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ARTHUR LEO ZAGAT

POLITICAL PLUNDER PAY-OFF

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A DOC TURNER STORY


First published in The Spider, November 1936

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2018
Version Date: 2018-03-21
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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The Spider, November 1936, with "Political Plunder Pay-Off"



Doc Turner believed that ballots and not bullets should rule the destinies of the downtrodden immigrants he had taken under his protective wing—but Doc was ready to meet crooked politicians at their own game!



A LURID light wavered through the big plate- glass windows of the dusty drugstore on Morris Street. It tinged the dingy, once-white fixtures with a flickering, scarlet glow and lent unaccustomed color to Andrew Turner's wrinkled countenance, painting his white hair, his bushy mustache, with fitful red.

There was a prescription slip in the old pharmacist's gnarled, almost transparent hand, but he made no move to go back through the curtained entrance to his back room to compound it. He stood quite still; a frail, faded figure behind the sales counter at the store's rear, and gazed out through the open front door with a faint smile edging his thin lips.

There was pride in that smile. There was pride in Doc Turner's eyes of faded blue. There was love in them too, the wistful love of a lonely old man for a winsome maid who was the living, warm souvenir of an ancient heartbreak long buried in the mist of might-have-been.

He could see her, over the heads of a crowd close-packed on the corner sidewalk outside. She seemed somehow ethereal in the crimson flare of campaign torches lashed to the sides of the banner-bedecked moving van on whose tail-board she stood.

"You're going to vote for a President next Tuesday," Ann Fawley's clear accents rang out. "You're going to vote for a Governor. Those are big offices, important offices, and I hope you will think carefully about them. But you're going to vote for candidates for another office too, a dinky little office way down at the bottom of the ballot. And that one is just as important, maybe more important, to you."

They were of the very poor, those who listened to that speech.

"The Judge of the Small Claims Court," Ann spoke, "is just a little judge. The wealthy people over on Garden Avenue never even heard of his court. But it is to that court we on Morris Street must look for protection against the wolves who prey on the poor. Against the installment racketeers, and the loan sharks, and the grasping landlords who take your money for insect-infested, filthy flats whose toilets are in the halls. We can't afford lawyers. We must depend on the man who sits on that court's bench for justice. If he isn't honest..."

"What's de matter wid Jedge Corbin?" a raucous voice bawled from somewhere on the outskirts of the crowd. "Ain't he honest?"

Ann twisted to the heckler. "No," she cried. "He's owned body and soul by Leader Lasding, and Fat Tom Lasding sells Corbin's decisions to the highest bidder."

"You're a liar," a yell came from the other side of the throng, "you—"

The obscene epithet evoked a gasp from the crowd. Doc went white with fury. But before he could get around the end of the sales counter, a carrot-haired youth lurched out of the truck's interior to the girl's side.

"Who said that?" Jack Ransom roared. "Who...?"

"I did," the unseen insulter bawled. "Want ter make somethin' outta it?"


"FIGHT!" an excited urchin squealed.

"Fight!" Fifty voices took up the cry. Ransom jumped down, splitting the throng with his burly shoulders. Running across the floor, Doc saw the crowd surge avidly toward the impending battle.

The movement of the crowd left an open space in front of the store door in which a third, unregarded man lifted a flailing arm to hurl something at Ann Fawley.

Only the feeble old druggist saw that, and the appalling realization flashed to him that the heckling interruptions, the forced brawl, were being staged to give opportunity for this one thing. There was no time to yell a warning, nor would it be heard above the mob's excited shouts. His old muscles, lent a fleeting instant of explosive power by the stark knowledge that only he could save Ann, fairly catapulted him to and through the door. The edge of his bony hand chopped the man's bulging biceps, jolted the round projectile from the fingers that had not quite loosed it.

A bestial countenance spun to Doc, its cracked lips snarled back from rotted, foul fangs. Red-rimmed, piglike eyes glared into his—and calloused, numbing knuckles smashed into his face.

The blow pounded the little old man back against the corner of the window frame, pounded whirling, black vertigo into his reeling skull.

Almost at once his vision cleared. The fellow who had struck him was gone. One or two of those on the fringe of the crowd were turning, as if they had just become aware something had happened behind them, and a mangy dog was sniffing at a spattered lump of pulp on the sidewalk at his feet.

It was an orange. It was only a rotted orange, and he... The cur flung itself backward, emitting a shrill, staccato series of agonized yelps! It was clawing at its nose, was twisting its body in writhing torture.

Doc was down on his knees, was peering at the orange. His silver head bent to it, but he was careful not to touch it. Almost unnoticeable against the bright red-yellow of the fruit, he made out a dusting of yellow powder.

"Dad!" a lilting, fresh voice exclaimed, edged with fright. "Dad Turner! What happened? Are you hurt?" A light hand touched his shoulder.

"Nothing." Doc's reply was calm, steady. "It's just that someone was about to throw this rotten orange at you, and I knocked it from his hand." He scrambled erect, straddling over the smashed orange to keep anyone from touching it. "Where's Jack?"

"Right here, Doc." The burly garage man, who had been Doc's companion on many a foray against the enemies of Morris Street's helpless denizens, pushed through the crowd. "The sonuvagun beat it when he saw I meant bus—"

"Jack!" the old man interrupted. "Take Ann home and make her stay there."

"I won't go home," the girl blurted. "I'm going to Hogbund Place."


THE corner of Doc's mouth twitched. "You've been having so much fun that I haven't wanted to hurt you by telling you how little good your speechmaking does. But now that Lasding's thugs have opened up... Ann, dear, right in my store here I have swung a hundred votes to Al Taylor for every one you've influenced."

"Of course you have. With your marvelous influence over these people you've made the election a fight instead of the usual machine runaway. But my few votes may be just the ones to decide it." She was terribly in earnest. "I can wash off the garbage, but I can't—"

"You would not have been able to wash off this garbage, Ann." A quick glance showed Doc that the crowd's attention was focused on the dog, whose gyrations had carried it to the gutter. His voice dropped low. "If it had hit you, and only a drop of its juice had spurted into your eyes, you would be in the dark now. You would be blind!"

The eyes of which he spoke widened till they stared at him in horror. Ann's white throat worked, but her suddenly pallid lips made no sound.

It was Jack who exclaimed, "What do you mean? What's in it?"

"Cantharides, son." The old man pointed a shaking forefinger down at the spattered fruit as he whispered the word. "It's filled with powdered cantharides, stuff that's as biting, as corrosive to the delicate membranes of the eye as any acid. And it can't be neutralized, as an acid might be."

The blood drained from Jack's bronzed countenance.

"No," Ann Fawley whimpered. "No one could be so—fiendish."

"Listen to that dog howl, if you doubt me. He sniffed only a little of the stuff into his nose. Fat Tom Lasding is desperate. He thought Taylor's candidacy was a joke, but he's afraid now his candidate will be licked, and he'll stop at nothing to prevent that."

"You said my speechmaking wasn't doing any good. If that's so, why should he have me attacked?"

"Because it was the easiest way to get at me."

"Ann!" Jack's spatulate fingers closed on the girl's arm. "Come on. You're going home, quick as I can take you."

"No!" She wrenched away from him, her eyes blazing. "That's just what Lasding wants." Her little chin thrust out, tiny but square and determined as Jack's own. "In spite of what Dad says, Fat Tom is afraid of me. He wants to silence me. But he won't." She twisted and sprang, gracefully as a bird, to the van's tail-board, whose torches had burned out. "Drive to Hogbund Place, Charley," she called. "Hurry. We're late."

The truck roared into motion, lurching away from the curb. Ransom sprinted, swung himself up to its rear.

Doc Turner was left alone on the sidewalk.

After a while he remembered the prescription in his hand, and the sick woman who waited for it. He picked up a thin board from an egg crate, scraped up the lethal orange. Then he went slowly back into the store with it. Jack was warned now, Doc was trying to reassure himself. Jack would be on the watch, he wouldn't let anything happen to Ann.


"YOU'RE a little fool," Jack Ransom grated, inside the van. "You may be a school teacher, but you haven't got sense enough to be scared when Fat Tom Lasding is gunning for you."

"I am afraid." Ann was braced back against the padded side of the truck. "I'm deathly afraid. But that isn't stopping me from doing what I can for these poor people. Both you and Dad Turner have told me how often you have been afraid, fighting against some crooks the police wouldn't bother with because it was only foreigners they were robbing. Being afraid didn't stop you, but just because I'm a girl—"

"And as sweet and brave a one as ever lived." Jack's arm swept out, swept her to him in its muscled curve. "God! If anything should happen to you—!" His lips sought hers.

She thrust little fists against his chest, threw her head back. "Jack! We should have turned at that corner. Charley's probably so excited he didn't notice it."

"And he's going like a bat out of hell. We'll get a ticket before you know it, and that will be meat for Lasding." Jack tapped on a little diamond-shaped window cut through the quilted front wall of the van.

There wasn't any slowing in the truck's speed.

Ransom turned, a tiny muscle beating in his cheek. "Ann," he said quietly. "That isn't Charley out there. It's the thug who ran before I could knock his foul tongue down his throat."

The girl's hand went to her lips, palm out, but her voice was steady as Jack's own. "He took our driver's place while we were talking to Doc. He's carrying us off somewhere. We're going too fast to jump."

"Wait!" Jack brushed past her, diving for the tail-board. He twisted as he reached it, jumped. His hands closed on the rocking top of the van. He started to chin himself up, so that he might crawl along the truck roof and drop down on the kidnapper...

A klaxon was raucous, behind him. Someone shouted. The sounds pulled Jack's head around.

And he hung, full length from his hand-hold, cold chills chasing one another up and down his spine. Then dropped to the tail-board, wheeled, held to an iron cleat to which was lashed the burned-out stick of a red-fire torch, and stared at a dark sedan that ran close behind.

Jack couldn't make out the face of the black car's chauffeur, or that of the man beside him, because their broad-brimmed hats were pulled down over their brows, and their coat collars were turned up to hide their mouths. But he could discern, with dreadful clearness, the mouth of a tommy-gun barrel that poked under the raised windshield and snouted point-blank at him.

The sidewalks of Morris Street were crowded with a polyglot, chattering throng, were lined with pushcarts. There were a hundred people within reach of his voice. But Jack dared not call to them. He dared do nothing but hang there; his mouth opening and closing, opening and closing; fear a black surge in his veins.

Fear... not for himself, but for the girl he loved. For he knew, as surely as he knew his own name, that at the first sound from him a hail of withering lead would pour into the open end of the van, slicing her lovely young body to ribbons.

The truck slewed around a corner. It was running down a dimly- lighted, tenement-walled street toward the riverfront, where there were abandoned warehouses into which no one ever went. Anything could happen there.

The sedan's headlights blinked out. But Ransom could still see it, a black, ominous shape following the lurching van. He could hear the thrum of its powerful motor, the hiss of its tires...


THE prescription was finished. Andrew Turner polished the last gleaming pilule with a sterile towel. He reached for a blank label...

A telephone bell rang from the booth outside. The metallic scream cut through Doc. He was trembling as he started for the front, his scalp an icy, prickling cap for his skull. It might be a request to call some neighbor to the telephone. It might be a wrong number. But he knew, somehow, that it was neither.

"Turner's Pharmacy," he said.

"Tom Lasding calling, Doc." The voice in his ear was oily. "Can you spare a minute to listen to me?" Mockery tainted the speaker's suave courtesy. "I've been wanting to get there to see you, but I've been so busy with this election—"

"What is it you want?"

"Nothing much. Only to ask you to tell the nuts who listen to you to vote for Corbin."

Fingers of dread closed on Turner's heart. The machine doesn't pick fools for its district leaders. Lasding was not making the astounding request unless he had good reason to expect it would he granted. There was only one thing that possibly could give him that reason.

But all Doc said, very quietly, was: "You know the answer to that, Lasding."

The other man chuckled. "Yes. I know the answer. But you don't. Not yet."

"What do you mean?"

"Simply that your friends, Miss Fawley and Mr. Ransom, have temporarily lost interest in politics, and in everything else except their own—er—health. Surprising, isn't it? But that's what the physicians at the sanitarium to which they have just been admitted tell me. If I get that promise, and Corbin wins, I am informed that the young people will be able to leave the sanitarium at once."

There it was, discreet in words whose meaning was clear, too clear. Ann and Jack were prisoners. If Turner gave Lasding the promise he demanded, and Corbin won, they would be released. If he refused, or if the boss's candidate was defeated, they would be killed.

Doc could throw the election either way. In the two remaining days he could influence enough votes to determine whether the two who were dear to him as the children he had never had should live or die.

And whether the people of Morris Street, whose welfare had been his concern for more years than he cared to remember, should continue to be exploited by a venal judge and a rapacious politician whose graft was so great he had resorted to kidnapping and the threat of murder to protect it.

"How about it? What's the answer?"

"The—the answer—"

Doc's voice was suddenly the quavering, thin jibber of an old and broken man. "I—I've got to think. I—"

"Snap to it." The smoothness was gone from the other's accents. "There's someone waiting to see me. I haven't got time to..."

"Let me—let me come over and see you. I'll think it over on the way."

"I don't see why—All right. Come on." A click, and the wire was dead.

Doc half-fell out of the booth. For a moment he stood swaying in the center of the threadbare linoleum flooring that had been worn thin by thousands of shuffling, broken-shoed feet; his wrinkled countenance flabby, loose, senile.

Then, quite suddenly, he straightened. His face firmed.


DOC TURNER, more feeble-appearing than ever in a shabby overcoat that hung loosely from his stooped shoulders and flapped grotesquely against his scrawny legs, shambled up the steps of a high brownstone stoop.

There was a huge canvas sign over the door. Immense letters screamed:


KEEP A GOOD JUDGE ON THE BENCH

P. Xavier Corbin
for
Judge of Small Claims Court

"The Poor Man's Friend"

MORRIS STREET POLICRATIC CLUB

Thomas Lasding
Executive Member


LIGHT glared from a high, unshaded window. Doc saw men, many men, within. They were heavy-jowled, burly. Their eyes were slits, greedy, cruel.

The old pharmacist pushed open a heavy door whose unoiled hinges squeaked. He shuffled wearily into a vestibule hazy with smoke from the big, crowded room he could see through a wide archway to his left.

"Waddaya want?" The man who growled the question was in shirtsleeves, but a black derby clung to the back of his bullet head by virtue of the strange adhesive quality only the hats of political heelers possess. A deputy sheriff's badge was pinned to his crimson suspenders, and his hip-pocket bulged significantly.

"I'd like to speak with Mr. Lasding," Doc replied mildly. "I—He expects me. Mr. Turner."

"Yeah," the fellow grunted. "I know." One corner of his upper lip lifted, exposing three wide-spaced, saffron tooth-stumps. "Tom said ye'd be along." He might have been attempting a smile, but what he achieved was a gloating, triumphant sneer. "Upstairs. Second door t'yer right."

Doc nodded, ambled toward the stairs. Hands jerked his coat open, thumbed his pants, went up along his sides with firm, probing pressure, jabbed into his armpits. The frisking was done neatly, swiftly.

"Okay." The snag-toothed man grinned his twisted grin. "Some guys gets ideas, an' Tom don't like us to take no chances."

The upper floor was dim, its atmosphere heavy with dust and the aroma of flavored alcohol. Four closed doors broke its painted wall. Through three of them there came the muffled click of poker chips, the riffle of an expertly shuffled deck, but the second door to Turner's right was silent till he knocked timidly on it.

"Come," wheezed from behind it then.

Lasding's swivel chair was shoved a foot back from his desk to make room for his paunch.

A blued automatic lay on the desk's glass top. The district leader's hand was a shapeless lump of dough beside it.

"Took you long enough to get here," Lasding squeezed out. "Sit down."


DOC perched himself on the edge of an armless chair that was placed squarely in front of the desk. His hat dropped from nerveless fingers. He bent, fumbled for it, shoved it on the desk. Its brim touched an inkwell, so that it was canted a little up from the glass desk top.

"I had to lock up the store," he quavered, "and deliver a prescription on the way."

Lasding's faint tracings of eyebrows arched. "Didn't do you any good yelling to the cops for help, did it?"

Turner shook his head.

"That was smart. Well, are you smart enough to admit you're licked? Are you going to start talking it up for Corbin?"

Stark tragedy stared out of the old man's face. "You're asking me to betray those who trust me. You're asking me to take the food out of the mouths of starving children, the clothes off their backs. I—"

"Stop it. You'll have me ringing for a crying towel in a minute." Lasding's smile at his own puerile jest was a loathsome, cruel grimace. "Except that I listen to that sort of thing all day. Let's talk business. You know the proposition. It's take orders, or else—"

He sniffed. "Say! There's a funny smell in here. Get it?"

Doc smiled, humorlessly, deprecatingly. "I just came from the drugstore, you know. I may have spilled something on myself."

"I always said you stank," Lasding remarked, pleasantly. "What—"

He wheezed, hawked to clear his throat. "What's it going to be?"

Turner leaned forward a little, his gaze, curiously enough, on the tips of the politician's fingers. "Let me see if I understand you," he said, slowly. "You are holding Ann Fawley and Jack Ransom prisoners. They will be unhurt if I promise you to work for Judge Corbin's election. If he wins you will release them. Is that it?"

Lasding's lips writhed, but only a rasping wheeze came from them. They were suddenly blue. The fingertips of the hands that jerked to his throat were blue.

Doc jumped up. He reached out, snatched up the blue-barreled pistol, thrust it into his pocket.

"No." His voice was suddenly firm, suddenly triumphant. "I'll answer for you, because you can't talk. Because death is choking you, Tom Lasding, squeezing your windpipe and your heart. Death"—he jerked his hat aside from its resting place—"that I've brought you, and that only I can save you from!"

Where the hat had been were splinters of thin glass, and a film of moisture that was rapidly evaporating.

"You can hardly breathe," the old man went on. "Your pulse is slowing. It'll stop in five minutes, Lasding, unless I break this." He showed a small, hollow glass bead in his fingers, a liquid glinting within it. "This is an ampule of amyl nitrate, Lasding. A whiff of it will counteract the hydrocyanic acid gas you inhaled while I kept you talking, that was too weak to affect me, but strong enough to knock you out, with your heart and your lungs that have been overloaded and weakened for years. I hold your life in my hands, for four minutes from now. After that even I shall be able to do nothing for you.

"But I won't let you smell life in here. I'll give it to you in the cab we've just got time to hail, in the four minutes that are left, out there on the sidewalk. The cab that's going to take us to where you've cached my two young friends. Come on."

There wasn't any question in Doc's tone of whether Lasding would go with him. And there did not have to be. Fat Tom, wheezing, gasping, moved to the door.

"Remember," Turner whispered, just as they reached it, "if anybody stops us I break the ampule in my pocket. By the time another can be obtained you won't need it anymore. You'll be dead. Put your arm around my shoulder, as if we were the best of friends."


THEY went down the stairs together that way. Curious glances were thrown at them through the archway. The deputy sheriff of the trick derby started toward them. Doc grunted, and Lasding managed to wave him back. They were out on the sidewalk. The wheezing, shaking fat man scrambled into a cruising taxi Lasding hailed, the druggist after him.

"Down Morris Street in a hurry," the old pharmacist snapped. "Step on the gas."

The hack lurched into jolting motion. Lasding was a huge quiver of fear and suffering, his vast body jittering like so much congealed gelatin. His hand tapped spasmodically on Doc's knee.

The old man's hands dove into his pockets. The right came out with the politician's gun, the left with the amyl nitrate ampule. The first Turner poked into Lasding's side; the second he crushed under the tortured man's nose. A pungent, sharp odor stung Doc's nostrils.

Fat Tom pulled in a long, quivering breath. Another. His frantic contortions subsided. His terrible wheezing stopped.

"Behave," Doc muttered, "or you'll get lead in your liver. Where shall I tell him to go?"

"Foot of Hallam Street," Lasding gasped. "You devil! The old ferry house—"

The ancient pharmacist, somehow not so old nor so feeble- seeming any longer, relayed the direction. Then he spoke again to his captive.

"I'm slipping the gun back in my pocket," he said. "But my hand's staying with it, and my fingers on the trigger. It will jerk if you try any tricks, and that will be death for you. Real death, this time, not the death-bluff that you were afraid of. That was only caused by the valerianated ammonia fumes from the ampule I broke under my hat. The effects of that would have worn off in five minutes."

"You devil," Lasding groaned.

Doc smiled. "To use your own effective phrasing," he mocked, "you'll obey orders from now on—or else."

The taxi was skidding to a stop in a wide, cobbled waterfront street.

"Get out first," Doc muttered, "and pay him."

Lasding obeyed. The hack made a squealing turn, roared back up the sloping street toward the more productive cruising ground of Garden Avenue. Fog rolled up from the river, foul with the stench of oil, of floating garbage, of dead fish. The gaunt, dilapidated facade of an abandoned ferry house loomed high and murky over the two men.

"You'll give whatever signal you've arranged to the men inside, and we'll walk in there as nice and friendly as we walked out of your club. You'll tell them to release Ann and Jack, and you'll make sure they don't suspect anything queer. Remember, whatever happens, the first bullet out of my gun is for you, and I'll be close enough not to miss. Understand?"

"Yes," Lasding breathed. "Come on and get it over with—"


A HIGH board fence had been erected all across the front of the structure that had been rendered obsolete by the opening of a nearby bridge. But there was a small door in the weathered partition. The politician got to that, rapped on it with his knuckles, once, twice, one again.

After a minute footfalls thudded inside. The door moved. A black slit grew along its edge.

"It's all right, Carl. It's me. Let us in."

"Gee!" a coarse voice exclaimed. "Th' Chief." The door pulled fully open. Then Lasding went in, with Doc close behind him, and the door creaked shut again, closing out all light.

Turner pressed close to his captive, nudged his corpulent side with the nose of the automatic. The darkness thumbed his eyes.

"What's up?" the invisible guard queried. "Trouble?"

"No," Lasding wheezed. "Everything's fixed up and we're going to let your prisoners go. Where are they?"

"Tied up in the ticket booth back there. I can't show a light here, there's knotholes in them boards. Ketch hold of me an' I'll show yuh the way."

Doc didn't like the blackness. Anything might happen. "There isn't anything to worry about anymore," he said. "Tell your man to light up."

"That's right, Carl," Fat Tom replied. "Use that flash I gave you when you were starting out tonight."

"Huh?" the fellow grunted. "Oh! I get—"

Something whirred, abruptly. Doc jumped sidewise from the sound, took a terrific blackjack blow on the shoulder. It sent him flying. He hit the floor, rolled, brought up against vertical, immovable boards.

And then the hoarse voice croaked. "I think I got him first crack, boss. I tumbled quick, didn't I? I knowed yuh didn't give me no flash, but yuh give me dis skull-cracker an'—"

Doc's gun jumped in his hand, firing at sound. The flash lit the place momentarily, showed him the rows of parallel benches. He had shot at one of them, had hit nothing but old wood.

And then orange-red jets were streaking the darkness, gun shots echoing reverberatingly in the high-ceiled, empty hall. The old man's shot had betrayed him to the enemy. Carl was blasting back at him.

Doc was moving, was slithering toward the back of the room, toward the ticket booth where Ann and Jack lay bound. He had heard a wheezing breath in that direction that told him where Lasding was. There could be only one reason why Fat Tom was seeking the prisoners. There were to be no witnesses left alive of the murder in the ferry house.

Bullets smashed into the bench above Turner. A bullet plucked at his sleeve.

The old man blundered into a wall; felt stone facing, the jutting little shelf of a ticket window. Which way was the door to the space behind the wicket? Which way was Lasding?

The rasp of metal on metal, of a doorknob turning in its rusted socket, answered him. He whipped around, blasted lead toward it, blasted again.

A scream, a ponderous thud, told him he had not missed.

Carl cursed, but another gun-flash showed that he had only been winged. Turner pulled his trigger. The automatic clicked, futilely, appallingly. Its magazine had not been full, Doc realized despairingly. He was weaponless now, helpless.


HE flattened himself against the wall, waiting for the shot that would end him. He could hear Carl's hoarse breathing, somewhere in the sightless dark. But the thug wasn't shooting.

Of course, he too had heard that click. He knew that it was safe now to make a light, to spot the druggist and bring him down. There was nothing for Turner to do now. Nothing but stay there and wait for death.

A second like that drags itself out to infinity. But it ends. This one ended in the crackle of a match, in a flickering flame that flowered not five feet away to cast a fitful luminance on a bristle-jawed, simian-browed countenance; on a hand that lifted a nickel-plated, thick-barreled revolver slowly, carefully, to bear point-blank on a tired old man who had fought long and fiercely for those he loved, and in the end was beaten.

Now! Now the orifice at the end of that barrel was a black eye staring at him. Now it was coming. Doc saw Carl's knuckles whiten with pressure.

And saw something catapult down from overhead to smash the killer to the floor. The match went out. A grunting, growling struggle made the darkness hideous. Bones crunched under pile- driver blows.

Then silence.

Only for an instant. "Doc?" Jack Ransom's voice came out of the fearful murk. "Doc! Are you all right?"

"Yes, son. Yes."

The splutter of a match dissipated the gloom once more. This time it was in Jack's hand. He was seated on the floor, beside the crumpled body of Lasding's henchman.

"Where did you come from?" Doc asked huskily. "How did you—?"

"I had the ropes they tied me with loosened," Jack explained. "But I didn't dare get rid of them altogether while this thug sat watching me. When you knocked, he put out the light and went out. It took me a couple minutes more to get free. By that time all hell had broken loose in here. I climbed up on the ticket- seller's shelf, climbed to the top of the partition, just over you there, and saw this guy just ready to take a potshot at you. I jumped—that's all there was to that."

"Ann?"

"She's all right. She's back there, a little uncomfortable, but unhurt. I guess she'll stay out of politics now."

"Guess again," a fresh, young voice rang out from behind the half-wall against which Doc Turner still leaned. "I'll be at the polls bright and early Tuesday morning, watching the votes roll in for Al Taylor."

Ransom grimaced. "She's got the gag off," he remarked. "And she's started talking again. Gee, Doc, you don't know how nice it was, being near the girl you love and yet not having to hear her chatter, chatter all the time."


THE END