Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.
That crumpled body, his looted store, and the boy's soiled cap told old Doc Turner, guardian of Morris Street, the whole, horrible story. And with a bereaved mother's screams ringing in his ears, Doc baits a murder trap with Abie, his errand boy, and comes to grips with a fiendish, modern Fagin!
A DANK, morning chill struck through Andrew Turner's shabby coat. The old man shivered a little as his key fumbled into the lock of his ancient drugstore. It was not yet seven, but the denizens of Morris Street's drab tenements were already streaming along the sidewalk, behind him. They begin their work, these slum dwellers, before their better fed, better clothed neighbors are well awake. They are laborers, porters, charwomen toiling long hours for paltry pay...
Something hard struck Doc's thin shins as he went through the opened door! The seat edge of a chair, placed right before the entrance! He stared at it, incredulously. How had that gotten here? Surely it had been at the desk in his prescription room when he had locked up at midnight.
The white-haired druggist tensed. Familiar odors came to him; the spicy sweet redolence of a drugstore so old-fashioned that it still is a pharmacy, still has senna and colocynth and anise in its drawers, tinctures of gentian and benzoin and guiac in the bottles on its shelves. But to the flaring, blue veined nostrils above Turner's bushy mustache the atmosphere differed subtly from that which had greeted him more mornings than he could count. It was not heavy and close as it always was after undisturbed, unventilated hours. Somewhere there was an opening through which fresh air had circulated all night. An aperture that should not exist!
Doc's eyes, faded blue under silver brows, groped about the store, and wandered to the transom directly above him. It was open! It hung open, although never had he failed to close it, and against its sash's age darkened paint there glared raw, gouged wood where a jimmy had forced it wide.
Someone had come in through that transom, had fetched the chair to help him climb out again. Someone? Between the edge of the rod held leaf and the sash there was a space of only ten inches. What man could possibly have squirmed through there?
Turner's wrinkled, almost transparent, lids narrowed. He got moving, prowled between dusty, cluttered showcases to the sales counter that paralleled the store front. Went around its end; halted.
The cash register drawer jutted from its metal case, and its compartments were empty. He had left only change there, and postage stamps. Less than five dollars worth in all. No great loss. Not enough, surely, to account for the bleakness that filmed Doc's seamed face with a sickly gray, for the pain that twitched his thin lips. His acid stained fingers closed, slowly, till their nails dug into sere palms.
He wasn't looking at the robbed money-box. He was looking at the strip of splintered flooring between the counter and the partition backing it. Gaily colored, tiny egg shaped things were strewn on the worn boards. Jelly beans! Tidbits the aged pharmacist kept handy for the chattering little children of the slums who came to make their small purchases from him.
A few stray jellybeans lay there, the cardboard box, empty now, from which they had been taken—and a small cap. A pathetic, little boy's cap, stained, broken-visored, gashed by frayed-edged rents...
FOR what seemed a long time, Andrew Turner stood there, unmoving. Out of the misty past, faces formed to his inner vision. Pinched, grimy faces of youngsters born to squalor and penury. How many, how many countless thousands of them had he seen, and served, through the long years?
The faces changed, as they aged. Some became sodden with dull acceptance of defeat. Some became rounded, glowing with the immeasurable triumph of those who have climbed by sheer inner strength from the depths to a place in the sun. And others, too many, grew slinking, shifty eyed, yellow pale with the pallor that can be acquired only behind those high, gray walls whose windows and doors are closed by bars of chill steel.
They had all set out from the same starting point, the owners of those faces. Little things, unconsidered little things, had marked their courses for them. A word of encouragement, spoken at the right moment. A slap on the back. Or the tap of a policeman's hand on the shabby shoulder of a petty pilferer!
Doc Turner sighed, bent, and picked up the cap. He looked inside it. On the torn lining was that which, knowing the ways of boydom, he was sure he would find there. A name, written in the blue of a spit-wetted indelible pencil. Tony Suagno.
Doc was still in his coat and hat. He thrust the cap into a pocket, turned, and walked wearily to the front of the store. Walked out of the door and locked it behind him. The early morning customers would have to wait. Andrew Turner had more important business to attend to than the dispensing of castor oil and aspirin.
Hogbund Place bustled with pushcarts being loaded with goods for the day's selling. The end of the long block still further away from Morris Street was quieter. Andrew Turner went down creaking, rickety board steps that curved under a high, broken stepped stoop. The gloom and the garbagy smell of a tenement basement received him. Slime sucked at his fumbling shoe soles and a drain gurgled, somewhere ahead.
Doc struck a match. Its flame guttered, flickeringly illumined a wooden wall, once whitewashed. The grimy planks were broken by a skewed door on which scabrous letters spelled: Janitor. From behind it a child's high-pitched, querulous whine wailed unendingly...
TURNER knocked on the door. The child's cry shut off. Shuffling footfalls came toward the door and it opened to emit a gust of stale, garlicky cooking and the fetid miasma of living quarters where little air and less sun ever entered. A woman was framed in the doorway, bloated with the fat of much spaghetti, opulent breasted under a grimy wrapper, and pendulous chinned. A swarthy three year old peered at Doc with long lashed eyes, set limpid and black in a smudged, wee countenance. She clung to her mother's skirt with one chubby hand, clutched a ball in the other.
"Good morning, Mrs. Suagno. I'd like to talk to Tony for a minute."
The woman stared at him, as if she didn't understand. "Tony?" she mumbled.
"Tony?" Mrs. Suagno repeated. "Wachyuh want from my Tony, Doctor Turner?"
"I want to talk to him about something. Privately. Is he still asleep?"
"Asleep?" Hysteric shrillness abruptly knife edged her voice, "I don' know, Doctor Turner. I don' know is he asleep or... or..." Suddenly, horribly, the vast contours of her face quivered, broke up into writhing anguish. "I don' know where Tony is."
A small muscle twitched in Doc's cheek. "There isn't anything to worry over. But—tell me about it. Wasn't he home last night?"
"No." Mrs. Suagno's fat fingers twisted at her wrapper and pulled it out of the little one's grasp. "He not come home lasta night." The ball dropped, rolled out into the cellar. "Since his fadder die, Tony stay out late." The child squeezed between Doc's legs, toddled after the rolling toy. "But always I finda heem in bed in da morn'. Deesa morn', justa now, I no find heem."
"He's been staying out late every night. How late?"
Doc's steady, calming voice seemed partially to quiet the woman, but her eyes were still miserable. Terrified. "I don' know!" she wailed. "I so tired weeth da garbage, da scrub halls, da sweep sidewalks, weeth take care leetla Angelin', I go sleep seven 'clock, sleepa like dead.
"Tony beeg boy. Ten years. He..."
"Mamma!" Angelina's whining cry cut across her words. "Mamma. Make Tony give Gina ball."
Doc whirled. The child was a pale wraith in a far corner where a rubbish heap bulked vaguely. "Mamma Mia," she whimpered, tugging at something that, as Doc pounded up to it, was a limp, lifeless hand lolling over the edge of a broken legged couch.
"Mustn't wake Tony, my dear," the old man said, lifting the youngster in tender arms that trembled. "Come inside, and Doc will get your ball without waking brother up." He turned away, carrying Angelina to the door in the broken-walled partition. It would be easy to get the ball without waking Tony Suagno. Nothing in this world would ever wake Tony again. A single swift glance had shown Doc that. A single glance at the crushed in head of the still form that had been thrown on a pile with poverty's other pitiful debris.
In the dimness of a fetid cellar, a bereaved mother keened her sorrow...
"THE money and the stamps weren't on him, Jack." Doc prodded the edge of the sales counter with a thick thumb. "Whoever murdered him took his loot. But that wasn't why he was killed."
The terrible wrath of a good-natured man smoldered in the freckled countenance of barrel-chested, carrot haired Jack Ransom, across the counter from the old druggist. "Why then? He wasn't touched otherwise, you say. Why else should anyone want to kill the youngster?"
"Why?" Turner shrugged. "Because Tony Suagno liked jelly beans."
His words dropped into a brittle, brooding silence. The youth who had been Doc's companion in so many of his forays against the slaver mouthed coyotes who prey on the helpless poor pondered the cryptic remark. Then...
"I still don't understand."
"Tony was killed because he bent under this counter to find the candies he knew were there, and was so excited over filling his pockets with them that he didn't notice the counter edge had brushed off his cap."
"Good Lord, Doc! You're...?"
"No. I'm not senile. Listen, Jack. The boy reached the transom, going out, by climbing on the back of a chair. But there was no chair on the outside. Someone..."
"Boosted him up! A man...?"
"A man, of course, and killed him when he came out without the cap, knowing that he could be traced by it. Went all the way home with him, through the backyards, and then bashed in his skull to silence him. A ten-year old boy would talk when he was questioned. No matter how he tried to lie, the truth would be wormed out of him, and the trail would lead on to the man who lifted him through the transom and took the money he stole."
Jack's big hand fisted on the counter top till its knuckles showed white. "Good Lord, Doc," he groaned. "For five dollars! If he was caught he wouldn't get more than six months on the Island. Now he'll get the hot seat..."
"If he's caught! But there was more in it, a lot more, than just the five dollars little Tony pilfered here. Jack, we're up against as vile a menace to the welfare of the children of Morris Street as we've ever encountered. This thing last night wasn't the first burglary around here that could have been perpetrated only by a child. There have been dozens. The loot so small the police took only a perfunctory interest in them. So small that taken altogether it wouldn't pay for anyone's time and trouble and risk. There can be only one explanation."
"And that is...?"
"SOMEONE is training youngsters in the art of night- prowling, is building up a gang of small but expert thieves he plans to use in raiding richer preserves when they have been well-schooled. Somewhere along Morris Street there is a modern Fagin, Jack—a cold, calculating fiend who..."
"Ach, Meester Toiner! Izzy Fagin's a nice feller!" Abie Ginsburg, Doc's hook-nosed, curly headed errand boy had been listening, so quietly neither of the men had noticed him against the grime stiffened curtain in the archway to the prescription room. "He vouldn't do nothin' like that."
Ransom twisted to the swarthy lad. "You brat! What are you sticking your two cents in for?"
"Two cents is more dan I vould give for you, Jeck Rensom. I...!"
"Abie! Jack! Will the two of you keep quiet?" In spite of his perturbation, a faint smile quirked Doc's lips. "I wasn't thinking of the kosher butcher on the corner, Abie. Fagin is the name of a character in Dicken's Oliver Twist, and ever since that was published it's been the word for anyone who teaches crime to children. Do you understand?"
"Ach, sure. You tink dere's one from them guys around here, hah?"
"Exactly. And that Tony Suagno was one of his pupils." Doc turned back to the man. "We've got to find him, Jack. We've got to, before he ruins the lives of others. Before he kills their souls as he killed Tony's body."
"Look here, Doc. There can't be many kids that are out late at night. Suppose I snoop around, spot them and talk to them. Maybe I'll turn up a clue."
"Maybe. But it's more likely that you'll warn the man we're after and frighten him off, to start all over again in some other section like this. No. That isn't the way."
"But what is?"
"I don't know. I'm stumped. Up against a blank wall."
"Meester Toiner!" Abie's black eyes glittered with sudden excitement. "Meester Toiner. I got it an idee."
"You!" Jack snorted. "Don't make me laugh."
"What's your idea, son?" Doc forestalled the urchin's vituperative reply. "I'll listen to you."
"It's like this. Look...!" Speech poured from between the lad's thick lips. He finished...
"What do you think of it, Jack?" Doc asked.
"It's worth trying. I'll be damned if it isn't worth trying."
UNDER the many legged, gaunt skeleton of the "El" structure, Morris Street was a chaos of raucous huckster's cries, of chaffering housewives, of all the polyglot riot of the slum's Saturday night. All the neighborhood was out, alien-visaged adults, brawling youngsters, to buy and sell, to see and to be seen.
In a desolate cellar flat, two candles fluttered at the head of a tiny, white draped bier. By its side, Madelina Suagno knelt, alone with her firstborn for the last time. The morning would bring the priest and the black gloved undertaker's men to take Tony away from her forever.
The mother's hand held an image of the crucified Prince of Peace and Love. But her agonized prayer was not for the Love and Forgiveness He had preached. Dumbly she called for vengeance on him because of whom her hopes and dreams lay rigid and still within that white sided coffin.
TURNER'S drugstore bustled with activity. Package-laden, beshawled women, derby wearing swart-faced men uncomfortable in unaccustomed stiff collars, and a shining faced boy whose knickers hung low on pipe stem legs, waited for their turn. Andrew Turner deftly wrapped packages, smiled, exchanged pleasantries with his customers. There was no humor in his eyes.
The door burst open, admitted a shrill frightened cry. "Meester Toiner! Meester Toiner!" Abie, the skirts of his jacket horizontal behind him, dashed in, plunged through the startled group, darted behind the sales counter. A bearded, tan smocked peddler rushed after him, purpling the air with exotic expletives, waving a long, keen knife sticky wet with coconut milk.
The urchin clung to Doc's arm with one shaking terrified hand. "Dun't let him kill me, Meester Toiner. Dun't let him..."
"Stop there, Katz!" The old pharmacist's sharp command was like a physical blow, halting the enraged huckster in his tracks. "What do you mean by this?"
The coconut seller spluttered. Found words. "Vot I mean, you esk? Vat means he, de goniff, de t'ief?" His blade pointed across the counter at the cowering Abie. "Esk heem!"
"I'm asking you."
"You're eskink?" The man's shoulders went up, his weather reddened hands out, in the inimitable gesture of his race. "All right. I'm tellink. Dot no-good, dot momser, behind mein back he sneaks up und svipes money out from my box. Fife o'clock in de morgen I get up, all day I spit out mein lungs hollering, und in de night dot goniff shteals de few pennies I make. Out from mein babies' mouths de bread he..."
"Wait, Katz." Doc's visage was grim, dreadful, as he checked the flow of shrill accusation and turned to the errand boy. "Is this true?"
Abie backed away from his employer till the prescription room partition halted him. He stood against it, rigid, staring.
"Is it, Abie?"
"Yes!" His lips scarcely moved.
A MURMUR ran among the spectators and someone's tongue made that peculiar, chucking, "tchk, tchk, tchk!" sound with which the ghetto expresses pity, or horror, or condemnation.
"Why, Abie? Why did you do it?"
"Why?" Abie's swart visage writhed suddenly, and tears glittered in his eyes. "Why not? All mein vages you pay me I got to give to mein mudder. For meinself notting, for de movies, for kendy. De odder keeds, lots from de odder keeds, dey got. I vant too. I vant—und I take!"
"Tchk, tchk, tchk!" the chuckling sound went around through the store.
"Give Mr. Katz back what you took from him." Abie's grimy hand flung coins on the counter. The peddler snatched them up. Doc's cold, inexorable voice went on. "And now get out of here. Get out of here and don't come back."
The boy was white-faced. "You—you're firing me?"
"I'm firing you. I'm sorry for you, Abie, but I can't have a thief in this store. I've got to trust my errand boy with collections; with the valuable medicines and the narcotics in back. I've got enough on my mind without having to worry about whether those things are safe. You're through, my boy."
"T'rough, em I?" The urchin was tigrish in his sudden rage. "Because I got caught, you fire me, huh? Veil, Meester Toiner, I'm not t'rough. I loined how to be ah good drugstore boy und now I'll loin how to be ah good t'ief und not get caught. I'll findt out how, dun't be afraid!" With a sob he spun and darted away.
He was gone through the door, and the ghetto clucks were loud. The customers were impatient now, anxious to be done and to get out. They had an interesting morsel of news, something exciting to tell their friends, shopping along Morris Street. Abie Ginsburg, Doc Turner's smart little errand boy, had turned out to a good-for-nothing. Before them all he had announced his intention of being a t'ief, a gengster. De cops better look out for him, a smart boy like that would learn quickly. Another Jeemy Valentine he might be. There was something half envious in their predictions of a career of successful crime for the boy.
News travels fast on the wind of gossip. In half an hour, all the length and breadth of Morris Street had heard about it.
Andrew Turner made time to take a soiled blue carton from a shelf, the label on it saying, Nastin's Coughex, and to place it in his show window. That package of obsolete medicine was a signal. It notified Jack Ransom that he was wanted.
MIDNIGHT. Along Morris Street the huckster's shouts were replaced by the rumble of pushcart wheels as the perambulating shops rattled away to the vacant stores where they would be cached till Monday. The bright lights in Turner's drugstore were out, the door locked. But luminance outlined the curtain in the doorway to the prescription room with a yellow thread.
"It won't work, Doc." Jack Ransom held his usually booming voice to a whisper, although there was no one to overhear. "It's a nutty scheme and it ain't working."
Andrew Turner sat, small boned, feeble in the chair before his scarred roll top desk. "Abie's mother was in a half-hour ago." The glare of the single, unshaded bulb marked his face with deep, black lines. "She had heard about what happened here. She was frantic, Abie hadn't come home, hadn't gotten word to her. There were people in the store and I had to tell her I didn't know where he was and didn't care. If anything happens to him I'll never..."
A metallic shrillness sliced across his speech. Ransom whirled, started for the front. But Doc went past him, a scurrying small bundle of anxious haste. The old man was in the telephone booth, had the hard rubber receiver against his ear.
"Oy! I t'ought you'd nefer come!" The boyish voice quivered with excitement. "The telephone rang und rang..."
"Abie! Anything? Did you find out...?"
"For sure. The Boy Decatiff nefer fails. Micky Ryan ketches me on Hogbund Alley 'bout ten o'clock. Into a vestibule he pulls me und he says, 'Abie, did you mean what you said to Doc Toiner?'
"'Yeah,' I sez. 'Sure I means it. For why you esk?'
"'Because a guy I know tells me to esk you,' he says. Und I says, 'Vot for this guy he tells you to esk?' Und he says, 'Come to 246 Carter Street at a quarter past twelve und you find out. De passvord is lollifop!' So I'm goink..."
"Why didn't you phone before, Abie? It's ten past..."
"Because I knew you vould say: 'Dot's enough, Abie; go home.' Now is too late. 246 Carter Street, Meester Toiner. Lollipop. Goodbye." A click. The mocking hum of a dead wire...
"The brat!" Ransom exclaimed as Doc finished his repetition of the phone call. "I knew he'd ball things up."
"He's a child after all. Forget it. What we've got to do is to figure out how to locate the Fagin's den. That house is a five story rabbit warren and..."
"Abie gave you the password, didn't he?"
"That isn't any good to us. Can either of us pose as a youngster? Password or not, we couldn't fool his outposts."
"We can notify police and have the place surrounded. Go through every flat..."
"And find Abie with his head bashed in like Tony's? How long do you think the fellow who did that to the Suagno kid would take to guess the reason for the raid? No, Jack. It's up to us. Come on."
"To Carter Street. It's a quarter past twelve."
THE fog rolls up, at night, from the River toward which Carter Street slopes, and drowns the feeble light of wide spaced street lamps so that the two hundred block becomes a hazy, black gut. A formless, tiny shape moved slowly through the murky blur. Another materialized out of the mist.
"Hey!" a muffled, young voice said. "What yuh lookin' for?"
"Howdy, pal... It's in number 246 t'night. Fourth floor rear. Knock t'ree times. There's a new guy gonna be there so the boss says keep your mout' buttoned till he says it's okay."
"He kin count on me." It was a game, to the youngsters; a thrilling game to enliven their drab lives. Better than tag or one of cat. Better, even, than playin' hookey an' rushin' the gate at the "El" station.
The sentry drifted back into whatever covert he had appeared from. The other vanished into the mist.
"Fourth-floor, rear." Jack Ransom's voice was a breath of sound in Doc's ear. "Seems the fellow changes his meeting place every time, like a floating crap game." The two were crouched in the tunnel like cellar entrance of 246 Carter Street that they had reached through lightless backyards and a noisome basement. "Which is our good luck. What's next?"
"Try to get in without alarming them. The fire escape's the best bet, I think."
"Okay. Let's get back there to it. I'll shinny up while you wait in the yard..."
"Let's get going..."
The rusted iron ladder clung to vertical, sheer brick like a spider's web so frayed that the spinner had abandoned it. It shuddered under Jack's cautious climbing as though about to release its frail hold and crash with him into the dizzy depths. He went up, up, squirmed at last through the square hole cut in the slatted ledge of the fourth floor landing. Slid out on the cold iron and squirmed along it to a narrow, horizontal slit of yellow luminance that betrayed a room lit behind a drawn, black shade.
The window sash was not quite closed, so that Jack could not only spy but eavesdrop. The room was bare, unfurnished except for a single chair. The occupant of that chair was cloaked in a funereal robe, his face covered by a black mask through whose eye slits there flashed a cold, reptilian glitter.
Ranged in a semicircle about the masked man were eleven knickered, eager eyed boys. They ranged in age from eight to twelve. Abie was nowhere in sight.
"... No orders for the week, for a special reason." The man's voice was hollow, evidently disguised. "You will allay the suspicions of your parents by remaining home after supper and being very diligent with your homework. The period of your training is passed; you have proved your worth. You are now to begin upon our real mission. What that is, and how it is to be accomplished, I shall reveal to you at our next meeting, the time and place of which will be notified to you in the usual manner. Do you hear, Knights of the Night?"
"We hear, Prince of Midnight." The chorused response was mechanical, as though it had been given many times. "We hear and obey!"
"There is one matter more. Through sad mischance, one of our numbers passed from among us since last we met. But we have a recruit to replace him. Seneschal of the Inner Gate bring in the novice."
"I hear, Prince of Midnight," a piping voice responded. "I hear and obey!" One of the boys, a tawny haired youngster of ten, left the half circle, crossed to a closet door in the streaked wall. He twisted a key in its lock, opened it.
"Come forth, novice," he piped, pompous with dignity. "Come forth and stand before the Knights of the Night."
A FOOT fumbled over the threshold, a stockinged leg, and then Abie's gawky length appeared out of the closet, stood uncertainly before it. The urchin was blindfolded, and quite visibly he was trembling, gray pallor filming his dusky cheeks. He stumbled as the tawny haired boy led him to a spot beside the self-styled Prince of Midnight and then resumed his post in the semicircle.
"The Kid's scared," Jack thought. "Scared out of his wits."
"Knights of the Night," their leader spoke again. "Before I admit the novice who stands before you into the mysteries of our fellowship and administer to him the dread oath of fealty and of utter obedience to my commands, is there one of you who knows any reason why he shall not be so initiated? If so, speak."
There was a momentary hesitation. Then a lad with the rusty locks and the sparkling blue eyes of the Emerald Isle raised his hand, for all the world as if he were in school.
"Michael Ryan, what have you to say?"
"I gave Abie your message, Prince. An' then I shadows him like you told me to. He goes down to a pier on the River an' hides there, which is all okey-doke. But just 'bout twelve o'clock he comes out an' he goes into the Greek lunchroom on Hogbund Place an' through de window I sees him telephonin' somebody. Wuzn't that I'm de Seneskal of de Outer Gate an' had to stay downstairs till all de Knights got here, I wudda told you before."
Micky finished. There was a long silence, broken at last by the voice of the masked man. "You telephoned someone?" he purred. "Who? And what did you say to them?"
Abie's tongue licked lips suddenly livid. "My—my mudder I telephoned to. My mudder. I told her we had a prescription in de store dat I had to vait to deliver und it vould take long. She shouldn't vorry."
"You telephoned your mother...?"
"Aw, he's lyin', Prince," Little Micky interrupted. "His mudder ain't got no telephone."
The man jumped from the chair. His fingers dug into Abie's arm, and his tall, black robed form was somehow vibrant with lethal threat. But his voice was low, calm.
"Did any of you hear or see anything as you came here that made you think you were spied on? Was there anyone in the street? Anyone at all?"
No one spoke.
"Then, knights, you will file out, at once. Some of you leave by the roof, others by the front door, and others through the basement. Go out from the house one by one and scatter to your homes. And do not forget your oath of silence. Do not forget that should any of you speak a word of what happened here the dread vengeance of the hoot owl will overtake you. Do you hear?"
"We hear, Prince of Midnight. We hear, and obey." The boys broke up, started to patter from the room. Jack's hand lifted to the window sash. Froze. Let the kids get away, he thought. Doc would handle them later.
THE room was empty, except for Abie and the macabre robed figure whose prisoner he was. There was suddenly a knife in the man's hand. It was at the boy's throat.
"Whom did you telephone to? Quick, or...!"
The window smashed up. "Drop that, you!" Jack's rage thickened voice barked. "Hurt him and you get a bullet through you." He was inside the room. "Stay the way you are. If you move, I shoot."
The knife clattered to the floor. Was Jack's bluff working? The man spun and in his hand a revolver gleamed bluely. The carrot head plowed to a stop
"Kidding, huh?" the debaucher of boyhood spat. "That's the last time you'll kid anyone." The pistol hammer clicked, cocking. Orange red flame jetted from the weapon.
But Jack was unhurt. In the split-second between click and explosion, Abie had lurched against the masked man, had deflected his aim. Jack left his feet in a desperate flying tackle. The "Prince" fired again and Ransom felt red-hot lead pound into his shoulder. Jolted down, short of his mark and saw his antagonist taking aim, careful to make his next shot count for death.
Something flashed, arching over Jack, struck the black mask where the man's chest should be. It splattered into glinting fragments and showered burning liquid down. A pungent odor sliced fierce agony into Ransom's brain and a scream of pure anguish sliced the air above him. Queerly there was another figure in the room, a slight darting figure aureole with silver. A metal something pounded the floor beside Jack.
"Blind!" a choked, horrible voice screamed. "I'm blind!" Through streaming tears Ransom saw the Prince of Midnight claw at his eyes; claw the mask from his face. Doc—how could Doc be there?—snatched up the gun from the floor, brought it down with a thud on the unmasked man's skull. The fellow pounded down on Jack, pounded him into oblivion...
THERE were policemen in the room. They were taking out a man around whom a black robe still fluttered. Doc Turner was bending over Jack, and Abie hovered somewhere in the weltering maelstrom of the fume ridden room.
"Doc?" Jack gasped. "I thought I left you down in the backyard."
The old man smiled, wearily. "When did you ever know me to hang back, son? Especially when there's danger. I'll admit, though, that climb was almost too much for me. I had to rest at each landing and I only reached this one when you were already going in through the window."
"What—what was it you threw at him? Gosh, it was awful stuff!"
"Ammonia. A thin walled vial of ammonia. I put it in my pocket just as we were starting out."
"Hell, wouldn't it have been better if you'd put a gun there?"
"I would have been afraid to fire a gun at him. I might have hit you, or Abie. Besides, a bullet might have given him a death too quick and easy for him. The electric chair is his due. The chair and the months of waiting for it. We've done a good piece of work tonight. Jack. We haven't lost our touch, you and I."
"Vot about me, hah?" Abie Ginsburg protested. "Vot about Abie, de Boy Detecatiff vot nefer fails?"
TWO a.m. Beside a white draped bier, Madelina Suagno's corpulent form was a mountainous, still heap. She had fallen asleep at last. Strangely enough, the hint of a smile touched her lips that were swollen with weeping.
The candles guttered out. The smell of hot wax coiled upward and was lost in the dank basement's noisome odors that little Tony would never smell again...
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.