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Title: Midnight Fangs
Author: Arthur Leo Zagat
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Language: English
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Midnight Fangs

by

Arthur Leo Zagat

Cover Image

First published in Dime Mystery Magazine, January 1934



His work was the study of those queer unfortunates who, legend says, change form by night and run with the gray, meat-eating packs which raven under the moon...



Cover Image

Dime Mystery Magazine, January 1934



"THE white wolf leaped, straight for his throat. With a tremendous effort Count Orloff overcame the paralysis of terror that bound him and pressed the trigger of his gun. Just in time! For even as the beast collapsed in mid-air his fangs clamped about the Count's neck and scratched, barely scratched, the skin.

"The great shaggy body crashed to the ground. Momentarily a vertigo blinded Orloff. Then his sight cleared. He bent to the body stretched at his feet, and staggered back. This was no wolf that lay there, stiff in death. It was a man—the swarthy woodchopper who had misdirected him into the lonely forest path!"

A murmur of applause ran around the candle-lighted table as I ended. I sipped my cordial and congratulated myself. I had put the tale over well. Then Elnore Lansdowne gurgled, she of the diamond tiara and the triple chins.

"Oh, Mr. Ashton, I think that was just the most adorable ghost story I've ever heard. You must tell us another. You really must."

My fingers tightened on the napkin in my lap, and I felt my face flush. But Irma Stanton, practiced hostess as she is, averted the impending explosion.

"A little later, dear," she said sweetly. "If you don't mind. We shall be more comfortable in the drawing room." She gathered eyes with her own and rose. Chairs scraped and a confused gabble covered her whisper to me. "Now be good, Earl. Remember it's all in the sweet service of publicity.

But I'd had enough. I slipped through a door and got up to Rand's library unobserved, or so I thought. The door firmly shut, I sunk into one of the big chairs and lit a Hoya. I swore I should never write another book. I had tried to get across some of the eerie fascination of the stories I had tracked down for these ten years, the legends of men and women who change into wolves by night and run with the gray packs that raven under the moon. I had tried to put the spine-tingling strangeness of it on paper—and my reward has been the powder-scented adulation of women like that flesh-pillowed, simpering Mrs. Lansdowne. Pah!

Behind me the door opened. I didn't turn at the sound. The only illumination came from the flickering hearth-fire, and the chair's high back was between me and the entrance. Perhaps the interloper would think the room deserted. But I forgot the wavering line of smoke rising from my cigar, betraying my covert. Silk swished in a long arc around to my left and Lisa Mountenoy came drifting out of shadow into the unsteady glow.

She stood there, quite unmoving, her tall slimness sheathed in black that merged with the darkness behind her, so that her white arms and shoulders and the small pale oval of her face seemed disembodied. Her eyes, black as her close-coifed hair, brooded, and even in the faint smile that touched the corners of her little mouth there was a hint of sadness. So fitting, somehow, was she to that fire-shadowed room and my mood that I did not resent her. Nor did I rise or stir at all, but waited.

A knot popped in the burning log and kindling resin flared, outlining her figure, making her real. I started to rise. "This seat is very comfortable."

"Thank you, but I'll sit here." I hadn't noticed the other chair beside mine. She sank into it. "I hope you don't mind my intrusion."

"Intrusion! Your presence is far from that. It makes the trinity complete. A good cigar, a glowing fire, a beautiful woman. What more can a man desire?"

"You are more than kind. But I am going to disappoint you."

"Disappoint me? How could you possibly do that?"

"Easily. You are thinking 'I hope she'll have sense enough to keep quiet. It won't be so bad if she does.' But I'm going to talk, and about your book too."

I sighed. "Must you?"

"Yes. But perhaps when I am through you will not be sorry as you are just now. Tell me, Mr. Ashton, do you believe there is any truth in the idea of the werewolf?"

I took a long puff. At least she wasn't going to gush about how thrilling my tales were.

"Reasoningly, I do not. There is no scientific justification for it. Yet sometimes I wonder. The legend is so universal, so deeply rooted in all folklore. Sometimes it changes to correspond with the fauna of the locality. In Burma, for instance, they whisper of tiger-women, in Abyssinia of lion-men. In the Cape Country tales are told of silver-pelted beasts who lead the wild-dog packs by night but return to their human beds with the first touch of sun on the veldt. Can it be possible that there is no basis at all for so widespread a myth? But I have never been able to authenticate one of the innumerable instances of which I have been told."

She was queerly insistent. "You are not certain then, that the thing is impossible?"

"Certain?" I shrugged. "Death, they say, is certain. Yet in Haiti silent figures laboring in the fields were pointed out to me as men who had been buried months before. I have seen and heard unbelievable things in all the ancient countries of the world. Only here in new America is everything certain, everything explained."

Sap dripped from the end of an un-caught log and hissed on the red embers. Mrs. Mountenoy's hands twisted, one within the other, in her lap. Her face was hidden in the embrasure of her chair but there was in her voice a palpable effort at control.

"It may be so," she whispered to herself. "It may be so." Suddenly I was aware that hers had been no aimless query, that to her some vast import had rested in my reply.

"What may be so?"

She made no direct answer but seemed to be nerving herself to some decision. After a while she spoke, her tones low yet vibrant with urgency. "Will you help me, Mr. Ashton?"

"How?" I exclaimed. "What is the trouble?"

"Trouble? That is a weak word." She leaned forward into the light. Her pupils dilated and a little muscle twitched in her cheek. "Only you, I think, in all the world can help me. Will you?"

"Of course. In any way I can." Even now I cannot see how I could have made any other response.

"Thank you!" The tension in her face eased. "I knew you would not refuse."

I tried to be matter-of-fact. "Now tell me about it. Just what is it you want me to do for you?"

Again there was silence while she seemed to search for words. Finally her slender hands went out in a little gesture of helplessness. "I can't say it. It would sound silly, hysterical. You must come and see for yourself."

"Where?"

"At my home. Come now, tonight. It's only a short distance, we can drive there in twenty minutes. I have a room prepared for you."

I drew back slightly. After all I knew nothing of this woman, had been introduced to her only this very evening. And Irma had not been over friendly to her. My thought must have been reflected in my face, for she answered it. "My husband will be waiting up for us, I told him I hoped to bring you back with me."

"But can't it wait till Monday? I'm supposed to be here for the weekend and Mrs. Stanton will—"

"—Forgive you. I'll go and make it right with her." Before I could voice any further protest she was up and out of the room. What she said to Irma I never found out, but in minutes she was at the door with my hat and stick. "Your bag is in my car," she said breathlessly. "Come. We'll go out the side entrance."

* * * * *

WE did not talk as, taut behind the wheel, Mrs. Mountenoy shot the roadster through the home-bound traffic on the North Country road. We passed through a town and I glimpsed an illuminated clock face, saw that is was just ten. We turned sharp right and were bumping along an unpaved lane. The foliage of the North Shore dropped behind, and gaunt pine barrens stretched away on both sides, bleakly desolate under the stars' cold light. Just ahead a dark bulk loomed against the sky. Its outline sharpened and I saw it as a long, low-sprawling house.

The road curved to its further side, and there were two windows, yellow with light. The car skidded to a halt.

I got my bag out of the rumble, followed the crunch of Lisa Mountenoy's shoes on the gravel path. I caught up with her at the door. She was crouched against it, her ear against a panel. As I reached her she gasped almost inaudibly, I thought with relief. The key in her hand slid soundlessly into its lock and she turned it slowly, carefully, as if striving to avoid giving warning to someone within. I caught the contagion and tiptoed after her into the dark hall, groped with my bag for a clear space before setting it down. To the right a thin yellow line near the floor indicated the lighted room. Again she listened for a moment, breathlessly. Then, apparently satisfied, she threw the door open.

"I'm back, dears," she called. "And I've brought a guest with me."

"Yes, I heard your car. You are early." The speaker rose from a low chess table. I had an impression that his white hair brushed the rafters of the ceiling, he was so tall. His voice was high-pitched, querulous. And from his gaunt, almost emaciated frame his clothes hung loosely. Deep seams cut into his cheeks, and fine wrinkles radiated from his washed-out, bleared eyes. I was conscious of a shock of dismay. Could this be her husband? Why, he was at least twenty years older.

"This is Earl Ashton, dear, the author of 'Trail of the Werewolf.' My husband, Mr. Ashton."

His bony hand was icy in mine. "I have read your work with a great deal of interest. I am honored by this unexpected pleasure."

Queer. Hadn't she said that he knew she would bring me? I mumbled something.

"And this is Carl." A lad of about sixteen, with strikingly blond hair brushed back from a high white forehead. There was a look of pain in his blue eyes and his sensitive lips were rather too tightly compressed for his youth, his pinched, sharp-chinned face too pale. "Ought you to be still up?"

The boy flushed. "It is late, Lisa, I know. But I just wanted to finish this game. I had him almost beaten."

Her tone was anything but gentle as she snapped peremptorily, "Well, say good-night and turn in." Resentment flared in Carl's eyes as he slammed the door through which we had entered. The old man winced too. But in the next moment she was graciousness itself.

"Do make yourself comfortable, Mr. Ashton, while I get you a drink. I don't want you to regret being kidnapped. I did just that, Roy, plucked him right out of Irma Stanton's house at the point of a gun."

Something grim in Mountenoy's frosty smile. "I don't doubt it. And if he had resisted you would have dragged his mangled corpse here."

Her laugh was forced. "You see what you escaped. Now aren't you glad you came peaceably?"

"I certainly am glad," I lied. Already I was uncomfortable, feeling myself caught in the swirl of some scarce-hidden family tempest. "Glad to have come here on any terms."

It was a pleasant enough room, oak-paneled, book-lined. The chairs, the table, a secretary in the corner, were museum pieces. Evidences of wealth here, despite the apparent absence of servants. Yet I could sense unease and a furtive—fear. That was it, I realized. These people were afraid of something. Nor was it the usual banal distrust of one another when age weds youth. It was something more fundamental, more—ghastly. They were listening—both of them—listening for something they dreaded to hear.

The Scotch was real, and as I doused it with Club Perrier and drank with the two my discomfort passed away. The conversation turned, of course, to my work, and I told them one or two stories that had been crowded out of the volume. Roy Mountenoy countered with a tale or so of his own, and we drifted into a discussion of folk legends in general. My hosts displayed a surprising familiarity with the subject. I began to enjoy myself, riding my hobby to a fare-you-well. The "Trail" was on the table, a first edition, and I riffled the pages as we talked.

Then suddenly I noticed that their attention had strayed, that her smile was fixed, unnatural, and that his eyes kept wandering to the windows across the room from me. I finished my remarks with a question. Neither replied, and there was a momentary silence.

Distinctly, from just outside the windows, I heard faint sounds, a scratching of claws on stone, some animal sniffing at the sash. A glance passed between husband and wife, a swift unspoken entreaty and assent. Mrs. Mountenoy rose with a tight-lipped; "Will you excuse me a moment?" and went out the way Carl had gone. Mountenoy started talking but what he said was germane to something that had passed minutes before.

Somehow I was immensely relieved when Lisa Mountenoy returned. Once more there was a silent interchange between them. An almost imperceptible negative shake of her head. What little color the other had drained from his face, left his seamed countenance yellow, jaundiced. I noticed that the hand on his knee trembled slightly. Our talk lost its spontaneity, there were long interludes. Whatever it was that had been sniffing at the windows had gone. But I heard a dog howling, somewhere far off.

We were waiting, all three of us, waiting for something to happen. I did not know what it was, except that it must be the reason for my presence. Yes, something more I was certain of. Roy Mountenoy hoped desperately that it would not eventuate, hoped against hope...

Heavy footsteps crunched from the path. Mountenoy's head twisted sharply to the sound, and his lips went white. It seemed to me that red flame glowed in the black depths of Lisa's eyes. There was a knock at the outer door.

Mountenoy pushed himself up out of the chair, went to answer the summons. Once I saw a captured Chinese bandit walk proudly alone to where the axeman waited. It was like that. He left the room-door open, and I could see him fumble at the knob outside. There was a chill in the breeze that came into the room, although the night had been warm.

"Good evening, Mr. Keller. Come in." His utterance was muffled.

"Damn right I'll come in." A stocky, roughly dressed individual thrust into the foyer, his round face florid in the light from our room. He shoved what seemed a bundle of feathers almost into Mountenoy's face. "There's some more of your dog's work. Best layer I've got. He hauled her right off the roost."

The other took a backward step, raised a protesting hand. "But I have no dog. I have no dog, I tell you." Incomprehensible agony twanged his vocal cords.

"Say listen, that won't go down. Not no more. I believed you the last time, but tonight I saw the murderin' cur slink straight here an' jump over your hedge. Big fellow he is too, with a kind of whitish coat. He's here in this house right this minute."

"My dear fellow, I give you my word we own no dog." Curious how unconvincing he sounded. "Both Mrs. Mountenoy and I dislike the brutes."

Keller fairly spluttered. "Don't you 'dear fellow' me, and don't you lie to me neither. It won't go down. Either you shoot that dog tonight or I go down to Mineola in the morning and get the sheriff to come up and do it.

"I ain't going to have my hens killed by no dog to satisfy you. There's been a ewe murdered too, Eli Hunt tells me, down on his north pasture. The beast is dangerous. Next thing you know he'll be tearing the throat of some kid."

I heard the woman gasp at that. Mountenoy shrank back as if to avoid a blow. A single drop of blood dripped from the fowl and made a glistening spot on the floor. "Well, which is it goin' to be?" the farmer growled. "You, or the sheriff?"

Mountenoy put a hand on Keller's sleeve. "Look here. Don't do that," he pleaded. "Don't go to the authorities. We have no dog, but they will make a lot of trouble and I—I am a sick man. I couldn't stand it. I'll pay for your hens, I'll pay twice, three times their value. For Hunt's sheep too. Tell him. Come, be a good fellow." He got a wallet out of his breast pocket, pulled bills from it. "Here's fifty dollars, will that be enough?" He pushed the money into the other's fist. Keller muttered something I did not catch. But he turned to the door and went out.

Mountenoy came in to us. More than ever he looked an old, broken man. His gaze caught and held that of his wife, and there was a piteous appeal in it. He slumped into his chair, buried his face in his hands. "Roy," she jerked out. "Go look." He heaved to his feet, went across the foyer to the first door. He opened it cautiously, peered within and came back.

"There," he said. "Asleep." He stood in the doorway, swaying.

Lisa Mountenoy's voice was tight in her throat. "Roy, you heard what he said—about children. Do you think—" Her hand came up to her heart in a curious gesture whose meaning I could not read.

He bowed his head, and his hands dropped to his sides, palms out. "Tomorrow I put bars on the window," thickly, "and a padlock on the door."

She turned to me. "What do you think, Earl?" Sometime during the evening's talk we had gotten to first names. "Will it do any good?"

"I don't know what you mean." I was tired of her obliqueness, was determined to make her speak plainly.

Again that vague smile, just touching the tips of her lip-wings. "Of course you do. You are neither blind nor deaf. You know we fear that Carl is a—werewolf."

Mountenoy reached for the door-jamb, and his knuckles whitened as his bony fingers gripped it.

"No," he groaned, "no!" Every line of his taut body demanded reassurance from me, denial. But his eyes were hopeless, agonized.

"Roy dear, aren't you convinced yet? Surely there is no escaping after tonight."

"Tell me about it," I put in.

"You tell him, Roy."

"But, Lisa," Mountenoy protested, "why should we involve Mr. Ashton? After all, our worries are of no interest to him."

"On the contrary! If I can be of any assistance I shall be only too happy."

"It was on that understanding Earl came here, Roy."

Mountenoy gave in. "Very well." He moved a chair and sat down. I noticed that he had a full view of the door across the entrance vestibule. "If you can help us, I shall be very grateful."

"No reason for that. I am vastly interested. This whole thing is right up my alley."

"Two weeks ago—"

"Perhaps you had better start further back," Lisa interjected. "Earl should know the background."

Pain crossed the old man's face, but he commenced again.

"Carl is my son but not Lisa's. I met his mother abroad, in a small fishing village in Norway, while I was there on business."

"When Roy retired he had become the largest importer of cod liver oil in America," Lisa explained. "But he was just beginning then."

Mountenoy ignored the interruption. "We were married and a year later Helda died in giving birth to Carl. It was imperative that I return to America at once and I left the boy with Helda's parents. I visited him only infrequently, but I managed to see that he was taught English and something of American customs. I hoped always to bring him here but one thing after another prevented. It was only two years ago, when Lisa and I were wedded, that I did so.

"Some months ago I retired, and we bought this place, thinking to find peace and rest. At first it was all that I had hoped for, although I am afraid Lisa rather chafed at being so out of the social whirl."

"I was a little lonely, but as long as Roy had what he wanted I was content."

I wondered just how true that was. I could not quite fit Lisa Mountenoy into any picture of bucolic calm, but certainly she seemed a devoted wife.

"Two weeks ago Lisa had occasion to go to Carl's room for something after he had retired and found that he was not there. He was nowhere about the house or grounds, although none of his clothes were missing. I was in the city, returned at midnight to find her terribly agitated but waiting for me before communicating with the police. I looked in his chamber before doing so, and there he was, asleep. We wakened him and he denied absolutely having left his room. We were at a loss to account for the occurrence but finally set it down to sleep-walking."

"There were no tracks outside," Lisa murmured, "and the door was locked."

"Could he have gone out through the window?" I asked.

"Certainly," Mountenoy snatched at the suggestion. "That was my own conclusion."

"There is a flower bed there, and no tracks." Her hands twisted, one within the other. "Except the dog's."

"You had a dog at the time?"

"No! I have never owned one. It must have been some stray."

"That afternoon Ethel, our cook, came back from her shopping in the village with gossip of some hens on a neighboring farm having been killed by a marauding dog. The farmer, Elmer Keller, had shot at the animal but with apparently no effect. We paid very little attention to the story—till later."

"The next night we watched Carl's room, but nothing happened. The following night the same and our vigilance relaxed. But on the morning after the third night we again heard of a canine raid on Kellar's hen- house—and Ethel found a bloody feather under the boy's bed. Keller was here in the afternoon. All the known dogs in the vicinity had been accounted for, he said. Had we any? He did not appear to believe my denial but he went away.

"There weren't any more incidents that week. But Lisa heard of your book, purchased a copy, and insisted that we read it together. There was one chapter particularly that hit us with terrific force. You remember the tale that was told you at Storvaagen? The wolf that mangled a man and was chased off a cliff by the villagers."

I stirred. "Yes. In the morning they found the crushed body of the boy Svedin on the rocks below but there was no trace of the wolf."

Mountenoy raised bleak eyes to mine. "My first wife's maiden name was Svedin. The town where Carl was born and raised is Storvaagen." He said it quietly, but somehow the words rippled the following silence like little circular waves sent out by a stone dropped into a black pool.

"That happened a hundred and fifty years ago. Those Norse families certainly cling to their homes." The remark was ridiculous, but I had to say something. Lisa answered it.

"Yes, Carl objected strenuously to leaving his grandparents, and he has not been happy here. He seems to have a natural affection for Roy, but I haven't been able to win him. As a matter of fact I am very much afraid he—resents me."

"You misunderstand him, Lisa. It is just his reticence, his cold Northern blood. But all this doesn't interest Earl." Roy stopped the discussion and resumed his narrative.

"Last Saturday I was called away. My successors had gotten into a labor tangle in St. Louis, appealed to me, the men would trust only me. I could not refuse to go. Lisa's letters told me of her mounting perturbation. Time and again during the week the dog had been on the prowl and each time Carl had been absent from his bed. I returned this afternoon to find Ethel sitting on her luggage, waiting for me. Last night she had seen a big white dog skulking in the hall, she wouldn't sleep here again. And tonight—well, you heard and saw."

Again he buried his face in his hands. "I learned that you were to be at the Stanton's," Lisa said. "And I literally forced an invitation from Irma. She doesn't like me. I was determined to meet you, to get you here tonight. You are the only one in the country who would understand, who would not think us insane. And I am afraid, deathly afraid. The Storvaagen Werewolf started out by killing sheep, didn't he, before he killed a man? And Carl—hates me."

Mountenoy started up, his face working. "He won't hurt you, Lisa, he won't!" His voice was harsh, his eyes staring. "God help me, I'll kill him with my own hands if he attempts it."

So far had this retired businessman, this seller of fish oil, come!

I tried to calm him. "Even if your suspicions are correct I don't believe there is any danger tonight. He has already been out, doubtless he will sleep quietly now till morning."

She caught me up. "Then you think he really is a werewolf."

"I scarcely know what to think. It is incredible. Yet, as I told you before, I have long passed the stage of stigmatising any tale, however wild, as impossible. The boy comes from the very fountainhead of the legend, has undoubtedly heard the story of the Storvaagen Werewolf time and again. Possibly there is an ancestral taint in his blood, reawakened by the disturbance of his forced migration." I shrugged. "I should like to mull it over through the night. I may have some solution by the morning."

They couldn't very well do anything but acquiesce. After all, I was their guest.

The house was only one story and the bedrooms opened on a long corridor that began at the left of the entrance lobby. The first, as I had already gathered, was Carl's. Next came Lisa's chamber, connecting through a dressing-room with Mountenoy's. The guest room was at the extreme end. "Rather an unusual arrangement for a house as large as this," Roy said. "But it is attractive to one for whom stair-climbing has become a task." He smiled wryly.

As I undressed my thoughts were occupied not with the outré story I had heard, but perversely enough with an inconsequential trifle. The first edition of "Trail of the Werewolf" in the living room had Mentano's stamp on the flyleaf. Like all first authors I had visited that famous bookshop three days after the publication date in the guise of a purchaser. A clerk had told me that the first edition had been sold out, and had offered me a competing work. That had been four weeks ago. Yet Lisa Mountenoy had bought a copy there within two weeks. I had heard of bookclerks being subsidized; had that happened here? I must speak to Rand about it.

As is my habit, I fell soundly asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow. I awoke with a start. Only the faintly lighter oblong of the window broke the darkness; only the shrilling of crickets the silence. But I had a strange sense of something inimical lurking close by. I lay quite still and searched the dark with my eyes.

Then I heard it—a soft pad, pad of animal feet, a click of claws against wood! Not in the room. Inside the house. At my door! A soft body thumped against the panels. I recalled there had been no key in the lock—was it coming in? Was there any possible weapon in the room? None that I could remember, none that I could find instantly in the dark.

I slid a hand over the side of the bed, to the floor, gripped a shoe. That wouldn't help much against a—against what was at the door.

There was the faintest possible creaks, and a snuffing close along the threshold. I had the covers off me now, was taut for a spring. But the latch held! The footsteps padded away. Held breath popped from between my lips, and courage came back. I was out of the bed, at the door, was jerking it open. I must see what had made those sounds!

The corridor was unlit, save for one small light at the other end. I saw a flickering shadow there, momentarily, then it disappeared—into a room. Lisa's or Carl's? I could not tell, drowsiness—the dimness—confused me.

I went down the hall, my bare feet thudding against the parquet. Both doors were closed. I listened at Carl's, heard the long breathing of sleep. From behind Lisa's came the rustling of a sheet, creak of a bed spring as the dreamer turned.

Then suddenly I was conscious of the figure I made, in pajamas, one shoe tight-gripped in a shaking hand, listening at a woman's door in a strange house. The realization jarred me to normalcy.

Was I sure I had heard those sounds at all, seen that moving shadow? Wakened in unfamiliar surroundings, had I not imagined them? After all, the evening had not been one to give me quiet nerves.

I got back to my own chamber as soundlessly as I could. I was sure now that I was making a fool of myself, had allowed the neurotic imaginings of an overwrought woman to sway me off-balance. My foot touched the threshold, felt wetness. I bent to it. All along the flat board was a dribble of foam. The dripped slavering of a dog!

I stared at it, my hair prickling. And scream after scream ripped the silence behind me! Then words—"Roy! Roy! The dog! Roy! He's in here! The dog!" I whirled to the sounds—from Lisa's room—dashed to her door, flung it open.

Light swept in, obliquely. Mountenoy burst through the dressing-room door, in nightshirt, hair tousled, eyes staring, a gun in his hand. The bed was empty! But he looked to the window. Lisa was there—leaning out!

She turned to us, slowly. Her form was silhouetted against the pale star-glimmer. She stood there, gazing at us. A long shudder ran through her.

"Lisa. What is it? Lisa my dear?"

Her voice was thin, strained, hysterical.

"The dog! I woke and saw it—crouched to spring." Her arm rose, her long hand pointed to the floor at my feet. "Right there. Its eyes were like flames. I screamed and it twisted—leaped through the window."

"You watched it. Where did it go?"

She was silent, holding him with her eyes.

"Damn it, Lisa, tell me. Where did it go?"

"It went—oh Roy—it went into Carl's window—into his room."

"Into my room—what—what's happened?" A drowsy voice in the doorway behind. I whirled to it, whirled back to Roy's unintelligible shout, insensate, furious.

In a flash I saw his gun sweep up, pointing at Carl; saw her face over Roy's shoulder, and sprang, grasping the gun, thrusting it down. The bullet roared into the floor.

"He's your son, man, your son!" I yelled and jerked the weapon from him.

His skinny hand snatched at it, his thin lips were drawn back from his teeth in a snarl. "Give it to me, give it to me. Son or not, I'll kill him. Kill him before he kills her, kills my wife and my child."

Now I understood. Fending the old man off I looked at her. God! May I never again look into a face with such malice, such hate, blazing in it.

"Where is it?" I asked her as calmly as I could.

Her lips moved, soundlessly. But the swift dart of her eyes was enough. I pulled away from Mountenoy, stepped to a mirror-covered closet door, jerked it open.

There, chained to the floor, its snout bound tight by a gray silk stocking, was a huge white dog.

Perhaps I should have guessed it before, when Mountenoy told his story. I realize now that the essential part of the werewolf idea, Carl's absence from his bed when the dog was loose, depended on her unsupported word. How dexterously she had managed that!

She would not herself kill the interloper, the alien who must share with her and her unborn child that for which she had sold herself in marriage to a dotard. She was afraid—afraid not of the deed but of the punishment. I wonder how many nights she lay awake, thinking, thinking, rejecting one plan after another while the old man snored. No, she could not do it.

And then by some ill chance she bought and read my book. The place, the name, in that old Norse tale leaped out at her from its page...

The slow, insidious development of her scheme to slay the boy by his father's hand is obvious. Except for one thing. Why did she bring me there? I asked her.

"Don't you see? Would we have been believed when we said that Roy killed Carl because he was a werewolf? But you—the authority in that field..."

That was her mistake. Because, at the last, I realized that she had read "Trail of the Werewolf" long before she told Roy she had bought it. Because I knew then she had lied, that the whole thing was a lie. And her face, flaring in mad triumph, had set off the instantaneous explosion of thought that had thrown me at Roy's hand just in time to send the bullet harmlessly into the floor.


THE END

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