Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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The audience wildly applauded Ed Race's amazing six-gun accuracy, little realizing that the Masked Marksman would step from the stage directly into a kidnap-and- murder tangle which would call for shooting more fabulous than any vaudeville exhibition—while three precious lives hung in the balance!
ED RACE lit a cigar, and took three long puffs at it, to get the tip glowing. Then he flipped it high up into the air. It sailed straight upward like a comet, with sparks flashing from it. He turned in leisurely fashion, bowed to the audience, and spread his empty hands in a gesture requesting quiet.
Abe Selden, down in the pit, held his baton rigid, and the orchestra's low melody died away into silence. Not a sound was to be heard in the packed theatre, as the glowing cigar reached the height of its parabola, high up over the stage, and began to fall, with the burning tip aimed downward. Now it resembled an aerial torpedo-bomb descending upon a selected target. The audience was tense.
Ed Race smiled genially. He adjusted the small mask which covered the upper part of his face. He seemed to be in no hurry whatsoever.
And then, when the falling cigar was barely fifteen feet from the floor of the stage, he suddenly went into a flurry of motion. He turned sideways to the audience, facing the other end of the stage, where that glowing tip was visible in the spotlight which had been suddenly focused upon it. He threw his lithe body backward, into a back somersault. The tips of his fingers touched the floor of the stage as he went heels-over-head, then landed upon his feet. Miraculously—uncannily—a heavy .45 caliber revolver appeared in one hand.
As his feet touched the floor and his body straightened, that revolver roared once thunderously, belching flame.
The gaping audience saw the falling cigar jerk under the impact of the heavy slug, which smashed it back into the thick asbestos mattress at the other end of the stage. The orchestra sounded a single chord as accompaniment to the shot, and then became immediately silent again.
Ed Race holstered the revolver with a lightning-like motion, and strode across the stage. In front of the mattress, he stooped and picked up the cigar. He held it aloft for all to see.
The tip of that cigar was all torn and shredded. Where the glowing end had been, but a moment before, there was now only a pulpy mass of shredded tobacco. The Masked Marksman had shot away the burning tip of a falling cigar—in the air!
A slow ripple of applause arose from the balcony, and spread throughout the house, gaining volume until it reached a thunderous crescendo of tempestuous approval.
This was the climax of the Masked Marksman's vaudeville act. From coast to coast, on the far-flung stages of the Partages Circuit, it had never failed to bring down the house. And now, here on the stage of the great Clyde Theatre on Broadway, the wonder of his marvelous shooting skill carried away even the blasť New York audience.
Truly, the Masked Marksman was living up to the legend which appeared under his name on the marquee outside—The Man Who Can Make Guns Talk!
In his twelve years on the vaudeville stage Ed Race had bowed thus, before thousands of wildly applauding audiences. Yet each time he got a renewed thrill out of it. The same warm, glowing feeling always arose in his heart as he bowed once to the swelling tumult of applause, and began to back out into the wing.
And then, he stiffened with surprise. Behind the small black mask, his grey eyes narrowed; a twinkle appeared in them at sight of the chubby little boy who had come running out on the stage from the opposite wing. The little tyke was no more than six years old, and his head was covered with a profusion of golden curls. His round little face was smeared with dirt, and full of tense excitement.
BEHIND the lad, the assistant stage manager was running, trying to catch him, and yelling, "Come here, sonny! My Gawd, you can't go out there—"
But the lad was already out on the stage, and the stage manager dared not follow him. The audience stopped applauding, and started to laugh good-naturedly.
The golden-haired little lad didn't even notice the packed house. He ran straight across the stage, with his arms stretched out to Ed Race.
Ed smiled. He stooped and picked the boy up.
"Chubby Warren!" he whispered. "How the devil did you get in here, Chubby?"
"I ducked past the doorkeeper, Eddie," the boy gasped, breathless. "Aunt Mary sent me. She—she said to bring you right over. We—we're in trouble!"
Ed grinned. He patted Chubby Warren on the head, and turned to face the audience. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the stage manager and many of the actors and stage-hands crowding in the wings, wondering how he—would handle the situation. Tom Nolan, the assistant stage manager, had his hand on the lever, ready to ring down the curtain, but Ed shook his head slightly. He smiled, and bowed to the house, with Chubby still in his arms.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "meet my mascot. He hopes to be a gunman when he grows up!"
Laughter rippled through the house, and Ed backed off the stage. Now he nodded to Tom Nolan, and the curtain came down.
While the next number went on, everybody backstage crowded around Ed and Chubby. Tom Nolan came over, frowning, but Ed said, "Leave the kid alone, Tom. Don't you know him? He's Chubby Warren—Ted Warren's kid!"
Everybody knew the name of Ted Warren. He had been a trapeze performer on the Partages Circuit, and had been killed in a thirty-foot dive while doing a daring acrobatic act, right here in the Clyde Theatre. That was four years ago. He had left a pair of gorgeous twins, two years old—Chubby and Nora. Their mother had died a year before. Ted Warren's younger sister, Mary, had taken over the raising of the twins. With a sum of money contributed by generous old Leon Partages, Mary Warren had opened a small photographic supply store on Forty-sixth Street, and the theatrical fraternity went out of their way to patronize her. They sent her films to develop and print, from wherever they were on tour, and she would follow their schedules and mail the prints so as to reach them at their next stop.
Chubby Warren wriggled in Ed's arms and looked a little bewildered and scared by all the people who were crowding around them. He put his month close to Ed's ear and whispered, "Please, Uncle Ed, let's get out of here, quick. Aunt Mary says if you don't come right away something terrible may happen to Sis."
Ed stiffened. He saw now, that Chubby was wearing his pajamas under his little coat, and that the lad's feet were clad only in bedroom slippers. It was after ten at night, and Chubby should be in bed. That Mary Warren had routed him out and sent him to the Clyde to get Ed Race, meant that there was real trouble.
"Okay, Chubby," he said. "We're on our way!"
He pushed through the actors and stage hands crowding around them, and made for the stage door. He pulled the mask from his face, and stuffed it in his pocket. Otherwise, he was ready for the street. He always appeared on the stage in street clothes, without make-up. The only thing he used was the mask, and six forty-five caliber revolvers, two of which he always carried in shoulder holsters under his arms.
AS he hurried toward the exit, still carrying Chubby, he asked, "What's the trouble, kid? Why did Aunt Mary send you for me?"
"Gosh, Uncle Ed, I don't know. Some bad men came to the house, and took Sis away with them. Two of them stayed in the house, and I heard them talking to Aunt Mary in the next room, and then she came into the bedroom and whispered to me to get some clothes on and sneak into the kitchen and down the dumbwaiter, and go and get you. So I did that, and here I am."
Ed felt his blood racing. Little Nora Warren, Chubby's twin sister—taken away by "bad men!" Chubby sneaking down the dumbwaiter to come looking for Ed Race!
"Come on, Chubby!" Ed exclaimed, pushing out into the street. "We'll get the police—"
"Oh, no, Uncle Ed! Aunt Mary said especially to tell you—not to call the police!"
Ed's mouth formed a tight, thin line. He turned left on Forty- sixth, without putting Chubby down. The stage entrance of the Clyde was on Forty-sixth Street, only half a block down from the Warren Photographic Shop. The street was quiet. It was that in- between time in the theatrical district, when the streets are empty, and the theatres filled. There were only one or two pedestrians, and a couple of cabs cruising lazily, and Ed could see a car parked half way down the block in front of the Warren Photographic Shop.
Just at that moment, two men came running out of that building. They stopped for a moment under the modest neon sign which read:
DEVELOPING & PRINTING
FIVE HOUR SERVICE
Each of those men had a gun in his hand, and they saw Ed and Chubby at once.
"There's the brat, Mike!" one of them shouted. "I told you the dame sent him for help!"
"Okay!" Mike barked. "Burn them both down!"
The guns of the two men jerked up in unison.
Ed Race was handicapped by Chubby, whom he was holding on his right arm. He swung the lad down to the ground, and gave him a shove which sent him tumbling over toward a set-back in the building. At the same time, Ed dropped to one knee. His left hand flicked in and out from his shoulder holster. His powerful revolver thundered simultaneously with the spiteful bark of the guns in the hands of the two killers.
One of their slugs whined in the air, scarcely an inch from his ear. The other gouged into the cement sidewalk at his side, and ricocheted up into space.
But those two shots were the last the gunmen fired. Ed had scarcely taken the time to aim. Though they were more than seventy feet away, their bulk was certainly vastly larger than that of the glowing end of the cigar he had just hit, on the stage of the Clyde Theatre. He didn't even look to make sure he had struck them. He knew. He knew that when those men were examined, a lead bullet would be found in the heart of each of them.
The reverberations of that swift exchange of shots were still echoing down the street when he sprang up and snatched at Chubby's hand.
"Come on, kid!" he shouted, and lifted him to his shoulder, and ran swiftly into the alley between the Clyde Theatre and the office building which adjoined it.
BEHIND the office building, he made he his way along back yards toward the rear of the building in which Mary Warren's store was located. From what Chubby had told him, he understood that there must be a very good reason why Mary didn't want the police brought into this thing. If he remained to answer questions now, the police would surely take over. There would be plenty of time later, to come back and make explanations. Ed was known to the police, and could afford to take a certain amount of leeway. Inspector MacSpain, the dour head of Homicide, was his friend, whom he had often helped.
For Ed was something more than a star vaudeville performer. That uncanny ability of his with guns, plus a restless nervous energy which craved a constant outlet in excitement, had prompted him to choose an avocation—that of criminology. Ed Race held licenses to operate as a private detective in a dozen states, and his name was as hated in the underworld as the name of the Masked Marksman was admired and applauded in the entertainment world. More than once had he been called upon by his friends of the theatrical fraternity to lend his uncanny ability with guns to the solution of problems of theirs. It was not strange, therefore, that Mary Warren should have thought first of him when danger came.
From the direction of the street, there began to come sounds of police whistles, and of a radio car siren. Ed could imagine the scene out there, with the blue-coats throwing a cordon around the block, hoping to catch the killer of those two hoodlums. It would only be a matter of minutes before MacSpain got there, and that shrewd homicide inspector would not be slow to connect Ed Race with the fact that the killings had taken place outside of the Clyde Theatre. He would learn that Ed had just come out of the Clyde, together with Chubby. MacSpain's next stop would surely be the Warren Photographic Shop. There was no way to avoid that. What Ed hoped to do was to get a few minutes alone with Mary Warren before MacSpain arrived.
In that he was not disappointed, for just as he got abreast of the rear of the store, Chubby pointed upward excitedly toward the apartment window.
"There's Aunt Mary," he said.
She was looking out, and as soon as she saw Ed she waved, and hurried downstairs to open the back door for him.
While they waited, they could hear the sound of her racing footsteps on the wooden stairs, and Chubby nestled close.
"Gee, Uncle Ed," he said with eyes wide and wondering, "you sure can shoot! You—you killed those two bad men, didn't you?"
Ed swallowed hard, and nodded.
"Yes, Chubby, I killed them."
"When I grow up, Uncle Ed, I want to shoot guns like you. Can I? Will you show me how?"
"Yes, Chubby. I'll show you how."
Mary was opening the door for them now, and she stood aside for Ed to enter, then swiftly shut it behind him.
She hadn't turned on any light, and he could hear her gasp in the dark as she took Chubby from him.
"Oh, Ed!" she whispered. "It—it was terrible. I knew you wouldn't fail me. Come upstairs while I put Chubby back to bed. Then—then I must ask a favor of you."
He followed her up, and she said over her shoulder, "I—heard the shooting outside. It was you, wasn't it, Ed? Those two men?"
"Yes," he said. He asked her no questions. And she, on her part, asked him nothing more about the shooting. It took her less than five minutes to get Chubby safely tucked in bed, and Ed Race watched from the hallway. He could see little, because she did not put on a light. But he could just barely make out that the twin bed alongside of Chubby's was empty. The covers were rumpled, mute evidence that Chubby's twin sister, Nora, had lain in it tonight. But Nora was no longer there.
ED said nothing. He didn't know whether she knew he had noticed the empty bed. But he did note that Mary Warren refrained from asking him to come in and say goodnight to Chubby. She just asked the little fellow to throw a kiss to Ed, and while the boy did it, she stood in such a way as to screen the empty bed from Ed's view.
Chubby was asleep almost as soon as his curly head hit the pillow. Ed smiled in the dark. What a happy faculty childhood has, he thought, of shedding all care and worry, and dropping into slumber at a moment's notice. Not even the excitement of running on to the stage of the Clyde Theatre, or of witnessing a gunfight, had been able to keep his weary little eyes open a moment longer. Many a dyspeptic millionaire would have traded all his wealth in exchange for that ability merely to fall asleep!
Mary Warren came out into the hall, and softly closed the door. In the darkness, she took Ed Race's arm, and pressed it.
"Thank you, Ed," she whispered, "for not asking questions!"
Grimly, he went downstairs with her. Down here there was a hall, into which he had come when he entered the building. It ran all the way from the front to the rear, and the front door was open, as those two thugs had left it when they had run out in pursuit of Chubby.
Mary opened a door in the side of the hall, which led directly into the photographic store. There was no light in here, either, and she guided him in the dark by the arm, to the rear, where the darkroom was located.
Out in the street they could see police squad cars, and a milling crowd of people around the bodies of the two gunmen. For an instant, Ed caught sight of the stocky, powerful figure of Detective Inspector MacSpain, issuing crisp orders. Ed nodded in satisfaction. MacSpain hadn't inquired at the Clyde Theatre yet. That would give him a few more minutes of time before the inspector would come here. Time enough to hear Mary Warren's story.
She led him into the darkroom. And not until she had closed the door tightly, did she turn on a light. And then it was only a small, ten-watt "safelight," used while developing film. In that eerie, uncertain illumination, she turned and faced him.
Mary Warren was a beautiful girl. The top of her auburn hair barely came to his shoulder. And even here it was easy to see that she was holding her slim body under tense control only by a supreme effort of will.
"The police will be here very soon, Ed," she whispered. "They're sure to come when they learn about Chubby going into the Clyde after you." She closed her eyes tightly for a moment. "I—I shouldn't have sent him. But—but I really didn't think clearly. I was too frightened."
"Frightened?" he asked. "Of what?"
She looked up at him only for an instant, and then dropped her gaze.
"Please, Ed—will you do something for me—a great favor—without asking any questions?"
"What is it you want, Mary?"
For answer, she turned to the developing table, which extended along one wall of the darkroom. Set in niches in the table, there were three deep tanks containing developer, chrome alum hardening compound, and acid fixing bath, respectively. Ed knew what was in each of the tanks, and just how they were used, for he had occasionally come here of an evening, before his number went on at the Clyde, and helped Mary Warren develop and print films.
MARY dipped her arm deep into the acid fixing tank, and drew out a strip of ordinary 120 roll film. She took it to the sink, and washed it in running cold water, and then hastily rolled it up. She filled a small can with water, put the roll into it and screwed on the cover. She offered it to Ed Race.
"This can won't leak," she said. "I want you to take it to a certain man. That's all. Will you do it?"
Ed raised his eyebrows. "Is that why you routed Chubby out of bed, and sent him down the dumbwaiter? Is that why you told him to get me over here right away?"
"Yes, Ed," she said simply. "It—it's more important than you think. And I can't explain."
He took the can, and held it in his hand. "Who's the man I'm to give this to?"
"His name is Galliani, and he'll be waiting for you in Room six-o-eight of the Mercury Hotel, on Fifty-first Street."
Ed studied her face under the dimly filtered rays of the safelight.
"Do you realize, Mary, that I just shot and killed two men out in the street almost in front of this store? Do you realize that MacSpain will be looking for me in a short while? Don't you think you should tell me more about this?"
She swallowed hard, and her small fists pressed tightly against her sides.
"I'm sorry, Ed. I—I can't tell you any more. I—I must ask you to do this blindly."
"Suppose the police pick me up while I'm carrying this film?"
She uttered a little cry of consternation. "Oh, God, no! You mustn't let them, Ed. You mustn't. You—you know how to avoid them—"
Ed thrust the can of film into his jacket pocket, and put one big hand on her shoulder. With the other, he lifted her chin up so that he could look down into her eyes.
"Mary," he asked slowly, "has this anything to do with the fact that Nora's bed is empty?"
She cringed from him as if he had struck her. "Then you saw—"
"Of course I saw, Mary. And Chubby let something drop, too." His fingers dug hard into her shoulder. "Why can't you trust me, Mary? Don't you owe me that much? Is it because they've taken little Nora away?"
She nodded, biting her lip. "Yes. They've taken—Nora. Galliani made me promise I'd not tell a soul—or I'd never see Nora alive."
"And this film in my pocket is to be the ransom?"
"But why? What's on this film that makes it worth the life of a little girl?"
"I don't know, Ed. I swear, I don't know. Galliani brought it in here tonight, and wanted me to develop it, while he waited. It's Panatomic film, and I told him it would take two hours. He wouldn't wait. He seemed terribly nervous, and kept watching the street all the time. He had two other men with him. They all looked—like frightened rats."
"Go on," Ed urged her, tightly.
"They talked among themselves for a few minutes, and then Galliani saw a picture of the twins, and he laughed wickedly. He whispered to his two companions, and they went upstairs and took Nora out of bed, without disturbing Chubby. Galliani said they'd take Nora away with them, and that I was to bring the film over to the Mercury Hotel when it was developed, or send it by messenger. I wasn't to print the pictures, just to develop the film. And that if he didn't get the film by eleven o'clock, I'd never see Nora alive again. They took Nora away with them. And Galliani threatened that they'd kill Nora if I notified the police!"
"I see," Ed said gently. "And what about those two men I just shot?"
"Ten minutes after Galliani and his men left, these other two arrived. They wanted to know what Galliani had been doing here, and if he'd left any film to develop. I lied, and told them he hadn't, thinking they'd go away. But instead, they said they'd stay all night. They got their guns out, and waited for Galliani to come back. I was desperate. If they stayed, I'd not be able to develop the film, and then Galliani would kill Nora. So I went into Chubby's room and woke him up, and sent him down the dumbwaiter to get you—"
SHE broke off, gasping as the sound of loud knocking came from the front door of the store. At the same time, they heard heavy footsteps moving down the hall, and then up the stairs to the apartment above.
"The police!" she exclaimed. "If Galliani has some one watching, they'll think I called the police! They'll kill Nora!"
A voice called from upstairs, "There's nobody up here, Inspector, except that little boy, an' he's sound asleep."
"Only one?" they heard MacSpain call. "There should be two—twins."
"No, sir. There's another bed, but it's empty."
"You're sure Miss Warren isn't in any of the other rooms?"
"Nobody else up here, sir."
"All right, Peters, you stay up there. I'll see if I can get into the store."
Inside the darkroom, Mary Warren clutched at Ed Race's sleeve.
"Ed!" she whispered in a panic. "Inspector MacSpain will catch you in here! I left the side door to the hall unlocked. He'll come in and find you. You've got to get away—"
They heard the knob of the side door turning, and then the creak of the hinges, followed by MacSpain's footsteps in the store, just outside the darkroom.
Swiftly, Ed reached over and switched out the safelight. It left him in total darkness. He opened the darkroom door just a crack, and peered out. Inspector MacSpain was barely five feet away. He had a flashlight out, and was throwing its beam around the store, upon the display cases of cameras and photographic materials.
Another detective came in through the hallway, and reported to him.
"We've identified those two muggs, Inspector. They're Ike Sharp, and Patsy Liggio—two of Nick Hawks's trigger men."
"Nick Hawks!" exclaimed Inspector MacSpain. "What were his hoods doing here? Anything on them?"
"No, sir. But each had fired one shot. And each of them has a hole in his chest the size of a house. Looks like forty-five slugs."
"I thought so," MacSpain said reflectively, flickering his flashlight around the store. "It's Ed Race's work, all right. No one else could shoot it out so neatly with two hoods like that. The city owes him a vote of thanks. I wonder why he scrammed!"
The detective returned to his duties outside, and Ed remained at the crack of the darkroom door, watching tensely. The mention of the name of Nick Hawks had set his blood racing. Everybody knew that Nick Hawks ran a string of gambling layouts in the city, and that he protected them with a small army of gunmen, like Ike Sharp and Patsy Liggio. But no one had ever been able to prove anything on Hawks. The man lived luxuriously, and ran a chain of cheap picture theatres as a blind for his real operations. He always travelled around with a couple of so-called "assistant managers," who were really bodyguards. But why two of Nick Hawks' gunmen should have come to this little photographic shop to lie in wait for a man named Galliani, Ed couldn't understand.
What he did know was that Mary Warren was sobbing quietly at his elbow here in the darkroom, knowing that if he was discovered by MacSpain, he would not be able to deliver the film to Galliani, and that little Nora Warren would die as a result.
He saw MacSpain turn slowly, swinging his flash toward the darkroom. Hastily, Ed closed the door. He stood utterly still, feeling the warm, palpitating body of Mary Warren close beside him. Clearly, they could hear MacSpain's steps approaching.
"Ed!" she gasped in a choked whisper. "What'll we do?"
Ed pushed her toward the door. "Get out there, Mary," he whispered, "and divert his attention while I sneak out. Act as you never acted before in your life. Do a strip tease if you have to—but hold his attention!"
He felt her straighten up beside him. "All right, Ed," she said in a small voice. "Here goes. And—you've got to succeed!"
She began to utter a series of queer, choking moans, in a low, strangled voice. At the same time, she shook the doorknob hard.
"Help!" she gagged. "Help!"
Then she turned the knob, and stumbled out of the darkroom, dropping to her knees.
ED nodded approval as he listened to her act. She was giving it all she had. He heard MacSpain utter an exclamation of surprise, and, peering from behind the door, saw the inspector swing his light down toward Mary.
"Miss Warren!" he exclaimed, stooping to lift her up.
Mary fell into the Inspector's arms. She began to talk hysterically, in a loud voice, to cover any possible noise Ed might make as he stole across the store behind MacSpain's back.
"Robbers! They—they broke in and wanted money. They hit me on the head—" as MacSpain started to turn around, she raised her voice louder, and clung to him so hard that he couldn't move for a moment—"don't leave me! I'm afraid! Help me—water..."
Ed was out in the hall by this time. He heard no more as he stole down toward the rear, and out the back way.
It was only a matter of moments before he was out in the street, and mingling with the crowd which was thronging around the scene of the shooting. The morgue wagon was there, and they were loading the bodies of the two dead gunmen into it. Police had formed a circle around the spot, and traffic was being pushed through a bottle neck. The congestion was pretty bad.
Ed had left the Clyde without a hat, so he had nothing to shade his face from observation. But he kept to the shadows as much as possible, moving toward Broadway.
He passed two cops who were discussing the shooting, and one of them said, "Sharp and Liggio were plenty tough. But they met some one tougher this time, all right. There's only one guy I know of who could put two slugs in them so neat—and facing their guns, at that!"
"Yeah," said the other cop. "The Masked Marksman. I've seen his act a dozen times. The guy is uncanny. I bet Sharp and Liggio didn't know who they were up against, or they'd have quit before they started. They were just yellow rats."
Ed passed on, and was almost at the corner of Broadway when his eyes suddenly narrowed. Instinctively, his shoulders hunched slightly forward, in the motion which he customarily made when he wanted to bring his holsters into position for a quick draw.
The thing which had made him get set for action was the splendid Rolls Royce limousine which was pulled up in front of the fire plug at the corner. The license number on that limousine was NH—2. Its solid bulk gave the impression of an armored car—which indeed it was. For this was one of Nick Hawks' three cars. Hawks was sitting in the rear, with Gil Smood, his personal bodyguard. In the front seat, beside the chauffeur, sat another bodyguard, whom Ed knew by the name of Jake Longo. He saw that all three of the men were watching him with curious, intent expressions.
There was no question in Ed Race's mind, but that Nick Hawks and his paid killers were in some way connected with that roll of developed but unprinted film in his pocket. The man, Galliani, had brought it to Mary Warren to be developed, and immediately thereafter, two of Hawks' gunmen had come looking for Galliani. They had asked for the film. And here was Nick Hawks himself, in his luxurious limousine, right on the street where two of his thugs had just met death. It must be something vitally important to bring the big boss down here in person. Ordinarily, the loss of two gunmen would not have affected him in the least. As a matter of fact, his usual procedure when his trigger-men got in trouble, was to disavow them entirely—and secretly hire a shyster lawyer to defend them. But when they were killed, he never even admitted that they had been working for him.
Ed came abreast of the limousine, walking with his shoulders slightly hunched forward.
HAWKS, who was sitting nearest the curb, opened the window and stuck his head out. His small, basilisk eyes centered upon Ed.
"Hello, Race," he said in a flat, unemotional voice.
"Hello," Ed replied. He kept on walking.
"Wait," said Hawks. "What's your hurry, Race? Let's talk for a minute. You don't want to pass by an old friend without talking—especially when you just knocked off two of his boys!"
Ed stopped, and turned slowly.
"What makes you think I knocked them off?" he asked steadily.
Hawks' grin was like that of a wolf.
"I don't think, Race. I know!"
Ed raised his eyebrows. "Getting clairvoyant?"
"Not clairvoyant, Race. Just good eyesight. I saw you shoot them down. My boys, here, saw it, too. We were just turning into the street. Too far away to do anything about it then." He paused, and then added significantly, "But it's not too late to do something about it now."
Gil Smood in the rear, and Jake Longo in front beside the chauffeur, both had their hands stuck in under their coats, touching the butts of their guns, and ready to draw at a word from the boss.
"We'd have every right to shoot you down," Hawks went on. "The cops will find the bullets in Sharp and Liggio came from your revolver. We could say that you attacked us, the same as you attacked them. The cops will believe us—self defense!"
Ed Race's eyes were narrowed slits. His hands hung loosely at his sides. He was watching Smood and Longo, but he spoke to their boss.
"Any time you want to give the word, Hawks, why go ahead. If you think those two rats of yours can get their guns out before I can draw—give them the word. But remember that your face is nearest to me. Have you ever seen me do my act? Have you ever seen how fast I draw? For instance—"
His hands moved in a sudden blurred flurry of motion which was impossible to follow. And, magically, he was holding the two .45 caliber, hair-trigger revolvers—one pointing past Hawks' face at Smood, the other pointing obliquely at Longo, in the front.
The two gunmen were caught absolutely flat-footed. Their own guns had barely had a chance to start coming out of the holsters. Their faces went a sickly green, and they sat frozen, incapable of moving. Hawks, too, remained transfixed, his face framed by the window of the Rolls Royce.
Ed smiled thinly. Almost as swiftly as he had produced the twin revolvers, he returned them. In the short space of four seconds, he had drawn his guns, kept those men covered for enough time so that they could feel the fear of death, and then had returned the weapons to their holsters. His hands hung loosely at his sides once more. The whole thing had been so swift, that no one in the street even noticed what had happened.
"And now, Mr. Hawks," Ed said softly, "do you want to let your boys try again? Maybe they'll be a little faster next time."
Smood and Longo hastily took their hands out from under their coats—empty—and put them in their laps. They wanted no part of the Masked Marksman—face to face.
Nick Hawks swallowed hard, and wiped sweat from his forehead. "God!" he said. "You're a damned wizard!"
"Thank you," Ed said. "And now—do you mind if I leave? I wouldn't advise you boys to shoot me in the back when I walk away. You couldn't very well call that self-defense!"
"Wait a minute!" Hawks said urgently. "Hold on, Race. I'd like to talk business with you."
HAWKS studied him for an instant. "A rat named Galliani used to work for me. He was a croupier at one of my dice games. He brought some film to the Warren dame tonight, to develop. I want that film. I'll give you twenty-five grand for it!"
Ed smiled, shook his head. Even if he had needed the money, he wouldn't have considered trading—with little Nora Warren's life in the balance. But he had made plenty of money in his vaudeville career, so that he was well-fixed for life. And Hawks knew that. It indicated the desperation to which the gambling king was being driven, that he made this offer, which he knew would not be accepted.
"Sorry, Hawks," Ed said.
The other's eyes became cagey. "Then you have the film?"
"None of your damned business. And now, good-by!"
Ed Race turned on his heel, and continued on toward the corner. He had learned something, but still not enough. One thing he had learned for certain—that the film in his pocket was of supreme importance to Nick Hawks—of so much importance that the gambling king might even now be desperate enough to give his gunmen the order to shoot Ed in the back, in an effort to recover it.
He did not turn around, however, but kept on, at an even pace, toward the corner. In his mind, he tried to picture himself in Hawks' position. If the man was desperate enough to order Smood and Longo to shoot, it would take him a moment or more to arrive at the decision. Hawks would probably try to figure his chances of beating the rap for such a shooting, would probably decide that since the police were now looking for Ed, there might be some legal justification for shooting him—even in the back. So about now, he might be giving the okay. Smood and Longo would be getting out of the car, pulling their guns...
He was at the corner. He turned left on Broadway, and involuntarily looked backward, tensing for a quick draw if it should prove necessary.
He was almost disappointed that he hadn't figured it right.
Hawks must have evolved a different plan. For the limousine was no longer at the curb. It was moving out into traffic, in the opposite direction. Ed couldn't see inside the car, so he didn't know whether Hawks and Smood and Longo were still in it, or whether they had gotten out in order to follow him on foot. But he was sure that Hawks hadn't given up. That roll of film was too important.
Ed walked swiftly up Broadway now, toward Fifty-first. It would be necessary for him to double on his trail and make sure he wasn't followed, before going to see Galliani at the Mercury Hotel. Nothing must be permitted to endanger the safety of little Nora. He thought of Mary Warren, back at the photographic shop, bravely answering the hammering questions of Inspector MacSpain, probably enduring a grilling.
This thing had happened so suddenly tonight, that he had not had much opportunity to consider his own position. He had definitely compromised himself with the police, by disappearing after the shooting. True, MacSpain had said that the town owed him a vote of thanks for killing Sharp and Liggio. But the District Attorney, who was not a friend of his, might not take such a broad view of it. Ed's duty as a citizen was to have remained right there and explained that he had fired in self- defense, and to have offered little Chubby Warren's testimony in evidence of that statement. But he hadn't done it that way. And he was sure, in addition, that the film in his pocket would be of definite value to the police. Otherwise, Hawks would not have been so interested in getting his hands on it.
AT Forty-Seventh Street, Ed turned and looked behind him, but could not spot anyone following him. That did not mean that he was not being tailed. Hawks, or Longo, or Smood—or all three of them—could be on the opposite side of the street, or they might be tailing him in a taxicab. He decided to take a cab himself, and ride around the town a little—and then he looked at a clock in a jeweler's window, and changed his mind.
It was five minutes of eleven!
Time had passed much faster than he had thought. And Mary had told him that if the film was not delivered to Galliani at the Mercury Hotel by eleven o'clock, Nora Warren would die! There was no time to shake any possible followers. He must go straight ahead, regardless of consequences. He hastened his steps up Broadway, and turned swiftly into Fifty-first.
The Mercury was a second-grade hotel, with not much of a lobby. Hangers-on of the underworld patronized this place. Touts, tipsters, drug peddlers, made it their headquarters. Murder had taken place in this hotel on several occasions in the past, and each time it had changed names. But it remained the same sort of hotel, nevertheless.
Ed made straight for the elevator, and pressed a five-dollar bill into the hand of the operator. "Go straight up," he said. "Don't wait for any more customers!"
The operator glanced at the denomination of the bill, and said, "You bet!" Just as the door closed, Ed saw Smood and Longo come into the narrow lobby, half running. Behind them, he glimpsed Nick Hawks.
Smood and Longo waved for the cage to wait for them, but the boy pretended not to see their signal, and closed the door all the way. The cage shot upward.
"What floor, mister?"
"Twelve," Ed said.
The operator glanced at him over his shoulder, and grinned. "There ain't but eight floors in this here hotel, mister."
Ed looked sheepish. "All right. Make it eight."
At the eighth, Ed got out. He took out a twenty dollar bill, and tore it in half. He gave one half to the boy, and put the other back in his pocket.
"Take your time going down," he said. "If you can make the down trip last about five minutes, so those bozos can't ride up, I'll give you the rest of that bill when I come out."
"If you come out!" the operator said gloomily.
"I generally do!" Ed told him.
The boy grinned, and nodded. "Okay, mister. It's a sale."
He closed the door, and Ed saw the cage move down very leisurely, past the glazed door. As soon as he was alone, Ed streaked for the stairs, and hurried down to the sixth floor. He found 608 without trouble, and rapped hard.
He must have been expected, for a voice close to the other side of the door called hoarsely, "Yes? Who?"
"It's about—the film," Ed said.
"You got it with you?"
Immediately, the lock was turned, and the door came open.
A SHORT, wizened man with a pinched face, and the eyes of a cornered rat, was standing just inside. He had a big automatic in his hand, and pointed it straight at Ed's stomach.
"Come in," he said. His eyes watched Ed unblinkingly, and he wet his lips nervously with his tongue.
Ed walked into the room.
There was no one else in the room. The little, wizened man closed the door and locked it, keeping Ed covered.
"All right," he said. "Hand over the film."
Ed shook his head. "Not yet, Galliani."
"What do you mean?" snarled the other.
"Where's the little girl—Nora Warren?"
"She's okay. You gimme the film. If it's right, the kid will be returned."
"No," said Ed.
Galliani grinned wickedly. "Mister, you ain't smart. Nobody in this here hotel will pay any attention to a shot. You hand over that film, or I give it to you in the guts and take it!"
He thrust the gun forward, and raised it a little, so that the muzzle was centered on Ed's breastbone. "And no more talk. It's the film—or curtains!"
"You're wrong," Ed said mildly, "about nobody paying attention to a shot. There are three men in this hotel right now, who will be very much interested. Would you like to know who they are?"
"Nuts to you!" snarled Galliani. "I told you I don't want no talk—"
"The names of these three men," Ed went on imperturbably, "are Hawks and Smood and Longo. Interested?"
Galliani's eyes widened. His mouth went open for a second, and then he shut it, his lips twisting into a sneer. "To hell wit' that. You didn't bring them. They'd of taken the film off you—"
"Not from me," Ed told him. "Here's the film. I'll show it to you, just to prove I've got it. But I don't hand it over till I get little Nora Warren—alive and safe!"
As he spoke, he put his hand in his pocket. His coat tightened across his chest and Galliani said, "I see the bulge of your guns, pal. If your hand touches one o' them under the coat, I'm pulling the trigger!"
Ed smiled, and brought the can out. He opened it, and extracted the roll of film, under the other's eagle eye.
"Now to prove it's the right film..." with one hand he held up the film and let it unroll, while with the other he closed the can and put it in his breast pocket.
Galliani's eyes were no longer on that hand. They were fixed with deadly earnestness upon that film. He kept his automatic trained on Ed's chest, and reached with his free hand for the roll.
Ed's eyes flickered. His hand, under the coat, was no longer holding the can. It was gripping the butt of a .45 caliber revolver. And while Galliani reached for the film, Ed's hand came out.
That lightning motion was so swift that as far as Galliani was concerned, it might never have happened. All he knew was that something seemed to flicker past his face, and then there was a stunning crack against his gun wrist. The automatic fell out of his hand. Every nerve of his arm was paralyzed, as far up as the elbow.
HE stood there stupidly, looking at the roll of film still suspended in Ed's hand.
Ed kicked the automatic over into a corner, and then shoved Galliani into the single chair in the room.
"If you move," he said to the stunned rat, "I'll crack you over the skull!"
Galliani was too dazed even to be frightened. He just sat where Ed had thrust him, still not fully comprehending that he had lost the upper hand.
Ed holstered his revolver, and took this opportunity to examine the roll of film. It was the first chance he had gotten since coming into possession of it.
There were six exposures, and they all had all been taken in broad daylight, somewhere on a roof top. Whoever had taken the pictures had stood on one roof, and had focused on a scene taking place on an adjoining roof. He must have snapped them in quick succession, for they represented a single continuity of action.
And it was the character of that action which caused Ed Race to utter an ejaculation of complete understanding. The first exposure showed the figure of a man coming up through the skylight of the building, carrying an inert body on his shoulder. The second, third and fourth showed him carrying that body across the roof to the parapet. The fifth was a distinct picture clicked just as the man was in the act of hurling the inert body over the parapet. His back was to the camera here, but in the sixth exposure his full face showed as he walked back from the parapet toward the skylight.
And even in the negative it was easy to identify that man—Nick Hawks!
Ed looked up from the film, to see Galliani eyeing him covertly.
"Who's the victim?" he asked, tapping the roll of celluloid.
"None of your damn business," Galliani snapped, nursing his broken wrist.
Ed watched him shrewdly. "I could guess. Three or four months ago, there was an item in the papers about a wealthy young man named Blaisdell, who committed suicide by jumping from the roof of Nick Hawks' Casino Club. At a guess, I'd say that Blaisdell must have got in an argument with Hawks, and that Hawks hit him too hard, and killed him. So he took him up to the roof and dumped him, making it look like suicide!"
He saw Galliani sort of shrink into himself as he listened, and Ed knew he had guessed right. Galliani must have taken these pictures, and had probably tried to blackmail Hawks. But in order to make sure, it had been necessary to develop them. Galliani and his gang of rats, knowing too little about developing to do it themselves, had brought the pictures to Mary Warren. And they had taken little Nora as hostage, to make sure they'd get their film back.
No wonder Nick Hawks wanted that roll so badly!
Grimly, Ed thrust the roll back into his pocket, and went over and seized Galliani by the collar.
"All right," he said. "Talk fast. Where's the little girl—Nora Warren?"
"You go to hell!" said the rat-faced man.
"No," Ed said. "I won't go to hell yet. You will!"
He lifted Galliani off the chair by his coat collar, and fairly dragged him over to the window. He hoisted him up, one hand on his collar, the other on the seat of his pants, and forced him out over the sill.
"Here you go," he said. "This will look like suicide, too. But there's nobody to take pictures of it!"
"Wait!" shrieked Galliani. "I'll talk!"
Ed held him over the sill. "Talk, then!"
"You—you won't throw me out if I talk?"
"Not if the girl is safe!"
"She's safe, all right. Sam and Pete—my two pals—got her down in room three-o-one. It's the truth, so help me!"
"All right," Ed said grimly. "We'll see." He dragged Galliani inside, held him up with his left hand, and hit him hard on the jaw with his right. The rat-faced man crumpled like a spineless puppet. Ed let him down to the floor, not bothering to tie him. It would be a long time before he came to. He stepped over the inert man, yanked open the door, and stopped short.
Gil Smood and Jake Longo were standing in the hallway just outside the door, with guns in their hands, and grins on their murderous faces. Behind them, Nick Hawks was standing with a long-barreled Luger.
LONGO and Smood pulled the triggers on their guns almost at the instant when Ed opened the door. But Ed's powerfully muscled body, trained to instantaneous response to reflex action, went into a bewildering back flip, away from the door, and over toward the left.
If Smood and Longo had kept their guns in line when they fired, they couldn't have helped hitting Ed Race, no matter how fast he moved, for the speed of a bullet from a modern automatic cannot be beaten by anything known to man. But that perplexing back somersault had tricked more than one expert killer in the past, as it did them. They swerved their guns in an effort to follow him, and in so doing they lost their target. Their slugs smashed into the plaster.
They never got a chance to fire a second shot, because Ed Race was back on his feet at the far side of the room, with his two hair-trigger .45's belching flame and thunder in streams of deadly fire.
Smood and Longo went down, backward, their bodies smashing into Nick Hawks, who was directly behind them. But Ed didn't stop shooting. Grimly, he triggered those two revolvers, sending slug after slug into the falling bodies. Those bullets smashed through the bodies of Smood and Longo, and hit Hawks. One of them took him square in the heart, and he was dead when he landed on the floor.
Ed Race's guns were empty when he stopped shooting.
Grimly, slowly, he crossed the room and stepped over the three dead men, out into the hall.
He was just in time to meet Inspector MacSpain and two detectives, who came barging out of the elevator.
"By God!" exclaimed MacSpain. "I knew if we followed Hawks, he'd lead us to you! Eddie, I've got to arrest you—"
"Wait a minute, Mac!" Ed interrupted. "Take a look at these!"
He thrust the films into the Inspector's hand, and MacSpain whistled when he saw them. Ed let him look.
"Get down to three-o-one," he told the two detectives. "There are two rats down there, holding little Nora Warren. You better get more men, and try to take them from the window!"
Less than ten minutes later, little Nora Warren was safe in Ed's arms, in the lobby of the Mercury, and Galliani and his two accomplices were being led into a Black Maria.
"I guess," Inspector MacSpain said with a twinkle in his eye, "that I can pass up arresting you for the shooting of those two lugs on Forty-Sixth Street. I don't think the D. A. will want to prosecute, when he hears the story."
"Thanks for nothing!" Ed grumbled. "What a pal!"
MacSpain sputtered with mock indignation. "Here I am, giving you every consideration, and you keep on grumbling! What more do you want?"
"A police car with a loud siren," Ed told him, "to help me get Nora back to her Aunt Mary and her twin brother—and I mean right now!"
MacSpain's eyes twinkled. "I'll take you myself, Eddie. I want a chance to find out more about this photography business. There seems to be something to it!"
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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