Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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Things happened fast in Carrolltown... A voluptuous brunette's bribe, a machine-gun murder, and a hawk-eyed cabby gave Ed Race, pistol-juggling, sharp-shooting acrobat, a timely cue for a six-gun gate crash to a swindler's million-dollar show—with death as the pay-off!
IT was eight o'clock Sunday evening when Ed Race got off the train at Carrolltown. He went back to the baggage car, secured his two suitcases, had the porter carry them to a waiting taxi.
He said to the taxi driver: "Stop at the Partages Theatre so I can drop off one of these bags, then take me to the Carrolltown Hotel." He was about to get in when he felt a soft hand on his arm. He turned to find a young woman smiling at him. She was pretty in a plump sort of way, dark-haired, full-lipped. But there was a hard look in her eyes that Ed didn't particularly like.
She said: "You're Ed Race, aren't you?" Then, without waiting for his acknowledgment: "Suppose you let the cab wait. I'd like to talk to you."
There was a strange sort of assurance about her. And as if taking it for granted that he would acquiesce, she turned away. "There's a restaurant across the street. We can talk in there."
Ed's eyes narrowed. "Just a minute... I don't know you. What do you want to see me about?"
IT was a warm evening, and the girl was wearing a thin dress that set off her figure to advantage. It wasn't a bad figure, and she made the most of it. She came up close to Ed, so that he caught a faint scent of the perfume she used, and said softly: "I'm not trying to make you, Big Boy. This is business—the same business that brings you here tonight. Let the taxi wait. You'll find it worth while."
Ed shrugged, said to the driver. "Okay, you wait for me." He then followed her across the street. Carrolltown was a fairly large place, being a county seat. It had grown up around the railroad station, the main street running off at an angle from the square in front of the depot. Two blocks away, Ed could see the huge sign of the Partages Theatre. Standing on a ladder was a man at work on the lettering of the marquee. Ed knew that man was probably putting up the streamer which would announce the appearance of the Masked Marksman—"The Man Who Can Make Guns Talk."
That was the way Ed Race was billed in every theatre of the Partages and allied circuits, from coast to coast. The marvelous skill and dexterity with guns which he demonstrated on the stage had won for him nation-wide popularity. His gun juggling and acrobatic act was headlined wherever it appeared—and the things he could do with those six heavy forty-five automatics of his never failed to bring down the house. Few knew his true identity off-stage, for he always appeared with a mask.
That this woman knew him was cause for concern. Only one person in Carrolltown was supposed to know that he was here for an additional purpose besides that of entertaining the public. And that one person was not this woman.
Moving casually across the street after her, Ed shrugged his broad shoulders forward just a little, thus easing his coat away from the twin holsters under his armpits where he carried two of the automatics which he used in his act. He noticed that a tall man who had been standing near the cab was also crossing the street, and that another man, with a slight limp due to a stiff leg, was moving down from the corner toward the restaurant. Both men had their hands in their jacket pockets, and were glancing furtively toward him.
The woman said nothing until they entered the "Golden Pheasant" and a waiter had shown them to a table. Ed saw that the two men were also coming in and taking a table toward the front. The woman had so maneuvered that Ed would sit opposite her, with his back to these two men. Ed made no objection and sat down facing her. She smiled at him, looked at a menu, and said to the waiter: "A ham sandwich on white bread and a cup of coffee."
Ed nodded. "Double it."
The waiter left and Ed rested his elbows on the table, studied the woman. Under the stronger light of the restaurant he saw that she was in her early thirties. Her face was full, on the verge of taking on more fat, but her skin was soft, her nose straight, and her mouth well-shaped. Her black hair was done in a bun in back, and she wore the blouse of her dress cut low in front to reveal a white, soft skin.
She let him study her for a moment, then said: "Well, Big Boy, how do you like me?"
Ed frowned. "You invited me in here to talk. All right, talk."
She made a face at him. "Always the business man, huh? Don't you ever play?"
He didn't smile. "I'm not playing now, thank you."
She flushed. "All right, all right. I'll get down to business. And here's the business." She opened her purse and took out a thickly stuffed envelope, placed it on the table. Ed caught a glimpse of the butt of a small revolver in the purse. She saw his eye on it, and her lip curled. "You carry two guns, don't you?" she challenged.
Ed said: "You seem to know a lot about me. I don't even know your name. Suppose you talk."
"The name is Robinson, Big Boy. In case you want more, the first name is Elsie. You can call me Elsie any time you want."
"All right, Elsie. What's in the envelope?"
"Open it and see."
Ed smiled faintly, shook his head. "No. You open it."
"Cagey, huh?" She shrugged "Okay, Big Boy. I see they didn't overrate you when they said you were the works. Here goes..."
She used the knife the waiter had left, slit the envelope, and showed the contents to Ed without taking them out. The envelope was full of currency. She slipped the edge of one of the bills out—an engraved "100" showed in the corner.
"They're all the same, Big Boy—fifty of them. Five grand! Does it look good to you?"
"Is it all for me?"
Her eyes were bright. She pushed the envelope along the table. "Take it, Big Boy. Stow it away. It's all for you."
She looked disgusted. "Listen, don't act dumb. Do I have to spell it out for you?"
Ed smiled. "They say money talks—but in this case you better add a little explanation."
The waiter came with the coffee and sandwiches, and they were silent until he had gone. Then she said: "All right, if you got to have it that way. You're Ed Race, the Masked Marksman, and you work for Leon Partages. But you're more than an actor. You're so good with guns that Partages uses you every time there's a jam somewhere in his circuit. You were supposed to appear in Masonville next week, but Partages switched your booking so you could come to this town. Am I right?"
"Go on," Ed murmured. "You seem to be well informed."
DOWN at the far end of the restaurant there was a mirror on the swinging kitchen door. In that mirror Ed Race could watch the two men at the table behind him—and he saw that they were sitting tensely, keeping their eyes on himself and the woman. They still had their hands in their pockets.
Elsie Robinson went on: "The reason why Partages switched your booking, was because he just got an offer in New York of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars for the land and buildings of the Partages Theatre here in Carrolltown. The theater has been losing money for six months. He was tempted to sell—but he sent you here to look things over and find out if there was anything phony in the set-up. You're supposed to meet Harry Semple, the local manager of the Partages Theatre, in a room that's been reserved for you at the Carrolltown Hotel."
"Where do you fit into the picture?" Ed asked her. "And why this five grand?"
She tapped the envelope with a pink fingernail. "That's for you. Take it, and get on the long distance phone and tell Partages that it's okay for him to close the deal in New York. That's all you have to do for the five grand."
"You want me to do that before I even see Semple?"
"Yes... And don't worry where I figure in the picture. I'm being paid to contact you."
"How did you find out all this about me? Everything you say is true. But no one is supposed to know why I'm here. Mr. Partages talked to me on the long distance at Masonville this morning, and I'm pretty sure nobody listened in."
She smiled. "You're asking too many questions, Big Boy. How about the deal?"
"Sorry, Elsie, it's no deal."
Her dark eyes narrowed, her lips pursed. "That final?"
"And you're going to see Semple?"
"Right." Ed finished his coffee, raised a hand to the waiter for his check.
The woman stood up abruptly. She picked up the envelope and stuffed it in her purse. "So long, Big Boy," she said tauntingly. "Don't say I didn't try." And she walked swiftly away from the table.
AS if it had been a signal, the two men behind Ed stood up, pushing back their chairs. The waiter was approaching from the rear of the restaurant, and the two men started moving toward Ed from the front. There were only one or two patrons in the restaurant at that late hour of the evening, and the two men attracted little attention. Their hands came out of their pockets very inconspicuously, but Ed, looking through the mirror on the kitchen door, saw that those hands held compact, flat automatics.
The waiter laid the check on the table and went away. Ed, keeping his eyes on the reflection of the two men, rose slowly, and crossed his arms over his chest, his capable fingers gripping the heavy stocks of the two forty-fives in his shoulder holsters.
The two men came up close on either side of him, and the one on the left, the one with the limp, said: "This is a gun I'm poking in your side, mister. My pal is got one on the other side. You can put down the money for the check an' walk out of here peaceable with us—or you can take it here. It's all one to us."
Ed's hands had slipped out of the holster, each gripping a gun, the long blued-steel barrels were by his elbows. His arms were still crossed, and he appeared to be standing very negligently. He glanced amusedly from one to the other of the two men, saw that their automatics were jammed up against his sides. He sighed, said: "You fellows certainly are careless." He stepped back slowly, and he saw that the man with the game leg was grinning, thinking that he had capitulated.
But, instead of turning around and walking out, Ed suddenly brought the barrels of his two guns down in a slapping motion, with unerring accuracy. They cracked against two wrists with a sickening, crunching sound, and two automatics fell to the floor. One exploded, the slug tearing into the leg of the table. The noise of the explosion sounded like thunder in the enclosed restaurant, and the diners at the two other occupied tables sprang up in panic, while the waiters huddled in a corner near the rear. The cashier screamed.
Ed kicked the two automatics across the floor, holstered his own guns, and grinned at the two gunmen, who were staring at him stupidly, holding onto their wrists. "Now," he said, "you boys will kindly sit down until the cops arrive. And then, maybe you'll do a little talking."
The sound of his voice was drowned by the sudden staccato chattering of a machine gun outside. Glass windows were shattered, and slugs screamed into the restaurant, smashed the mirror on the kitchen door, tore into the walls. The hail of lead was quickly sweeping toward the spot where Ed and the two men stood, moving like a flailing scythe of destruction. Ed acted with all the speed and coordination of muscle, mind and eye that characterized his movements on the stage, where he nightly snatched juggled guns out of the air and fired them at the flames of a row of candles forty feet across the stage. He had never missed a candle in eight years of vaudeville juggling marksmanship, and he didn't miss now as the two forty-fives leaped into his hands again with eye-defying speed and began to blast at the sedan at the curb, from which the barrage of machine gun lead was storming.
SIX times in quick succession each of those heavy automatics roared out their deep-throated defiance of the chattering Tommy gun. Ed's slugs drew a straight line across the side of that sedan, parallel to the spot where the black snout of the machine gun poked out of the window. And the chattering stopped with decisive suddenness. The snout of the machine gun disappeared. Abruptly, quiet descended upon the restaurant and the street.
The quiet lasted only a moment. Screams began to keen out in the street, shrilling high above the muted groans of a man who lay upon the floor, writhing in an ever widening pool of blood. He was one of the innocent diners at a table near the window, and he had been caught in the first blast of the machine gun. Another diner was slumped over a table, the back of his head literally blasted off, his arms stretched across the cloth, the water from an overturned glass adulterating the deep crimson which was saturating the tablecloth. The restaurant was a shambles of blood and wrecked furniture. Waiters came out timidly, and two of them went into the street to look at the sedan which had not moved from its spot at the curb.
Ed loaded his automatics with swift, dexterous fingers, and glanced about for the two men who had tried to hold him up. They were gone.
The cashier, a peroxided blonde, came out from behind her counter. She had been protected from the machine gun fire by an angle of the wall, but she was as white as a sheet. Police whistles were shrieking outside, and a radio patrol siren sounded as Ed leaped over toward the cashier. "Quick," he shouted. "Those two men standing near me when this began—did you see where they went?"
She nodded, stammered, finally gasped out: "T-they ran out the back way as s-soon as it started."
ED'S eyes were bleak as he turned to confront the two uniformed patrolmen who flung themselves out of a radio car at the curb and rushed into the restaurant. They saw Ed's guns, broke their stride, pawing wildly at their own revolvers. Ed slid his forty-fives back in their holsters, said to the cops: "It's all right. I'm not a bandit. You'll find your men out in that sedan—but I don't think they'll be able to talk much!"
The cops weren't convinced. They had their guns out by this time, and advanced upon Ed grimly. The cashier exclaimed: "No, no. This man is all right. It's he who shot those bandits. If it hadn't been for him, we'd all have been killed!"
Ed flashed her a smile of thanks, motioned to the cops to follow him. They went outside to the sedan just as a police car pulled up. A big, square-jawed man of commanding appearance with a lot of gold braid on his police uniform got out of the squad car; the two cops with Ed saluted him. One of them said: "It looks like a hold-up or something, Captain Lyons. This man here shot it out with the hold-ups."
Captain Lyons glanced searchingly at Ed, said crisply, "Stick close, mister, I'll want to talk to you," and went over to the sedan. Ed followed him, and the two peered into the car. A man lay in the rear, his body twisted on the floor, his head leaning against the edge of the seat. Clutched close to his chest was the machine gun with which he had been shooting. There was a hole in his forehead the size of a quarter. His eyes were open, staring fixed. His face in death was thin, pinched, sharp. In the front seat another man was slumped over the wheel, bloody head on the hands which still clutched its oak rim. Brains and blood were spattered all over. One of Ed's slugs had caught him in the ear. On the far side of the car were a straight line of bullet holes in the frame. Ed's two automatics had cut a line of death across the car, taking both men in its path.
Captain Lyons grunted. "Some shooting—and against a machine gun! Forty-fives, two of them—I count ten holes here, and two shots for these guys." He swung on Ed. "You do it all by yourself?"
Ed nodded. "I carry two of them."
Ed nodded again, produced a wallet, opened it, extracted two sheets of paper. One was a license to carry firearms in the state of Pennsylvania, the other was a license to act as a private detective in the same state. Ed had private detective licenses in a dozen states. Long ago, the routine of his acrobatic juggling performances on the stage had begun to become more or less boring to Ed Race's restless temperament. It was at that time that he had begun to seek a side line that would afford him the excitement that his nervous energy craved as an outlet. And he had found it in the avocation of crime detection. His true name, in the past few years, had become as well known and as well hated by underworld crooks as his stage name was known and admired by the theatre-going public.
Captain Lyons saw the name on the licenses and whistled. "I've heard of you, of course..." They moved out of the way for a pair of interns, carrying a stretcher, who had just arrived in an ambulance. "But I didn't think even you were good enough to shoot it out with a machine gun!"
Ed shrugged. "If you had practiced with guns as long as I have, Captain, you'd be just as good. Right now, I'm interested in two men who were trying to take me for a ride before this happened, and in a woman who tried a five-thousand-dollar song-and-dance act on me. I'll give you their descriptions and you send out an alarm."
Swiftly he described the woman and the two men and Lyons dispatched a cop to a telephone. "Have them put it on the seven-state teletype" he ordered. "Those birds will be well on their way by this time, if they're wise! Notify all state police and suburban police departments by radio. Get going. I want those three!"
He turned to Ed. "Any idea what this is all about? Why were they after you?"
Ed was puzzled. "Frankly, I don't understand. I'm to appear at the Partages Theatres starting tomorrow, and I'm also here on a little confidential business for Leon Partages, my boss. But the business hardly seems to warrant anything like this. Maybe Semple, the theatre manager, can tell us something. He's supposed to meet me at the Carroll town Hotel. Let's call him."
Lyons nodded, and they had started into the restaurant for a phone when the captain suddenly halted Ed, murmuring: "Hold it. Here's Bannister."
A limousine was slowing up alongside the gangster's sedan, and a tall man in dinner coat and black felt hat was stepping off the running board, looking with curiosity at the police cars, the ambulance, the crowd that had gathered and which was literally blocking the street.
Ed frowned, asked: "Who's he?"
Lyons laughed. "I forgot you're a stranger. Everybody knows Flint Bannister. He's the political boss of Carrolltown County; owns most of the state politically. He's just had himself appointed Commissioner of Public Works."
Bannister descended from the limousine and headed directly for Lyons. His lively, shrewd eyes flicked over Ed Race for a moment, then rested on the captain. "What's happened here, Lyons? Who's shooting up our city?"
Lyons greeted him respectfully, swiftly told him what had happened, introduced Ed Race. Bannister nodded at Ed. "I've heard of you. The Masked Marksman, eh? Well, you certainly did a good job. It's a good thing you cleaned those gunmen up, or they'd have got away—and the administration would have had a tough time at the coming election. The city owes you a vote of thanks, Race."
"That's fine, Mr. Bannister," Ed said drily. "Now if you'll excuse us, Captain Lyons and I have a little business to attend to... We want to see if we can get a line on the other eggs who had a hand in this."
"Other eggs? You mean those two men and the woman that Lyons mentioned? You think they were linked with these gunmen?"
"I sure do. It would be too much of a coincidence to think that this shooting just happened."
"How do you figure to get a line on them?"
"We're going to call up Harry Semple, the manager of the Carrolltown Theatre," Lyons told Bannister, "and see if he knows anything. Race here was supposed to meet him."
"I see," Bannister interrupted. "Well, go ahead. I wish you luck. Too bad about those innocent victims inside. Come and see me tomorrow, Race. I want to do something for you!"
Bannister let them go and returned to his limousine. Ed's eyes followed the political boss thoughtfully until the limousine had turned the corner, then he went inside with Lyons, got the number of the Carrolltown Hotel. "I want to talk to Harry Semple. This is Mr. Race. Semple was to meet me in a room which was reserved in my name."
"Certainly, Mr. Race. Mr. Semple has been expecting you." In a moment Ed was connected with the manager of the Partages Theatre. Semple's voice came to him excitedly: "Mr. Race! Thank God you're here! I was afraid something would happen to you..."
"How come?" Ed asked abruptly. "What were you afraid of?"
"Why—I—er—I don't know." Semple was suddenly cautious stammering. "I—er—just was worried. Can you come right up here, Mr. Race? I—I'd like to talk to you personally. These telephone wires, you know."
"I'll be right over, Semple," Ed told him crisply. "You stick in that room."
"I will, Mr. Race, I surely will!"
ED hung up, said to Lyons who was standing at his elbow: "Semple knows something. I'm going up there. Want to come?"
Lyons looked over the scene of wreckage in the restaurant. "I've got to stick here a few minutes until I've gotten this mess kind of cleared up. You go ahead. I'll follow in a few minutes. If you learn anything important from Semple, call me here."
Ed nodded, went out of the restaurant, and crossed the street. The taxicab with his bags was still waiting. The driver grinned at him weakly: "Gee! I thought they got you for a minute, when that Tommy gun opened up. An' I says to myself: 'Mr. Twiggens'—that's my name, Twiggens—I says to myself: 'Mr. Twiggens, here's where you lose ninety cents waiting time!' Then when I seen you come out, I was relieved..."
Ed broke in impatiently: "All right, Twiggens. You take me to the Carrolltown Hotel—quick!"
He got into the cab. Twiggens made a U-turn and headed up Main Street. "Gee," he said over his shoulder, "that was some shooting. It was the best shooting I seen since I rode with Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders. Yeah, that was—"
"Listen," Ed interrupted. "You were out there all the time. Did you see that woman come out—the one I went into the restaurant with?"
"Sure I seen her. Say, she has a swell shape, that momma has. An' she knows it, too. I says to myself—"
"Did you see where she went, or what she did when she came out?"
"Sure, I seen where she went. I watched her go down to the corner. A shape like that is worth watching, I'll tell the world. It ain't often—"
Ed gritted his teeth. "Are you going to tell me where she went?"
Twiggens skillfully turned a corner, said: "Sure, sure. She walked kind of fast down to the corner, and a big limousine picked her up and went hell bent for leather down Main Street. You'll laugh when I tell whose limousine it was. You'll never guess—"
"Don't tell me it was Mr. Bannister's limousine!"
"That's what I'm tellin' you, mister. No one else's! An' then you could of knocked me over with a feather when the limousine pulls back here just a couple of minutes ago, an' Bannister himself is inside it—but there ain't no sign of the dame! Boy, he's a lucky stiff with a dame like that. I wish't this was a limousine instead of a hack. Then, maybe, she'd ride with me. I could go for that baby in a big way. I ain't so old, yet, that I couldn't—"
He had swung in to the curb under the canopy of the Carrolltown Hotel. Ed opened the door, leaped out. He handed the driver a five dollar bill. "Here, pop. I don't doubt you could go for her—even if you did ride with Roosevelt. Now listen... You drive right back to that restaurant and tell Captain Lyons what you just told me. Understand? And then—you hurry here and I'll give you another five-spot. How's that?"
Twiggens pocketed the five dollar bill.
"Sure, mister!... But how about the clock? It says a dollar twenty—"
Ed groaned, pulled out two singles and passed them over. "Now scram!"
Twiggens bobbed his head in delight. "That's fine, mister. That makes the five clear profit. Now I can make the down payment on one of them new auto radios..."
Ed left him in the middle of the sentence, went into the hotel. At the desk he asked: "What room is Mr. Semple in? My name is Race."
The clerk gave him the register to sign, then handed him a key. "Four-nineteen, Mr. Race. Mr. Semple has the other key. You want your bags brought up?"
"Leave them here for the present," Ed told him. "I'm in a hurry."
He crossed to the elevator, went up to the fourth floor. He knocked at 419 but got no answer. Frowning, he inserted the key in the lock, stepped into the room. There was a large double bed in the center, a dresser against the wall, a radio in one corner, and a bathroom door at the far end. On the bed lay a man's hat. Otherwise the room was vacant.
Ed walked around the bed, looked in the closet, found nothing, then went over to the bathroom and pushed the door open. Semple was in the bathroom. He was in the tub, and his feet were sticking up over the side at a grotesque angle. His head was down in the tub, and blood had discolored the white porcelain. Semple was dead. His head had been bashed in. There was no weapon in sight.
Ed made sure the theatre manager was dead. He had met Semple once before, when the man had been manager of a theatre in another town; knew that Semple was married, had two children. His lips were a tight line as he went out of the bathroom, picked up the hat on the bed and saw that the initials on the brim were "H. S."
The telephone rang. Ed picked it up mechanically, said: "Yes?"
An excited voice said: "Hey, mister! This is Twiggens!"
Ed said tonelessly: "Well?"
"Say, mister, I'm phoning from a drug store at Portland and Fifth Streets. Just as you went in the hotel, I drove off, and who do you think I seen come out of the side entrance of the hotel?"
"Never mind the guessing games!" Ed snapped.
"All right, mister, you don't have to get sore. I seen that dame you was asking me about—you know, the one with the shape—"
"Yes," Ed rapped. He clutched the receiver hard.
"She was coming out wit' two other men, an' one of them limped. They flagged me, and I acted dumb, picked them up. They got off at the corner of Portland and Fifth, and started to walk. They walked two blocks, and went in the back way of a big house. Guess whose house..."
Ed was almost weeping. "Damn it, quit those guessing games. Snap it up!"
"All right, all right. I was just trying to tell you. It's the house of—say, how much will it be worth to you to know?"
Ed groaned. "Ten dollars. And when I see you I'm going to take a sock out of you."
"Then I ain't agoin' to tell you. I don't like being socked..."
"All right, I give up. Ten dollars, and no socks. Whose house?"
"Mr. Flint Bannister's!" Twiggens chuckled. "When do I get the ten?"
"Right now! You wait right where you are. I'll be there before you can leave the booth!"
"Okay, and don't forget, no socks—"
ED hung up, raced out of the room. He punched the button till the elevator came up. Down at the desk he asked the clerk: "Did anyone go up to see Mr. Semple before I came?"
"Did anybody go up to the fourth floor?"
"Why, yes... A lady and two men."
"Okay. You call this number—" he gave the clerk the number of the restaurant, which he had jotted down, "and ask for Captain Lyons. Tell him to meet me at Flint Bannister's house at once. Understand? I've no time to phone him myself. And then you call headquarters and have them send a couple of men over. Mr. Semple has been murdered in four-nine-teen!"
The clerk gasped, grew pale. But Ed wasn't there to see him. He was already out the door, hailing a cab. "Fifth and Portland!" he snapped. "And don't spare the gas!"
Portland and Fifth was about a mile and a half from the center of town, in the more expensive residential section. Twiggens was waiting as he had promised. Ed paid off his own driver, gripped Twiggens by the sleeve. "All right, take me to that house!"
Twiggens held back. "Ten bucks, you said."
Impatiently, Ed peeled off a ten dollar bill, handed it over. He got into the cab, while Twiggens got behind the wheel and pulled away from the curb. "You know, mister, it looked funny, the way that dame came out with those guys. She was in the middle, sort of pulling back and crying... One of the guys tells her to shut up, or he'd smack her. Then she shut up."
"I see," Ed said thoughtfully. "Listen, Wiggins—"
"It ain't Wiggins, mister—it's Twiggens—T-w-i—"
"Okay, Twiggens. My apologies. You take me to the back entrance where they went in, and then you go around the front and wait for Captain Lyons. When he comes, you tell him everything you told me."
THE rear entrance of Bannister's house was on Fairmount Street. It was a large place, and there was a driveway that ran from the front through to the rear of the lot, with a porte-cochère at the side of the house. Ed left the cab and walked up the driveway. It was dark here, but lights from several windows in the house glowed dimly through drawn shades.
Ed stopped close to the rear door, listened for movement within, shrugged, and took out a bunch of passkeys. The second try clicked the lock... He stepped into a pantry just behind the kitchen. There was no one in the kitchen, though it was brightly lit. He passed through into a hall, heard voices upstairs. He moved down along the hall, silently, looked into two empty rooms, the doors of which were wide open. The voices were still coming from upstairs, and Ed, though he couldn't catch words, recognized a feminine voice—that of Elsie Robinson!
He went up the stairs cautiously, reached the upper landing, and stopped, staring through the open door into a bedroom. Elsie Robinson stood in the room, with her back to the wall, one hand at her throat, the other at her breast. Facing her, with his left side to the door through which Ed looked, was the tall, poised figure of Flint Bannister. He was still wearing his distinguished-looking evening clothes. In his right hand was a small nickel-plated revolver, to the muzzle of which was attached a silencer. At the right of the woman stood the second of the two men who had tried to hold Ed up in the restaurant; he, too, had a gun.
Bannister was saying in a cool, composed voice: "It's too bad, Elsie, but I can't give up a million and a half dollars just because you suddenly become squeamish!"
Elsie Robinson was no longer the hard, self-assured woman that she had been in the restaurant. Her eyes were wide with fear, and her lips were trembling. Ed, from the hallway, could see the pallor of her cheeks through the rouge.
She said tremblingly: "B-but you didn't tell me there was going to be murder. Y-you just hired me to stop Ed Race at the station, and buy him off. I—I thought that Croner here, and Smiley, were just going to take him away and make him report 'okay' to Partages—so he'd sell the theatre... B-but instead of that, you had those men in the car, with the machine gun—"
Croner snarled: "Sure! You didn't think a guy like Race could be handled like any ordinary egg? When he refused to take that dough you offered him, there was only one thing to do—bop him! We had the two boys with the chopper along for insurance, on account of how Race is supposed to be pretty good with a gun—and it was damn lucky they were along, or we'd be in the can by now."
Bannister smiled thinly. "You see, Elsie, there's no use getting an attack of conscience at this late date. We've got to go through with it. The only chance of our putting the deal through is to get this man Race on the spot. He's got to be put out of the way before tomorrow morning, because, by then, he'll learn that the city council has condemned the Partages Theatre property for a million and a half, and he'll wire Partages not to sell. Semple is out of the way—Race is our only danger. Now I want you to phone him, tell him that you can give him the low-down if he'll come to meet you alone. From what I've heard of him, he'll rise to the bait. And Croner and Smiley will be there to take care of him—only this time, they'll be sure to shoot before he sees them!"
Elsie Robinson shrank back against the wall. "I won't do it!" she exclaimed. "I won't. If I'd known you were a bunch of murderers I would never have taken the job. I thought you were just putting over a clever deal—having the property condemned by the city for a million and a half, and buying it up from Partages for two hundred and fifty thousand, but—"
Bannister took a short step forward. "You mean that, Elsie? You won't go through with it?"
"I won't! I won't have anything to do with m-murder!"
Bannister said to Croner: "Well, I guess that's that. Take her away, Croner. You know what to do with her."
Croner grinned nastily. "And how! Come on, girlie—one last ride!"
She opened her mouth to scream, and Croner hit her. The blow sent her head back against the wall, she reeled, almost stumbled. Croner caught her by the arm, half carried her toward the door. At that moment Ed stepped forward, his hands going to his two shoulder holsters.
But before he could move a gun barrel jammed into his back. He stiffened, half turned, saw the game-legged man, Smiley.
Smiley had come out of an open door on the other side of the hall behind Ed. The limping man's teeth showed in a vicious smile. "Wise guy, huh! Take it easy, bo, and walk inside. Don't make no funny moves!"
Bannister and Croner stared, gaping at Ed as he stepped into the room under the muzzle of Smiley's gun. Bannister exclaimed: "Good man, Smiley!"
Smiley grinned. "I was in the bathroom, and I come out an' seen this mugg in the hall. So I steps up in back of him, an' here he is!"
Bannister faced Ed Race, said softly: "You've been an awful nuisance, Race. It'll be a pleasure to lose you!"
Elsie Robinson was leaning against the wall where Croner had let her go. She cried: "They'll kill us both, Mr. Race! God, they'll kill us—"
Croner gave her a vicious backhanded slap that sent her staggering, and Smiley, behind Ed, chuckled. Ed felt the muzzle of the gun in his back wobble a little as Smiley laughed, and—he swung into action. His right foot kicked back hard, caught Smiley in the shin. It was Smiley's good leg, and the gunman yelped, bent over. Ed whirled, his left fist crashed against Smiley's jaw with shattering impact, sending him backward in a heap up against Bannister.
And with a continuous motion, Ed dived into a forward somersault that carried him half way across the room, out of line of the slugs that ripped from Croner's gun. Croner was snarling, firing from the hip, but his target was moving in a whirling somersault of arms and legs. People in vaudeville theatres all over the country had often seen the Masked Marksman do that trick somersault, come out of it, catch the guns he had been juggling, and shoot out the flames of a row of candles, almost before they knew what was happening. Just so did Ed Race now come out of his somersault, with his two forty-fives in his hands, bucking, roaring, as slugs thundered from their muzzles into the body of Croner. Croner was hurled back into the wall as if a hurricane had caught him. His chest seemed to cave in into a bloody ruin as the slugs pounded into him. His mouth fell open, his body slid down the wall to the floor at the feet of Elsie Robinson who stared at the gruesome sight, horribly fascinated.
Almost before he had ceased firing at Croner, Ed swung the gun in his right hand lithely, fired once at Bannister, who had recovered his balance and was pointing the silenced revolver at him. Ed's slug caught Bannister in the mouth, and the politician's face seemed suddenly to dissolve.
Ed stopped shooting, looked around the room bitterly. The only one of the three who was not dead was Smiley, and he was lying on the floor with a broken jaw.
SOMEONE was pounding at the front door, and police whistles were sounding outside. Ed looked across at Elsie Robinson. She was pressing both white-knuckled fists against her breasts, and looking piteously at him.
There was a crash downstairs, and the sound of running feet. Uniformed figures appeared in the room. Captain Lyons stared for a moment, then exclaimed: "Holy Mackerel! Bannister! Was he in this?"
Ed grunted. "It was his plan. Am I right, Elsie?"
She nodded. "Bannister had the City Council condemn the block of buildings where the Partages Theatre is located for a public park. The news of the condemnation was to have been announced tomorrow. The Partages Theatre was valued at a million and a half by the Council, and Bannister wanted to buy it up for two hundred and fifty thousand. He'd have made the difference. He had bribed Semple to advise Partages to sell, but when Semple's conscience began to bother him, Bannister got some of the boys in to threaten him. Then when we learned from Semple that Ed Race was coming—Bannister told me to try to bribe him, too. Semple was going to tell the whole story to Mr. Race, so Croner and Smiley shot him. I was with them—I wanted to quit, but they dragged me over here."
Lyons looked from the moaning form of Smiley on the floor, up to Ed Race. "Well, I'll be damned!" he said.
Elsie Robinson took a timid step forward. "W-what's going to be done t-to me?"
"I think," Ed said, "that you will get off pretty light by turning state's evidence. There's still Smiley to prosecute. What do you say, Lyons?"
The captain nodded, started to speak—he was interrupted by a voice from the doorway. "Well, gosh all! I ain't never seen so much blood since I rode with Teddy Roosevelt!"
Ed frowned, demanded: "What the hell do you want now, Twiggens?"
The taxi driver shuffled his feet. "Well you see, I was kind of worried about my waitin' time when I heard the shooting... There's seventy cents on the clock!"
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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