STRANGE DOINGS AT TURNER’S

The flivver pulled up at the side of the dirt road and stopped. Ezra
Parker, behind the wheel, switched off the motor and likewise the
lights. Patches of moonlight filtered through interlocking branches that
arched the grassgrown highway. These silvery patches seemed but to
deepen the velvety black of the woods. After the noisy chugging of four
ancient cylinders the silence of the forest was oppressive.

“Yonder’s the road to Turner’s,” Ezra volunteered, pointing toward a
narrow track, choked with weeds, which led off to the right. “The house
is two or three miles farther on.”

“I know! I’ve been over it twice in a car—and gee whiz!—it sure is a
tough one to drive,” piped Charlie from the back seat.

“We’ve got to hop it now,” said Bill. “Hand me the extra rifle, and come
on.”

Followed by young Evans, he stepped down to the roadway.

“So long, fellows,” Ezra bade them, “better watch your step when you get
near Turner’s.”

“We will,” returned Bill. “Got the times fixed in your mind, Ezra, and
all the rest of the instructions?”

“You bet. I’ll write them down soon as I get home. Don’t worry, I won’t
let you fellows down.”

He backed the car across the road, swung round his front wheels and
chugged off in the direction of Clayton.

“And that’s that,” said Bill.

“I hope Dad will approve,” said Charlie.

Bill’s face took, on a look of grim determination in the darkness. “It’s
just too bad if he doesn’t. Don’t shoulder that rifle, Charlie. It’s
likely to hit a branch and go off. Hold it in the hollow of your arm,
like I’m carrying mine. Keep three or four paces behind me—and remember,
no more talking until we are inside the garage. If you see me drop
down—flop!”

“O.K.” grunted the youngster. “On your way. If anybody spots us it won’t
be my fault.”

They strode down the road toward Turner’s for a mile or more. Neither
the tall lad nor the short one uttered a word. Bill drank in the crisp,
cool night air, pleasant after the dusty highway. On either hand dense
woods shut out the moonlight. Directly overhead, however, light filtered
between the treetops, flecking the overgrown trail with splotches of
silver.

When they came to an open woodlot, Bill paused.

“Yes, I think from what Ezra said, we go to the left here. We’ll see
where it lands us.”

Shortly after passing round the field, a dense wood of pines showed up
against the moonlight on their right hand. Between them and the pines
was a broad stone fence.

“We’ll hang out here for a few minutes,” Bill remarked. “There’s nothing
like making quite certain. If you hear anyone following, Charlie, it
means we were noticed in the car, and we’re probably in for a rousing
time.”

After an interval he got up and stretched himself, gave a curt order and
plunged abruptly into the heart of the woods. Bill had no idea how far
they penetrated, but they appeared to go forward for a good fifteen
minutes before they struck upon a grassgrown avenue or drive among the
trees, and at the end of it they saw a clearing. Both lads stopped.

A gentle wind stirred in the tree-tops, and above its rustle, they
suddenly heard the soft wash of the sea. Bill turned and Charlie
followed his gaze. Set back, quite close to the woods, amid overgrown
lawns and shrubbery, there glimmered in the pallid moonlight, the
outlines of a house.

“Turner’s!” whispered Bill as Charlie came close. “It looked different
from the air, but I guess it’s the place, all right.”

“Sure—and there’s the garage, see it?”

“Come along.”

Emerging stealthily from the trees, he quickly glanced about, crossed
the path, cut in behind a screen of shrubbery and made his way round the
side of the house to the garage. Without hesitation he went forward,
pulled the right hand door slightly ajar and slipped in, with Charlie at
his heels. The darkness closed in upon them.

“Just a moment, and I’ll be with you,” a cautious voice spoke nearby,
and Bill recognized it as Mr. Evans’. The door behind them shut with a
slight click, and Bill felt one of his hands caught in a firm grasp.

“Charlie, take Bill’s other hand. We won’t show a light just yet. Come
this way.”

They passed on until they came to what Bill decided was a closet in one
corner of the garage. He heard Mr. Evans open a door, and at the same
time he spoke again.

“Shut the door after you, Charlie, and see that the lock snaps. There
are twelve steps down, Bill. Come along—the youngster knows his way from
here.”

Bill, still grasping Mr. Evans’ hand, felt for the first step, found it
and descended after his guide. On level ground once more, he counted
eighty-four paces and two turns in the dark tunnel before he was led up
a flight of twenty-two steps at the farther end.

There came a pause, followed by a click. Then he was pulled gently
forward and his hand released. He waited; then a leaping shaft of light
from a single unshaded lamp disclosed a large and soundly furnished
room, with books lining the walls and deep armchairs grouped about. On a
table in the center were a large plate of sandwiches, some glasses and
several bottles of ginger ale.

“Me for that!” cried Charlie, his face shining in anticipation.

“That boy’s head is in his stomach,” declared Mr. Evans. “But I suppose
at his age I was always hungry too. Well, I’m glad to see both of you. I
need your help, Bill, because I can’t drag in the police on this
matter—at least, not yet. They would spoil everything. Help yourself
from the table, lad, before Charlie gobbles all the sandwiches. Then
tell me about your trip. Something happen to the car? Or did you think
your plane would prove the more useful?”

“Both,” said Bill from the table, where he was pouring himself a glass
of ginger ale. Taking a couple of sandwiches, he went over to an
armchair and sank back in its comfortable depths. “Your friends, or
enemies, or whoever they are,” he went on, munching as he talked, “are
quite active around New Canaan. They made things hum for a while, and
wrecked your car into the bargain. If their shooting hadn’t been putrid,
you’d be minus a son now, Mr. Evans. It’s not my place to criticize, but
don’t you think it was pretty risky, sending a boy his age on such a
dangerous undertaking?”

Mr. Evans started up from his chair in consternation. “You don’t mean
they tried to shoot the boy!”

“I certainly do mean just that.”

The father put an arm about his son’s shoulders and held him close. “The
devils!” he muttered. “I’d no idea they would dare resort to such
methods! If I had, he never would have been sent. And I don’t blame you,
Bill, for thinking me a heartless parent. If anything had happened to
this boy——But there’s no sense in making excuses now. Tell me just what
happened.”

He carted Charlie, sandwiches and ginger ale over to his chair and
deposited them there, seating himself on the broad arm at his son’s
side.

“Well, the first I knew of it,” began Bill, and continued with a
recitation of their adventures since the thunderstorm had awakened him
the night before. When he had finished, he got up to replenish his
glass.

“Splendid! I’m extremely proud of you both. Now tell me of the
arrangements you’ve made with Parker.”

“Starting tomorrow night, he is to fly the _Loening_ over this property.
If he sees a light in the garage he will know that we want him. He will
then continue on his way out to sea for a few miles, come back over Twin
Heads and land in the harbor near the channel that leads out to the
Atlantic. We will get in touch with him there. In any case, unless he is
molested, he is to wait on the water until daylight.”

“And if we do not need him, what then?”

“Why, the garage will be dark, and he’ll go out to sea, swing round and
go back to Clayton.”

“Did you arrange any set time for his flights?”

“Yes. Tomorrow he will be over this house at midnight. The next night at
one o’clock. The night after, at two, and the following one at three.
Then he starts all over again. I arranged his trips in that order, so
that anyone spying would not be able to count on a set time.”

Mr. Evans nodded his approval. “That is very satisfactory, Bill. You
think Parker is to be trusted, of course?”

“I’m sure of it, sir. Hope you don’t think I set his salary at too high
a figure?”

“I’ll double it if he proves useful,” Mr. Evans declared. “Now get off
my knee, Charlie, while I pay Bill back for what he has spent on my
account.”

He dug into a trousers’ pocket, fished out a roll of bills and handed it
to Bill. “That’s what I owe you—and keep the balance for expenses. You
may need it before long.”

“Thanks, sir.” Bill pocketed the money. “Can you tell us something of
what we’re up against, sir?”

Mr. Evans glanced at his watch. “Goodness! It’s time you fellows were in
bed. I’ll go into details, Bill, after breakfast.”

“But, Dad, we slept all day!” Charlie expostulated.

“Never mind, son. You won’t be the worse for a few hours more. We’ll all
need clear wits in the morning.”

Beckoning the lads to follow, he went to the door. Their feet echoed on
the polished tiles of the hall, a vast place which looked like a black
cavern above them, the dim shape of a wide staircase beyond. Following
Mr. Evans’ lead, they mounted the stairs, his flashlight flickering on
the thick carpet and heavy oak banisters. In the corridor above, he
stopped and flung open a door.

They entered a large, square bedroom. Twin beds stood against opposite
walls, and heavy dark hangings concealed the windows. These curtains,
Mr. Evans drew back, and through the shutters there gleamed the faint
gray light of a waning moon. A solitary night-owl made eerie music in
the woods.

“Sleep well,” said Charlie’s father. “I’ll call you two at seven. We’ll
have breakfast and I’ll explain my problem to you. Good night.”

“Good night, Dad.”

“Good night, sir.”

Mr. Evans departed with a wave of his hand. “I forgot to say,” he added,
putting his head inside the door again, “if you wake earlier than seven,
don’t raise a row. No bursting into happy song, Charlie….” He grinned
at his son, nodded, and was gone.

Bill sat down on his bed and took off his shoes. “I wonder why he warned
us about noise,” he remarked as he struggled with a knot.

“Ask me something easy,” yawned Charlie. “You’ll soon find out that
there’s more hush stuff about this house than there is at a funeral.”

“Cheerful simile!” grunted Bill. He dropped a shoe, stripped off his
outer garments, and got into bed wearing his underclothes.

He was dreaming of masked foes, who kept climbing up from airy depths,
to creep on him unawares, when one of these fiends clutched him by the
shoulder. Suddenly he found himself sitting up in bed, shaking with the
terror of nightmare.

“Are you dead—or what?” Charlie stood beside him, and leaned over to
shake him again. Through partly opened shutters daylight streamed into
the room.

“I’m awake,” said Bill with an effort. “What time is it, anyway?”

“Nearly nine o’clock—that’s why I’m worried. I just woke up myself—Dad
hasn’t called us or come near us yet. Do you s’pose something has
happened to him, Bill?”

Bill jumped out of bed. “Wait till I get some clothes on—then we’ll find
out.”