ESCAPE

Halfway down the path, the man paused and lighted a gasoline lantern. In
the bright glow Flash distinguished the caretaker, Fleur.

“Anyone here?” the old man called. He turned his lantern at different
angles, throwing the beam over the ground.

Flash stepped from behind the tree.

“Good evening, Fleur.”

The caretaker gave a gasp of surprise and nearly dropped the lantern.

“Well, if it ain’t the young feller!” he exclaimed. “And us givin’ you
up fer dead! I’m mighty glad to see you back safe and sound, I sure am!”

“Where is Rascomb?” Flash demanded curtly. “And my very good friend,
Doyle?”

“They both came back together hours ago. Mr. Doyle and Mr. Rascomb was
bad upset over the accident.”

“Accident?”

“You fallin’ out of the boat the way you did and upsetting it.”

“Oh, so I upset the boat?”

“Don’t you remember nothin’ about it?” Fleur asked, raising the lantern
so he could see Flash to better advantage.

“I don’t remember it that way.”

“You’re sure a sight,” Fleur said quickly. “Must have had a bad time of
it. How did you get out alive?”

“Swam through Gersham Pass and walked around the lake.”

“And all the time Mr. Rascomb and Mr. Doyle was worried sick thinkin’
you was drowned! Mr. Rascomb said you went down just like a rock and
never came to the top even. They kept draggin’, long as they dast. Then
they gave you up and made a dash through the gap. Barely made it by the
skin o’ their teeth.”

“Where is Rascomb now?”

“Him and your friend started for town ’bout an hour ago to notify the
coroner. They’ll be happy to see you back safe and sound.”

“_Surprised_ is the right word.”

“You will have your little joke,” chuckled the old man. “I’m tellin’ you
it wasn’t no joking matter with them. They both was bad hit. Mr. Rascomb
spoke out sharp to me for the first time since I come to work for him.”

Flash scarcely listened. “I must get to Excelsior City at once!” he said
abruptly, cutting Fleur short. “Is there a car here?”

“Mr. Rascomb’s sedan. I’ll fetch it from the garage while you wash up.
Want me to lay out some clean clothes and a pair of shoes for you?”

“Never mind. I’ll help myself to what I need. You bring the car. I’m in
a big hurry.”

Carrying the lantern with him, Fleur disappeared in the direction of the
garage.

The door of the lodge had been left half open. Flash limped to it, but
at the threshold he hesitated. He seemed to sense a presence—sinister
and very close at hand. Yet he heard nothing.

Shaking off the uncomfortable sensation, he entered the lodge. A light
burned in the living room but the other rooms and the entrance hall were
dark.

Flash crossed to the bathroom where he switched on a light and washed
what grime he could from his hands and face. His hair and eyebrows were
singed; a large knob had appeared on his head.

He had changed his clothes, when he heard a slight sound in an adjoining
room.

“That you, Fleur?” he called.

No one answered.

Turning off the light, Flash stepped outside. A board creaked. He
whirled swiftly.

Before he could defend himself, he was struck directly behind the knees.
Thrown off balance, he crumpled and fell to the floor.

A flashlight beam played upon his face, blinding him. The muzzle of a
revolver pressed into his ribs.

“Stay where you are!”

The voice, low-spoken and cool, belonged to Herbert Rascomb.

“So it’s you, Povy?”

“There is no such person as Albert Povy,” Flash’s captor corrected. “It
will pay you dividends to keep that fact in mind. No! Don’t move! I
really shouldn’t enjoy pumping you full of lead.”

“You prefer to assault your victims with oars?”

Rascomb laughed as he snapped on a lamp above the desk. Keeping Flash
covered, he motioned for him to rise and sit on a straight-back chair
against the wall.

“You forced my hand this afternoon,” he said. “I acted without due
thought or I should have handled the situation differently.”

“You mean you would have cracked me harder,” Flash retorted.

“Your unexpected return has inconvenienced me,” Rascomb admitted
pleasantly. “Yet, I hope you believe that I did not desire your death.
You are a fellow with nerve. I admire courage. Unfortunately, your
curiosity in a matter which never need have concerned you jeopardizes my
interests.”

“So you have decided to blot me out?”

“Nothing that drastic, providing you decide to forget a few of your
remarkable observations.”

“Meaning I am never to reveal that you are Povy?”

“We understand each other, Evans. Now I had planned to retire to a quiet
life here at my lodge, but you have made that impossible. I shall attend
to a few necessary tasks, one deal in particular, and then disappear. My
only demand from you is that you forget you ever knew either Rascomb or
Povy.”

“And if I refuse?”

“I shall find an effective means of dealing with you if you become
annoying. However, your wagging tongue can do me very little harm. By
the time you are free I shall be a long distance from Excelsior City.”

Still keeping his revolver trained on Flash, Rascomb picked up an
overcoat and hat from the table. He had changed into a well tailored
business suit, and had re-touched the telltale scar so that it no longer
was visible.

“You will be quite safe and comfortable here,” he said, backing toward
the door. “The fire will miss the lodge by many miles. As soon as I am
well away I will mail the key to one of the rangers. Good evening.”

He slipped swiftly out the door. A key turned in the lock.

Making a quick appraisal of his prison, Flash saw that it was one of the
few inside rooms of the lodge, a small den with no windows. The only
exit was through the door. Its panels were heavy oak and could not be
rammed even with a piece of furniture.

Quiet settled over the lodge. After a short time Flash heard a car drive
out of the yard. There was a shuffling of shoes through the gravel, then
a heavy step outside the door.

“Fleur!” he shouted, pounding on the panel.

“Take it easy, young feller, take it easy,” the caretaker called
soothingly. “It won’t do you no good to try to pound your way out o’
there. Mr. Rascomb’s gone for the doctor.”

“Let me out of here, Fleur!” Flash pleaded. “Rascomb will get away! You
don’t know who he is! He’s Albert Povy, a spy—”

“You’re plumb out o’ your head just as Mr. Rascomb said,” Fleur returned
sadly. “It must of come from what you went through during the fire. Just
take it easy.”

“Listen, Fleur, I’ll pay you well to let me out of here!”

“Mr. Rascomb’s orders are to keep you in there until he gets back with
the doctor. I wouldn’t dast to do different even if I was a mind to.”

Flash argued until he realized he was talking for his own benefit. Fleur
had gone.

Despondently, he sank down into a chair. Never had he been more
discouraged. The key to a mystery in his hand and he was powerless to
use it! Unless he escaped quickly, Rascomb would vanish and leave no
trace.

Flash sat staring at the oaken panel. Suddenly he made a significant
observation. The door swung on large ornamental brass hinges which had
been fastened on the inside with tiny screws.

He sprang to his feet.

“Maybe I’ll get out of here yet!” he thought exultantly. “Maybe I will!”

Flash searched his pockets for a knife he usually carried. It was
missing, as were many other articles which had been lost in his flight
from the forest fire.

A desk occupied one corner of the room. Crossing to it, he began
searching for an object which might be used to pry off the hinges of the
outside door.

Save for a few scattered pins, blank paper and metal clips, the drawers
were empty. They all gave evidence of having been hastily cleaned out.

“Just my luck,” grumbled Flash.

In disgust, Flash slammed one of the drawers shut. It jammed and did not
entirely close. For a moment he thought the wood had warped. Then he saw
that a piece of cardboard prevented it from returning to its normal
position.

Jerking out the drawer completely, he ran his hand into the opening, and
brought to light an old faded photograph. One glance assured him that it
was a picture of Albert Povy in his younger years. The man wore the
military uniform of a foreign country which Flash did not recognize.

Across the bottom of the picture had been scrawled a name and date:

“Albert Povy … December 22, 1917.”

Flash studied the photograph with deep interest. Povy’s face was marked
with the same jagged scar which had identified him in later years.

Deciding to keep the picture as evidence, he carefully folded it and
placed it in an inside coat pocket.

“This may prove useful,” he murmured.

To make certain no other article had dropped behind the drawer, he again
ran his hand into the opening. His fingers encountered a paper booklet
of smooth finish. Pulling it out, he saw that it was a railroad time
table.

Flash would have tossed it aside had not a penciled circle drawn his
attention to the second page. A train number had been marked, and it was
the same streamliner which Povy had taken from Brandale.

He stuffed the time table into his pocket along with the photograph. The
two discoveries added nothing to his general knowledge, but if ever he
should meet Rascomb again, the evidence might be of use.

Next his search took him to the bathroom, which connected with the den
and which also lacked windows. Almost at once he was rewarded. In the
medicine cabinet he found two tools, a nail file and a rusty razor
blade.

Diligently, Flash set to work, trying to remove the screws which held
the ornamental door hinges. The task was a tedious one. Twice he was
compelled to wait as he heard Fleur’s step in a near-by hall.

Success crowned his efforts at last. With the hinges off, he swung back
the door and stepped from his prison.

Flash stood for a moment, listening. The only sound came from a dripping
faucet in the kitchen.

He moved stealthily to the door. It had been locked from the outside.
The door opening from the dining room likewise was barred.

Testing a window, he found it both locked and nailed. In no mood to
delay, Flash seized a plate from the sideboard and hurled it through the
pane. Enlarging the hole, he climbed through, lowering himself to the
ground.

The sound of splintering glass had brought Fleur running from the dock.
He swung his lantern so that the beam fell upon the cameraman.

“Hey, get back in there! Get back or I’ll fire!”

Flash did not believe that Fleur was armed. To be on the safe side he
dodged behind a tree. Hidden by the darkness, he kept watch of the
moving lantern, and when he saw his chance, ran for the road.

Fleur made no attempt to follow. Actually he was afraid for his own
safety, believing his employer’s story that the young man had lost his
mind.

Flash ran until he was exhausted. After that he walked at a fast pace.
The shoes he had borrowed from Rascomb’s wardrobe were too large for his
feet, and rubbed up and down at every step. Soon he was tormented by
painful blisters on each heel.

Driven by the knowledge that minutes were precious, he kept steadily on.
The road was deserted of traffic. Cars neither approached nor passed
him.

Turning a bend he came within view of Rascomb’s private air field. A
sudden fear assailed him. Already he might be too late! In all
probability the man had made a quick get-away by plane.

Crawling under a fence, he hastened to the hangar. The huge doors were
padlocked.

Striking a match, he gazed through a window. To his great relief, the
monoplane was still there.

“Then Rascomb must be at Excelsior City or somewhere fairly close,” he
reasoned. “That final ‘deal’ he mentioned! It is holding him here and
may yet prove his undoing!”

As far as Flash was concerned, Rascomb’s espionage work still was
shrouded in deep mystery. His knowledge of the man’s past was merely
vague rumor.

But there were certain definite points from which he might work. He
definitely knew that Rascomb and Albert Povy were the same man. From his
own observation, Povy had displayed interest in Bailey Brooks’ new
parachute, which might or might not have significance.

And Povy’s interest in Major Hartgrove was a factor not to be ignored.
Obviously he had boarded the streamliner with the intention of keeping
the army man under observation. The wreck itself might have been an
accident, but one which possibly had given Povy the opportunity he
sought.

“He tried to steal something from the Major and seemingly failed,” Flash
reasoned. “Then, knowing that his identity had been learned, he deemed
it wise to disappear. But now he may make a final attempt to achieve his
purpose. The first thing I must do is get in touch with the Major and
warn him!”

The road curved and a cluster of lights could be seen ahead. Flash
quickened his step. He was within view of Clear Lake at last.

A few minutes later he walked into the general store at the edge of the
village. The only occupant was a woman who stood behind the counter. She
stared as he moved toward her.

“Where can I hire a car to take me to Excelsior City?” Flash asked.

“Well, now, I don’t know,” she answered with deliberate speech. “All the
men folks is fightin’ the fire. I’m lookin’ after the store for my
husband.”

“Isn’t there someone here who has a car I could borrow or rent?”

“You look like you been in the fire yourself, Mister.”

“I have,” Flash replied briefly. “It’s very important for me to get to
town—”

“Claude Geiser might take you,” the woman interrupted. “He’s too
no-account to do an honest lick of work or help the rangers, but he has
a car.”

“Where will I find him?”

“Second house past the post office. He may not be at home.”

A light shone in the dwelling, and Flash was relieved to find Claude
Geiser there. The young man displayed no interest in making the long
trip to Excelsior City, but his attitude changed when a ten dollar bill
was waved before his eyes.

“All right, I’ll take you,” he agreed reluctantly. “How soon you want to
start?”

“Now,” said Flash. “And I’ll do the driving.”

The trip to Excelsior City was made in fast time despite young Geiser’s
frequent protests that his new car was being shaken to pieces. At the
hotel Flash paid what he owed and they parted company.

Left alone, the cameraman hesitated. After an instant of debate he
decided to talk with Major Hartgrove by long distance telephone before
taking any action against Rascomb.

“Accusing a man of being a spy even when I know it to be true, is
ticklish business,” he thought. “I’ll need someone to back me up.”

Flash entered the hotel. He crossed to the desk and asked for the key to
his room.

“Mr. Evans!” exclaimed the clerk. “We understood—that is, your friend
told us you were lost in the forest fire!”

“I’m very much alive,” Flash snapped. “When did you last see Doyle?”

“I haven’t noticed him in the lobby since midnight.”

“Midnight! How late is it?”

“Twenty after one, sir.”

Flash nodded and walked to the elevator. So intent was he upon his
thoughts that he failed to see a familiar figure slip quietly from a
telephone booth on the opposite side of the lobby.

The man was Herbert Rascomb.