The Empty Cartridges aka The Duel in the Dark can be found in




ISFDB.org Magazine Entry



ents of Luther Trant

VII

a.k.a. The Duel in the Dark


Originally published Hampton's Magazine, November 1909. Also appeared in The Phantom Detective, August 1935.


Stephen Sheppard, big game shot and all-around sportsman, lay tensely on his side in bed, watching for the sun to rise out of Lake Michigan. When the first crest of that yellow rim would push clear of the grim, gray horizon stretching its great, empty half circle about the Chicago shore, he was going to make a decision—a decision for the life or for the death of a young man; and as he personally had always cared for that man more than for any other man so much younger, and as his neice, who was the chief person left in the world that Sheppard loved, also cared for the man so much that she would surely marry him if he were left alive, Sheppard was not at all anxious for that day to begin.

The gray on the horizon, which had been becoming alarmingly pale the last few moments as he stared at it, now undeniably was spread with purple and pink from behind the water's edge. Decide he must, he knew, within a very few minutes or the rising sun would find him as faltering in his mind as he was the night before when he had given himself till daybreak to form his decision. The sportsman shut his teeth determinedly. No matter how fruitless the hours of darkness when he had matched mercy with vengeance; no matter how hopeless he had found it during the earlier moments of that slow December dawn to say whether he would recognize that his young friend had merely taken the law into his own hands and done bare justice, and therefore the past could be left buried, or whether he must return retribution upon that young man and bring back all that hidden and forgotten past—all was no matter; he must decide now within five minutes. For it was a sportsman's compact he had made with himself to rise with the sun and act one way or the other, and he kept compacts with himself as obstinately and as unflinchingly as a man must who has lived decently a long life alone, without any employment or outside discipline.

Now the great, crimson aurora shooting up into the sky warned him that day was close upon him; now the semi-circle of gray waters was bisected by a broad and blood red pathway; now white darts at the aurora's center foretold the coming of the sun. He swung his feet out of bed and sat up—a stalwart, rosy, obstinate old man, his thick, white, wiry hair touseled in his indecision—and, reaching over swiftly, snatched up a loose coin which lay with his watch and keys upon the table beside his bed.

"I'll give him equal chances anyway," he satisfied himself as he sat on the edge of the bed with the coin in his hands. "Tails, he goes free, but heads, he—hangs!"

Then waiting for the first direct gleam of the sun to give him his signal, he spun it and put his bare foot upon it as it twirled upon the floor.

"Heads!" He removed his foot and looked at it without stooping. He pushed his feet into the slippers beside his bed, threw his dressing-gown over his shoulders, went directly to the telephone and called up the North Side Police Station.

"I want you to arrest Jim Tyler—James Tyler at the Alden Club at once!" he commanded abruptly. "Yes; that's it. What charge? What do I care what charge you arrest him on—auto speeding—anything you want—only get him!" The old sportsman spoke with even sharper brevity than usual. "Look him up and I'll come with my charges against him soon enough. See here; do you know who this is, speaking? This is Steve Sheppard. Ask your Captain Crowley whether I have to swear to a warrant at this time in the morning to have a man arrested. All right!

"That starts it!" he recognized grimly to himself, as he slammed down the receiver. The opposition at the police station had given the needed drive to his determination. "Now I'll follow it through. Beginning with that fellow—Trant," he recollected, as he found upon his desk the memorandum which he had made the night before, in case he should decide this way.

"Mr. Trant; you got my note of last night?" he said, a little less sharply, after he had called the number noted as Trant's room address at his club. "I am Stephen Sheppard—brother of the late Neal Sheppard. I have a criminal case and—as I wrote you I might—I want your help at once. If you leave your rooms immediately, I will call for you at your office before eight; I want you to meet a train with me at eight-thirty. Very well!"

He rang for his man, then, to order his motor and to tell him to bring coffee and rolls to his room, which he gulped down while he dressed. Fifteen minutes later he jumped onto the front seat of his car, displacing the chauffeur, and himself drove the car rapidly down town.

A crisp, sharp breeze blew in upon them from the lake, scattering dry, rare flakes of snow. It was a clear, perfect day for the first of December in Chicago. But Stephen Sheppard was oblivious to it. In the northern woods beyond the Canada boundary line the breeze would be sharper and cleaner that day and smell less of the streets and—it was the very height of his hunting season for big game in those woods! Up there he would still have been shooting, but as the papers had put it, "the woods had taken their toll" again this year, and his brother's life had been part of that toll.

"Neal Sheppard's Body Found in the Woods!" He read the headlines in the paper which the boy thrust into his face, and he slowed the car at the Rush Street bridge. "Victim of Stray Shot Being Brought to Chicago." Well! That was the way it was known! Stephen Sheppard released his brake, with a jerk; crossed the bridge and, eight minutes later, brought up the car with a sharper shock before the First National Bank Building.

He had never met the man he had come to see—had heard of him only through startling successes in the psychological detection of crime with which this comparative youth, fresh from the laboratory of a university and using methods new to the criminals and their pursuers alike, had startled the public and the wiser heads of the police. But finding the door to Trant's office on the twelfth floor standing open, and the psychologist himself taking off his things, Sheppard first stared over the stocky, red-haired youth, and then clicked his tongue with satisfaction.

"It's lucky you're early, Mr. Trant," he approved bluffly. "There is short enough time as it is, before we meet the train." He had glanced at the clock as he spoke, and pulled off his gloves without ceremony. "You look like what I expected—what I'd heard you were. Now—you know me?"

"By reputation, at least, Mr. Sheppard," Trant replied. "There has been enough in the papers these last two weeks, and as you spoke of yourself over the telephone just now as the brother of the late Neal Sheppard, I suppose this morning's report is correct. That is, your brother has finally been found in the woods—dead?"

"So you've been following it, have you?"

"Only in the papers. I saw, of course, that Mr. Neal Sheppard was missing from your hunting party in Northern Ontario two weeks ago," Trant replied. "I saw that you had been unable to find him and had given him up for drowned in one of the lakes or dead in the woods, and therefore you had come home the first of the week to tell his daughter. Then this morning I saw Mr. Chapin and your guide, whom you had left to keep up the search, had reported they found him—killed, apparently, by a stray shot."

"I see. I told Chapin to give that out till he saw me, no matter how he found him." Sheppard tossed his fur cap upon Trant's flat-topped desk before him and slapped his heavy gloves, one after the other, beside it.

"You mean that you have private information that your brother was not shot accidentally?" Trant leaned over his desk intently.

"Exactly. But I've not come to mince matters with you, Trant. He was murdered, man,— murdered!"

"Murdered? I understand then!" Trant straightened back.

"No, you don't," his client contradicted bluntly. "I haven't come to ask you to find the murderer for me. I named him to the police and ordered his arrest before I called you this morning. He is Jim Tyler; and, as I know he was at his club, they must have him by this time. There's mighty little psychology in this case, Trant. But if I'm going to hang young Jim, I'm going to hang him quick—for it's not a pleasant job; and I have called for you merely to hear the proofs that Chapin and the Indian are bringing—they've sent word only that it is murder, as I suspected— so that when we put those proofs into the hands of the state's attorney, they can finish Jim quick—and be done with it!"

"Tyler?" Trant leaned quickly toward his client again, not trying now to conceal his surprise. "Young Tyler, your shooting-mate and your partner in the new Sheppard-Tyler Gun Company?"

"Yes, Tyler," the other returned brusquely, but rising as he spoke, and turning his back upon the pretext of closing the transom. "My shooting-mate for the last three years and I guess he's rather more than my partner in the gun company; for, to tell the truth, it was for him I put up the money to start the business. And there are more reasons than that for making me want to let him go—though he shot my brother. But those reasons—I decided this morning—are not enough this late in the day! So I decided also to hold back nothing—to keep back nothing of what's behind this crime, whoever it hurts! I said I haven't come to mince matters with you, Trant. Well —I shan't!"

He turned back from the transom, and glanced once more swiftly at the clock.

"I shall be very glad to go over the evidence for you, Mr. Sheppard," Trant acquiesced, following the older man's glance; " and as you have come here half an hour before we need start to meet the train—"

"Just so," the other interrupted bluntly. "I am here to tell you as much as I am able before we meet the others. That's why I asked you if you knew me. So now—exactly how much do you know about me, Trant?"

"I know you are a wealthy man—a large holder of real estate, the papers say, which has advanced greatly in value; and I know—this is from the papers too—that you belong to a coterie of men who have grown up with the city,— old settlers of thirty years' standing."

"Quite right. Neal and I came here broke—without a cent, to pick up what we could in Chicago after the fire. And we made our fortunes then, easy—or easily, as I've learned to say now," he smiled to himself grimly, "by buying up lots about the city when they were cheap and everybody scared and selling them for a song, and we had only to hold them until they made us rich. I am now a rich old bachelor, Trant, hunting in season and trap-shooting out, and setting up Jim Tyler in the gun business between times. The worst that was said about Neal was his drinking and bad temper; for Leigh, his daughter, goes as well as anybody else in her circle; and even young Jim Tyler has the run of a dozen clubs. That's all good, respectable and satisfactory...

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