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CHAPTER ONE BIG JOE, the tiger cat, poised for another playful spring at the tangle of cod line Asey Mayo was patiently unwinding in the woodshed of his Cape Cod home, abruptly changed his mind in mid - air.

But Joe continued to crouch by the door and snarl, and suddenly Asey heard the unmistakable sounds of the dining - room entry floor boards creaking.

Because the Nickersons, farther along the lane, were expecting an insurance adjuster to call about their boathouse fire, Asey had mentally dismissed the man as the awaited adjuster.

Just, Asey thought, as if she had no business being in the kitchen, and rather suspected a King Cobra to be lurking in a corner, to boot.

Joe relaxed and focused his yellow eyes questioningly on Asey, who shrugged.

She replaced the receiver, picked up her capacious knitting bag, gave her hat brim a final pat in front of the mirror, and swung the wooden shed door to without noticing Asey standing outside.

At the foot of the lane, Asey slowed down before swinging on to the main tarred road, and then he put on the hand brake and got out of the car.

Gardner Alden from trying to get what he wants anyway - I tell you, Asey, he tried to bribe me!

That one went out farther into the water, beyond the lily pads, and Asey heard her grunt of satisfaction.

Dorking might have an oversized nose and a slight squint, but he had a pleasant voice, Asey thought.

Twenty minutes later, Asey managed to find a key that turned the lock.

It contained the body of a small, white - haired woman, and Asey found his eyes focused on the handle of a knife protruding from the region of her heart.

While it was a logical enough question, Asey thought, he personally was far more interested in the next step - the problem of who had put her into the chest.

Sharp had seemed far more perturbed over the possibility that he might have sold the chest with the body in it, Asey decided, than the fact that the body was in tho chest at all.

Not much before three, not much after five - Asey, how in hell did she turn up there in that locked chest?