Chapter III. The Wolf Advises Flight.
 

The question was settled in a moment, for a key was thrust into the lock and the door swung open. The night watchman had possessed no key when at the door, for which the boy was thankful. Two persons entered and the door was closed and locked.

"Who's been here?" asked Jimmie, panting from his long climb. "We heard a voice in this corridor, and met the watchman down below. He's red-headed about something. That feller's of about as much use here as a chorus lady painted on the back drop. I told him that you'd probably gone to sleep over your work. Here, Black Bear," he continued, with a grin, "meet Mr. Wolf, otherwise Ned Nestor. You fellers get together right now."

Fremont saw a sturdy boy of little less than eighteen, a lad with a face that one would trust instinctively. His dark eyes met the blue ones of the patrol leader steadily. There was no suspicion of guilt in his manner.

Ned Nestor extended his hand frankly, his strong, clean-cut face sympathetic. Fremont grasped it eagerly, and the two stood for a moment looking into each other's eyes.

"I've brought Ned Nestor to talk it over with you," Jimmie said. "He's a good Scout, only he thinks he's a detective. He gets all the boys out of scrapes--except me, and I never get into any. That is, he gets out all the honest ones."

"Jimmie told me about the trouble here," Nestor said, "and I came to learn the exact truth from you. If you struck this man and rifled the safe, tell me so at once. There may be extenuating circumstances, you know."

"I didn't do it," Fremont broke out. "I hadn't been in the room a minute when Jimmie came in and accused me of the crime. There is some mystery about it, for no man could get into this building at night unless he was helped in, or unless he hid during the day, in which case he would be observed moving about."

Nestor smiled but made no reply.

"There has been no robbery," Fremont continued. "There are negotiable bonds on the floor by the safe, and Mr. Cameron's watch and chain and diamonds are still on him."

"Do you know," Nestor said, smiling, "that the points to which you refer are the strongest ones against you? Tell me all about it, from the moment you came into the room."

Fremont told the story as it is already known to the reader, Nestor sitting in silence with a frown of deep thought on his brows. When the recital was finished he went into the north room and stood over the unconscious man.

"Fremont! Fremont! He did it! He did it!"

Over and over again the accusing words came from the white lips. Nestor turned and looked keenly at the despairing boy at his side. Then he stooped over and examined the wound on the head.

"It is a hard proposition," he finally said. "It appears to me that his mention of your name is more like an appeal for help than an accusation, however. Jimmie," he went on, facing the boy, "you heard Fremont coming up the stairs?"

"Yes; he was whistling. He couldn't make enough noise with his feet."

"You followed him up here?"

"Yes," with a little grin.

"Why did you do that?"

"Well, I wanted to see if it was all right--his coming in here."

"Very commendable," smiled Nestor. "Do you think he would have attracted attention to himself by whistling if he had had no business here?"

"Anyway," observed Jimmie, "I followed him up. Wish I hadn't, and wish you wouldn't hop onto me so."

"Do you think he was in these room before he whistled on the stairs?" was the next question. "That is, in the rooms within a couple of hours of the time you heard him coming up the stairs?"

"No; I don't think he was. I heard him whistling down at the bottom. There was a light in this room then, and it was put out; or it might have been put out just before I heard him whistling."

"How long was he in here before you came in?" was asked.

"Oh, about half a minute, I reckon."

"Not long enough to make all this muss with the papers?"

"Of course not. He couldn't do all this in half a minute."

"Then you think that if he did this at all he did it before he whistled on the stairs. That he did it and went back, to indicate that he had just entered the building?"

"That's just it, but I'm not sayin' he did it, mind you, Ned."

"Whoever did this took plenty of time for it," said Nestor, turning to George. "Will you tell me where you spent the evening, and with whom?"

Fremont told of the meeting of the Black Bear Patrol, of the plans which had been made at the club-room, and of his parting with Frank Shaw at the corner.

"Frank will know what time it was when he left me," said the boy, hopefully, "and the taxicab driver will know what time it was when he left me at the door of the building. That ought to settle it."

"It might," was the grave reply, "if Mr. Cameron would not speak those accusing words. Your danger lies there now. For my part, I believe that, as I said before, the words are more an appeal to you for assistance than an accusation, but the police will want to arrest some one for the crime, and so they will doubtless lock you up without bail until there is a change in the injured man's condition."

"The police are dubs!" exclaimed Jimmie.

"We have to figure on the working of their alleged minds if they are," said Nestor.

Then he turned to Fremont and asked:

"You were on good terms with Mr. Cameron?"

"Yes; well, we had a few words at dinner to-night about office work. We did not quarrel, exactly, of course, but he seemed to think that I ought to pay more attention to my duties, and I told him I was studying hard, and that I was doing my best."

"Did he appear to be satisfied with the explanation?"

"Yes, sir."

"You are friendly with the other members of the family?"

"Yes, sir; though I hardly think Mrs. Cameron likes me. She thinks her husband favors me above his own sons."

"Then she would not be apt to believe you innocent of this crime if the police should arrest you? She would not come to your assistance?"

"With Mr. Cameron unconscious and likely to die--no, sir."

"There was silence for a moment, and then Fremont asked:

"Do you think they will lock me up, sir?"

"The police will want to do something at once," was the reply. "They like to make a flash, as the boys say on the Bowery."

"Suppose I send for a man high in authority, here now, and tell him the truth?" suggested Fremont. "Wouldn't I stand a better show than if the matter passed through the hands of some ambitious detective?"

"They are all ambitious," was the non-committal reply.

"You keep the whole matter out of the hands of the cops until you know just what you want to do," advised Jimmie. "I don't like the cops. They pinched me once for shootin' craps."

After further talk, Fremont decided to leave the course to be taken entirely to his new friends, and that point was considered closed. Then Nestor turned to another phase of the matter. Mr. Cameron needed immediate attention, but the office must be looked over before others were called in, so he set about it, Fremont and Jimmie looking on in wonder.

First Nestor went to the door opening into the corridor and examined every inch of the floor and rug until he came to the front of the safe. Then he went through the big desk, carefully, and patiently. Three or four times the boys saw him lift something from the floor, or from the desk, and place it in a pocket. He spent a long time over a packet of papers which he took from a drawer of the desk.

One of the papers he copied while the boys looked on, wondering what he was about, and from another he cut a corner. This scrap he wrapped in clean paper and placed in his pocketbook. During part of the time spent in the investigation Fremont sat by the side of the unconscious man in the north room.

"Now, asked Nestor, presently, "do you know what business brought Mr. Cameron to his office to-night?"

"Yes; he was closing up the Tolford estate."

"He asked you to come and go home with him?"

"That is the fact, but how did you know it?"

"Because he was timid about being here alone?" asked Nestor, ignoring the question.

"Yes, I think so. He was always nervous when dealing with the Tolford heirs. I believe they threatened him. He brought his gun with him to-night. You will find it in a drawer of the desk if the assassin did not take it."

"Where were the Tolford papers usually kept?"

"At the deposit vaults. I brought them over this afternoon."

"See if you can find them now."

Fremont went to the safe and then to the desk, from which he took the packet of papers he had previously seen Nestor examining. It was a sheet from this packet that the Wolf Patrol leader had copied. He passed the large envelope containing the papers over to the other.

"What occurred when these papers were last left in this office over night?" Nestor asked, and Fremont, a sudden recollection stirred by the question, replied that there had been an attempt at burglary the last time the Tolford estate papers were left there at night.

Nestor smiled at the startled face of the boy as he related the occurrence, but made no comment. He was examining a bundle of letters at the time, and ended by putting them into a pocket as if to carry them away with him.

"They concern a proposed transaction in firearms and ammunition," the patrol leader said, in answer to Fremont's inquiring look.

"Now, it appears to me," Nestor said, after concluding his examination of the suite, "that you ought to keep out of the hands of the police until this affair can be thoroughly looked into. Nothing can prevent your arrest if you remain here. What about the proposed Black Bear Patrol trip down the Rio Grande and over into Mexico?"

"I wouldn't like to run away," Fremont replied. "That would show guilt and cowardice. I'd much rather remain here and take what comes."

"If you are arrested," the patrol leader went on, "the police, instead of doing honest work in unraveling the mystery, will bend every effort to convict you. They will not consider any theory other than your guilt. Every scrap of evidence will be twisted and turned into proof against you, and in the meantime the real criminal may escape. It is a way the police have."

"It seems like a confession of guilt to run away," Fremont said.

"Another thing," Nestor went on, "is this. I have made a discovery here--a very startling discovery--which points to Mexico as my field of operations. I cannot tell you now anything more about this discovery, except that it is a most important one. I might hide you away in New York where the police would never find you, but you would enjoy the trip to Mexico, and I want you with me."

"Mexico!" cried Jimmie. "I'll go with you, Mr. Nestor. A houseboat on the Rio Grande. Well!"

"Have you money enough for the trip?" asked Nestor of Fremont, not replying to the generous offer of the boy.

"I have about $300 which Mr. Cameron gave me yesterday for my Spring outfit," was the reply. "He was very generous with me."

"That will pay the bills until I can get some money," Nestor said, "so we may as well consider the matter settled. This business I am going to Mexico on will pay me well, and I will share the expense of the trip with you."

"Not if you go to protect me," Fremont replied.

"Not entirely to protect you," Nestor answered, "although I believe that the solution to this mystery will be found on the other side of, the Rio Grande."

"It seems strange that the Rio Grande should mix in every situation which confronts me to-night," Fremont said. "What can the affairs of turbulent Mexico have to do with the cowardly crime which has been committed here to-night?"