t want my girl
to be stopping bullets. Mind you, Deb can take care of herself in a
mixup better than most men. She’s a swell shot, and she can throw a
tomahawk as true as any brave in the Seminole Nation.”

“Great guns! I had no idea she was a Seminole!”

“She sure is,” grinned his friend. “Deb is Sachem of the Water Moccasin
Clan in her own right. She’s a sort of ’steenth cousin of mine—and
_brains_—well, she’s two years younger than I am and yet she’s a year
ahead of me in college. She’s—”

“Whoa!” laughed Bill. “I’ll take it for granted and all that, that she’s
the most wonderful girl in the world…. Get back to your story, now.
You were worried because she was up here, you said?”

“Right, I was. But I decided to hang round your place for the night and
wait for your message—which never came. If I didn’t hear by morning, my
plan was to come along up here by train, whether you needed me or not.”

“And then Mr. Evans turned up, eh?”

“He did. The sound of the plane sent me running out to the hangar in the
middle of breakfast. At first when I saw the _Loening_, I thought you
had come back. Then old Evans piled out and introduced Parker, who had
flown him down. I took them into the house and we had breakfast
together.”

“Well, he’s got a nerve! Disappearing on us in the first place, and then
taking my plane to do it in!”

“Yes, he said he hadn’t had a chance to let you know, or to ask your
permission to use the _Loening_. Matters suddenly came to a head and he
had to get to Stamford as soon as possible. It seems that some of
Sanders’ crowd hang out there and they were up to something he couldn’t
get the hang of.”


“Yes, I know—they’re coming up here in a boat of some kind. They’re
after something that belongs to Mr. Evans.”

“That’s what he said. I mean, he described Sanders and told me that his
crowd was trying to steal something from him.”

“Why doesn’t Evans move it to some safe deposit and let us out of all
this hullabaloo!”

“Well, the funny part of it is, that he doesn’t know where it is—and
apparently Sanders and his lads do!”

“That _is_ a funny one,” grunted Bill. “Evans, the owner, doesn’t know
where this valuable something is—and the would-be robbers do!”

“That’s what he told me, all right.”

“Well, _what_ is it that they’re raising such a rumpus about? Does Evans
himself know?” Bill was getting sarcastic over the situation.

“Search me. He didn’t say.”

“Well, I think it’s the limit. Here I get all het up, thinking that at
last I’m going to find out something definite about this mess—and you
tell me you don’t know.”

“Evans thinks, I guess, that it’s less dangerous for us not to know.
He’s a pretty good egg.”

Bill frowned, then began to chuckle. “Sanders offered me a couple of
million or so, if I’d go in with him. Can you beat that? So whatever the
blooming loot is, it’s worth money!”

“Looks like it. But let me finish. I was just starting to talk to Deb
over the private line in the other room, when you came butting in and I
had to ring off. You may not know it, but I’m rather anxious to finish
that conversation.”

“Oh, go to the phone now, if you must,” said Bill resignedly. “I’ll
wait.”

“No, I’ll get this off my chest first. You’re in almost as much of a
sweat as old Evans was at breakfast this morning. He wouldn’t talk while
the waitress was in the room, so things were a bit jerky. But when we’d
finished eating, and one of your cars was waiting to run him down to
Stamford, he told me about Sanders. Then he described this place, told
me how to get into it through the sub-cellar, and where the short-line
phone to the island was hidden. He suggested that Parker take some
sleep, and then fly me up here so I could keep an eye on Deborah. To
finish the story, Parker and I took turns flying the bus, and here I
am.”

“Did Mr. Evans say what I was supposed to be doing?” inquired Bill. “He
left while Charlie and I were asleep. I’ve had no instructions.”

“Yes, he wants you to keep careful watch on the Sanders crowd, so you
can locate what they’re trying to steal.”

“Huh! A nice, soft job that! How am I going to find something when I
don’t know what it is? The man’s got bats in his belfry!”

“Well, I don’t know—but that’s what he said. By the way, where’s
Charlie—upstairs?”

“He is not—and that’s another thing that gets my goat. While his father
flies on without a word—Sanders gets the boy!” Bill went on to tell
Osceola of the day’s happenings. “You see,” he concluded, “I’m between
two fires. It’s the dickens of a mess. If I go to Stamford, and pretend
to play in with that gang, I can’t be watching them up here—and if I
don’t go there’s no telling what Sanders may do with that kid. My plan
before you came along was to meet Ezra Parker at the Harbor, and see
what his advice would be.”

“Good idea,” said Osceola thoughtfully. He had been squatting on his
heels, Indian fashion, and now stood up. “Hello!” he cried. “There goes
that telephone again. I guess Deb got tired of waiting.”

“How did she know you were here? It was that bell jingling that brought
me down here.”

“I called her up when I got in the cellar. Jim answered and said she was
out on the rocks—so she called me back.” He hurried off to the other end
of the cellar with Bill close behind him holding the light.

Osceola fumbled with a brick in the wall, it came away in his hands and
he pushed his arm into the cavity. A panel in the wall swung outward,
revealing the fact that it was not brick at all, but cleverly painted
wood. The ringing of the bell immediately became louder, for in the open
niche stood a telephone.

The chief picked up the receiver. “Hello, hello—” Bill heard him say.
“Yes, this is Osceola. Yes, Deb, I’m all right. Bill is here. We mistook
each other for Sanders’ men in the dark—that’s why I rang off. But
everything is okay now. No, I don’t mean exactly that … Sanders has
kidnapped Charlie and…. What are you saying? Great guns—is that so?
Yes, I can hear firing. Hang on as long as you can—don’t give up—we’ll
be with you just as soon as possible!”

He hung up, slammed shut the camouflaged panel and turned to Bill.

“The devil to pay! Deb and old Jim are barricaded in the hut on Pig
Island. Sanders’ men have got the place surrounded!”