Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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To Morris Street it was a bus accident, but to Doc Turner, grey old champion of the toiling poor, the death of Mamie Lissano was cold-blooded, calculated murder. He had just one chance to beat the killer—by offering himself as a target for the garrote of greed...
IT happened abruptly and without warning of any kind. One moment, late that summer Saturday afternoon, Morris Street was the usual tumultuous, tawdry artery of a slum neighborhood. An instant later the raucous cries of its pushcart peddlers, the polyglot chatter of its shifting, alien throngs, were overwhelmed by the crash of splintering wood, the shriek of tortured metal and screams shrill with terror and sudden agony.
There had been a twinkle in Andrew Turner's faded old eyes, a smile on the thin lips under his bushy white mustache, when the roar of the crowded bus's motor and the happy songs of its occupants had reached him. At the door of his ancient drugstore for a breath of air, he had heard an outburst of cheers and singing, had seen the crowded vehicle surging toward him under the sprawling "El", had made out the scarlet letters emblazoning a white banner that fluttered:
EMPLOYEES OF SUPERCLEAN
LAUNDRY ANNUAL OUTING
"They're tired and sweating from the long ride, Jack," he said to the barrel-chested, carrot-topped youth who had come to the pharmacy entrance with him, "but those girls have had a grand day on the beach. They've bathed in water still tingling with the tang of the open sea. They've picnicked on white sand in the sun and they've breathed air untainted by the rancid smell of unwashed clothing or the acrid sting of bleaching compounds. They've..."
"Look!" Jack Ransom exclaimed, interrupting. "That right front wheel. It's...!"
He didn't finish. He didn't have to finish. The huge wheel fairly leaped away from its hub, crashed into the foundation of an "El" pillar, rebounded. The axle end that it deserted instantly pounded the cobbles, whitened a long furrow, its steel end fraying. The pillar smashed the careening bus side, smashed the human bodies behind it. Window glass shattered into a myriad, pointed, gleaming stiletto points gashing human flesh.
Jack and Doc Turner were perhaps the only ones to see exactly what occurred. But all Morris Street saw the broken-backed bus sinking against the undisturbed steel column in a spray of its own splinters.
As if the catastrophe were a magnet and they were scattered steel filings, all the swart, alien denizens of Morris Street leaped at once into motion toward that common point, shouting in a dozen strange languages, screaming in response to the horrid cacophony of screams, of high-pitched yells wrung by terror and torture out of the inchoate jumble there in the shadow of the "El".
In the mad rush a vegetable cart was overturned, its load pouring across the gutter. The pallid white of celery, the vivid scarlet of radishes flashed against the damp-black cobbles and were trampled at once into pulped garbage. But more pallidly white were the frantic faces screaming from the jagged windows of the smashed bus; the arms writhing out of those serrated openings; the fingers clutching at the shattered sills; and more vividly crimson too, with spurting blood.
"The door's against that pillar," Doc gasped, his slender, frail-seeming form darting ahead of the converging mob. "They can't get out."
"They—Look!" Jack, pounding alongside of him, flung out a hand in horror, pointing to the rear of the bus, to tiny blue flowers blossoming there in the dimness; wee flowers that flickered and danced. "The gas tank's ripped! It's caught fire!" His heels dug into the stones, braking his impetuous rush.
"Ai!" a woman shrilled. "Loog oudt!" someone shouted. "Kip beck, kip avay," another panic-stricken yell roared, "eet's goink to explode."
As if that explosion already blasted them, the crowd's motion reversed. Frenzied, fleeing bodies hurtled away from those dancing, ominous small flames, leaving the bus's penned-in occupants to the inescapable holocaust, seeking safety only for themselves. In an eye-blink of time there was a cleared, empty space around the wreck...
NOT entirely empty! A single frail, white-maned form still darted across the cobbles, old legs blurred by the swiftness of their scissoring. "Doc!" Jack Ransom shouted, aghast. "Doc!" His big hand snatched for Turner's shoulder, missed. "You'll be killed!"
Doc reached the rear of the bus. His age-gnarled hands sliced along the crack at the top of the gas-tank whence that shimmer of blue jetted, sliced along the rift, and scooped the flames from it. They were gone. There would be no explosion on Morris Street to spray the girls of the Superclean Laundry with a fiery death.
A moment of gasping silence, while the dull-minded crowds slowly grasped the fact that once more the old pharmacist had dared greatly for the poor he had served so many long and weary years, and greatly had won. Then the cheers burst forth, filling the dreary gut of Morris Street, roaring against the drab, streaked fronts of its tenements. The shouters poured again out of the store doors, out of the high-stooped vestibules where they had taken shelter.
"Gosh, Doc!" Jack Ransom exclaimed, reaching his aged friend just too late to aid him. "Gee whiz, Doc!" His freckled face was working, inarticulate to word his thoughts.
"Get the men organized to lift the bus away from the pillar," Turner snapped. "Get the girls out and into my store. I want..." He checked as the forefront of the inrushing hundreds came within hearing. He twisted and was running along the far side of the bus.
"All right, everybody," Jack shouted. "Hands on the chassis, both sides. When I give the word, everybody lift all together, and lift her away from the column."
They sprang to obey him; overalled and sweaty shirted shoulders leaning against the shattered bus-sides in solid lines, labor-roughened, toil-grimed hard hands closing on the iron underpinning of the broken vehicle.
"Ready," Jack bawled above the crowd-roar, above the anguished screaming, his eyes following Doc Turner. "When I count three." Where the white furrow started that gashed the gutter-cobbles, Doc was bending to pick something up. "One." The crowd came in and the red-headed youth could see him no longer. "Two!" What on earth was he up to? "Three!"
Andrew Turner heard fifty men grunt in unison, heard the rubbing of broken wood on wood, the tinkle of glass loosened and falling to the stones as fifty men's strength lifted that bus and moved it just enough to free the blocked door. But he was staring at a scrap of metal in his acid-stained fingers, his tired blue eyes narrowing, his seamed face bleak, expressionless.
"All right," Jack shouted. "We can get them out now."
The crowd surged against Doc, jostling him. An elbow jolted his chin, jolted his head back. The thing he held was snatched from his grasp!
There was a flurry in the milling mob, as of some one pushing through it. "Hold him!" Doc yelled. "Don't let him get away!" He pushed frantically at the rank-smelling forms crushed close about him, shoved an ineffectual shoulder against them. "Hold him!"
"Who'ja mean, Doc?" a pimple-faced youth asked. "Bejabers, we'll howld him fer yuh," someone else called, "but who is ut?"
"Never mind," the druggist said wearily. "It's too late." No one had seen what had happened, all minds had been intent on the bus and its moaning occupants. He had not seen who it was that had snatched the grease-smeared bolt from him, and now there was no way of determining who it had been.
But he was certain of what he had seen. The bolt had been the cotter-pin holding the wheel in place. Its fracturing had permitted the wheel to spin loose from its axle, had smashed the bus against the "El" pillar.
Only a quarter of the bolt's diameter had broken. The rest, three-quarters of the pin's thickness, had been filed through! The metal had been still shining with newness!
None except Jack's and Doc Turner's eyes had seen all that occurred. Only Doc Turner's eyes, faded-blue with age, tired with long deciphering of physician's crabbedly written prescriptions, had been keen enough to see the cotter-pin pop from the axle the instant before the accident, and to catch the glint of filed metal as it fell.
There was room for no doubt. The wreck was no accident. It had been caused with deliberate, malicious intent! But now there was no proof of it. The one bit of evidence, the one possible clue to the perpetrator, had been stolen from him.
THEY had left one of the girls in the bus. Mamie Lissano that was, the sole support of a widowed mother. There was no need to carry her out. Her jugular had been cut, and her windpipe: and she had wheezed to death long before the rescuers came to her.
Four others were laid out on the floor of the old pharmacy that had been here since Morris Street was a suburban lane. The rest, a dozen or more, sat with hand-buried heads in chairs hastily brought; or leaned against showcases, their faces pallid and soot-spotted by eyes still staring at horror, their pitiful finery torn and smeared and blood-spattered.
Jennie Moriarity fumbled at her hair with fingers that still shook. Jennie was trembling with fright, but the white-coated ambulance interne who knelt beside Sadie Schmaltz was young and good-looking and Jennie wasn't too scared to be on the make.
Rebecca Goldblatt sat in a chair, her voluptuous-bosomed figure stiffly upright, and screamed unendingly though there wasn't a scratch on her. There was blood on her, soaking the front of her dress, but it was blood that had spurted from Mamie Lissano's slashed neck. Mamie, Rebecca's best friend, had sat next to the window with Rebecca alongside her.
Rebecca's incessant scream wasn't the only sound Doc Turner heard as his gnarled old hands worked swiftly and surely, swabbing torn flesh with antiseptic, bandaging gashed arms, patching a lacerated arm with adhesive. One of the girls on the floor was moaning. Another, Gorya Wishnewski, babbled, over and over, "Mamushka, oh Mamushka. Mamushka." There were other moans, groans, and the sound of soft weeping. Through the closed door came the mutter of the crowd, the wail of mothers frantic with anxiety and kept by sweating, gruffly abusive cops from crowding in to find out how their Sarahs or Sonyas or Ruths had fared.
Some of the girls were relieving taut nerves by inane chatter. "Gee," a pert-nosed, petite miss exclaimed. "I got a date with Jimmie t'night an' what kinda neckin' am I gonna do with a busted collar-bone?"
"Too bad about you, Mary Davis," a sultry-visaged daughter of Tuscany replied. "Maybe you ought to be worrying about how you're going to sling your iron with that collar-bone. Seems to me I remember a sick mother and a kid brother of yours depending on the cash you bring home Saturday nights."
"Hey!" Josephine Lannon's sharp features were bloodless and drawn with the pain of the arm that hung limp at her side, but Doc had noticed the shadow of a smile hovering about her thin lips, and had wondered about it. "You're forgettin' something ain't yuh? We got a break, didn't we? No work till we get fixed up an' ten bucks a week comin' in regular anyway."
"What?" Ninita Testa inquired. "Ten bucks a week?"
"Our insurance! That what-yuh-call it—group accident an' health insurance the boss took out for us last winter. You've been crabbin' about losin' fifty cents a week outta your pay, an' now it's gonna pay dividends."
"Dividends!" Mary retorted. "It ain't me that got the break. It's that Ideal Credit Store. I got my seal coat there, five dollars down an' one a week. And I signed over my policy to the store, in case I got sick or somethin' and couldn't keep up the payments."
"A hundred-an'-fifty for a coat that's worth maybe fifty cash, an' now your ma an' the kid will starve while Laufer rakes in the shekels! Of all the fools!"
"Lay off her, Josie." This was the Italian girl again. "Sure she was a fool, but I did the same thing. I bought Mom a radio for Christmas the same way. Two hundred for a radio listed at seventy-five, but where was I going to get the seventy-five? I figured I wouldn't miss a dollar a week, and if I lost my job Otto Laufer could whistle for what wasn't paid."
"Yeah," Ninita spoke up. "Maybe you're smart, Josephina, but you're the only smart one. This wreck was a good thing, all right, but not for us. For the guy that runs the Ideal Store." She shrugged shoulders from which an orange waist hung in shreds. "Well, it's all right by me. Nobody else sells us on such little payments; two, three years to pay off; an' if our bad luck's his good luck, all right."
Which seemed to be the consensus of opinion among the others. They had gambled and lost, and that was all there was to it. They wouldn't starve. There was always the Relief.
Andrew Turner, recalling a bolt that had been filed three-quarters through, had his own thoughts about the matter.
AMONG the teeming millions of a great city the death of one, the injury of a dozen, is merely a newspaper headline, to be scanned briefly, clucked over, and forgotten. Even among the close neighbors of the girls who worked for the Superclean Laundry the wreck of that bus, for an hour or two a matter for excited conversation, was then dropped into oblivion, swamped by the immediacy of Saturday night, by the movies and the extra delicacy at the week-end meal purchased from newly opened pay envelopes, by the raucous shouts of the hucksters and the familiar thrill of marketing under the glare of the hundred-watt lamps hung above the piled, rainbow-hued pushcarts.
There were in the teeming rabbit-warrens of the tenements clustering about Morris Street a few flats where the accident was not so quickly forgotten, where girls lay moaning in shabby beds or sat swathed in bandages, pain in their eyes, the memory of horror, and lurking dread of the payless weeks ahead. And there was a dingy, ancient drugstore where the tragedy that had not been an accident was still the subject of a low-voiced, murmuring conversation.
"So that bolt was what you picked up," Jack Ransom growled, his spatulate fingers closing on the edge of Doc Turner's prescription counter, behind the partition at the rear of the pharmacy.
"That's what I picked up," the old man assented, "and that's the story it told. Pretty plain, isn't it? Of the twenty girls employed at the laundry, seventeen had made some purchase at the Ideal, and had assigned the proceeds of their policies to Otto Laufer as security. They overpaid an average of a hundred and a quarter on the things they bought, a total of more than two thousand dollars. The percentage is not much more than the usual installment house overcharge, but they figure on interest and losses. With those assignments, and the accident, Laufer gets his money long before time, and he gets all of it."
"Two grand. It's damn little to take a chance like that for."
"He wasn't taking much chance. There was someone following the bus in a car, to grab the bolt when it fell out. He'd have gotten it too, if it hadn't been for that incipient explosion keeping him away long enough for me to beat him to it. And he took care of that in a hurry. Without it I can't prove anything."
"The head would show the file marks."
"It isn't anywhere. It probably stayed with the wheel and he got it too. The evidence is all cleaned up. And the assignments are perfectly legal. They can't be upset."
"So it's just one of those things, eh? We know about it and grind our teeth and let it slide. It's over and done with."
"No, Jack. It's not over and done with." Doc dug at the counter with a thumb whose nail chemicals had made thick and woody. "You were right when you said two thousand was too little. But the two thousand isn't the first loot Laufer has gotten out of his scheme, and he doesn't intend it to be the last."
"What are you driving at?"
"Steve Gordon was knocked down a week ago by a hit-and-run driver. Steve Gordon, tile-cleaner in the subway, had an accident policy and the proceeds were assigned to The Ideal Store. Two weeks ago a brick fell from the roof of a tenement on Hogbund Alley and broke Tony Malucci's shoulder. Tony was another of Laufer's customers. I've been doing some checking this afternoon, Jack, and have unearthed a half-dozen cases like that. There are undoubtedly a lot more. There has been a lot of sickness around, for instance, more than usual at this time of the year."
"Hell! The insurance companies will tumble sooner or later."
Doc smiled, utterly without humor. "Perhaps. But all they'll be able to do about it is to stop the assignments, and cancel those already made. I have an idea that they're threatening to do it and that Laufer is getting ready for a cleanup before they act."
"Where'd you get that hunch?"
"It's more than a hunch." The old pharmacist turned from the prescription counter to the battered roll-top desk that stood at right angles to it, fumbled among the clutter of papers on its scarred surface. "I got a postcard in this morning's mail. Here it is!" He brought the card out of the jumble of bills and magazines, and thrust it at Ransom.
The yellow oblong had figures penciled on it, some calculation of Doc's. It was creased up the middle, as if it had been used to distribute powders. But the printing on it was altogether legible:
YOU NEED MONEY.
GET IT FROM ME!
NO MORTGAGE NO INVESTIGATION
OTTO LAUFER, 1513 MORRIS ST.
Jack Ransom read the bold black letters slowly. He looked up, his blunt jaw ridging with the muscles hardening along it. "I get it." But his eyes were not quite sure. "I think I get it."
"Yes. No more petty hundred and two-hundred dollar sales. Big money, in a hurry. Then he'll fold up and take his helper somewhere else and work the racket all over again."
"Hell! We'll stop it. We'll find out from the post office who got these cards and we'll warn them all..."
"Laufer won't make his clean-up, but he'll still be able to go somewhere else and make it there. He killed Mamie Lissano, Jack. I used to give her gum drops, over that counter outside, when she was a little tad no higher than a grasshopper. I sat up all night once, blowing into a glass tube to keep the diphtheria membrane from closing her throat and choking her to death, before the days of antitoxin. And Laufer killed her, right before my eyes, just as surely as if he'd taken a knife and slashed her neck with it. Do you think I'm letting him get away with that?"
The youth's bulky arms went wide. "You've just said there isn't any evidence against him. What can you do about it?"
"Do?" There was an expression about Doc's old eyes that Jack had seen there before. Others had seen it too, wolves who preyed on the helpless poor. Some of them nursed the memory of that look behind prison bars, others had no memory of it, or of anything else. "I'm closing up now and I'm going up to Fifteen-Thirteen Morris Street to make a loan from Mr. Otto Laufer."
"I mean that once more Doc Turner is going to be bait for a rat. And you're going to spring the trap."
ABOVE The Ideal Credit Store's dazzling windows a huge glass diamond blazed. Great letters flashed a fiery legend, Blue White Diamonds, blinked out to be replaced by other letters as great and as fiery, Your Credit Good Here. The flood of light within the big store hurt Andrew Turner's eyes, and he seemed a confused, shabby little old man, standing in the center of long rows of glittering showcases, peering uncertainly about him at the bustle of customers and dapper, ferret-faced clerks.
"Yes sir," one of these said, coming up to him. "Can I show you our selection of watches, the best in the city? Or," getting a better look at Doc's threadbare, rust-black garments, "if it's a pure-wool, custom-tailored suit you're looking for, our clothing department's up the stairs."
"No," the white-haired pharmacist muttered, half under his breath. "It's Mr. Laufer I want to see. I got a postcard this morning about—about—"
"Oh yes." The clerk lost interest. "That's about Mr. Laufer's private business. You'll find him back there, where the sign says Cashier."
Doc shambled back through the long reaches of that busy place, managing to look ill at ease at the ripple of greetings that made a wake for him. Half these bewildered-eyed aliens were customers of his. He was their friend, the only friend they possessed in this inimical land to which they had come with high hopes that had been dashed too terribly soon. They were born to be exploited, and they were here to be exploited, drawn like moths by the blazing lights, by the glittering colors and shapes of the many things they had long desired and could not have till this trusting merchant offered them for payments so small as to be laughable.
Doc wanted to warn them, to tell them what fate it was to which the lights lured them, but he kept grimly silent, shuffling toward the brass-railed cage over whose wicket letters of neon light said;
He stood in front of the wicket, and a face peered at him through the little opening in the gleaming fence of vertical bars. The face was wide across. Its heavy jowls were clean-shaven, but beneath the skin the black hair showed, giving it an unhealthy hue. The mouth was big, and bluish-lipped; so that it looked like the mouth of a fish; and thick, round lenses magnified the lidless eyes, so that they goggled like fish eyes and were as utterly without expression.
"Well," the face said. "What is it I can do for you, my friend?"
"Are—are you Mr. Laufer?"
"I'm Andrew Turner, the druggist from up the street. I got one of your postcards this morning and—and—" He hesitated, evidently embarrassed.
"You want about it to speak to me," Laufer helped him out, his big-bellied rumble dropping to a husky undertone. "It is a pleasure, my dear Herr Doktor. But here in the store I do not such transactions make, and you would not want all these people who know you to know your business with me."
"But I need—I am in a hurry. I can't wait till Monday." Doc's voice was also low, but it was strained, almost desperate. Here was one, it was evident, who, wandering in a dark valley of despair, had glimpsed a light that was the promise of rescue, and saw the light fading. "I closed my store early to get here in time to speak to you tonight."
"That till Monday you will have to wait I do not say, only that here it is not the place to have our talk. Listen. My office it is in this same house, two flights up. By the tenement stairs it can be reached, around the corner on Cherry Avenue. You got out, make sure nobody sees you, go up the stoop. The downstairs door it is open and you need not ring. Two flights up, front, remember. In five minutes I go up by my private stairs back here and meet you. Then our business we can transact in privacy, and nobody need know."
"That's fine, Mr. Laufer. It's—it's very considerate. Five minutes. Second floor, front."
"That's right. Auf Wiedersehen, Herr Turner!"
The darkness in Cherry Avenue seemed blacker for the blaze of light on Morris Street as Doc Turner shambled toward the high stoop of the tenement whose two ground floors had been remodeled by a pleased landlord to accommodate the Ideal Credit Store. He climbed the worn treads slowly, a weary old man.
WHATEVER the owner of that tenement had been willing to do for a quick-paying commercial tenant, he had done nothing for the families who squeezed out their rent in sweat-moistened driblets. The hall was lighted only by a pinpoint gas-jet, the stairs uncarpeted, the banisters paintless and sagging. As Doc mounted, the close, heavy atmosphere of the abodes of poverty closed about him, fetid with the stench of ancient dirt, of unwashed bodies and vanished meals.
There was another tiny light on the second landing. It made the dimness waver, so that the pharmacist could see two doors in the walls from which grimy wallpaper was loosing its tired hold. They were much the same, those doors, except that one had the usual cast iron lock and from the surface of the other a bronze disk protruded. It was to the latter he moved.
It opened before he had found a bell, or decided to knock. "Come in, Herr Turner," Otto Laufer rumbled.
Doc went into a short hall, into which light seeped from a vertical slit signaling another door. He faltered, not sure of his way, and Laufer squeezed past him. "Come in here," the man said. "This is my office. Did someone see you?"
"No," Turner sighed, moving again. "I am sure no one saw me come into this house. No one who knew me. I was careful."
"I'm sure you were," Laufer replied. "Come in." He shut the door behind Doc and followed him, cat-footed for all his bulk.
The room was not very big. Black shades were drawn tight over its windows, and over the shades there were the wooden grilles of a burglar-alarm system. A big safe between the windows furnished the explanation for that precaution.
In the center of the floor a flat-top desk was lighted by a goose-necked, green-shaded lamp, and that was the only light in the room.
"Sit down!" Laufer waved a hand curiously white and slender-fingered to a chair before the desk, settled himself into the one behind it. The body beneath his fish-face, Doc noted, was heavy set but not corpulent. There was power in it, smooth, trained strength. "You are, of course, in need of a loan. How much?"
"I have to have a thousand by Monday to pay my jobbers' statement or they'll close me up. I gave them a lien on the store last year and they're holding it over my head."
"A thousand dollars. But you have other bills, and if you have not done enough business to meet your current obligations, how do you expect to pay for new goods and what you will owe me?"
The little hope Turner had allowed to show in his eyes died away. "I don't know," he sighed. "I thought maybe business would get better."
"Business, my dear Doctor Turner, does not get better by itself, it only gets worse. You must modernize. You must put in new fixtures, a new store front, and lights. Above all, lights. That is what makes business get better. Light!"
Turner shrugged. "I know. I've wanted to do all that, for years. But it takes money, a lot of money. And where will I get it?"
"From me. That is what you are here for, is it not? How much do you figure it will take to make a modern business place of that rat trap of yours?"
Indignation pulsed behind Doc's seamed forehead, but it did not sound in his meek voice. "Ten thousand, at the least." He breathed awe of the vast sum. "You see it's impossible."
"Not at all," Laufer responded, amazingly. "I will lend you ten thousand. And on your notes too. Your notes for five hundred a month, at six percent interest. Forty notes for five hundred dollars each."
"Forty! That's twenty thousand, not ten."
"Yes. But you will be able to pay me five hundred a month and you will have two hundred a month for yourself. I am a business man and I am willing to risk ten thousand dollars that I am right. You risk nothing, for you have nothing now. Assuredly I may be wrong, and for the gamble that I am wrong odds of two to one is not too much to ask, is it?"
"No. But I can give you no security for any sum like that."
"Do I ask for security, Herr Doktor? I did not those postcards send out blind. I have each man to whom they went investigated very thoroughly and I know whose word I can trust, and for how much. If you can you will pay me. If you can, and live."
A pulse thumped in the old man's wrists. "If I live. But I am an old man. I may die before four years."
"That, too, I have considered. You have paid-up insurance on your life for twenty thousand dollars. You will assign that sum to me. The company will pay me only the balance of your debt, that is the law. I do not ask too much, do I?"
The white-haired pharmacist seemed to ponder the proposition. "No," he said. "I'll make the assignment."
"You are a smart man, Herr Turner." Laufer pulled a drawer open, tossed a pad of note blanks across the desk to Doc, a printed assignment blank. "You may use that pen to make out the notes." He took another paper out of the drawer, which he consulted. "Your policy is in the Metropolitan Life, and its number is 1246593."
Picking up the indicated fountain pen and starting to write, Doc remarked softly, "Your investigation was very thorough, Mr. Laufer. No wonder you are a rich man."
"I will be richer before long," the other said, as softly. "Much richer."
THEN for a long time there was no sound in the room except the scratching of Turner's busy pen.
"Here they are," Doc said at last. "Forty notes and the assignment. Now where's my check?"
"Cash, Herr Doktor. I once was caught in a bank failure and since then I trust only myself. In cash I will give you your ten thousand dollars, from this safe here." Laufer pushed himself out of the chair, moved across the floor to the black face of the vault, its top a little above his head. He started to manipulate its combination. "Yes, Herr Doktor Turner, as I said before, you are a smart man." The bolts shot back with an audible thump, and the big black door started to swing open. "But not quite smart enough!"
Laufer wheeled around. There was a gun in his hand, a blued automatic, and it pointed straight at Doc. "Put up your hands, Herr Turner. To the ceiling raise them," he barked. And from the open safe door there stepped another man, a long-armed, bent-kneed individual whose simian face was creased by a triumphant grin!
Doc didn't rise but his hands went above his head. He looked amazed. "What's this all about?" he expostulated. "You don't think I came here to get you to open that safe and hold you up, do you?"
"No. But you did come here to offer yourself as bait for my little game. You see, Carl here told me about your picking up the cotter-pin from the bus, and how he from you snatched it. I did not like that, because I have heard your nose you stick in everybody's business around here. So when you come to me, tonight, I know that you have figured out that I was responsible for the accident, and why, and I know what your scheme is. You will sign any notes, make any kind of arrangement with me I demand. You are sure that it will include an assignment of insurance, and of life insurance too, because you are too old for any company to accept you for health and accident.
"Yes," Laufer went on as Carl pulled a coil of rope from his pocket and moved towards Doc, "you planned to make it worth my while to kill you, and then have yourself watched so that when I made the attempt you would catch the one I sent to do it for me and to save himself he will be sure to squeal on me."
"Naw, Boss, I would never uh ratted," Carl growled, kneeling to lash together Doc's ankles. "Not me."
"You are a brave man," Laufer ignored the interruption, "because you knew a slip-up meant your death. And that slip-up sooner than you expected has come. You die, Herr Doktor. You die tonight."
"You can't do that," Andrew Turner replied, very quietly, his old eyes indomitable. "Perhaps no one noticed my coming in, but you can't carry my body down that stoop unobserved. It's only a hundred feet from Morris Street."
The rope pulled tight on his ankles. "You will not be carried down the stoop," Laufer's fish-mouth writhed in what might have been meant for a grin. "Nor down the private stairs to my store. There is another stairs, inside the walls of this house. It starts within this box that a safe looks like and it goes down into the cellar of this house. Carl will carry you down there, and through the back yards where no one will see. A block away there is a vacant lot, and there you will be found with your head bashed in."
Carl jerked down Turner's upraised arms, flattened his hands on the desk and twisted the rope around his wrists.
"When Carl lifts the rock to slam it down on your skull," Laufer rumbled, "you will think how smart you are, so smart you came here to make me of twenty thousand dollars a present."
"The assignment's no good to you, Laufer." Doc's white mustache moved to a bleak smile. "I dated it Monday. You did not notice that." He was playing for time.
"Oh yes, I noticed that. But what you did not notice was in the fountain pen a special kind of ink, that washed out can be very easily and the date fixed. On the notes and the assignment it will be fixed, to two months ago, so that no questions will be asked from me about when it was, today, you dealt with me. Carl, are you not ready yet?"
"All ready, boss, if yer t'rough wid yer jabber." Doc was lashed hand and foot now. He was helpless. Carl's gorilla-like arms went around him, to lift him.
AS he rose in Carl's arms, Doc's hands closed on the stem of the heavy desk lamp, hurled it at Laufer. The lamp hit the gun squarely, jolted it down, and the light went out. Darkness smashed into the room. Laufer shouted something and Doc squirmed within the arms that were clamped around him, his frail body eel-like now, and wiry, a handful even for the powerful thug. But he was an old man and he would be quickly overcome. He knew it.
Laufer grunted and his feet thumped on the floor as he groped across the room, going toward the wall switch that would bring light back, light for him to find his gun and finish Doc off. There was light before he reached it, the light of a flashlight behind which a red-headed, raging demon leaped into the room.
Knuckles thudded on a blue jowl, crashing against flesh and bone beneath it. Then the heavy flashlight cracked down. Laufer's body thudded to the floor.
"Doc!" Jack Ransom yelled. "Doc! Where are you?" There was no reply. There was only a gurgle, and the pounding of heels on wood. Ransom's flash beam flicked frantically about, found and fastened on a heaving mass on the floor, on a gorilla-like form haunched with its knees pinning a feeble body down, and gorilla-like hands clenched on a corded old throat.
"Doc!" Jack yelled. The heavy torch he carried crashed down on Carl's bristling round head. The thug slumped, but not quickly enough to avoid another crashing blow on his skull. Then the youth was on his knees beside the white-haired old fighter, was heaving the gorilla's unconscious body off. Jack was trembling. "Doc! He hasn't killed you. He hasn't..."
"No, son." Andrew Turner coughed, and amazingly stirred. "I was born to be hanged. But that was damned close to it. I was afraid for a second the Fates had made a mistake."
The police came. They put the handcuffs on Laufer and his accomplice, and began to search the office.
"I wasn't any too comfortable, Jack, for a while. I knew you were watching me from that vestibule across the street, as we'd arranged on the off chance that something like this would happen, and I heard a little scrape from behind the door once, so I knew you'd gotten in. But I was afraid you'd bust in before I'd gotten Laufer to say enough so that with our evidence he'd be convicted of Mamie Lissano's murder."
"I damn near did," the carrot-head grinned. "I haven't got your iron nerves... Say, Doc! Look what the police have found—the bolt, in the desk! The damn fool Carl must have brought it here and Laufer didn't have time to get rid of it. That ties everything up nice and pretty, don't it?"
"Yes, it does." Doc smiled wearily. "You know what the funniest part of all this is?"
"I didn't know there was anything funny about it. What do you mean?"
"Just that if Laufer hadn't put a good lock on the flat door you might never have spotted the flat. And not only that. The usual cheap locks haven't got a latch to hold them open. I wouldn't have been able to slip it, and even if you had found where I'd gone, you would have had to break down the door and we wouldn't have been able to tie Mr. Otto Laufer up in a nice bow knot. It was a mighty little thing to defeat the smartest crook I've ever been up against."
"That wasn't the little thing that beat him. It was a little parcel of dynamite by the name of Doc Turner."