Roy Glashan's Library
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EMILE C. TEPPERMAN

ACTION OFF STAGE

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RGL e-Book Cover 2017



First published in The Spider magazine, January 1936

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version date: 2017-12-23
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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The Spider, January 1936, with "Action Off Stage"



Ed Race wasn't looking for a fight, but a pretty girl's lie and a crooked sheriff's stubbornness shoved it right into his lap. And good-natured as he was, Ed figured it was time to quit joking when the hillbillies rallied for a necktie party!



THE sign on the railroad station said:

KIRKVILLE, KENTUCKY
Louisville, 150 mi.


Ed Race was the only passenger arriving this evening, and before he had well put his feet on the platform the conductor signaled ahead, and the locomotive whiffed, yanked the train away like a disgusted mother dragging little Willie from in front of the cage of a smelly animal at the zoo.

Ed watched the train pull away, regretfully. He eyed the warmly lit dining car at which men and women were enjoying well-prepared food; then when the train had gone, leaving its faint rumble along the tracks, he turned a bilious eye on what there was to see of the thriving town of Kirkwood, Kentucky.

Three men were lounging around the doorway of the express office. They wore patched trousers and open vests over dirty-looking khaki shirts. Two boys were playing tick-tac-toe with chalk on the platform right under the window of the ticket office. All five seemed to be looking Ed Race over in a furtive sort of way, but they all avoided his eye when he glanced at them.

He picked up his bag and strode through the ticket office to the street.

Parked in front of the station were three cars—a 1928 Buick with a hack license pasted in the windshield, a 1926 Chevrolet whose roof was almost half off, and a brand new 1936 Cadillac sedan. Main Street ran at right angles from the street on which the station was located, and Ed, from where he stood, could look down its entire length of perhaps three blocks.

Electric light signs stretched all the way down, and he read the big ones. There was the Kirkwood Hotel—tourists accommodated, rooms by the day, week or season. There was the Kirkwood Theater, where Ed was bound for, and he could read the poster on the sandwich sign under the marquee, which carried the announcement of his own appearance starting tomorrow:


By Special Arrangement—for One Week
Beginning Monday, December 9th
THE MASKED MARKSMAN
In Person!

See the greatest attraction of the vaudeville stage, direct from New York and Chicago. THE MASKED MARKSMAN—The Man Who Can Make Guns Talk—will appear in person on the stage of the Kirkwood Theater, and give the same performance for which New York and Chicago audiences paid Two Dollars.

25c—Admission—25c


ED grimaced. If anyone but Leon Partages, the boss of the Partages Circuit, had asked Ed Race to accept a week's booking in a one-horse town on a subway circuit, Ed would have raised the roof and quit cold. But there were a lot of things that Ed Race would do for fat, generous Leon Partages that he wouldn't do for anyone else; and he was certain that there was something more than a whim behind Partages' telegraphed request.

Strange as it seemed, the driver of the Buick taxi did not approach Ed and solicit him as a fare. On the contrary, the taxi man sat stolidly behind the wheel and glanced everywhere but in Ed's direction.

Instead, the door of the shiny new Cadillac sedan opened, and two men emerged. One of them was dressed in a tight-waisted gray tweed suit that spread around the shoulders so that it almost opened at the seams. His face was broad and flat, and the lips were thick. Small eyes peered at Ed from under a low-visored cap. Ed could see the bulge in the tweed jacket where the man carried a shoulder holster; and Ed himself instinctively hunched his own shoulders forward so as to nudge the twin holsters under his own armpits, where nestled the two heavy forty-five caliber hair-trigger revolvers, mates of the other four in the suitcase.

Those six revolvers went wherever Ed Race went. They were the mainstays of his gun-juggling act. With them, he had performed the amazing feats of marksmanship on the stage that had brought him headline rating in the vaudeville circuits of the country...


HE put the suitcase down when he saw that the tweed-suited man and his companion were coming in his direction. He let his hands swing free at his sides and waited for them. Leon Partages' telegram had hinted at trouble, but it had been very circumspect. Ed was prepared for anything—except what actually happened now.

The companion of the big fellow in tweeds was a small, wizened man of fifty-odd, with a sharp nose and big ears that stuck out at right angles from a long head. He wore no hat, and the top of his skull was shiny and clean. He wore a pair of overalls over a vest and trousers; and pinned to one of the straps of his overalls was a nickel badge bearing the words, engraved in a semi-circle halfway around a star:


SHERIFF—HAWK COUNTY


He glanced sideways at the big man, then looked at Ed and said: "Excuse me. Is you-all's name Edward Race?"

Ed nodded. His body was taut, his hands ready for a lightning dive to his armpit holsters at the first overt act of the tweed-suited one. "I'm Ed Race," he said. "Why?"

The sheriff's long face grew even longer. He shook his head deprecatingly and said to the man in tweeds: "Call your datter, Bixby."

The big man glared at Ed, turned to the sedan and raised his voice. "Come on outen thar, Effie!"

Ed watched the proceedings, puzzled. He saw the door of the Cadillac sedan open once more. A slim, pretty, red-haired girl of eighteen or nineteen got out of the car. She wore a flowered, gingham dress under a tan coat which was open at the throat. Her eyes were large, round, and she appeared to be very nervous.

She shivered a little, closed the door of the car behind her, and came slowly toward them. She wore no stockings, and her cheap shoes shuffled along the pavement.

Bixby said to her: "Is this the man what tried to get funny with you out on the post road yestiddy, Effie?"

Her gaze flitted to Ed's face, then dropped to the ground. "Y-yes," she said, very low, very huskily. Then she went on as if repeating a lesson she had learned by rote: "I—I wuz walkin' fur a little air, an' this man come along an' tried to grab me, an' I got scairt an' run back to town. He chased me a while, but I run faster'n him."

She stopped talking, bit her lip hard, and looked sullenly at Bixby. Bixby glowed, nodded in satisfaction. "So that's the man!"

"Just one minute!" Ed Race said softly, dangerously. "I think I understand the game. If this young lady claims she saw me outside of town yesterday, she's either mistaken or lying. I just came in on the train from Louisville. Half a dozen people saw me get off. Here—" He turned to the three or four loafers who had been around the express office, and who had followed him out to the street. "These men will tell you they saw me get off—"

He stopped, his eyes narrowing, as all three of them started to shake their heads in negation. Finally one of them said, speaking to the sheriff: "We didn't see nothin' Abel. Nobody come off thet thar train!"


BIXBY exclaimed triumphantly: "There! You're lyin', mister. You're the one what made the pass at my Effie last night. Abel—" he gestured toward the sheriff "—do your duty!"

The sheriff said morosely: "I'm arrestin' you, mister, fer bein' a public noosance. You better come quiet—"

Ed's face had gone a dull brick red. "If you think you can pull a raw frame like this on me—"

The sheriff's eyes were small, menacing. "You better not get nasty, mister. It don't pay to resist an officer. I got deputies." He waved his hand toward the three loafers who had just denied seeing anybody get off the train. They had produced big, old-fashioned revolvers, and were pointing them at Ed.

Ed glanced at them, then turned his gaze back, let it flick over Bixby and his daughter, then settle on the sheriff. Ed's mouth was a thin, grim line, and his eyes were bleak. He had heard of things like this being done. For some reason, these men wanted to get him out of the way. They would put him in the local jail, and later in the night a mob would gather, sadistic, crazed at the thought of a stranger attempting to attack one of their local girls. They would storm the jail, take the prisoner out and string him up. There might be an investigation later, but nothing would come of it. And Ed Race, the Masked Marksman, would be dead. There must be something of great importance at stake here in Kirkwood, for them to have planned such an elaborate reception for him.

The sheriff had produced a pair of handcuffs. "The boys'd shoot you as soon as spit," he said. "Better put out your hands—"

"Sure," Ed said mildly. "I'm certain that you will find that Miss Bixby is mistaken. Do you mind if I get Mr. Billings, the manager of the Kirkwood Theater? I'd like to have him arrange bail."

Bixby, standing next to the sheriff, grinned nastily. "Billings is in the hoosegow, too. You an' him can get together."

"I see," Ed said, very low. He had come closer to the sheriff, whose small eyes were lighting triumphantly as he stretched out the handcuffs. Ed's body tautened. His steel-spring muscles, hardened by years of practice in his acrobatic gun-juggling act, responded now with the speed of lightning.

His left hand flicked out, seized the sheriff by the front of his overalls. The other, moving with eye-defying swiftness, snaked out one of the heavy forty-fives from a shoulder holster.

Almost in the same motion, Ed swiveled around, swinging the suddenly white-face sheriff so that that functionary was between himself and the guns of the three deputies. The deputies gaped, open-mouthed. The whole thing had happened before their slow-moving wits could grasp the situation.

Not so, Bixby. The big man cursed, and took a step toward Ed, reaching at the same time for his gun. Ed kicked out sideways, caught him in the left shin with the toe of his right shoe, and Bixby let out a howl, doubling over in agony. Ed's kick had been far from gentle. The big man dropped his gun and used both hands to massage his shin, groaning with the pain.

Ed grinned into the sheriff's face, which was less than an inch from his own. He dug the forty-five into the sheriff's stomach, and released his hold on the overalls. "Now, Abel," Ed said gently, "suppose you turn around—very slow!"

The sheriff gulped, gasped: "Y-you wouldn't shoot. You'd hev the law onto you!"

Ed said: "That's what you think, Abel," and moved his gun over to one side so that the barrel lay against the sheriff's ribs, with the muzzle pointing just past him, at the air. Then he pulled the trigger.

The big gun bucked, roared, and the slug tore through the cloth of the sheriff's coat and ricocheted off the ground. The sheriff screamed, thinking he'd been hit, and started to jump away, but Ed caught him by the shoulder, swung him around to face the deputies. Then he put his arm around the sheriff's neck from behind, yanked him backward, still using him as a shield against the three guns of the yokels.

He backed past the girl, Effie, who was standing there rooted to the ground in terror, then he stepped quickly back past the Cadillac, reached over and pulled open the door of the Buick.

The taxi driver had been watching the swift action with startled eyes. Now he yelled: "Hey, there—!" But he shut his mouth tight as Ed stepped back into the rear of his car, dragged the sheriff in with him, and slammed the door.

"Get going, brother," Ed said coldly to the driver. He flung the sheriff to the floor in front of him, planted his foot in the small of his back.

The three deputies were advancing cautiously toward the Buick, afraid to shoot lest they harm Abel. The driver of the Buick turned around to face Ed and said shakily, with a crafty look in his eye: "This car ain't runnin'. There's something wrong with the ignition—"

Ed clucked sympathetically. "That's too bad, brother. They can mark your tombstone: 'Junked because of faulty ignition!' "

The driver paled. "W-what—?"

"I mean," Ed told him matter-of-factly, "that I'm going to put a slug right between your ears—if this car isn't going inside of two seconds!"

The driver looked into Ed's gray, bleak eyes, and hastily turned front, stepped on the starter.

Looking back out the rear window, Ed saw Bixby, still nursing his shin; saw the girl, Effie, standing and staring after him with parted lips.

Ed grinned thinly, turned to face forward, and looked down at the wriggling form of the sheriff. He pressed down more firmly with his foot, and Abel stopped wriggling.

They were passing the marquee of the Kirkwood Theater, and Ed noticed, glancing across the street, that there was an old building, boarded up, that had apparently also been a theater at one time. Across the facade of the building he could make out the lettering:


BIXBY'S MAMMOTH THEATER


His eyes lit up in understanding...

The driver asked over his shoulder: "W-where you want me to go?"

"Just keep going," Ed ordered. "I'll tell you where to turn, and when to stop."

They passed a low, one-story brick building with bars on the windows, and Ed read the bronze plate alongside the door:


HAWK COUNTY COURT HOUSE AND JAIL


He made a mental note of its location, and then the car had sped past the last building on Main Street and they were out on the open road.

Ed said pleasantly to the sheriff: "You can get up now, Abel. I want to talk."


ABEL got to his knees, looked up venomously at Ed. He was still holding on to the handcuffs. "You done fixed yourself up plenty fine!" he said with spiteful satisfaction. "Now you-all is a fugitive from justice. You-all will be shot on sight when the posse comes after you!"

"That's better than being strung up by the neck by a lynching mob, Abel. Now maybe you'll tell me why you staged that crazy frame back at the station?"

The sheriff got up sullenly and seated himself on the upholstered seat beside Ed, who still held the forty-five negligently in his hand. Abel said nothing.

Ed grinned tightly. "Won't talk, eh? All right, Abel." He glanced out the window, saw that they were passing a roadside restaurant. A hundred feet further on, they passed a side road leading into a landscaped park. Ed called out to the driver: "Hold it, brother!"

The driver braked to a stop, and Ed said: "Back up to that side road."

The taxi man started to obey, and the sheriff said: "Don't you do it, Hank. This here fella is bluffin'. He won't shoot you."

The driver shoved his gear shift into reverse and backed up. "Lissen, Abel," he said over his shoulder, "I ain't aimin' to meet no early death. Effen you thinks he won't shoot, why, you're welcome to start up within him. Me, I don't like the look in his eye!"

Ed grinned. "Smart boy, Hank. Stop right here. Now pull into that side road."

The driver obeyed. It was quite dark here among the trees, and when the car was pulled in to a considerable distance, Ed poked Abel with his gun, ordered: "Get in the front seat with Hank. And if you think I'm bluffing, now is the time for you to find out."

The sheriff got in front. Ed took the handcuffs, linked Hank's right hand and Abel's left hand to the steering wheel, delved in the sheriff's pockets and confiscated an automatic and a set of keys. He also took the ignition keys out of the lock, pocketed them and said pleasantly: "If you two gentlemen will sit here quietly for an hour or so, I'll be obliged."

He winked at them, started away. A few feet away he thought of something, turned back. He stepped to the front of the car, lifted the hood, and felt around till he touched the wire leading to the horn. He yanked this hard, and it came away in his hand. "I bet," Ed remarked to the sheriff, "you were telling Hank what a damn' fool I was, and that you could get help in a couple of minutes by blowing the horn! Too bad, Abel. You'll have to figure out another one!"

Neither of them said anything as Ed left them, tramping back to the roadside restaurant they had passed...

There were no cars at the stand when Ed reached it, and the restaurant part was closed up. The man in charge of the stand was at the rear, fiddling with a radio. He glanced up at Ed, apparently annoyed at the prospect of the interruption, and came to the counter. He was a lanky chap, and his hair was parted exactly in the center, glossed back with some sort of hair-glue. He glared and said, "Yes?"

Ed bought a bottle of ginger ale, drank half of it, and asked the man, "Can I use your phone?"

There was a coin-box just inside, and Ed nodded toward it.

The man was suspicious. People don't ordinarily walk up to a roadside stand—they drive up. He said grudgingly, "Go ahead. You can come in through the side door."


ED walked around to the door, entered, and saw the man significantly fingering an automatic which he had taken out of a drawer. Ed grinned at him. "It's all right," he said, "I'm not a hold-up. The car is down the road a bit—something wrong with the steering wheel."

The man grunted, went over to the radio and started fiddling with it again, but didn't turn his back.

Ed took out a pocketful of change, inserted a nickel in the slot of the phone, and asked for long distance.

The operator said she would call him when she got Mr. Partages, and Ed hung up, leaning against the wall idly to watch the man at the radio. There was some static coming through, and only raucous sounds could be heard.

Automobile tires crunched gravel outside, and Ed saw a small coupe pull up in front of the stand. The man at the radio looked up and called out: "Hello, Joe!" to the newcomer. Ed knew why the next moment, when he saw the uniformed State Trooper getting out.

The State Trooper stretched, patted the holstered revolver at his side, and leaned against the counter, tilting his hat back from his forehead. " 'Lo, Sam," he said to the counterman. "Gimme a hamburger. Fry it hard, and put plenty onions on it."

"Okay," said Sam.

The trooper glanced toward Ed, inquiringly, and Sam told him: "This here gent is stuck down the road a piece—something wrong with his steering."

"Yeah?" said the trooper. "Where?"

Ed jerked his thumb down the road.

"That's funny," the trooper replied, frowning. "I just come from that way. Didn't see any car."

"I pulled it off the road," Ed told him, "to avoid accidents."

The phone rang, and Ed picked up the receiver. Partages' voice came to him from the other end, in New York City:

"Hello, hello! Who's—?"

"Hello, Mr. Partages," Ed said into the instrument, trying to keep his voice as low as possible. "This is Ed."

"Hello, Eddie boy! I been worried—"

"Listen, Mr. Partages," Ed interrupted. "Why did you send me to Kirkwood? I'm being pushed around here, and I don't even know who's who—"

"You see Billings," Partages broke in. "He's my manager over at the Kirkwood Theater. He'll tell you everything—"

Over the sound of Partages' voice, there came to Ed's ears another voice. It was cold, crisp, and it was coming from the radio!

"State Police Barracks calling Troopers Williamson, Casey and Olivier... Arrest on sight, one Edward Race, vaudeville actor known as the Masked Marksman. Last seen driving south along Highway Twenty-three—two-three—in commandeered Buick taxi. He assaulted a girl and kidnapped the sheriff of Hawk County from in front of the Kirkwood Railroad Station. Use extreme caution. Race is an expert marksman, and is armed. He is five feet ten, weighs about one hundred and ninety. Fair hair, gray eyes, square jaw. When last seen, was wearing a gray suit and topcoat, and a gray felt hat. Trooper Williamson particularly, watch Highway Twenty-three... I will repeat—State Police Barracks calling cars..."


OUT of the corner of his eye Ed could see the trooper at the counter staring at him appraisingly.

Ed said hurriedly into the phone, "I'll call you later, Mr. Partages. Got some pressing business now." He hung up, and even as he did so his right hand streaked to his holster in a motion so fast that it was almost imperceptible to the eye. It came out with one of the forty-fives, and Ed covered the trooper and the counterman before the trooper's hand could come up again from the holster at his waist. "Keep it low!" Ed warned.

The counterman exclaimed: "Hully-gee! I knowed he was a phony!"

The trooper did not lift the gun from his holster. He stood rigid under the muzzle of Ed's gun, but there was a glint of unwilling admiration in his eyes. "That was the fastest draw I ever saw in my life," he said. "You must be the Masked Marksman, all right."

Ed climbed over the counter, keeping both men covered. Then he said to the counterman, "You, too. Come on over."

The counterman hesitated, glanced at the trooper, then gulped and climbed over. Ed marched the two of them around to the back of the building and into the closed-up part where the restaurant was located.

Ed made the counterman lie down on the floor, and then waved his gun at the trooper. "Tie him up with those towels!"

The trooper remonstrated. "You're only making things worse for yourself by this, Race."

"Tie him up!" Ed repeated.

The trooper shrugged, picked up a batch of dish towels from a rack, twisted them, and tied the counterman's hands. When he was finished, Ed tried the knots to be sure they were firm, then said to the trussed-up man, "Don't worry, Sam. You won't be here long. We'll come back and let you go."

Sam only glared, but the trooper looked surprised. "We?" he asked.

Ed nodded, grinned. "You and I are going places, Joe. Come on."

Joe's homely face expressed puzzlement. "You ain't goin' to tie me up here, too?"

"No. And you can keep your gun, too. Let's go."

They left the counterman, moved around to the front of the building. Ed rummaged around till he found a piece of cardboard from a carton, gave the trooper a pencil, and ordered:

"Print on that: 'This stand is on a self-service basis. Please help yourself and leave correct change on counter.' "

The trooper grinned, obeyed, printing the words with a flourish. Then, at Ed's direction, he tacked the sign up to the front of the stand.

"This will be a good test of people's honesty," Ed told him. "It's always been my contention that people are inherently honest. I bet our friend Sam doesn't lose a nickel by this."

"I think you're nuts," the trooper said glumly. "What do we do now—dance a jig or something?"

"No," Ed informed him. "We drive back to Kirkwood—in your car!"

The trooper stared at him a moment, then exclaimed: "Well, I'll be damned!"


IT was two-and-a-half miles back to Kirkwood, and the trooper drove slowly, a puzzled look on his face. Ed sat beside him and put his forty-five back in the shoulder holster. "What's your last name, Joe?" he asked.

"Williamson. Look here, Race, I don't get you. I saw your act in Louisville last week. I can't figure how you fit into a mess like this. You know you can't get away. Sooner or later you'll be corralled. You ain't going to give up your career on the stage an' everything?"

"You're right," Ed said.

"Then what're you taking me into Kirkwood for? If you want to make a fool of me—"

"Look," said Ed. "I'm not taking you into Kirkwood. You're taking me. Here's my gun!" He held out his forty-five.

A look of amazement spread over the trooper's face. "You givin' yourself up?" He took one hand from the wheel, accepted the gun, and glanced sideways at Ed. "Then what'd you pull that fast play back at the roadstand for?"

"Because I sized you up as a regular guy and I wanted a chance to talk to you in private. Slow up a little, so I can tell you a story."

The trooper let up on the accelerator, hugged the side of the road. "Shoot!"

For ten minutes Ed talked earnestly, tensely. "Will you take a chance and play along with me?" he finished.

For a moment the trooper hesitated. Then he picked up Ed's gun from his lap, where he had laid it, and handed it back. "Here's your gun, Race," he said.

"Good man!" Ed said softly.


MAIN STREET was crowded with Sunday night pleasure-seekers from the surrounding countryside. Cars were parked in an unbroken line at both curbs, all the way down to the station.

Ed pulled his hat low over his face as Williamson drove past the county jail. He didn't stop, but drove down the side street, turned left again at the next corner, and pulled up before the rear entrance of the jail. Ed gave him the bunch of keys he had taken from the sheriff, and the trooper got out, fitted one into the door and went in.

A few minutes later someone shouted inside, and there was the sound of a blow.

Soon the door opened and Williamson came out, half supporting a short, stout man who appeared disheveled, unkempt. He breathed the fresh air eagerly and hastily ran over to the coupe, where he gripped Ed's hand and shook it.

Williamson came up behind him and said to Ed, "Here's Billings, Race. I had to knock out a jailer to free him." He chuckled. "Imagine State Trooper Williamson conniving in a jailbreak!"

Billings turned, patted Williamson on the shoulder. "You won't regret this, Joe. I'll see you're plenty taken care of!"

He swung on Ed. "They slammed me around. It was my wife phoned Mr. Partages in New York. She threw me a note in the window, saying Mr. Partages was sending you here from Louisville. I—"

"Wait a minute, Billings." Ed got out of the car, while Williamson watched up and down the street. "What's been happening here? Who wanted you to close the Kirkwood?"

"Bixby," the manager told Ed. "When I took over the Kirkwood for Mr. Partages, Bixby had to close down."

"I get it," Ed said. "So he had the sheriff go to work on you."

Billings nodded. "They came in the cell and grabbed the note my wife threw in, almost before I'd finished reading it, so they knew you were coming. I was afraid they'd put you in jail, too."

"They almost did," Ed said grimly. He looked at Williamson. "What do you think now, Joe? Were you a sucker to play along with me?"

Williamson grinned. "I think Bixby will be the sucker!" he said. "But right now, the three of us ain't so hot. Billings here is a fugitive from the county jail; I aided him to escape; and you're wanted for assault on a girl, an' for abductin' the sheriff—and God knows for what else!"

"I think," Ed said bleakly, "that the next step indicated is a little informal call on the Honorable Mr. Bixby!"

"I know where he lives," Billings said.


BUT they didn't call on Mr. Bixby. Mr. Bixby called on them. Ed glanced down the street, suddenly grabbed Billings and pushed him into the car, scrambled in himself. "The girl!" he exclaimed to Williamson. "Get out of sight!"

The girl, Effie Bixby, had just turned the corner and was standing there uncertainly, the light from a street lamp shining in her face. Williamson ducked back into the doorway of the jail, and they watched her. Ed crowded close beside Billings, who murmured: "Wonder what she wants around here? She's Bixby's stepdaughter. He treats her something terrible. Effie's own mother, who was Bixby's second wife, is dead, and she's got no place to go, so she has to stay and take his guff."

Ed grunted, watched through the back window of the car. Effie Bixby stood on the corner for a moment, as if gathering her courage, then started down the street toward the jail entrance. She had only taken a few steps when the big Cadillac that Ed had seen at the station rounded the corner behind her, pulled up at the curb alongside her. The door opened, and Bixby got out. The girl had stopped upon hearing the car. Now she shrank back against the wall of the building as if in physical fear of her stepfather.

Bixby stood over her, and Ed could see his face, convulsed with anger. He was staring down at the girl, and all he said was, "Crossing me, eh?"

The girl had a hand at her mouth, and she was pressing her frail body as far back as she could get. Bixby's big hand came up, open, swung hard against the girl's cheek, and she uttered a little gasp. Bixby snarled, "What you doing here?"

Effie had covered her face with her hands. She was sobbing. "I—I can't go through with it!" she moaned. "They'll—they'll hunt that poor Mr. Race, and k-kill him. I—I was going to tell Mr. Billings all about it."

"Oh!" said Bixby. "So you were going to tell Billings all about it!" He gripped her shoulder so that she winced. "You come back to the house with me!"

Ed Race was out of the police coupe and running up the street toward them, his face bleak and gray. Bixby saw him coming, and he held the girl close to himself, tugging at the gun in his shoulder holster. His face was lit up as the gun came out. But he never fired...

Ed's big forty-five was out and bucking in his hand to the echo of its thunderous explosion. The slug from the forty-five creased Bixby's right arm, and the big man dropped his gun, screaming.

He let go his grip on the girl, pushed her aside, and stooped, picked up the gun again with his left hand. Ed could have shot him once more, but he didn't. His momentum as he ran carried him to within a foot of Bixby as the man straightened.

Ed's forty-five came down with stunning force on Bixby's left wrist. At the same time, Ed's left fist crashed up in a short, vicious arc to the point of Bixby's jaw, and the big man collapsed.

Williamson and Billings came running up, and Ed bent, helping Effie Bixby to her feet. She clung to him, her eyes wet. "Y-you must t-thing me—awful—for telling that lie back at the station!"

Ed smiled, patted her shoulder. "No, kid. That guy had you buffaloed. You couldn't do anything else. You had guts to come here now, this way."

She smiled contentedly. "I—I'm glad you don't think I'm—wicked." She glanced down at Williamson, who was bending over the unconscious Bixby, and she shuddered. "W-what are you going to do—with him?"

"There's no charge against him," Ed said gloomily. "He's kept within the law."

Billings asked uncertainly, "You—you think it'll be all right for me to open the Kirkwood now?"

"Sure." Ed grinned. "And you've got a new cashier." He pushed Effie Bixby forward. "From now on, she works for you. You give her an advance so she can get herself some place to live."

"I'll do better than that," Billings said, beaming. "I'll take her home. Mrs. Billings'll be glad to have her live with us!"


THERE was a glad light in Effie's eyes as she beamed her thanks at both of them. Ed turned away, said gruffly to Williamson, "Come on. Let's bundle Bixby in your car and go places."

"What places?" the trooper asked.

"We have to untie a couple of people that I left around, out on the road. And—see how many nickels Sam the counterman took in on the self-service system!"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
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