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EMILE C. TEPPERMAN

DANGER — MURDER AHEAD!

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First published in The Spider, August 1943

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version date: 2020-06-30
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The Spider, August 1943, with "Danger — Murder Ahead!"



As he stepped out on the observation platform of the fast-moving train, Ed Race breathed deeply of the fresh morning air—and found it suddenly tainted with the smell of burning bullets! Only the Masked Marksman could out-shoot the killer who delivered murder at sixty miles per hour!




ED RACE estimated that the train was making sixty miles per hour. It had kept up that rate of speed consistently since pulling out of Steuben Junction, three hours ago.

Sitting on the observation platform, Ed watched the big, powerful sedan which was racing the train along the parallel highway. It had swung into the highway about twenty minutes ago, and its driver seemed to have no disposition to beat the train. He was apparently content to keep pace with it.

Whenever the highway took a small detour away from the railroad tracks, the sedan speeded up, so that when the road swung back parallel to the tracks again, it was once more in the same relative position to the train, about thirty yards behind the observation car.

Ed frowned as he lit a cigarette, cupping the match with his hands to protect it from the breeze. That fellow in the sedan had no business wasting gas like that. Ed wished that a motorcycle patrolman would show up, and give him a ticket. Thirty-five miles an hour was the limit for cars nowadays.

Ed puffed at the cigarette, and glanced sideways at the young woman who was the only other occupant of the observation platform. She was wearing a tweed coat, which was a bit too heavy for early June. Her coat collar was turned up, too, which was rather peculiar. And she had on a pair of smoked sun glasses. She had auburn hair, which whipped about freely in the breeze. It had flecks of gold in it where the sun's glinting rays caught.

She was sitting very tensely, one hand on the rail, the other clenched in her lap, and watching the sedan as if her very life were wrapped up in it.

Suddenly, she became conscious of Ed's gaze. She flushed, and turned her head in the opposite direction. But she couldn't keep her eyes off the car. In a moment, her gaze swung back, focusing on the sedan.

Suddenly she uttered a little cry as something clanged against the steel framework of the observation car, barely an inch from her head.

Ed Race was familiar enough with firearms, their uses and effects, to realize instantly that the thing which had missed her was a bullet from a high-powered rifle. He jumped up and seized her arm and yanked her to the floor, just as a second bullet crashed into the chair. It made a clean hole in the back of the chair, struck the steel plate of the car, and ricocheted off into space.

The girl sprawled on the floor of the platform. Ed threw a swift glance at the speeding sedan. As he had expected, he saw the long barrel of a rifle poking out through the rear window. Even as he looked, there was a puff of smoke from the muzzle. A third bullet smashed into the door of the observation platform, missing the girl's head again.

Ed's eyes blazed with anger. There was no doubt as to the cold-blooded intentions of the occupants of that sedan. He gauged the distance mentally. The marksman in the car was shooting at about two hundred yards. The fact that he had come so close on his first three shots showed how good he was. Considering the fact that he was shooting at a moving target from a speeding car, his marksmanship was almost uncanny.

Ed Race, being himself a marksman of no mean ability, was able to admire the other fellow's skill from a professional standpoint. But at the same time, he could not admire that fellow's murderous intentions. Ed himself had two revolvers in his shoulder holsters, which he used in his Masked Marksman act on the coast-to-coast Partages Circuit. But he didn't even attempt to draw them now for the range was entirely too great.

He swung about and seized the girl once more by the arm.

"We better get off this platform, miss," he said. "It doesn't seem healthy out here."

She nodded swiftly, looking up at him through the smoked glasses.

"They're trying to kill me!" she gasped.

Another slug whipped between them as he helped her to the door. He twisted the knob to push the door open, but it would not budge.

Someone had locked it from the inside!

"Trapped!" exclaimed the girl. "We're both trapped out here. They'll kill you, too, because they don't want any live witnesses!"

Another shot came whining between their heads, and drilled a clean hole in the glass panel of the door. It thudded into one of the upholstered chairs inside the observation car.

Ed peered inside, hoping that someone within would notice them and come to unlock the door. But, strangely, there was no one in there. The inside of the observation car was deserted!

Whoever had planned this, had managed somehow to lock the door and clear the decks for the murder! Ed and the girl were trapped out here, helpless targets for that cold-blooded marksman in the sedan.

"Down!" Ed ordered. "Lie flat on the floor! It's our only chance!"

They dropped to the floor while two more shots smashed into the steel framework behind them. A third shot caromed off one of the supporting bars under the railing. Those bars afforded some partial protection, but they were only a half inch in diameter, and the spaces between them were all of six inches wide.

As they lay there on the platform, Ed's eyes swam from the constant swift flashing of the railroad ties behind the train. The sedan spurted ahead, and shortened the distance between itself and the train. There was another flash and a puff of smoke from the rifle, and another bullet whistled past Ed's ear.

The killer in that car was aiming for their heads. He wanted to kill them, not merely to wound them!

It was maddening to lie there, helpless, while that cold killer lined up his sights for one try after another!

Ed took out one of his revolvers, made sure the hammer was resting on an empty chamber, and reversed it. Then, using the butt as a club, he reached up and smashed at the glass panel of the door. He smashed at it three times, hard and fast, and the glass cracked, but did not break, for it was interlined with a layer of twisted wire!

"It's no use," said the girl. "He'll get us sooner or later. The train won't reach Belleville for thirty minutes. He's bound to hit us if he keeps trying."

There was a certain suggestion of hopeless resignation in her voice, a surrender to fate. "I'm sorry you had to be out here with me," she told Ed.

"On the contrary," he said grimly. "I'm glad!"


HIS fighting instincts were aroused by this cold-blooded attempt at murder. He saw another flash from the rifle, and dragged the girl down flat on the floor, just as a .30-.30 slug whistled across the platform, and out on the other side. The sedan was almost parallel with the observation platform now, and it was duplicating the speed of the train, so that, to all intents and purposes, the deadly marksman in the auto had a stationary target. Probably the only factor which prevented him from scoring a bull's-eye was the difficulty of gauging the wind.

Even while he lay flat on the platform beside the doomed girl, Ed Race was able to think in dispassionate, professional terms of the technical problem which confronted the killer. He tried to figure out how he would handle the situation if the roles were reversed, and he was at the trigger-end of the set-up. He knew that the killer had a thirty-thirty Winchester automatic repeating rifle equipped with telescopic sights. He could fire five shots as fast as he could pull the trigger. Thus far, the killer had confined himself to attempting a bull's eye with each shot, except for the one time he had fired twice in quick succession when the girl was sitting in the chair.

But the killer would soon realize that his best bet lay in spraying the platform with a quick burst of all five shots, spaced out so that at least one or two of them would strike home. When that happened, it would be curtains for Ed and the girl.

There was a momentary lull in the firing, while the rifle was pulled in, and the marksman reloaded. Ed looked at the girl. She had taken off her sun glasses. Her eyes were a clear deep blue, and her face was young and fresh, and frightened.

"What—what will we do now?" she asked.

Ed pressed her arm gently. "Take it easy," he said. "We're not dead yet. Why do they want to kill you?"

"I'm Sheila Fleming," she told him. "I'm going to Belleville to appear as a witness in a murder case. There's a young fellow named Dan Thorpe, who's on trial for murdering a jeweler in Belleville.

"You're a witness for the defense?"

She nodded. "I know Dan Thorpe didn't commit that murder. He was visiting at my house in Steuben Junction the night the jeweler was shot. But they found the gun in Dan's room, and they found two pieces of the stolen jewelry in a locker box in the Belleville Station, rented in Dan's name. Mr. Archer, the defense attorney, phoned me last night, and asked me to be in court at one o'clock this afternoon. He told me to be careful. He suggested that I sit on the observation platform. He thought it would be safer out here, and besides, he'll be watching for me here when the train pulls into Belleville. You see, I've never met him."

"I see," Ed said thoughtfully. "And it would seem that someone overheard that conversation between yourself and Archer—someone who is extremely anxious that you shouldn't testify at the trial!"

"But who would want to do that? Who would want to get Dan Thorpe convicted of a crime he never committed?"

"The real murderer of course," Ed said.

Suddenly, Sheila Fleming uttered an exclamation, and pointed with a wavering finger. Ed glanced toward the sedan, saw that the snout of the rifle was once more poked out at them.

But he also saw something else, which Sheila had failed to see. They were approaching a local station, which the train would pass at full speed, as the locomotive whistle up front indicated. Now the automobile road curved out here, in a wide perimeter to by-pass the station. The speeding sedan was already swinging out, away from the railroad right-of-way. It would be impossible for that marksman to get in an accurate shot till the highway swung back, beyond the station.

Ed's eyes flickered. He got to his feet lithely, swiftly.

Sheila cried, "Look out!"

And then she too, realized that they would be immune from the winging death of those bullets for the next few minutes.

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

Ed grinned. He leaned far out over the edge of the platform rail, peered ahead. He saw that the highway did not approach the railroad track until well past the local station. There would be perhaps four, maybe five minutes before the sedan was again within range of the observation car.

"Stay flat on the floor!" he ordered. "Keep at the far end of the platform, and don't move till I get back!"

Then, before Sheila could protest, he hoisted himself up on the rail, grasped the overhang of the observation car roof, and heaved himself to the top. The wind tore at him, yanked his hat off, sending it spinning far behind on the flashing railroad ties.

He dropped flat on the roof of the car, clinging to the smooth surface with his fingernails, while the powerful stream of air flailed at him, trying to tear him loose and send him after his hat. He began to inch forward, moving as fast as he could, knowing that there were only minutes to spare.

He couldn't keep his eyes open against the rush of wind, but he managed to peer through slitted eyelids. He saw the murder sedan racing ahead around the wide curve of the road, accelerating to the limit of its power, and pulling slightly ahead of the train. He guessed that the driver was trying to reach the spot where the highway once more approached the railroad before the train got there. If he could manage to do that, he'd be able to give his marksman the advantage of shooting from a stationary spot as the train whisked past.

Ed knew that under those conditions, the man wouldn't miss. If Sheila Fleming was to be saved, Ed must beat the car to the intersection! He got to his feet and ran forward recklessly, balancing himself precariously on the center-board of the car.

The occupants of the sedan must have guessed his purpose. Out of the corner of his slitted eyes, he saw the rifle muzzle poking once more out of the rear window, and five quick flashes spat toward him. He felt the bullets fanning the air about him as he ran forward on the roof of the car. The marksman was trying to stop him, but with the sedan racing far out beyond the station, the range was far too great for even haphazard shooting under such conditions. The bullets droned past him harmlessly. Ed saw the barrel of the rifle disappearing again, and he knew that the killer was going to re-load in order to have his weapon ready for the next try at the intersection. But that try would be for Sheila Fleming! He must hurry now!

Ed reached the front of the car, dropped to his hands and knees, then flat on his face. The train was swaying dizzily in its headlong course, and he almost rolled off. He managed to grasp the edge of the front platform overhang, swung himself over. He hung for an instant between the observation car and the car ahead, with his feet dangling in the air, his hands gripping hard at the edge of the roof. Then he let go, and dropped.

He landed in the cramped space above the couplings, bruising his knees and his shins and his elbows. But he didn't stop to take stock of bruises. He was conscious of the swift and inexorable passage of seconds, each tick of the watch bringing the train closer to the intersection where the murder sedan would be waiting for the observation car to go by, with the muzzle of the high-powered rifle trained upon it.

Just as he stepped into the vestibule, he caught a quick flash of something gleaming, and hurled himself forward just as the flashing blade of a knife came lunging down at him. His quick reaction saved him. The point of a keen blade ripped the cloth of his coat!

He got a flickering glimpse of a figure in some sort of blue uniform wielding the knife, and a face set in tense lines of murderous intent. Then he was swinging around to face the knife-man, his hand flashing in and out of his shoulder holster. One of his two heavy forty-five calibre revolvers swept up to meet the second stroke of the knife. The barrel of the revolver caught the man's wrist, the fellow uttered a gasp, and the knife went flying from his hand.

Now, in the dim light of the vestibule, Ed was able to distinguish the fellow's features and dress. He was wearing the uniform of a train conductor, but Ed distinctly remembered that this was not the conductor who had collected his ticket earlier in the morning. Due to the shortage of manpower, there was only one conductor on this train. Therefore, if this fellow was wearing the uniform, he must have taken it away from the real trainman.


ALL this flashed through Ed's mind swiftly, without conscious thinking. The thing that was uppermost in his mind right now was the approaching crisis at the intersection. If he had timed himself correctly, he would just have been able to race through the observation car and reach the platform in time to unlock the door and get Sheila Fleming off before the marksman in the sedan had his range. But now, it was too late. The train would reach the intersection long before he could make it to the observation platform.

Ed's eyes were grim and hard as he stepped in and brought the barrel of his revolver down in a wicked swipe to the temple of the uniformed knife-man. He had no time to waste on him now. The fellow crumpled under the blow, and slumped down to the floor.

Ed didn't even wait to watch the man drop. He swung around, and grasped the door-lever at the side of the vestibule. He pulled it over as far as it would go, and the side-door began to slide open. He caught a glimpse of the countryside flashing by. They had already passed the local station, and he could see the highway winging back toward the tracks. Looking ahead, he saw that the highway crossed the railroad about five hundred yards ahead, passing over a viaduct. The train was bearing down upon that spot swiftly and lumberingly. But the murder sedan had already reached it. The auto was in position, at the head of the viaduct, and Ed could discern the figure of the sniper. The man had descended from the car, and was kneeling, with the rifle at his shoulder, his eye glued to the sights, grimly waiting for the observation platform to slide past.

Ed Race's eyes glittered. A tight smile tugged at his lips. The sniper had chosen a spot as near to the train as he could possibly get. He was less than fifty yards away. And fifty yards was well within the range of those two heavy forty-fives of Ed's!

Ed bent swiftly, and lifted the trap-cover over the stairs. Then he drew the other revolver, and with a weapon in each hand he stepped down to the lowest tread. He hooked one arm around the handrail, and leaned far out, leveling his other revolver at the figure of the sniper.

The train swept down toward the spot where the two marksmen would meet for the final encounter.

This sudden conflict—this matching of weapon against weapon and life against life—was no new experience for Ed Race. On the stage, he was billed from coast to coast in the far-flung theaters of the Partages Circuit as The Masked MarksmanThe Man Who Can Make Guns Talk. Every night for ten years he had astounded and delighted his audiences with feats of acrobatic gun-juggling marksmanship which never failed to bring the house down. And people who saw him on the stage in his little black silk mask often wondered what would happen if this wizard of weapons would ever find himself face-to-face with a shooting target.

But those people did not know that the Masked Marksman led a far more dangerous life off the stage than on it. His restless energy and his craving for excitement had led him long ago to adopt a hobby—the study of criminology. The public in general was not aware that Ed Race held licenses to operate as a private detective in a dozen states. Nor did they know that his skill with lethal weapons was always at the service of any unfortunate member of the theatrical fraternity who might find himself or herself embroiled with the vicious elements of the underworld.

It would be safe to say that Ed Race, in his private life, had as many enemies in the underworld as the Masked Marksman had admirers among the vaudeville public.

Moreover, he seemed to attract danger and adventure with the same facility as a fly-paper attracts flies. It is said that he who looks for trouble finds it. Well, Ed Race had no difficulty in finding it—and he liked it!

So there was a familiar and exhilarating tingle in his blood as he leaned far out of the observation car vestibule, with his revolvers ready.

It was perhaps ten seconds before that sniper with the high-powered rifle realized what had happened. He had, of course, seen Ed Race crawling along the roof of the car. And he had even tried to stop him with a bullet. But he had no way of knowing that this man who had happened to be sitting on the observation platform would be armed. Most people making a peaceful journey in a train are not apt to be carrying a gun. He had no doubt seen Ed coming out on the steps, but he hadn't expected to see two heavy revolvers in his hands. In that space of seconds, while the train sped closer, any advantage of range which the sniper might have had, was wiped out.

Ed Race grinned thinly as he saw the killer swing the muzzle of the rifle to bear on him. No matter what happened now, the girl was safe for the moment. The rifleman would never be able to get a bead again on the observation platform. But Ed himself could very easily be hurled off those steps by the powerful smashing force of a high-powered bullet.

Ed waited tensely while the sniper took aim, holding his own fire until the last possible second, so as to be as close as he could. He was swiftly calculating wind velocity and speed of the train, and gauging the range. He was close enough now to see the sniper's finger on the trigger. It was only then that he lifted his revolver up and fired.

He uttered a grunt of satisfaction as he saw the sniper hurled backward as if by a powerful battering-ram. The rifle went flying from nerveless fingers, and the man went sprawling on the ground, with his arms spread-eagling out on either side of him as the train roared past.

Ed saw a short, fat, stocky man come tearing out of the driver's seat of the sedan, and run over to the fallen marksman.

Ed got only a flashing glimpse of that scene, then the train swept on ahead, around a curve, and the sedan was lost to sight. He holstered his revolvers, climbed back into the vestibule, and looked down at the figure of the bogus conductor. The fellow was groaning, and groggily groping up to his knees. Ed got hold of his collar, pulled him up to his feet.

"All right, my friend," he said softly. "Now we're going to find out what goes on here!" He yanked the fellow over to the door leading into the observation car.

His eyes narrowed. There was a neatly lettered placard on the door:


OBSERVATION CAR CLOSED
BY ORDER OF THE ARMY


"So that's how you managed to clear everyone out of there!" Ed said coldly.

The fellow groaned, and put a hand up to his head. "Damn you!"

Ed tried the door, and found it locked. "Give me the key." he said.

The man fumbled in his pocket, and brought out a bunch of keys, evidently the set belonging to the real conductor. With shaking fingers he selected one of them, and Ed let him open the observation car door.

Sheila Fleming came in breathlessly.

"It was wonderful!" she exclaimed. "I was leaning over the rail, and I saw you shoot it out with that sniper! You saved my life!"

Ed smiled at her, and nodded. Then he turned to his prisoner. "Now if this bird is willing to talk. . ."

The fellow's nerve was shattered. He was more than willing to talk. He had knocked out the real conductor in the wash-room and changed clothes with him. Then he had cleared the observation car under the pretext that the Army had issued last-minute orders. He had then locked Ed Race and Sheila Fleming out on the platform, so that they would be easy and helpless targets for the sniper.

"Who hired you to do all this?" Ed demanded.

"A guy named Flick," he said. "I never met him before. He talked to me in a bar in Steuben Junction yesterday, gave me two hundred bucks advance. I'm to meet him in Belleville after the train pulls in, and get another five hundred."

"Flick?" Ed repeated thoughtfully. He looked at Sheila. "Know anyone by that name?"

She shook her head.

"Well," said Ed, "the only thing to do is for you to meet this Flick!"


TEN minutes later the train pulled into the dark and gloomy interior of the Belleville Station. Ed Race and Sheila were seated at one of the windows of the observation car, while Henkle stood at the vestibule door. As the train ground to a stop, Ed peered out into the gloom, seeking to spot the man who had promised to meet Henkle here. But there was no one on the shadowy platform.

"He's not here!" Sheila said breathlessly. "Do you suppose he could have learned about the fight at the viaduct—"

She broke off abruptly as they both spotted a dim shape beside a pile of trunks. At the same time, Henkle stepped down onto the platform, and stood uncertainly looking about him.

Ed spotted the swift action of the figure in the shadow before Sheila did, perhaps because he had been more or less expecting it. He caught the dull gleam of metal as that half-hidden figure aimed a gun at the uniformed Henkle.

But Ed's revolver was already in his hand, and he snapped a single shot at the shadowy murderer. His revolver thundered, and the slug smashed into that dimly outlined figure, driving it back into the side of a car on the opposite track.

They raced out of the car, and across the platform to where the body lay.

"Is that Flick?" Ed asked.

Henkle peered down at the dead features of the man who had intended to pay him off with lead. "Yes. Damn him!"

Sheila came over and looked down at the dead man. "Why," she exclaimed, "that's Mr. Archer, Dan's attorney!"

Ed Race nodded. "I thought so."

"But—but I don't understand! Mr. Archer was Dan's lawyer!"

"Don't you see?" Ed said gently. "Archer was supposed to be defending Dan. But in reality he meant to get him convicted. Dan must have insisted on sending for you, and Archer had to comply. But he arranged to have you killed before you got here. It had to be Archer. He was the only one who knew you were coming on the observation car."

"Nuts!" said Henkle, disgustedly. "And I thought I was a smart crook!"

Ed grinned. "You are. You're smarter than Archer, anyway. There's the proof. He's dead. But you're alive!"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
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do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.