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by Rex Stout
Description: What's a lawyer to do when beautiful Delia Brand confesses of her plans to kill Dan Jackson and Jackson soon turns up dead. Accused of murdering him with her father's .38 in the town of Cody, Wyoming, Delia Brand sets out to find the real killer, and along the way, discovers the truth about her father's unsolved murder. Dark Revenge was first published in 1939. Later appeared in an expanded novel version as Mountain Cat and The Mountain Cat Murders.
eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks,
eBookwise Release Date: June 2010
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [116 KB]
Reading time: 76-106 min.
The Wyoming sun was hot in the streets of Cody, but the new Sammis Building was comfortably cool. The lettering on the glass panel of the door read:
ESCOTT, BRODY & DILLON
Delia Brand pushed open the door and went in. There was no one in the anteroom, either in the space to which callers were restricted by the railing or behind that, where a switchboard and two stenographers' desks were situated. Delia started for the gate in the railing, then stopped and stood rigid.
The voices she heard were followed by an instant appearance, through an inner door which stood open, of two persons, side by side. The man was young, short of thirty, with the wide mouth of an orator and quick gray eyes. The woman, about the same age, was remarkable. She seemed to fill the room, but that must have been an effect of electronic dispersion, for she was actually of medium size and height and quite compact. She seemed to be beautiful, but people who had never seen her, on looking at a picture of her in the Sunday Illustrated Section, would mutter that it was a good thing she had lots of money, since she had no looks.
At sight of Delia the young man broke off a laughing remark and stepped hastily forward. "Del! Hello there!" He opened the gate. "I believe you've met Mrs. Cowles, haven't you?"
Delia remained rigid. She said, in a cool tone meant for offense, with her gaze slanted at the man, "I met her when she was Mrs. Durocher. Or, as she might prefer, the Mountain Cat."
"Oh!" exclaimed Mrs. Cowles, amused, coming forward and looking at her. "Maybe you can tell me but I'm sorry, what's your name?"
"Delia Brand," the man put in.
"Maybe you can tell me, Miss Brand, who it was who first called me that? I mean, Mountain Cat. I've been trying to find out, because I'd like to send him a silver bridle or a bottle of wine or something. Would you believe that the name has followed me to New York and Palm Beach, and even to France? I like it. Do you know who invented it?"
"Yes." Delia had shifted her gaze, but not her tone. "I did."
"Really? How lucky! Do you ride? Could you use the bridle, or would you prefer the wine?"
"Neither." Delia whirled, filled her voice with biting scorn to demand, "From you?" and then turned again and passed through the gate in the railing, continued to the inner hall, and entered the fourth door on the left, which was standing open. She closed it behind her, and was in a good-sized room with two windows, a case of law books, a desk, and chairs. She had been sitting in one of the chairs barely two minutes when the door opened to admit the young man. He stood looking down at her.
He pressed his lips together, then, suddenly released them to say with some force, "You ought to go to San Francisco. Or you ought to go to New York. You ought to go alone, and work or fight or something. You ought to do something. You always were stretched tight, and now, naturally, you're tighter than ever. Why the dickens did you tell Wynne Cowles that you invented that name Mountain Cat? You know darned well you didn't."
Delia's eyes burned at him. "What does it matter?"
"It doesn't. It wouldn't matter, either, if I all of a sudden stood on my head and repeated the Gettysburg Address, but if I did so you'd be justified in asking me why. And why all the display of animosity and abhorrence to her? Was that just nerves? It only confirms--"
"I haven't got nerves. Not what you mean. I have--well, I have a certain intensity. You know I have. I came here to see you. I came to ask you--" Delia raised her hand and pressed it to her forehead. "I came, and I found you gay and laughing with that thing--"
He said, in a new and quiet tone, "Look, Del. I'm not trying to make a fool of you, though God knows you made one of me. You, a kid. Just a high-school kid. That's all you were two years ago. That's all you are now, really, even if you are twenty. But maybe that's all Helen of Troy was at your age. Anyhow, your pretending to be jealous of Wynne Cowles is plain silly. You know what I think; I've told you once before. I don't think you're capable of any genuine emotion at all. I don't think--"
She started to get up, and he put a hand on her shoulder.
"Please," he implored. "Please don't do that. Don't pull a haughty exit on me.... Did you see me at your mother's funeral?"
"I don't know. I don't think I saw anybody."
He took his hand from her shoulder. "I was aware you didn't. When I say you're incapable of genuine emotion I should note the exceptions. I know you've had enough trouble and grief to throw any ordinary girl off balance for good, and your feelings about that were genuine enough, I don't doubt that for a minute. That day at the funeral I bit a hole in my own lip from watching you biting yours, holding yourself in."
"I didn't see you, Ty."
"I know you didn't. You didn't see anyone. But, aside from your feelings about your father and then your mother, I say you're a pure, unadulterated fake.... Now, you sit still. I've been chewing my cud a lot. I've been doing that because I can't help it, because I can't get you out of my system. And I--"
"Not even with Wynne Durocher to help you? I mean, Wynne Cowles? I mean, the Mountain Cat, who only comes to Wyoming after each divorce in Reno?"
"Rot. You're faking now. And you were faking when you pretended you were fond of me but you wouldn't marry me because it would gum up your career. You were no more fond of me than you were of one of your uncle's stuffed jack rabbits. Do you remember how you would fasten your eyes on me and talk down in your throat about Duse and Bernhardt?"
He stopped, staring gloomily down at her, then shook his head and went to his swivel chair and sat down. "Deep down in your heart you're as wise to yourself as I am!"
A faint smile moved her lips. "Perhaps I am," she agreed. "Only in a different way. Anyhow, I have abandoned the idea of a career."
A swift eagerness flashed into his eyes and as swiftly disappeared. He demanded suspiciously, "What's the idea? Why not?"
She shook her head. "You'd say I was faking," she declared without resentment. "Anyhow, I didn't come here to exhibit jealousy, fake or otherwise. I came to consult you. To ask you a question because you're a lawyer."
"All right. What's the question?"
"I must put it carefully." She hesitated. "It's what you call a hypothetical question. I've written it down." She opened her leather handbag and rummaged among its contents, but a revolver was in the way, so she took it out and laid it across her knees. Then she found the paper she wanted, and read it in a monotone:
"'Question for Tyler Dillon: If a person decides to commit murder, for reasons which she considers legitimate and justifiable, and if she does not intend to conceal the act, but on the contrary intends to declare it, and intends to plead the circumstances as a defense, would it help if she made an affidavit or something like that in advance and left it with a lawyer, telling about the circumstances, or would it be preferable for her to proceed with the act, and tell her lawyer about the circumstances after the act was committed and she was arrested?'"
She folded the paper and returned it and the revolver to the bag. The lawyer was staring at her. In a moment he said, "Give me that paper, Del."
She shook her head. "I only want an answer."
He continued to stare. "Where did you get the gun?"
"It was my father's."
"Is it loaded?"
"Not yet. I bought a box of cartridges this morning."
"Let me see it."
She shook her head.
"Whom are you going to shoot?"
She shook her head. "You told me once," she said, "that a way for a client to refer a problem to a lawyer without committing or compromising either of them was to put it in the form of a hypothetical question. So that's what I'm doing."
Dillon groaned. He stretched out a hand. "Give me that paper. And the gun."
"Don't get dramatic, Ty." She had all her fingers on the handbag, and her tone sang. " I won't take any spurs--you know very well I won't."
"Okay. I'm your lawyer and you've put a hypothetical question. In such a case my advice would be that all the circumstances should be written down and submitted to a lawyer for him to put in the form of an affidavit. There should be nothing in it about an intention to commit murder, merely a recital of the circumstances. A lawyer is bound by his oath to reveal any knowledge that may come into his possession regarding an intention to commit a crime."
Delia stood up. "Thank you very much." She started off. He sprang after her and caught her arm. "Delia! Del! For God's sake--!"
She jerked free. Her tone was withering: "Didn't I tell you not to get dramatic?"
The junior partner sat at his desk. He sat there motionless for a full quarter of an hour, and then muttered, half aloud, "She's an actress. Or she's a hundred per cent fake. Or she's hyper-pituitary or something like that. Or she's the girl I love, unbalanced by grief and getting herself in a jam."
Five minutes later he reached for the phone book, turned to a page, inspected it, scowled, muttered something, and spoke into the phone: "Miss Vine, please ask Information for the number of Quinby Pellett over on Fresno Street. It doesn't seem to be listed."
He hung up, fiddled and fidgeted, and when the buzzer sounded got the receiver to his ear again. "What? He hasn't got a phone? ... I'll be darned. Much obliged."
He shoved the phone back, grabbed his hat, and departed....
Delia did a little shopping on her way back to where she had parked her car, then got in and swung into the traffic. Shortly after twelve o'clock she turned in at the driveway of the Brand home. It was an unpretentious house with a large yard.
Standing at the kitchen stove, frying eggs, was a tall, good-looking young woman some three or four years beyond Delia's twenty.
"What's the idea?" Delia demanded.
Clara Brand flipped an egg and announced, "Home cooking is so much better than anything you can get--"
"What's the idea, really?"
Clara shrugged. "Economy. Since I shall be out of a job beginning Saturday at noon--but on the other hand I may not, after all. I have a date at four o'clock for a talk with Atterson Brothers, and Jackson has generously allowed me to take whatever time I want this week to look for another place."
"Very generous," said Delia with bitter sarcasm.
Clara turned to the other with exasperation. "Damn it, sis, can't you see I'm being cheerful and brave? Certainly my savings are gone, and the bank says the house wouldn't bring a dime above the mortgage, and Uncle Quin is a darling and a brick, but you can't get blood out of a brick; and Mother was our dearest mother, but she did raise Cain with the family finances, trying to get revenge that wouldn't have done anyone any good--"
"It wasn't revenge!" Delia gripped the egg-turner, faced her sister with flaming eyes. "Or what if it was? There are worse things than revenge!"
"All right--there are." Clara gave the younger one a pat. "Take it easy, Del. I'm not kicking. Cheerful and brave." She sat at the table. " I still think it was foolish of Mother to spend thousands of dollars, all she had, and mortgage the house, to pay a bunch of detectives to find out who killed Dad--especially since they didn't find out anyway, though that wasn't her fault. But it was her money and her house, and I don't know why the devil I mentioned it again. This month since she ... she died ... it's been enough ... "
Delia let the egg-turner fall onto the range, and flew across and gathered her sister's head into her arms and crushed it against her breast.
After ten seconds Clara said quietly, "Okay, sis. Let's behave ourselves. Don't let your eggs burn."
The next spoken remark was some minutes later, and was a purely practical suggestion from Delia to the effect that she could drop her sister at the Jackson & Sammis office on her way to school....
On every other afternoon Delia had to call at six schools, in which she instructed the young in rhythmic movement and dancing. But on Tuesdays Pendleton School was the only one. When she had finished there she got in the roadster again and drove over to Fresno Street. She pulled up in front of a two-storied frame building which could have used a coat of paint. The ground-floor front sported a large plate-glass window, elevated above the sidewalk, and the entire length of the window, inside, was occupied by an enormous brown bear which was licking a cub. Delia had not even the tribute of a glance for it as she mounted four steps and pushed open the wooden door and entered an extremely startling room.
The room was large, but it was by no means empty. On two wide wooden shelves which ran the length of one wall were more than a score of jack rabbits. On similar shelves on two other walls were owls, grouse, wild geese, gophers, golden chipmunks, eagles, beaver, and other contemporaries. In one corner, with head up and haughty nostrils dilated, stood a blacktail deer, a seven-point buck, and across from him was a yearling elk. Suspended from the ceiling by wires was a forked tree-limb, and on it crouched a full-grown lynx with its teeth showing. There were black bear, pelicans, coyotes. On a raised platform in the center of the room stood a cougar, fully five feet long.
Delia, after glancing around, stood beside the cougar and called, "Hello!"
There was no reply. She crossed to a stairway which led to living quarters overhead. Her foot was lifted to the first step, when she heard a noise at the door, the knob turning. She made a dive and concealed herself behind a moose-hide which hung over the stair rail. One entering could not see her, but with an eye applied to a slit between the moose's side and his hind leg she had a good view of the room.
She saw a man enter--a middle-aged man, slightly stoop-shouldered, with a tanned face shining with sweat and with dusty, graying hair. Three paces from the door he looked sharply around with gray, squinting eyes, then, patting the rump of the yearling elk as he passed, he went to the platform and knelt to inspect the belly of the cougar. Then he leaped as if shot, as an ear-splitting howl rent the air.
He landed flat on his feet, stared for a second, and said in a voice that had a suspicion of a tremble in it, "Good Godamighty! Darn you, anyway! Come out of that!"
Delia emerged, approached, and stretched on her toes to kiss his cheek. "It's been over two years since I've done that," she said.
His squinting gray eyes inspected her. "Did you come over here just to scare the daylights out of me?"
"No, I came to ask you something."
She went and sat down on the edge of the platform which held the cougar. Quinby Pellett seated himself beside her and began slowly wiping his face.
After a moment Delia said, "It's still hell about Mother. I go to the cemetery every day."
"I know you do. You ought to quit it."
"You go, don't you?"
"Sure, I do." He glanced at her and away again. "I'm nearly fifty years old and it's natural for me to fasten onto the past. She was my only sister, and I didn't have any brothers. But you're just a youngster. You ought to cut it out. You were strung too tight, to begin with. I've told you that before."
"Maybe I was. Maybe Mother was too, the way she was affected by what happened to Dad. But the way it ended with her was worse than the way it ended with him.... Did you ever try to put yourself in the place of someone feeling so terrible she kills herself? And it was my mother, my own mother!"
Pellett said harshly, "She was my own sister, wasn't she?"
Delia looked at him. After a little she said, "I have a sister, too. She's being cheerful and brave. She has lost her job. Jackson fired her."
"The hell he did. When?"
"Yesterday. Ending Saturday noon. It's unspeakable. All the money they ever made, they made grubstaking, and Dad made that for them. Didn't he?"
"I guess so. I guess he mostly handled it. What'd he fire her for?"
"He said something about it's being as much for her good as his because there's no future for her. It's an alibi. I'm going to see him and find out. She has an appointment at Atterson's office at four o'clock, and I'm going while she's away. That's what I came for, anyhow, one thing, to ask you to go with me. We'll remind him of the facts and tell him he can't fire Clara."
Pellett shook his head. "He knows the facts, and one of them is that he can fire Clara. He and Lem Sammis own the shebang, don't they?"
Delia flared. "They shouldn't! He has no right to!"
"Legal right, yes. Moral right, maybe not. But that kind of an argument won't get you anywhere with Dan Jackson if he's made up his mind. It wouldn't help any for me to go there with you. I have an appointment to see him on another matter, and I'll have a go at him myself.... By the way, it's not Jackson you're getting ready to shoot, is it?"
Delia's head jerked around at him. "Who told you?"
Her uncle regarded her sourly. "That young lawyer, Dillon. He came around to see me and ask me to help head you off. He thinks you mean it. He don't know you as well as I do. Still got the gun there in your bag?"
"You're still wearing the paint and feathers?"
"Yes." Delia was gazing at him, her eyes burning. She said, "You think you know me, Uncle Quin."
"I know darned well I know you. Haven't I seen a lot of the exhibitions you've put on? Dillon wanted to know if I thought there was any chance you were faking, and I told him no. I never knew you to fake. You may persuade yourself to go around toting a gun and buying cartridges and scaring young lawyers, but, when it comes right down to it, you'll get a cramp in your trigger finger. See if you don't."
"I'll see," Delia said calmly.
Her uncle nodded. "That's one reason you fool people--you don't go raving and yelling around, you just make quiet statements. Mostly. I'll give a little proof that I know you as well as I say I do. I know who you're getting ready to shoot."
"You said Jackson."
"Oh, no, that was just palaver. It's the Reverend Rufus Toale."
She stared an instant, then sprang to her feet and confronted him, rigid. " You--" she gasped. "You told Ty Dillon--"
"I told you, and nobody else. Our family troubles have been on the front page enough without me trying to put them there again."
Delia was still rigid. "You didn't tell him?"
"No. All I said to him was that I would have a talk with you as soon as I could."
"Well, you've had it." Delia set out for the door.
Her uncle, without getting up, called after her in exasperated alarm, "God Almighty, Delia, now! Hey, now, I only said--"
But she was gone....