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For sixteen long years these four men lived together in a fierce hate and distrust. Each was like a crouching vulture ready to spring. Only one thing held them together—greed.

Considine Laughs

by Emile C. Tepperman

STEVE DAGGETT thought it strange that no one had met him at the station. He waited until the train pulled out, leaving him alone in the gathering gloom. There was no one on duty at the station, not a soul around. It was one of those local stop-on-signal-only spots.

Steve waited a few moments, then shrugged and started up the road. Lanson had given him a fairly good idea of Doctor Mizenor's cabin. The night air was cool and crisp. He shivered slightly, and turned up the collar of his overcoat.

He had started from the office at a moment's notice and carried no baggage. Lanson, his boss, had said, "Take the call, Steve. If you make the two-ten, it'll bring you up there in the early evening. Mizenor promised to have some one meet the train, but you can't go by that; he seemed scared stiff on the phone and might not remember. Got an overcoat? Better take it—the Adirondacks are cold in October."

That was all the notice he had had, and Steve hadn't squawked, because the motto of the Star Detective Service was, "Give 'em service—and charge them plenty!"

A hundred yards down, the road turned east. As he trudged along, Steve could see the lights of Chateaugay far away at his left, across the lake. It was one of those clear evenings that are so frequent in the Adirondacks, when one can see for miles in every direction, until the view is cut off by a towering mountain.

Just ahead of him he caught sight of the sign-post he had been looking for. It pointed off to the right, and said, "Brant Lake—1 Mile."

He turned into the road indicated by the sign-post. This was a paved road, but narrower than the one he had just quit; and the hard pavement seemed cold and bleak, in keeping with the surly mood of the mountains on every side. The road sloped sharply uphill, and disappeared on the other side of the slope. Lanson had said that Doctor Mizenor's cabin would be just beyond the top of the hill, and Steve tried to estimate how much farther he would have to trudge.

Somehow the clearness of the night, instead of making him feel at ease, caused him a queer, prickly uneasiness, as if hidden eyes were closely watching: his progress. He had no idea why Mizenor had summoned a detective, knew very little about him, in fact.

But Lanson had said that the man seemed on the verge of hysterics on the phone, apparently in fear of something that he was afraid even to mention. Mizenor had wanted a detective at once; and he didn't quibble at the preposterous fee Lanson had asked. Lanson, of course, had taken the precaution of calling the bank that Mizenor had given as reference, and he had whistled when the credit man had mentioned the prospective client's balance.

Steve wondered what dread shadow of menace could possibly be hanging over that mountain cabin, what queer purposes caused a man like Mizenor to remain up there in the middle of October.

And suddenly he stopped short, caught his breath in a spasm of terror.

In spite of the cool night air, his face and hands became bathed in sweat as he realized what it was that he saw ahead of him on the path!

It was only fifty feet ahead, and he could see it clearly, unmistakably, every detail of it.

The man was dead, without doubt. He was tied to the tree, arms twisted behind him, head hanging to one side, and mouth horribly open and bloody where he had bit his lips in the sudden agony of death.

The thing that had killed him was a sharpened stake cut from the branch of a fir sapling. It had been driven into his heart with tremendous force!

Steve felt panicky for a minute, swung his head all around, but saw no one. He felt in his overcoat pocket where he had his gun, and approached the body. He wished it was pitch dark. It was still too light. He had the feeling that total darkness would be welcome, so he could lose himself in it. As it was, he could easily be seen, was a ready target for another one of those sharpened stakes. Shivery-chills crept up his unprotected back.

He came close and saw that the body was that of a big man, almost six feet, powerfully built. He had been in his fifties, iron-gray hair, clean-shaven face, with a stiff Hohenzollern moustache. The man had been killed only a short while ago, for the blood still dripped from the horrid wound, forming a vermilion pool on the ground. The man's body was sagging in the ropes, and the stake stuck out at right angles; about four feet of it. It must have taken tremendous strength, Steve thought, to drive that stake into his heart. Whoever had done it was no puny one, must at least have been as big as the victim.

Steve didn't touch the body. There was no use doing that, no use searching around on the cement road. The answer to this gruesome scarecrow of death posted on the highway must lie in Doctor Mizenor's cabin.

Steve suddenly gasped at the thought that this might be Doctor Mizenor, that the doom that threatened his client had caught up with him before help could come. And was that doom lurking somewhere around, waiting for another victim?

Steve's grip tightened on the gun as he made his way up the road, leaving the horrid marker of murder there behind him. There'd be plenty of time to come back and investigate after he found what awaited him at the cabin. He could call the local police from there, too.

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