Roy Glashan's Library
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EMILE C. TEPPERMAN

BILLED FOR DEATH!

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First published in The Spider magazine, March 1935

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version date: 2017-12-07
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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Cover

The Spider, March 1935, with "Billed for Death!"



Ed Race, vaudeville headliner and ace detective, leaped at the chance to help out the manager of the Trout City Theater. But that leap in the dark landed Ed fast in a killer's net, where the only out for a desperate criminal crew lay in making a corpse of one gun-juggling detective!



THE conductor of the milk-train opened the door, letting in a swirl of night wind and cinders. "Trout City," he called. "Show your tickets, please. Trout City." The train started to slow up; the conductor fixed the door open and stood for a moment in the vestibule.

Ed Race started to get up from the last seat in the day-coach, grateful that he had arrived here at last. Down the aisle a fat man snored, lurching forward in his seat with the halted momentum of the train. But Ed Race's eyes were fixed on the little, wizened man who was seated next to the fat sleeper. He saw, in the flash of an instant, one thin, claw-like hand dart toward the fat man's coat; saw that hand flash out again, holding a wallet; and then the back of the seat hid the hand and its contents. The little man feigned a yawn, stretched, got up and transferred to a seat just behind his stout, still sleeping victim.

The fat man woke up. His hand went at once to his breast pocket. His eyes opened wider. He grumbled something and started searching the floor. The little pickpocket glanced behind him, saw Ed looking at him, and flushed guiltily. Ed got up.

So did the little dip. He lunged past the conductor, just as the train grumbled to a jerky stop, with Ed behind him, yelling at him to stop. But the little man paid no attention. He leaped down and started running in the shadows across the station platform.

Behind Ed Race pandemonium broke loose in the car. The fat man, thoroughly aroused, was lumbering down the aisle, shouting, "Get those crooks!" The conductor was adding his voice to the shouts and rapidly-flung questions of the other passengers.

Ed threw back an annoyed glance and jumped down from the car platform to the plank flooring of the station.

This wasn't exactly the way Ed Race had planned to arrive in Trout City. His specialty was a juggling act with the Midwest Vaudeville Circuit—"The Masked Marksman," was his billing—and Ed could do things with those six forty-five revolvers that weren't in any of the books. Everything would have been fine if Jake Landor, boss of the vaudeville circuit, had not discovered that Ed's sideline was dabbling in crime. He had a license in a dozen states to operate as a private detective. When Jake Landor found that out, he sent Ed a telegram at Evansville.


CATCH MIDNIGHT FOR TROUT CITY STOP OUR MANAGER THERE IN TROUBLE STOP TAKE GUNS STOP SPARE NO EXPENSE TO CLEAN IT UP. LANDOR


Ed had grabbed the first train, and now here he was. But instead of getting off in a leisurely fashion, he found himself in this pickpocket chase. Added to that, he was also accused by the bawling fat man.

Ed didn't get very far in that race across the platform. He skidded to a fast stop, warned by some sixth sense that hell was going to cut loose. He jumped back onto the car and hugged the wall of the platform.

For in the darkness just beyond the station lights there burst the nasty chatter of an automatic rifle. The quick staccato was accompanied by the whine of steel-jacketed slugs which smashed into the body of the fleeing pickpocket.

His body hurtled through the air, flung back by the bullet impact, then fell limply to the wooden boards of the platform. He jerked once or twice, then was still.


AT once the barking of the automatic rifle ceased. From somewhere out in the darkness beyond the lights of the station there was the sound of an automobile motor being raced, of tires crunching on gravel, of a car speeding away.

For a moment all was silent, in weird startling contrast to the wicked racket of a second ago. Then men came running out of the waiting room of the station; a police siren shrilled. Everybody was moving, shouting—everybody but the little pickpocket, who would never move any more.

Ed Race looked thoughtful as he leaped to the platform and picked up one of the automatic rifle slugs which had rebounded from the steel side of the car.

If it hadn't been for the pickpocket's attempted escape, Ed would have been the first one to get off the train. He would have received that hail of lead and he would now be lying on the platform where, instead, the little man lay.

The killers, whoever they were, could never have known that the pickpocket would get off here, because the little fellow hadn't expected to have to get off himself. Ed's arrival could have been known to them—telegrams are not exactly private. Ed was convinced that the party had been staged for his benefit.

But why?

He joined the group around the dead man, when he heard the irate voice of the bald-headed man from inside the car, shouting, "Get that other crook that tried to run away with him. They were working together. Don't let him get away!"

Ed looked up at the lighted windows of the car he had just left, saw the conductor and the bald-headed man coming down the aisle toward the vestibule. If he stayed here he'd have a lot of explaining to do, and he'd certainly be held for questioning as an eye-witness of the killing. Ed Race had no desire to be held in jail in a strange town—especially in a town where there seemed to be someone highly interested in his demise.

As the conductor and the bald-headed man stepped into the vestibule, Ed bent low, walked under the couplings between the coaches and emerged on the other side of the train.

He walked rapidly toward the locomotive, then, when he was almost abreast of it he cut sharply across the tracks and disappeared into one of the side streets leading from the station.

At a corner cab-stand Ed got into the one decrepit-looking hack and said to the driver, "Trout City Theater."

Jake Landor's wire had been very uninformative! It hadn't given the theater manager's name, nor had it stated the kind of trouble he was in. The night watchman at the theater would give Ed the manager's name and address, Ed knew.

After a few moments Ed looked up at the darkened facade of the Trout City Theater, before which they had stopped. He got out, paid the driver and saw him grind away. Then he walked up to the padlocked glass doors that spread across the lobby, and peered into opaque darkness beyond. His hand grasped the set of skeleton keys in his pocket. Then suddenly, he stepped back into the shadows.

Another cab was slowing up outside. He nudged with his left arm at the forty-five in the shoulder clip, so as to bring the butt slightly forward. It was one of the six that he used in his juggling act. He carried it in preference to a smaller, perhaps handier gun, because he was used to the heft of it.


THE cab pulled up ten or fifteen feet from the theater entrance, and a dumpy, roly-poly man got out and paid off the driver. He shoved his hat far back on a glistening, sweat-beaded forehead, and looked around as if he were seeking some one who was supposed to be there.

The man's coat collar was half turned up, and his shirt, hastily put on, bagged out over his paunch.

Ed's eyes swept the street, but he saw no one else. He started to come out of his place of retirement, but edged back into the shadow when he observed two men rounding the opposite corner. These men walked slowly but purposely, and each had a hand in his coat pocket.

The hastily-dressed, stout man seemed not to have noticed these two. He walked under the marquee of the theater. He must have discerned the dark blob which Ed made in the shadows, for he took a slow step nearer. Then he stopped and called out anxiously in a low, hoarse whisper: "Mr. Race? It's all right, Mr. Race, I'm Hadley—the manager."

Ed didn't answer him. He was busy watching the two men across the street. They were walking slowly now, their eyes on the theater, hands still in their pockets. Up and down the avenue there was no sign of life except for the lights of an all-night coffee-pot down the middle of the next block. Two o'clock in the morning is a quiet time in a small town.

Hadley also must have seen those two men across the street, but he went on talking nervously.

Ed kept his eyes on the two men and asked Hadley, "How'd you know I'd be here?"

Hadley started to beam with satisfaction. "Say, Mr. Race, I'm glad it's you; I was that upset. I just got a telegram from Mr. Landor in Chicago, saying he'd sent you a wire, but had forgotten to give my name, so you'd probably come to the theater. Want to see—"

He took a crumpled yellow form from his pocket, extended it toward Ed, but did not come any closer. Neither did he finish his question. For the two men across the street had gone into action the moment that he held out the yellow blank.

Their hands came from their pockets, and each one had a gun.

Ed swung sideways, snaking out his revolver with a motion so swift that his draw was completed before those guns across the street could belch their lead.

Even as he fired, almost simultaneously with the two on the opposite side, he knew that they were not aiming at Hadley, but at himself. The bark of their automatics, mingling with the deep-throated shattering reports of Ed Race's forty-five, blasted sudden sound the length of the avenue.

The aim of the two gunmen was far from good. Their slugs screeched on the sidewalk paving, clanged against the steel-enclosed ticket booth which stood just before the theater entrance, and smashed the glass of the wide lobby doors. None of them found Ed Race.

Ed, on the other hand, fired only twice; and as if by a miracle the noise and thunder of the shooting ceased. The two gunmen sprawled on the street.

Ed returned the forty-five to its clip, bounded over to where Hadley had dropped to his knees, white-faced.

Men were running toward them from the coffee-pot down the avenue, and somewhere a policeman was blowing a whistle. Ed seized Hadley by the arm, jerked him up to his feet.

There was no chance of escaping in either direction, and Ed didn't want to be held by the police now, any more than he had wanted it before. Hadley was moaning and shaking in panic.

Ed grabbed his shoulder. "Have you got the keys to the theater?"

Hadley shook his head. "I l-left t-them home!" he stammered.

One of the full-length glass doors was shattered by the gunfire, leaving jagged edges. He took out his revolver, slapped off the sharp pieces and forced the shivering manager in ahead of him.

They were in shadow, and the men who were running toward the scene from down the street couldn't see them. Within the lobby it was dark. Ed kept his grip on Hadley's arm. "Lead the way inside. We'll get out the side door."

The manager walked ahead through the darkened theater, with Race following.


FROM outside there came a wild clamor of excited people, mingled with the blasts of police whistles and the sirens of radio patrol cars. Ed reflected that if the fracas at the station hadn't completely awakened the town, this surely had. So far he had been shot at, nearly shot at, almost arrested; and he was still in the dark as to what it was all about. Mentally he cursed Jake Landor for his thriftiness in that telegram—just a few more words would have given him the whole set-up so that he could act with some degree of intelligence.

Hadley brought him down the side aisle to an alley door, manipulated the lever that locked it, and swung it open. A blast of cold air drove into their faces, and they stepped out just as the sound of heavy footsteps, curses and shouts, came from the lobby. The officers had found the broken door, and come through.

Ed swung the big door shut behind them. The wind whistled down the alley. "W-what'll we do now?" Hadley trembled. "W-we c-can't get away with that crowd up in front."

"Who said so?" Ed demanded. He pushed the other ahead of him till they got to the alley mouth. Where there had been, five minutes ago, nobody but Ed and Hadley and the two gunmen, there were now almost a hundred persons herding around on the sidewalk in front of the theater and across the street where the two bodies lay.

A number of police cars were pulled up at the curb, and uniformed men were busy keeping the crowd in check.

Ed followed Hadley out into the street, where they mingled with the others. No one noticed them.

Ed still kept his grip on the manager's arm, and whispered, "We just got here, get it? You want to know what it's all about. Come on over and ask the cops." He started Hadley over to cross the street.

A tall officer with white hair and wise eyes was in charge there. He swung around as they pushed through to the little circle about the two gunmen's bodies.

"Hullo, Hadley. This is a hell of a note. Right in front of your theater, too. Know anything about it?"

Hadley gulped, stiffened under Ed's grip, and said, "Not a thing, Captain Manners. This is terrible. They've smashed the glass in my doors. Who are they?"

Manners shrugged. "Nothing on them to show." He gazed down somberly at the two corpses. "Whoever shot them was an ace—got them both right through the heart, while they were peppering away at him." He swung around, saw Ed Race, and lifted his brows. "Friend of yours, Hadley?"

Hadley said quickly, "Yes, yes. This is Mr. Race, one of the actors on our circuit. Mr. Race, Captain Manners of the Trout City Police Department."

Manners eyed Ed up and down. "Race, eh? I seem to have heard that name somewhere. When did you get in town, Mr. Race?" He went on without giving Ed a chance to reply, "You didn't get in on the milk train, by any chance, did you? There was a ruckus over at the station a while ago when the milk train came in. A chap got shot up."

Ed shrugged. "We wouldn't know about that, Captain."

Just then a plainclothes man came around the corner, carrying a sub-machine gun. He saluted Captain Manners and said, "We found this in a sedan parked around the corner, sir. Must belong to these two birds. I guess it's the one that was used at the station. The drum is empty, and there's no more drums in the car. So I guess they figured they'd use their rods on this job."

Manners reached excitedly for the gun. Ed nudged the theater manager, urged him out of the crowd. They were forgotten in the general excitement about the newly-found machine gun.


ED guided Hadley down the street, hailed a cab, pushed Hadley into it and got in after him. "Give him your address," he ordered the theater manager.

Hadley was wiping sweat from his forehead with a soiled handkerchief. He gasped out, "Forty-two, Grove Street."

The cab passed the crowd in front of the theatre, and continued up the main street. They drove for seven or eight blocks along the avenue, then turned left, and pulled up before a comfortable-looking, two story and attic frame house.

Ed got to the sidewalk, paid for the ride, then he and Hadley started across the well-kept lawn.

There was a light in the downstairs window on the ground floor, and none in any other part of the house except in a small window of the attic.

At the door, Hadley felt in his pocket, murmured apologetically, "Those damn keys! I forgot them." He put his finger on the button and rang the bell. "I live here alone," he explained, "with my housekeeper and my niece. It's about my niece—"

He was interrupted by the opening of the front door. A scrawny woman in a bathrobe admitted them. She was a bleached blonde, and her finger-waved hair was done up in a net.

She looked suspiciously at Ed, and stood aside for them to enter. Hadley led the way into the living room which was at the front, and said hospitably, "Sit down, Mr. Race, sit down. I'll have Emma get you a drink."

Ed sat down in an easy chair, and looked around the room. He noted that beside the door which opened from the hall, there was another, now closed, leading to the rear.

Hadley went out, and Ed heard him whispering to the woman, Emma, in the hall. He couldn't catch the words, but the woman's voice was insistent, and Hadley's was worried. In a few moments, Hadley came back into the room. He stood before Ed, trying to smile but not making a very good job of it.

"This business, Mr. Race, is making a wreck out of me. It was damn good of Jake Landor to send you out here. I've been beside myself for the last three days."

Ed stood up, walked to the window, and looked out into the street, then turned back and faced the theater manager.

"Look, Mr. Hadley," he said. "Never mind whom you've been beside for the last three days. See if you can get down to brass tacks and tell me what this is all about. Why does Jake Landor send me a crazy telegram that drags me out here on the milk train, and why does a poor punk get all perforated by machine-gun bullets on account of being mistaken for me? Also, why do I get shot at the minute you arrive in front of the Trout City Theater? In short, Mr. Hadley, you take a good long breath and tell me what this is all about!"

Hadley's eyes dropped before Ed's angry gaze. "It's like this, Mr. Race, just like I started to tell you. It's about my niece. I don't know if Jake Landor told you in the telegram, but she's been kidnapped! Kidnapped three days ago, and I had to pay ten thousand dollars in cash!"

Ed Race's eyes narrowed. "So then what happened—didn't you get her back?"

Hadley shook his head. "No, Mr. Race, they haven't sent her back. They're not going to send her back, unless I pay them another ten thousand dollars. I got a telephone call this morning, from the same man who called me before. He said he knew I could raise the other ten, and that if I didn't they'd kill Alice!"

"Can you raise the other ten?" Ed asked him.

"I don't know. I haven't got any money of my own. The way I got the other ten, I wired Jake Landor, and he authorized me to borrow it from the Midwest Circuit funds that I have on deposit here in Trout City. Those damn kidnapers must know all about our business, because there's just another ten thousand on deposit here now, and they figure I can borrow that, too."


ED grinned. "So they look up your bank balance before they snatch you, these days?" He walked up and down the room and saw, from the corner of his eyes, the rear door open a fraction of an inch.

He stood sideways to the door. He said very loudly, "Well, why didn't you wire Jake Landor again and borrow the other ten thousand?"

"I did, Mr. Race. And Landor sent me the telegram saying that you would be over to see what it was all about."

"Did you tell anyone I was coming?"

"We-ell, I guess my housekeeper knew about it."

"How long has she been with you?"

"Oh, three or four years—ever since my wife died."

Ed was only half listening. He sidled up to the door, stole a glance at Hadley. The theater manager was gazing nervously out through the open door to the hallway, and Ed, following his gaze, caught a faint hint of motion out there in the darkness.

The door near which Ed stood had stopped moving, but a faint whistling was audible from behind it, as if someone was attempting to hold his breath, but not entirely succeeding.

Ed Race suddenly stretched out his left hand, seized the door-knob and wrenched it open. The man who had been standing behind the door, stumbled into the room, off balance. He was a short, stocky man with a sharp nose and high-cheek bones. He wore gray spats and gray gloves, and in his gloved right hand there was an automatic which he swung toward Ed.

Hadley's eyes were wide open. He cried out, "Buxton! What—"

The man in the spats paid no attention to Hadley. His eyes, and the gun in his hand, were fixed on Ed.

But Ed Race acted with the same lightning swiftness that characterized all his motions on the stage. The heavy forty-five came leaping out of his shoulder holster into his hand, almost like a live thing. It arced viciously and there was a crunch of bone as the barrel flashed down against the gunman's wrist. The automatic which had been coming up to a level with Ed's chest fell from the man's grip.

Buxton was holding his right wrist in his left hand and groaning with pain.

Hadley was standing about five or six feet from them. His face was gray; his mouth open but he seemed to have become incapable of speech.

Ed kicked Buxton's automatic over into a corner of the room, and holstered his own gun. He asked pleasantly, "Is Mr. Buxton a very good friend of yours, Mr. Hadley?"

Hadley didn't seem to know what to do with his hands or his feet. He finally managed to get his mouth closed, then opened it again and gulped: "No—uh—that is—yes. Yes, sure he's a friend of mine. I mean—he's here on business."

Buxton seemed to be in great pain. He backed away toward an easy chair in the corner, and dropped into it, still nursing his injured hand. "Damn it, I think a bone is busted," he muttered.

Ed clucked sympathetically, "I'm awful sorry I had to get so rough, pal, but you know how it is when someone comes at you with a gun. If I had known you were a friend of Mr. Hadley's—"

Ed was looking at the injured man when he heard Hadley's voice, shrill and desperate, behind him, "Stand still, Race. If you move I'll kill you!"

Ed stood still. He recognized that tone. He could imagine the gun shaking in Hadley's trembling hand. He said, "Okay, Hadley. Take it easy with the gun. Those things go off easy." He didn't move his body, but he turned his head slightly, saw that Hadley was standing in the corner holding the automatic which he had kicked over there.


BUXTON was grinning. He started to get up out of the chair. "Good stuff, Hadley. You're learning fast!" He took a step toward Ed. "My left hand is still good. Hold that gun on him, while I take one good smack at him."

He raised his left fist for a chopping blow at Ed's face. "You'll take it and like it—or maybe you'd like a slug in the back better!"

Ed tensed. He was on his toes now, getting set to clinch with Buxton, to chance a shot from Hadley's gun.

But at that moment, the irate voice of the housekeeper shrilled from the hall doorway. "Stop it, you fool, stop it!" She came into the room, her hands on her hips, glaring at Buxton. "Is that all you have to do when you're in a spot like this? Why don't you use your head? There's been shooting here, the cops may come! Do you want them to find us here like this?" She jerked her head at Ed Race, "Get him upstairs out of the way. Snap it up!"

Buxton lowered his hands, backed away from Ed, snarling, "I'll give that guy a work-out before I'm through with him."

He circled around Ed, crossed the room to where Hadley stood. "Give me that gun," he growled, "I'll take care of him."

Ed had pivoted slowly with Buxton, as he moved across the room, so that he was now facing the woman and the two men. He said, "Listen, are we all crazy, or is it just me that's nuts? It looks like nobody in this town loves me. Everybody goes for me on sight!"

His eyes were on Buxton and Hadley. Hadley was standing immovable, with his arm outstretched, the automatic gripped awkwardly in his hand, and pointing directly at Ed.

Buxton was close to Hadley now. He said sharply, "Give that to a guy who knows how to use it!"

Hadley stuttered. "T-take it!" He took his finger off the trigger, and extended the automatic to Buxton, still keeping it pointed at Ed. Buxton put his left hand out and took the weapon. And in that instant Ed Race acted.

He dropped to one knee at the same time that his hand flashed to his arm-pit holster. His heavy forty-five seemed to have appeared as if by magic.

Buxton was handicapped by having to use his left hand. Before he got his finger wrapped around the trigger, Ed's big revolver was pointed squarely at him. Ed rapped out, "Drop it, Buxton!"

Buxton's reaction was instinctive. His hand opened and let the automatic drop to the carpet. Ed glanced down at it, looked up at Buxton and grinned. "I'm what they call a prize sap. I let him hold me up with an automatic, and he didn't even know enough to take off the safety! Maybe now you'll tell me who's who in this story. It looks like Mr. Hadley has a lot of explaining to do."

That was as far as Ed got.

For the moment, he had forgotten the housekeeper. Now he was made painfully aware of her presence. Something like a ton of wildcats smashed into him, bore him backwards. Finger nails tore at his eyes, missed, and raked his cheeks. Like a snarling, furious she-panther, the housekeeper clawed at him, shrieking to the others, "Get him! Get him quick!"

Ed saw Buxton stoop for the automatic. He tried to shove the woman away from him, and swing his gun back in that direction, but she suddenly wrapped both arms around his own right arm, crushed it close to her thin breasts, and dragged it downward.

Ed got a grip on her hair with his free hand, and yanked. She uttered a cry of pain, and her head jerked back. Her grip on his arm relaxed, and in a moment he would have had it free.

But Buxton had already picked up the automatic, and was across the room in a single leap. He leaned over the woman, holding the gun in his left hand, and thrust the gun against the side of Ed's head. "Let go of the woman and the cannon," he said. "The safety is off this time!"

Ed sighed. He let go of the woman's hair, dropped the revolver and straightened up. He shrugged. "Well, that's the way it is—some days you can't make any headway at all."


THE woman got to her feet unsteadily. She was breathing hard, her breasts rising and falling quickly. "Take him upstairs!" she said. "Get him out of here, quick." She stooped, picked up Ed's revolver and waved it impatiently. "Snap it up!"

Hadley, who had shrunk back into the corner when the gun-play threatened, now came across the room. "Yes, yes," he urged. "Then we can talk over what to do."

Buxton nudged Ed with the automatic. "Get going, guy."

Ed obeyed, turned toward the door. Buxton looked too eager to squeeze the trigger of the automatic.

The woman preceded him, turned on the hall light. Then she led the way up the carpeted stairs. Ed followed her, and Buxton came after him, with the automatic pressed close up against Ed's spine. Buxton called back to Hadley who was standing in the doorway of the living room, "Stay down there, you! If anybody comes to ask about that shot that was fired, tell them they were nuts."

Hadley called up after them, "Be careful will you, Buxton? Don't hurt him bad. We might need him to get Landor to shell out the other ten thousand!"

They were at the top of the flights of stairs now. Buxton growled down to Hadley, "Never mind the advice. You just do what you're told!"

The housekeeper, without saying a word, led the way along the upper corridor, and then up another flight of narrow stairs.

The attic was divided into a narrow hall and two small rooms. The woman stopped before the door of the second room. Ed noted that both doors were secured with padlocks on the outside. He watched while the woman got the door open, and then he walked in after her, urged by Buxton's gun.

The room was small. There was not a stick of furniture in it. The only light came from an electric bulb out in the hallway. High up in the sloping attic roof there was a small window with panes of glazed glass.

Ed looked around, turned to Buxton who had remained at the door. His face was expressionless. "How about a chair?" he asked. "The floor is kind of inconvenient to sit on."

Buxton's face was screwed into a snarl. He glanced down to his right hand, which was already swollen to almost twice its normal size, then up again at Ed. "When I get through with you," he said, "you'll be damn lucky if you're able to sit up on the floor!"

The housekeeper was standing near the door, holding Ed's revolver. "Listen, Buxton," she protested, "why start—?"

"Can it!" Buxton snarled at her. "This guy busted my hand, and I'm going to bust his map!"

The woman raised the revolver, pointed it at Ed. "Okay, then. This cannon ought to hold him quiet while you work on him."

Buxton's eyes narrowed, and his lips spread in a thin smile. "What a pleasure!" he exclaimed. He took a step toward Ed, raised the automatic. "Did you ever have your face raked by a gun-barrel?" he asked softly.

Ed said earnestly, "See here, Buxton, why don't you act your age? You'll only get me sore—"

He stopped.

From the next room there had come a low moaning sound. It was followed by a wet sort of cough, and then the moan was repeated. A childish voice shrilled weakly, "It's dark in here. I'm afraid!"


THE housekeeper said, "It's the kid. She must have come out of the ether." Buxton's eyes were still viciously on Ed. "To hell with her!" He brought down the gun with a slashing stroke, that cut open Ed's cheek to the bone. Ed staggered backwards. The pain in his cheek was intense. Blood dribbled down to his coat. His face felt numb, and he started to get dizzy.

He shook his head and crouched, bending at the knees. He would have jumped at Buxton if the woman's shrill voice had not come to him. "Take it easy, mister. I can shoot this cannon of yours fine." She chuckled. "You just stand there and take it, mister!"

Buxton raised the gun again. Ed said slowly, "I don't like it, and I'm not going to take it." He shot forward like a catapult, head low, and caught Buxton in the groin with his shoulder.

Buxton doubled up, uttering a shriek of agony.

They both sprawled on the floor, Buxton clutching at his abdomen, his breath coming through his teeth in a wheeze of agony. They had made a fair amount of noise, and from the next room there came once more the childish voice, raised in terror, "I'm afraid!"

Ed rolled over after hitting Buxton. He lurched to his knees and gripped Buxton's left wrist, whose hand still held the automatic.

The woman had been bewildered by the swift action. Now, when she saw Buxton helpless she stepped in, gripping the big revolver firmly. Her eyes were gray and flat-looking, and her knuckles were white on the stock as she swept the revolver out toward Ed. She said, "Get up, you—" And she stopped abruptly.

From below came the insistent, clamorous ringing of the doorbell.

Ed tightened his grip on Hadley's wrist, forcing the muzzle of the automatic down against Hadley's belly. His hand moved down, covered Hadley's hand. If he squeezed now, Hadley's hand would contract upon the trigger under his pressure and the gun would explode into Hadley's stomach.

From downstairs they heard the outer door open and close again. Voices came up to them from below.

Buxton groaned again and the woman hissed, "Shut up you fool! There's people in the house!"

Her long face, sitting at an angle on her neck as she looked down at him, reminded Ed of a horse. She squinted along the sights of the revolver, said speculatively, "You're an awful tough guy. Too tough to stay alive. We've got the ten thousand already. Now you've about balled up our chances of getting the second ten thousand. I wonder if my best bet wouldn't be to bump you both off right now, and then go down and say I had found out you were keeping the kid up here?"

Ed scowled, keeping his grip on Buxton's hand. The childish voice from next door came to them again: "It's dark, and I'm hungry," followed by a burst of terrified sobbing.

Buxton stopped groaning. The woman's smile gave place to a worried frown. "If that kid yells any louder, they'll hear her downstairs. I ought to stop her."

Ed's eyes were smouldering. The sobbing inside grew louder.

Ed glared at the woman. "You've doped that poor kid, and kept her in there without food for three days! Nice people!"

He raised his left fist, brought it down hard against the side of Buxton's head. Buxton's head lolled on the floor and his grip on the automatic relaxed.


THE advantage which Ed Race's stage training had given him over other people was that he could always coordinate the movements of all the muscles of his body—that he could do two or three things at the same time, as when he juggled revolvers while doing somersaults across the stage.

Now, his swift, perfectly-timed action would have caught the admiration of any theatre audience if he had been on a stage. For, almost as his fist struck Buxton's head, he launched his body upward, and his shoulder caught the woman's wrist, knocking it high and sending the revolver flying out of her grip.

He pushed her hard and she went sprawling backward into a corner of the room. She sat there in the corner, dazed, as Ed caught his revolver in mid-air with his left hand, transferred it to his right, then swooped down and picked up Hadley's automatic.

He was out of the room in a flash, swung the door to, and snapped the padlock on. The woman was now a prisoner in that room with Buxton. He heard her voice from behind the door shouting curses at him.

He rushed to the door of the next room, and hurled his hundred-and-ninety pounds at the door. As his weight struck it, the boards shook. The childish sobbing inside changed to a cry of terror.

Ed called out reassuringly, "It's all right, girlie, I'll get you out of there in a minute."

From down below, a heavy, angry voice shouted up, "What's going on up there? Who's up there?"

Ed didn't bother to answer. He stepped back a few paces, smashed into the door once more. It gave this time, and he went sprawling into the darkened room. He straightened, turned, and looked around.

A wee small voice said to him, "Ooh, mister—you busted the door!"

The little light that came in from the hall showed Ed a large mattress on the floor, upon which lay a kicking, squirming bundle. Wet blue eyes looked up at him out of a white, childish face topped by soft golden hair. The girl was no more than twelve years old.

"Don't let my uncle or Emma get me," she begged pitiably. "Or that bad Mr. Buxton."

Ed had gotten out a clasp knife, which he opened. He cut the cords that held the child's wrists and ankles, lifted her up in his arms. She turned her face and wiped her eyes against his coat. Then she looked up at him again and said, "My name is Alice. What's your name?"

Ed gulped. "My name is Ed," he told her.

He carried her out into the hallway, and started down the steps leading to the floor below. He heard heavy feet coming up the stairs from the ground floor, heard a harsh, angry voice saying, "We'll see what's happening up there for ourselves."

Then he heard Hadley's worried voice. "I tell you, Captain, it's only my housekeeper. She's eccentric. She lives in the attic, and I never bother her."

Ed laughed harshly, held the child closer to him. He carried the child downstairs, met Hadley, Captain Manners, and two other men in plain clothes on the first floor landing.

Manners exclaimed, "What the hell is this! You're the guy we met at the theatre!"

Ed said bitterly, "Yeah. And I have a swell story to tell you. What—Stop him!"

Hadley had halted midway up the stairs behind the plainclothesmen, and had now turned, and was running downstairs again. The two officers leaped after him. One of them shouted, "Hold it, you!"

Ed yelled out, "Get that guy! He's in this!"

Hadley looked back at them, his face white in the dimly-lit hallway. He snarled, "You'll never get me!"


HE swung out of the door, slammed it behind him. At the same time the heavy service revolvers in the hands of the two plainclothesmen thundered in the narrow hallway, smashed through the glass and wood of the front door. From outside there came a high pitched shriek, the thud of a falling body.

The two policemen rushed outside. Ed followed Captain Manners down into the living room, deposited the child on the settee.

In a moment one of the plainclothesmen came back, looking glum. "Hadley's dead, Cap," he reported.

Manners sighed. "All right, Stoddard. Call the coroner." He turned, looked at Ed. "Was the girl here all the time?" he asked.

Ed nodded. "They had her upstairs in the attic. The whole kidnap stunt was framed. Hadley's idea was to get Jake Landor, the boss of the Midwest, to lend him the money. When they got the first ten thousand so easy, they tried to get a second ten thousand." He grinned sourly. "When they found out that they were getting me instead of the second ten thousand, they arranged to get rid of me quick. They staged that little ruckus over at the station, where the poor pickpocket got it instead of me, and then they followed me to the theater, tried again. They had Hadley come over to put the finger on me. He sure did, too."

Captain Manners grunted. "It looks like their fingers got twisted. You sure shot straight, there in front of the theatre!"

Ed waved the compliment away. He turned to Stoddard. "Go upstairs and you'll find a surprise package waiting for you in the attic—the housekeeper, and a guy named Buxton. They were all in on the deal."

Stoddard called to his partner outside. They both went upstairs.

In the living room, Captain Manners stood looking down at Ed Race, who had seated himself beside the little girl, and was stroking her hair while she rested her head snugly against his shoulder.

Manners said, "It's a hell of a note for the poor kid. She's got no parents. Hadley was the only one in the world to take care of her. Now she's got nobody."

"Yes she has," Ed told him. He looked down at the little girl, his eyes becoming soft. "How would you like for me to adopt you, Alice?" he asked. "I'm an actor. I travel from city to city, and act in all the theaters. You could travel around with me. You'd have a swell time. Would you like it?"

She rubbed her golden hair against his shoulder and raised her eyes. "I'd love it. Are you going to be my new daddy?"

Ed glanced up at Captain Manners. "Wait'll you see her juggle guns five years from now! We'll play the Trout City Theater and I'll give you a free pass, Cap."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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