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Title: The Thrust of a Finger
Author: H. Bedford-Jones
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Title: The Thrust of a Finger
Author: H. Bedford-Jones

[from: 'The Popular Complete Stories', March 1, 1932]


SHUTZ, balanced on the prow of the launch, flung out the order: "Slower!
This is the place, all right. Somebody ahead of us. Have your gun handy."

A grunt of assent made answer.

Shutz appeared to be the only person aboard the wallowing fishing launch,
as she headed in by the low, sandy point. Ruthven, in the engine cockpit,
did not show at all. He had to keep a sharp eye on the engines, which
were shaky at best.

Ahead loomed up the whole immense bulk of Cerros Island, twenty miles
long and four thousand feet high; a mass of gigantic volcanic pinnacles
jutting from the sea. Behind, the rocky bluffs and bare, yellowish hills
of the Lower California coast ran back into deserts of cactus and white
stone. Man, it seemed, was nonexistent here.

On this eastern side of Cerros the water was smooth and deep. Farther to
the south was a tiny settlement of abalone fishers, the only human life
on the island. No one came along here, except occasional coasters cutting
off distance by way of Dewey Channel, or deep-sea fishermen, for whom the
place was a paradise.

"Any boat laid up?" asked Ruthven's voice presently.

"No." Shutz squinted at the shore in the blazing sunlight. His hair
showed black against a sun-darkened skin. He was slender, vigorous of
face and body, his hands and bared forearms powerful. "The wreck's there
where Ramon said, on the sand spit. Two chaps watching us, over on this
side of the creek. Engines weak?"

"All shot, blast 'em!" Ruthven's voice was drowned out in a roar from the
engines. His curses rose on the hot air. The boat crept on toward the
shore, a smell of burning oil surrounding her.

Shutz caught up the hand lines to the tiller, and the launch headed for
the inner edge of the sand, just where the rocks began. A hundred feet or
so farther out, drawn well up in the white sand, was the battered hull of
another launch. Off to the left were rocks, the shadows of an abrupt
little ravine with a stream of water trickling out. Near this stood two
men, naked to the waist, their faces shielded by huge straw hats,
watching the incoming craft.

Ruthven stood up, mopped his face, sent a keen look ashore. He was an
older man, heavy-muscled and unshaven. A holstered pistol showed at his

"No boat, no hut," he observed in a low voice. "If these are the ones who
got your uncle, keep an eye peeled! No rifles?"

Shutz had lifted binoculars for a swift look. The two men ashore moved in
among the rocks as though not interested further in the arrivals.

"Didn't see any," he answered. "Damned bad luck about the engine; just
when we needed it, too. What's the trouble?"

"Distributor or plugs," said Ruthven. "An hour or two will see her right

Shutz laughed, and this changed his face, wiped away its intense and
concentrated look. He seemed younger, more eager and reckless.

"We burned her up getting here, that's what," he said. Ruthven nodded

The launch was all fitted out for deep-sea fishing, and had come from San
Diego, as the name on her stern testified. The neatly racked lines had
not been used, however, nor had the poles been unjointed. And it was odd
that only two men were aboard her.

She drew in toward the sand spit. Three miles beyond was the north end of
Cerros; great jagged bluffs, with out flung rocks dotting the waters, and
up above a sharp peak rising for nearly two thousand feet, its crest of
cedar trees sharp-cut against the brazen sky. Shutz glanced up at the
cliffs, at the naked uplands running off to the south, and his lips drew
taut. His glance dropped again to the two men ashore. They must have come
down from those supposedly uninhabited, rocky heights.

Somewhere up there, gold was mined and men lived; drifters, wastrels,
beach combers who could not show their faces elsewhere. Not many of them,
perhaps only a few, but enough to count as a force if anything came
ashore to be looted. A frightful existence, thought Shutz as he glanced
at the bare rocks; cut off from the world, any men from those desert
heights must be more beast than human.

"Shut her off!" he ordered sharply, and the noise of the engine died out.
The craft forged slowly ahead to the sand. Ruthven climbed out of the
cockpit and stood waiting. His features looked freshly sunburned.

"Tide's high now," he observed. "Think it's safe to beach her? We'd have
to stay until next flood, if we do."

"No. Anchor her out a ways, after we take a look around," said Shutz.
"Then you can get the engine in shape. We can beach her temporarily."

The prow rammed gently into the sand a few feet from shore. Shutz jumped
out, taking a line with him, and made the line fast to a rock in the
sand. Ruthven followed, splashing ashore more carefully. Shutz stood up
and met his inquiring eyes.

"Well? With them watching us?"

"Might as well," said Ruthven. "Only two there. Get it over with and make

"No." Shutz shook his head with abrupt decision. "It'd look as though we
came just for that. Besides, one of  'em's coming out now. I'll meet him,
size him up."

HE turned, lit a cigarette, stepped out to meet the figure who was
approaching from the rocks beyond the sand spit. To all appearance he was
unarmed. Ruthven shoved back his cap and produced a pipe, filling and
lighting it. Abruptly, he reached down and unbuttoned the strap of his
holster, then went on smoking.

Shutz was mildly astonished as the stranger drew closer. The latter
showed an alert, powerful face, framed by neatly-trimmed brown hair; eyes
clear and vigorous, a muscled torso, white silk trousers, hat of fine
weave. Decidedly no drunken wastrel, more like someone down on a fishing

"Hello!" exclaimed the other cordially. "Fishing, are you? Satter's my
name; Doctor John, they usually call me, to distinguish me from my
brother, Doctor George."

"Oh!" said Shutz, putting out his hand to meet that of Satter. "Glad to
meet you. I'm Bob Shutz. Ran down from San Diego over the weekend. A
doctor, eh? Not located here?"

Satter broke into an amused laugh. "Heavens, no!" he exclaimed. "They've
had a bit of typhus at the settlement a few miles south of here; got me
down from Ensenada to take it in hand. I've been here for a week or

"Who's your friend?" asked Shutz.

Doctor John chuckled. "He's from the settlement. A Mexican; leave him out
of it. To tell the truth, we were a bit nervous. Thought you might be rum

"Same here," said Shutz, smiling whimsically. "There are some tough
hombres in these parts. We weren't any too sure. Come along and have a
drink, will you?"

"Surest thing you know," said Doctor John cheerfully. "No ice, I

"We have," returned Shutz. "This craft belongs to a friend of mine. She
doesn't look up to much, and in some ways she isn't, but she has an ice
plant aboard. Haven't seen anyone else around these parts?"

"Not a soul," said the other. "Juan and I took a walk up this way today,
and it's the lone somest place in the world."

They came up to Ruthven, whose astonishment was evident as he was
introduced. The three chatted for a moment, and then Shutz clapped the
doctor on the arm.

"Look here, doc, will you trot aboard and wait for us?" he said. "We've
got a slight job on hand--won't take more than a minute or two, and then
we're free. Call up your peon to join us, if you like."

"He wouldn't come," and Doctor John laughed. "He's shy of strangers. Let
him be, and he'll be happier. So will we. Shall I hop aboard, then?"

"You bet. Cigars and cigarettes in the cabin. Make yourself comfortable.
We'll be along in no time."

With a nod and a word of thanks, Doctor John obeyed, wading out to the
launch and lifting himself over the side with effortless ease. Ruthven
whistled softly and turned toward the battered wreck of the other craft,
striding ahead of Shutz. The latter caught up.

"What the devil!" he said in a low voice. "Anything wrong?"

"No," said Ruthven, with a shrug. "Only I think he's a damned liar."

"Nonsense!" and Shutz laughed. "You're too suspicious. Well, here we are!
This is uncle's old craft, sure enough. And think what a few days have
done to her, eh?"

"And a few men," said Ruthven grimly. "This place has got my nerves,
Shutz! I have a feeling like something closing down on me, something
beyond escape. You know how it comes in a nightmare, sometimes--"

"Your liver," said Shutz, with a shrug.

Before them lay the wrecked launch; once a stout craft enough, but now a
sad ruin. Her bows were stove in; everything movable had been washed away
or stolen, even to portions of the engine.

"Go ahead," said Ruthven. "I'll watch out."

Shutz swung himself to the sloping deck and down the companion. He looked
around the cabin swiftly. Everything gone, of course, even most of the
lights looted. There was the print of the Flying Cloud on the wall, glass
smashed in its frame, half the picture torn away. With a smile, Shutz
went to it, pressed the four corners of the frame, then shoved at the
right edge. The picture swung on a central pivot, giving a glimpse of the
opening behind. Shutz reached in, and an exclamation of satisfaction
broke from him. He brought out two packets wrapped in oilskin, stuffed
them into his pockets, and emerged into the sunlight again.

"Got them," he said as he rejoined Ruthven, and paused to light a

He had forgotten Doctor John temporarily. Here on these sands his uncle
had died, with the two other survivors of the wreck, cut down by a blast
of bullets from behind the rocks. Only Ramon had lived to crawl away,
attract the attention of a passing boat next morning, and reach San
Diego. All signs of that tragedy were wiped out now, in the week that had
elapsed. It was nothing for publication, either. If that story had
reached the newspapers, half a hundred craft would have been crowding
around here, for Harvey Shutz was well-known. His business was
well-known. That he had been bound home after six months of touring down
the coast and buying pearls at the fisheries was well-known. Ruthven, his
secretary, had kept the wreck a secret.

And now Shutz had a fortune in his coat pockets.

"Let's get aboard before she's left high and dry by the tide," said
Ruthven. "I'll have to get to work on those engines, too. Or, wait! You
go ahead. I'll see if I can't get some fresh plugs out of this wreck."

"Right," said Shutz cheerfully.


SHEDDING his jacket down below, Shutz got some whisky and joined the
doctor under the bit of sail that shadowed the afterdeck. He set down his
tray and drew up a chair.

"Pour your own dose, doc," he said.

Doctor John obeyed, and poured a stiff one. His alert, keen gaze turned
to Shutz and then wandered repeatedly.

"Looking up that wreck, were you?" he asked with a casual air.

Shutz stirred the ice in his glass and nodded. "Belonged to my uncle

"Who? Not Harvey Shutz, the pearl buyer?" exclaimed the doctor with quick

"Yes. Knew him, did you?"

"I've met him several times, yes. He was wrecked here?"

"Wrecked and shot--done for," said Shutz. "Somebody did it right here--a
week ago."

The other whistled softly. "I heard there was a wrecked boat lying here.
That's one reason I came up here today. You say he was shot?"

"A little after his craft there was blown up ashore, yes. One man got
away. That's why I'm here. He brought word of my uncle's death."

Doctor John regarded him thoughtfully. "Any sign of him?"

"None," said Shutz. "Whew! It's sure hot out here."

"Shall we go below?" suggested the other. "I'd like to see your ice

"Not a bad idea." Shutz rose. Ruthven was buried in the wreck ashore; a
thin clang of metal came from her bowels. The launch was riding on the
line, well out from the sand.

The two men went below. A bit of breeze drifted through the open ports
and the absence of sun-glare was grateful.

"Queer about your uncle," said the doctor. "Who did the shooting?"

"Parties unknown," said Shutz. "There are some bad hombres on this
island. Outlaws of a sort, I imagine. Met any of them?"

"A couple," and the other nodded assent. "They brought some gold down to
the settlement and traded it for supplies. They looked like tough
specimens, too. Going to be here long? Why not pay our settlement a

"Other business," said Shutz. "We're leaving the minute we can pull out.
Some trouble with the engine. Ruthven's trying to get some parts from the

"I'm a pretty good hand with engines," said Doctor John. "I'll give him a
lift when he comes aboard; two heads are better than one. Get anything
worthwhile from the wreck?"

Shutz looked at his drink reflectively. The question suddenly jarred him.

"Everything's been looted," he said.

"Pearl buyer, eh?" Doctor John sipped at his drink, his eyes suddenly
very bright. "I imagine they didn't know it, eh? Probably tried to get
hold of his craft. These fellows up in the hills are regular marooned
savages, by all accounts. Likely they didn't know his craft was a wreck
until they'd jumped him. Hm-m-m! Did he have pearls aboard?"

Shutz looked up, met that bright, intent gaze, met it in silence for an
instant. The doctor had certainly figured out exactly what might have
been the motives of the murderers.

"Did he?" said Shutz slowly. "That's just the question, doctor."

A sharp and heavy sound impacted on their ears--a sound caught up and
reechoed by the cliffs and rocks, until it lessened and died. Shutz

"What was that?" he exclaimed. "A rifle?"

"Probably," said the other, quite calmly. "I imagine my friend Juan
knocked over a rabbit. He had a rifle along."

Shutz came to his feet. A sense of acute peril suddenly pricked at him.
He felt as though some monstrous danger was at his very elbow. He
remembered what Ruthven had said about this man.

"I'll run up and make sure everything's right," he said quietly.

"Not a bad idea." Doctor John nodded pleasantly and rose. "I'll come
along, what?"

Shutz did not wait for him, but turned and bolted up the ladder to the
deck. He knew now what Ruthven had felt; the inexorable closing down of
something, as though the brazen sky were drawing in upon him. Something
he could not escape. He felt in a trap, snared beyond escape; a vague
peril was seemingly all about him. He came leaping to the deck and stared
around. Nothing was in sight. The shore was empty. No sign of Ruthven
anywhere. He called sharply, but had no reply.

Shutz found the launch tugging at the line; the tide was on the ebb. He
ran to the prow and jumped over, waded ashore, ran up the white sand
toward the wreck. He glanced back to see Doctor John standing at the
rail, watching him, and fancied that the man was smiling. With a muttered
oath, Shutz came hurriedly to the wreck.

"Ruthven! Where are you?"

He was on the high side. Stumbling to the twisted, broken prow, he
glanced down the sharply inclined deck. Ruthven lay there, half over the
side, half in the sand, face upward. As he stood, Shutz could see the
little blue hole in his forehead; dead--murdered! No need to go closer.

STUNNED for a moment, Shutz glanced up. He saw Doctor John on the bow of
his own launch, one arm lifted as though in a gesture of command, heard
his voice hurled out in Mexican words, saw he faced toward those rocks by
the ravine. Suddenly it all came over him. The other man there--hidden
with a rifle.

"Shutz!" It was the doctor, calling to him. "Come to the shore a moment!"

He saw everything in a flash. Ruthven had stood erect and the hidden
killer had shot him through the head. This doctor had planned it all from
the start. Knocked over a rabbit, eh? These same two men, perhaps, had
murdered his uncle. They had wanted a boat in which to get away. Now they
had his boat, and he was here, ashore, marooned!

"But not helpless yet," muttered Shutz.

He turned deliberately toward the shore. "Yes?" he called. "Ruthven's
disappeared! Can you see him over at the creek?"

"No sign of him," returned the doctor. "Come back to the beach. Want to
talk to you."

That gesture to the murderer had checked his fire. Shutz knew he would
have been shot down ere this had not the doctor commanded otherwise. With
a tremendous effort he kept himself in hand, controlled his throbbing
pulses, forced himself to play a part. Even now he found it hard to
believe that this man with whom he had talked was not what he seemed.
Only the ghastly face of Ruthven brought conviction.

The man did not want to kill him, he saw. There was something behind all
this. As he stumbled back through the loose sand, he saw that he was very
close to death, but the doctor was playing with him, wanted something
from him. The pearls--of course! The man never suspected that he had
obtained them already!

"No sign of your friend?" called the doctor.

"Not in sight," returned Shutz. "It's blasted queer where he went!"

He was at the beach now, mopping his face, looking about uncertainly. His
fingers itched for the slim, deadly pistol in the holster under his
armpit, but this was not the time yet. Then, with a leap and a splash,
Doctor John was off the launch and wading ashore, with a laugh on his
reckless face.

"Perhaps he went over to the stream, or up the shore," he said, and put
hand to pocket. He jerked out a pistol and lifted it, sent two shots
roaring into the air, the echoes volleying up and up along the cliffs and
peak. "That ought to fetch him, eh?"

Shutz stared at him stupidly and then, as the doctor came close to him,
Shutz moved with the lightning-swift lunge of a rattler. The doctor had
absolutely no warning. One instant, Shutz was standing there staring; the
next, he was in the air. His fist took the doctor under the ear and
knocked him sprawling, and as he fell, Shutz was on top of him, clutching
at the pistol, tearing it free.

Then, rolling clear, Shutz came to one knee and threw down his weapon at
the doctor, as the latter came erect with catlike agility.

"Hands up!" he barked, and the other obeyed, glaring at him, mouthing
curses. "Two shots; that was meant to call down the rest of your gang,
eh? Tell 'em you had a boat all ready, eh? Well, you can guess again."

"You're crazy!" exclaimed the other. "You've gone mad!"

"Yes, just like a fox," and Shutz laughed a little. "Your game's up,
mister, and it's up right here, savvy? You and your gang murdered my
uncle, and you've murdered Ruthven, and you'd have done for me except
that you wanted the pearls. Pearls, eh? Well, you'll not get any pearls.
No sale this trip! They were hidden all right, and where you'd never have
found them unless you tore the whole wreck to pieces."

The other man flung off all pretense. Meeting the blazing eyes of Shutz,
he saw that lies were useless.

"Smart young sprig, ain't you?" he retorted, with an oath. "Well, you'd

"Save your breath," cut in Shutz curtly. "No, I'm not standing up,
thanks; your hidden killer won't get me. Sorry I can't put a bullet into
you like you deserve, you rat! And to think of me giving you a

The suntanned, passion-darkened features of the other man were convulsed
with anger. Hands in air, he stared at Shutz from bloodshot eyes.

"I suppose you're an American of sorts, eh?" went on Shutz with contempt
in his voice. "Tell you what I'll do, doc. I'm going to make the closest
mainland port and then come back here with enough soldiers to hunt you
down, understand? You can stay right here on this nice little rock pile
of yours until I come back, too. No danger of your getting away from
here! I can't take you with me this trip, but I'll be back, never fear.
By the way, just what might your real name be?"

"Gorman, if that means anything to you," said the other, with a sneer.

"Gorman, eh? Never heard of you. Probably the police have, though--that
went home, eh? Well, much obliged for the information."

"It won't do you any good," said Gorman.

Shutz did not reply. He was aware of a change that had come almost
imperceptibly. The sun had passed behind the peak above, so that shadow
reached out across the sand spit. Still on one knee, he thrust back his
cap and considered. He was close to the water, but he did not intend to
rise. He could crawl down to the water and so get out to the shelter of
the launch. Even so, he must do it swiftly. Held by the line as she was,
the launch was bow into the sand now. He must get her off, let her float
out with the tide.

"Vamoose!" he said, and jerked the heavy pistol. "Turn around and march.

Gorman merely looked at him and grinned--an ugly grin that showed white
teeth. Shutz frowned.

"You hear me? I'll give you three, before I put a bullet into your foot.
One, two--"

Something struck him with fearful force. He was lifted around, flung face
down on the sand. The reverberating roar of a rifle shot came to him just
as everything went black before his eyes.


GORMAN let down his arms, looked at the prostrate Shutz, and grinned. Then
he went to the unconscious man, picked up his own pistol, thrust his hand
in beneath Shutz's shirt, and brought forth the flat automatic. His hand
and the weapon were all red with bright scarlet. He dropped the automatic
into his pocket, leaned over, and rose with a soft whistle.

"Not dead, but will be soon enough," he observed. "Bleeding like a pig!"

He looked up and waved his hand. Two men were running out from the
shelter of the rocks toward him. Gorman felt for Shutz's cigarettes and
lighted one of them.

"Good work, Paxton!" he exclaimed as the two approached. "Hit him under
the arm and looks like it blew the lights out of him. Come on over to the
wreck. Carry him there and leave him with the other one, out of sight in
case any boats go by. The birds will finish everything before noon

Paxton, a ruffianly man, laid down his rifle and chuckled, as Gorman held
out the cigarettes.

"Guess I ain't forgot how to shoot, huh?" he said complacently. "Scotty
bet me a dollar I wouldn't drop this guy."

Scotty, a weak-faced rat of a man, glanced at the launch.

"Any liquor aboard her?" he demanded.

Gorman made an impatient gesture.

"Yes. When the time comes. First, carry this bird over with the other
one. I want to take another look at the wreck, too."

He strode on in advance, walking with swift energy, in striking contrast
to the lethargy of the other two men. They, picking up the body of Shutz,
followed him more slowly.

When he reached the wreck, Gorman glanced casually at Ruthven and went on
aft, slipping swiftly down the companion. In the tiny cabin, he stood
glancing around. His eye was caught by the picture frame, still
half-open. With an ejaculation, he went to it, peered into the empty
space behind, angrily tore the picture and frame from its pivot.

"That's what he was doing here in the first place, of course," he
muttered. "Hm-m-m! He came out to the launch and went below--hid 'em
there. All right."

He left the cabin again, paused on the deck to watch the two men as they
rifled the body of Shutz. They looked up suddenly, caught sight of him,
grinned sheepishly. With a sardonic expression, Gorman joined them.

"No, keep the money, boys," he said, as Scotty offered to divide.
"There'll be a bit of work to do on that craft--her engine's not in
shape. We don't want to get away before night, anyhow. Does Ensenada suit
you both?"

"I reckon," assented Paxton. "But no farther north than that, Gorman!
These here cops has got it all arranged with any border town. The
greasers hit you over the head and, when you wake up, you're back in
America with jail ahead. They don't worry about no extradition."

Gorman smiled. "Correct. When we get aboard, now, I don't want any
looting. Wait until we get to Ensenada before we go through the craft.
I'll have to get her papers and go forth and be ready to answer

Scotty winked at his partner, as Gorman started away. Paxton jerked his
thumb toward Ruthven's body, and was just stooping when a sharp
exclamation broke from Gorman.

"Here, you two! Jump for it! I forgot about the damned tide--come on!"

The urgency of his voice impelled them. Gorman started to run, and they
scrambled after him, not understanding.

They comprehended well enough when they reached the water's edge,
however. Held by the line ashore, the launch was now canted over, her
bow deep in the sand and quite clear of the retreating water. An oath
broke from Gorman as he saw that they would never get her clear until
high water came to float her. The other two joined him, cast off the
line, strained unavailingly. Not a dozen men could have lifted that
heavy craft from her bed.

"Well, we're in for a wait," said Gorman angrily.

"We should worry," observed Paxton. "A few hours more ain't going to hurt
none. Say, we've sure done better this time, huh? We got nothing but some
grub out of that other craft, and now we're all set to go somewheres.
Durned if we ain't real millionaires, now, private yacht and everything!
Me, I'm going to live like a lord till we reach Ensenada."

"Come on aboard," said Gorman. "You two can give me a hand with the
engine before dark. Scotty, take the plugs out of her. Paxton, you get to
work cleaning them as fast as they come out. I'll be back in a minute
with a bottle of liquor for you."

THEY climbed up to the sloping deck, which was canting over more rapidly
with every moment. Gorman went below, but after a short investigation
realized that searching through the cabins would take time, so he caught
up cigars and a bottle, and went back on deck. It never occurred to him
that the pearls might be in Shutz's jacket, so carelessly flung into a
corner. In an hour or so it would be dark, and he wanted to get as much
overhauling done as possible before then. The launch was fitted with
electric lights, but he dared not use them while laid up. Someone from
the settlement farther south, or some passing craft, might see them and
investigate. He joined the other two in the engine cockpit, and they
greeted his advent with joyous oaths, and fell cheerfully to work.

"With this here craft," said Paxton after a long drink, "we might go on
south instead of heading north. Police ain't looking for you down the
coast, Gorman?"

"Hardly," and Gorman laughed. "They're looking for me a good ways north
of here."

"Might be safer down the coast for me, too," and Paxton grinned, as he
chipped the incrustation from a plug. "I want to get as far from the U.S.
army as possible."

"Yeah." Scotty gave an inane chortle. "They got pictures pasted up all
over Ensenada, feller. I bet they got one of an ex-sergeant, marksman
first class, wanted for murder up in--"

He shut up hurriedly at sight of Paxton's face.

"Cut it," snapped Gorman, working at the distributor. "As soon as we get
her in shape, we'll have supper and then clean up all around. Me, too; I
need a shave. And we don't have to sleep out in the fog tonight."

"That danged fog has been killing me," complained Scotty. "Weavin' up
around them peaks every night, thick as butter! I'm glad to get shut of
it. Them plugs is all out and cleaned and in again. What next?"

"Gas line's stopped, and there's water in the carburetor," said Gorman.

So they worked, while the shadows gradually deepened, and the sun sank to
its ocean bed on the other side of Cerros Island.

IT was some time later that Shutz wakened to a dim, helpless wonder. For a
moment he could not move; it seemed that invisible bonds held him lashed
down. He looked around, and realized that the daylight was fading. The
white, dead face of Ruthven stared at him from the steeply inclined deck,
and at that everything came back with a rush. He knew where he was now,
remembered what had happened.

When he tried again to move, and succeeded, it was with a frightful pain
in his side, back, and breast.

He investigated by slow degrees, and was startled by sight of the blood
that had seeped out over his shirt, drying there. His left arm seemed
glued to his side. And yet, when he made an effort and sat up his body
felt sound enough. He investigated, absorbed in his own chance of life or
death for the moment.

To his astonishment, no bullet had pierced him.

He saw the reason after a little, and remembered how he had been resting
on one knee, at the instant he was hit. The bullet had struck under his
left arm, but it had struck the holstered pistol there, inside his shirt,
and had been deflected. His skin was badly torn, true, and loss of blood
had weakened him, but this was the extent of the damage. The pistol,
driven against his breast and ribs with the terrific force of the impact,
had dug at his flesh, had knocked the breath out of him, had given him a
nasty bruise and a bad-looking hurt--nothing worse. He could even use his
left arm, though not without pain.

And now the darkness was falling, and consuming thirst was upon him.

He had been dropped almost beside Ruthven, close to the forward end of
the wreck. Looking through his pockets, Shutz found everything gone. He
edged over to Ruthven, put his hand beneath the latter's hip, and to his
almost incredulous delight felt the pistol there. He swiftly loosened the
belt, dragged it clear, buckled it about his own hips. A pistol! Then he
might have a chance after all.

From Ruthven's packets he secured cigarettes and matches, but paused in
the act of lighting one. He got shakily to his feet. Why had they carried
him here? Undoubtedly they had thought him dead or done for. Coming to
the end of the battered wreck, he stood erect and looked around

A surge of new life swept through him, a wild thrill of grim delight, as
he saw the launch lying there on the sand, canted over, nearly clear of
the water. The tide was out, and despite the gathering darkness, he could
see that she must have been caught by the ebb before Gorman could get her
off. Her deck was canted shoreward, away from him, but he caught a
glimmer of light and heard the clink-clink of metal.

"So Gorman's working on her, eh?" he reflected. He tried to speak and
could not; his tongue was swollen and thick with thirst. He must have
water. There was water at the ravine, by the rocks, if he could get
there. He looked at the sky. Everything was veiled, the air was dank and
thick with moisture. Fog! He remembered now. The pilot guide had said
something about heavy fogs that cloaked Cerros, all except the peaks, at
this season. The fog was thin enough here on the sand spit, but if he
circled out a bit they would not see him. And they would not be apt to be
on the lookout anyway.

He started off, forcing himself onward through the sand that clutched at
his ankles.

Progress was difficult in the extreme, for movement sent stabs of pain
through his body, until the stiffness of the wounds loosened up. Also, he
was weak, dizzy, and faint. He kept going, until after a little he was
well beyond danger. Then he came down to the beach and staggered along
the harder sand here, until he found himself among some rocks.

At last he gained the mouth of the stream, a tiny
rivulet of fresh, cold water. He lowered himself to it painfully, drank,
bathed his hurt side, lay there with the water rippling about his body,
soaking the shirt from his torn flesh and skin. There was no hurry, he
knew. The launch would not get off the sand for hours yet, until the tide
came in full.

Thought of poor Ruthven oppressed him. He could not leave the man's body
here as a prey to the birds; yet, he reflected grimly, he might better
think about himself first. He knew now, clearly enough, that Gorman was
in full possession of the launch. He was up against a desperate
situation. Undoubtedly Gorman was the murderer of his uncle, and the man
or men with him were as callous and unscrupulous as Gorman himself. Then,
as though to emphasize his own helplessness, came a burst of sharp,
staccato reports from the launch, rising into a deep, full-throated roar.
The engine was repaired.

The noise ceased.

Shutz dragged himself to his feet, immensely refreshed. He felt much more
like himself now, could move and use his left arm fairly freely, and
strength had in some measure come back into his body. He settled down
behind a rock, lit a cigarette, and rested. As he sat there, he thought
again of Ruthven, and a somewhat grim thought came into his mind.

A smile touched his lips, but not with amusement, as he looked out at the
thin fog curling among the rocks.


"GRUB, eh?" exclaimed Scotty, coming up to where Gorman was cleansing the
grease from his hands and arms, in a bucket of water. "Real cabin stores,
the best layout you've seen in a year, Gorman! All ready. Sure you don't
want no deck lights?"

"No, you fool!" snapped Gorman. "Lanterns are all right, but not these
electric bulbs. Where's the supper?"

"Aft, on deck," said Scotty. "Paxton is makin' the coffee now. All right,
then. I'll get two lanterns going, if that'll suit you."

He moved away. Gorman, who had been working by the electric light in the
cockpit, straightened up and wiped his arms and hands. He glanced down
at the engine proudly; it ran like a charmed thing. He was a good
mechanic, was Gorman, and ought to be. His lip curled at the thought.
Once he had toyed with machines a thousand times the size of this, back
before a man died suddenly, up north!

Four or five more hours, he thought, as he doused the light and went aft,
clawing his way along the sharply sloping deck. They would not get off
until about midnight. He looked about, but could see little or nothing,
for fog rose white in the sky and eddied all about the shore and closed
in the launch lying there on the sand, only her stern in the water.

Two lanterns bobbed before him. Scotty, with some ingenuity, had propped
up a table so that it stood level on the deck, near the lower rail. He
had raided the larder with good result; the appetizing smell of eggs and
bacon lifted on the damp air. A moment later Paxton appeared with a
steaming pot of coffee.

The three men settled down to their repast.

"This here is luxury!" said Paxton with a sigh, when his first hunger was
appeased. "I vote we stay with her and head south, you bet. That was some
engine job, Gorman."

"It was," said Gorman. "And it's well done, you can lay to that! You boys
worked like good ones. Three men like we are could go anywhere in this
craft. We'll get all cleaned up as soon as we've eaten, and make
ourselves over into sportsmen, out deep-sea fishing."

"What about sleep?" queried Scotty.

"Nothing doing until we get off the sand and get clear away from here,"
returned Gorman with decision. "Take no chances; that's my motto. And
while I think of it, one of you had better go over to that wrecked craft
and make sure this Shutz fellow is dead. You're elected, Paxton."

"All right," said Paxton.

"I'll go, too," volunteered Scotty with some alacrity. "We didn't get to
go through that first feller. Say, that was a swell shot Paxton made! The
first one, I mean. Took that hombre right square between the eyes, or
just above. I seen the hole plain."

"It wasn't more'n a hundred yards," said Paxton. "And I was waiting for
him to raise up. Shucks! I could show you some shooting, if you ask me.
That's a swell rifle we got off that wreck. Gimme one of them cigars you
dug up, Scotty. We'll get going pretty quick, as soon as my dinner

Gorman took a cigar from the box, and the others followed suit.

"That's funny!" said Scotty, listening. "Seemed to me like I could hear
somebody walking. It's quit now."

"You're always hearing things," scoffed Paxton, scratching a match. "Huh!
I remember you woke up the other night, hollering about hearing a woman

"You shut up!" cried out Scotty shrilly. "That wasn't only a dream, blast
you! I hadn't hurt no woman, and you needn't say I did, neither!"

Paxton broke into a laugh, at sight of Scotty's terrorized face in the
lantern light.

"Yeah?" he said mockingly. "What was it you said about putting a rope
around her neck and choking her, huh? I tell you--"

He broke off short, in the act of lighting his cigar.

His distended eyes became wide and horrible with sheer fright. The light
of the match showed his face suddenly ghastly as he stared. Scotty caught
the look and turned about. A low moan burst from him. With a jerk, he
threw himself down, buried his face in his arms.

"You fellows better cut out the rough talk," said Gorman. He held a match
cupped in his hands, puffed vigorously at his cigar, dropped the match.
"No use starting trouble--good heavens! What's the matter?"

Paxton tried to speak, but words would not come. Gorman turned around
swiftly, then sat paralyzed.

ABOVE the rail, a little forward of where they sat, the light fell full
upon the head and upper body of Ruthven. His arms were held out wide as
though reaching for the three. The little hole in his forehead was
clearly visible. He moved a little, settled forward, as though about to
climb aboard.

Paxton uttered one wild, shrill scream, and rose to his feet.

"Judas, it's him!" he yelled hoarsely. "It's him, Gorman! He's come

Scotty stirred, glanced up, then scrambled half erect and lost balance.
With a howl of terror, he plunged over, knocked the table away. He hit
one of the lanterns with an arm and the other with his body, knocked them
both out, and with a tremendous clatter and clash of dishes and tinware
went headlong over the rail to the sand below.

The deck was plunged into darkness. From the sand alongside, where Scotty
had fallen, came a thudding sound, a low groan, and then nothing more.

"Jump, Paxton, jump, you fool!" came the voice of Gorman, with a scramble
of feet.

Alongside, under the bulge of the rail, crouched Shutz, and breathed a
low curse of dismay. The accidental dousing of those two lanterns had
wrecked his whole campaign.

With infinite toil and pain, he had dragged the body of Ruthven down from
the wreck, had lifted it, stood up the death-stiff corpse alongside so
that the head and torso overhung the rail. Then he had meant to jerk up
his pistol, catch the three of them as they sat in panic. As he moved to
do it, Scotty knocked out the lights and fell on top of him.

Well, Scotty had paid for that. He lay in the sand, knocked senseless,
sprawled under the rail, but Gorman had taken warning. Gorman was no
fool. After that first instant of paralysis, he had leaped into action.

"Hey, Gorman!" It was Paxton's voice, uplifted in the darkness. "Where
are you?"

Gorman made no response. He was getting his pistol, which he had left up
forward. Paxton struck a match, held it up; and with a convulsive leap
went up the deck, uttering scream on scream of horror. He had caught
sight of Shutz in the act of coming over the rail three feet away from

"It's him! It's the other one!" he cried out, then tripped over something
and went down with a crash.

Shutz came over the rail, lay on the deck, panting. This one action of
coming aboard had taken all his resolution, all his strength, for it hurt
him cruelly. Momentarily he was helpless, could not even lift his pistol.
He had gambled everything on taking advantage of the first panic-struck
moment, and he had lost. Gorman, he knew, was the man whom he had to fear
most, and Gorman was now on the alert, waiting and watching.

"Fool that I was, not to shoot him down first!" muttered Shutz as he lay
there. Yet, fool or not, he knew that he could not have shot an
unsuspecting man in the back; even though he be a double-dyed murderer.
Besides, and in a more practical sense, he was very anxious not to kill
Gorman, if it could be avoided.

But now everything had crashed down around him, and he would be lucky if
he got out of here alive, much less with any murderers to be brought to

Shutz dared not move. Fortunately, the crash of Paxton's fall had covered
what noise he, himself, had made. Now, with the silence, he knew that
Gorman was intent on any sound that might lift across the low roar of the
surf rolling in. He himself was intent on any sound, and could hear none.
Paxton had fallen quiet, whether hurt or in fright.

Then, up forward by the engine cockpit, Shutz discerned a faint flicker
of light, followed by another. He knew instantly what it was. Gorman had
obtained the flashlight by the engine, was testing it against his palm,
cutting off most of the light. In another moment the beam would sweep
out. Shutz lifted the pistol in his hand, caught the faint flicker of
light again, and pressed the trigger.

Nothing happened.

Wild consternation swept over him. The pistol was jammed, no doubt of it;
whether by sand or by heavy grease, the weapon was entirely useless. For
a moment, Shutz was tempted to give up everything, then he rallied. His
brain awoke.

He must act, and act swiftly, before Gorman went into action. Once that
flashlight picked him up he was done for. Weaponless, he was entirely
helpless against these men. He knew where there was a weapon, however--a
spare automatic pistol, down in his own cabin, loaded and ready for use
if he could reach it.

Inch by inch, Shutz came to one elbow, lifted himself, drew up his leg.
He made no slightest sound. Paxton's voice broke the silence, calling
fitfully for Gorman, from somewhere amidships, where the man had fallen
against the rail. Gorman made no reply, and Paxton fell silent.

Shutz came to one knee. He knew that Gorman was waiting for the first
sound. He himself had been waiting, likewise, but no use now. The
companionway was a scant six feet from him, farther aft, if he could but
reach it. His arm, holding the pistol, drew back--then he hurled the
weapon, swiftly, accurately.

He waited an instant, every aching muscle tensed. There was a clatter and
crash as the weapon fell, up in the bow. Instantly the flashlight beam
struck out at it, playing over the forward deck. As it did so, Shutz
threw himself at the companionway, caught the edge of the hood, swung
himself down out of sight.

Panting, trembling, he crouched there for a moment, and then hastened
down into the cabin, feeling his way against the cant of the deck. He
knew exactly where to reach that spare pistol, hanging in a belt and
holster on the wall. He pushed open his door, got into the tiny cabin,
felt around. It must have fallen from the hook with the lean of the ship,
for he could not find it. Desperate, he pulled out his matches, struck
one, glanced around the little room.

The pistol was gone!


"LIGHTS, Paxton! Turn on all the lights! Everything!" Gorman's voice came
roaring furiously from the darkness. He was sweeping the deck, fore and
aft, with his beam of light. All caution was cast aside now, since no
shot had come at him. Gorman was no fool. He began to see exactly what
must have happened.

His light picked up the balanced figure of Ruthven. This was almost on
top of Paxton, who leaped to his feet with a yell of terror on seeing
that face flash out above him. Then Gorman's pistol cracked out. To the
explosion, the corpse fell sidewise and lodged there, one arm catching at
the bulwark.

"It's a body, you fool!" stormed Gorman. "Turn on all the lights! Wake

"All right," said Paxton shakily. The switch box was not up by the
engine, but down in the aft companion, as he had found before dark.
"Where's Scotty?"

"Jump, damn you!" cried Gorman with a volley of oaths. "Shutz brought the
stiff here to scare us. Look out for him! Lights!"

"I'm moving," returned Paxton, his voice sullen.

He went stumbling aft, cursing, and the flashlight beam guided him to the
companionway. He was still badly shaken, jumping at shadows, yet ashamed
of his panic. Gorman was playing his light along the rail, on the wet
sands alongside, on the swirling blanket of fog, but picked up nothing.
Scotty had fallen under the lower rail, out of sight from above.

Paxton let himself down the companion, cursed the slant of the deck, and
felt out for the switch. In the darkness his fingers came full upon a
human hand, which caught at him swiftly. He uttered a breathless gasp,
recoiled, lost his balance, and came down with a smash.

The lights were snapped on.

Paxton looked up, saw Shutz there above him--and then the poised fist
drove into his face and knocked him flat. This was flesh and blood at all
events, and Paxton, with a growl of rage, started up. Before he could get
his footing, Shutz kicked out. The heavy boot took Paxton squarely under
the chin and lifted him backward, and his head thumped down.

"If I couldn't do it one way, I can another!" muttered Shutz. Then he
leaned forward and ran his hands over the senseless figure.

To his acute dismay, Paxton had no weapon at all. Shutz caught his ankles
and dragged him into the cabin, swiftly jerked down a coil of fishing
line from a locker, and in two minutes had the man securely trussed with
a line that a hundred-pound shark could not break. Then, with a leap,
Shutz was out in the passage again and clawing up the companion to the

He looked around cautiously and barely repressed a gasp of surprise at
seeing Gorman directly before him. Standing at the lower rail, Gorman was
peering over the side as the electric light pierced the swirls of fog.
His back was turned.

"Scotty!" he exclaimed sharply. "Scotty! Is that you?"

With a grim smile, Shutz emerged, balanced himself, and thrust his finger
into the back of the other man.

"Up!" crackled his voice. "Up, or I'll blow your damned heart out!"

Gorman twisted his head about, and his eyes distended in a glare as he
looked into the face of Shutz. His arms slowly lifted, a pistol in his
right hand.

"I'll take that gun, too. Thanks."

Shutz laughed a little, exultation creeping into his voice as he twisted
the automatic from Gorman's unresisting hand. He reached out, frisked the
man swiftly, and recovered his own pistol from Gorman's pocket.

"Move down the deck a bit. And give me any excuse--you'll get it!"

Gorman obeyed, edging along the lower rail. Shutz emerged from the hood,
carried into buoyant spirits by the swift reversal of fortune. He had
Gorman now, had him helpless, was master of the launch again--and all
from the thrust of a finger!

The corpse of Ruthven, propped in horrible immobility, stared from
sightless eyes at Gorman as he turned.

"You damned rat!" His voice bit out at Shutz, his tanned features were
contorted in a grimace of baffled fury. His uplifted hands were like
claws in their menace, yet the leveled pistol held him motionless. "You
can't get away with that, blast you!"

"That's all right," said Shutz cheerfully. "I think I'm doing a pretty
fair job of it so far, my dear Doctor John. And how's your brother, the
other doctor? Say, that was a neat touch; it took me in completely! Well,
you and your precious pals are about to head north and answer for a few
things. I'm mighty glad I didn't have to kill you, Gorman. It'll be so
much more pleasure to walk you into the hands of the police."

"See here, can't we fix all this up?" exclaimed Gorman suddenly. "I can
show you where there's gold on this island, plenty of it."

"Oh, sure, sure!" broke in Shutz, and waved his hand airily. "This island
is just heaped with gold, isn't it? That's why you're so anxious to leave
it, of course. You just can't stand the strain of living with so much
gold. Well, I'm willing to oblige you. Now, if you'll be good enough to
turn your back to me, and stick both hands behind you--"

"Wait a minute!" exclaimed Gorman, a desperate look in his eyes. "You've
got me wrong. I didn't kill your pal, here, and I didn't shoot you. I had
nothing to do with it, if that's what you think."

"No?" said Shutz. "Well, don't you get jumpy about it, Gorman. The safety
catch is off this pistol, you know."

"But you've no reason to turn me over to the police!" protested Gorman
stubbornly. "I tell you I had nothing to do with it! That was Paxton; you
can't keep that devil from shooting anything in sight."

"But I can," said Shutz amiably. "I assure you that I can. I've got him
all nicely tied up for delivery, down below. I'll keep him from shooting
anything, you can bet on that! Paxton, if that's his name, has fired his
last bullet for awhile. By the way, you didn't find those pearls, I
suppose? No, I see you didn't. I suppose you never thought to look in the
pockets of my coat, eh? You passed up a good bet there, Gorman."

"But I haven't harmed you!" cried out Gorman, his voice shrill. "I

"Oh, shut up!" snapped Shutz, wearying of this scene. "You dog, you're
behind the whole thing! You had my uncle shot down, murdered, and you're
going to answer for it. Stop your whining and turn around!"

"I won't!" burst out Gorman with desperation. "I tell you--"

Shutz lost his jaunty manner.

"And let me tell you," he said, "that I'd just as soon smash your leg
with a bullet, and I'll do it, too. So take your choice."

He jerked the pistol down, covered Gorman's knee.

"All right!" said Gorman hastily. "All right! What the hell you waiting
for, you fool? Grab him!"

Shutz started. Then he saw Gorman's eyes driving past him. He turned, but
too late. A pair of arms reached under his armpits from behind and jerked
him backward. He pressed the trigger, but the bullet went wild.

Next instant he was tumbling backward, over the rail to the sand, in the
grip of Scotty, while Gorman hurled himself bodily upon the pair of them.

THERE was a wild half-minute--thirty seconds that seemed like an age.
Shutz cursed his forgetfulness of the man on the sand. Then, as he fell
over, locked in the grip of Scotty, spasm after spasm of pain shot
through his body. It wakened him to frantic and incredible effort. He
struggled in vain. His arms were drawn tightly behind him, and now Gorman
came over the rail and landed on top of them both, with crushing weight
that drew a cry of fresh pain from Shutz.

"Now, you damned rat!" yelled Gorman, as he got to one knee and drove a
blow into Shutz's face. "Now we'll fix you for keeps."

Shutz felt the pistol, still in his hand, thrust against something soft.
Instinctively, he pressed the trigger. With the report, a frightful yell
sounded in his ear. He fired again, blindly.

The pressure about his arms relaxed. Scotty screamed again. Shutz flung
himself to one side and the pistol crashed out, almost in Gorman's face.
The latter uttered one low cry and pitched down on the sand, arms flung

Shutz came to his feet, panting for breath,
grunting with the pain that shot through him. The lights above illumined
every detail clearly. He looked down, and saw that the wound in his side
had come open--fresh blood was trickling down. The pain was sharp, severe
in the extreme, but no fresh damage had been done.

Turning, he looked down at the two men there. Scotty had ceased to move;
both bullets had gone through his body. With Gorman, it was very
different. That final bullet had plowed across his skull, letting out the
blood and knocking him senseless, but doing him no great damage

Shutz thrust away his pistol and knelt painfully. With strips of his own
bloody shirt he bound Gorman's wrists and ankles, then dragged the man's
body to the rail and toppled it over to the deck of the launch. Scotty
he ignored. Stumbling down to where the stiff and horrible body of
Ruthven lay half propped against the rail, Shutz strained at it and
lifted it, somehow got it over and aboard the launch. As he did so, the
craft stirred and lifted a little as a wave broke under her stern. The
tide was coming in.

The ship's clock was striking eight bells, midnight, when the engines
roared, the clutch slipped in, and reverse speed pulled her out of the
sand. Shutz sat by the after controls. He was fully dressed now, and a
meal had made a new man of him. The launch got into forward speed and
shot away for the clear channel, quickly running out of the fog. Shutz
looked up at the stars and swung the wheel.

"If you ask me," he said, and grinned up at the Pole Star, "I've done a
pretty fair job of it, all things considered! But I know somebody who
disagrees with that."

And he glanced with a chuckle at the bound figure of Gorman, alias Doctor


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