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EMILE C. TEPPERMAN

DEATH STEALS THE ACT

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First published in The Spider magazine, July 1936

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2018
Version date: 2018-02-11
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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Cover

The Spider, July 1936, with "Death Steals the Act"



Ed Race, sharpshooting vaudeville acrobat, gambles his life to save his boss—and discovers a high-finance racket which makes his famous pistol act a prelude to bloody death.



ED RACE was making a speech of appreciation during a dinner at which he had just been announced the winner of a new motor car, when Death whispered in his ear. But Ed Race didn't know the dread significance of those words at first, nor did he recognize the deferential, dark clad headwaiter as a grim messenger of doom.

He paused frowning at the interruption. The headwaiter at his elbow thrust into his hand a portable telephone which had been plugged into the outlet in the dining room. "Call for you, Mr. Race."

"Don't you see I'm in the middle—"

The waiter was apologetic. "That's what I told the gentleman, sir. He's outside in the lobby of the hotel and insists on talking to you. I asked him to wait ten minutes, but he refused. He said that he might be dead in ten minutes."

Ed Race echoed: "Dead—in ten minutes?" He turned to the men around the table: "Excuse me, boys. This seems to be serious." He took the instrument from the waiter. "Hello! This is Race. Well?"

The voice of the man in the lobby was frantic.

"Mr. Race, I've got to see you at once. Can you come out here in the lobby—right away?"

"Listen," Ed growled. "I can't leave now."

"Please! My life is in danger!"

"And who are you?"

"You don't know me, but you must have heard of me. I'm John Delaney."

Ed whistled. "You mean, Mr. Partages' partner?"

"Yes, yes. He and I control the stock of the Partages vaudeville circuit. I just called Leon... He told me I'd find you here... I came over instead of phoning. I dare not go home. They may be watching—"

"Wait a minute," Ed interrupted. "I'll come out."

He handed the phone back to the waiter, said to the table of interested faces: "I'm sorry, boys, but this thing seems to be really important. I may not be able to come back—"

When Ed left the room, Silas Dean went out in the corridor with him while he got his hat and coat from the check girl. Ed put the coat on, felt of the two heavy forty-fives in the two inside pockets. He always carried those two guns. They were two of the six with which he performed so miraculously on the stage, and he never went without them. He carried them in his topcoat now—you can't wear forty-fives with evening clothes.

Dean called out to him as he left: "Don't forget to take your new car away, Race—you lucky stiff."

Ed grinned, waved to him, and walked out into the main lobby. He looked around at the men and women there, but saw no one who seemed to be awaiting him. He frowned, started over to the desk, then he heard a page boy calling: "Mr. Race, please. Mr. Race, please!"

He motioned the boy over, gave him a quarter, and took the note on the tray. He asked: "Who left this?"

"A skinny little gentleman, sir. He was in a hurry... He went out with two other men."

Ed nodded, unfolded the note. It was scrawled, apparently in great haste:


Dear Mr. Race:

I was unduly alarmed. I find I am really in no danger. Sorry I called you away from the dinner. I hope you'll overlook it.

John Delaney."


Ed grabbed the arm of the page boy, who was already moving off.

"Which way did those three men go, sonny?"

The boy pointed. "Out that way, sir. Not two minutes before you called me."

Ed hurried out the exit indicated. There were a good many people in the lobby, and he was a bit delayed in getting out. On the street, he glanced quickly up and down; saw the ornately dressed Astor doorman hurrying across the street toward the hotel, clutching two fat cigars in his hand. The doorman was looking in the direction of two men who were walking quickly east on Forty-Fifth toward Broadway.


ED heard the doorman shout: "Hey, mister, here I am. Here's the cigars you sent me for."

The two men near the corner turned, glanced behind them, one of them taking the cigars from the doorman. Then they started toward Broadway again. Ed Race's jaw tightened. He had recognized one of the two men as they passed under a street light. He was Vic Krohn, once a bodyguard for the notorious alky baron, Mike Serrone, who was finishing up a long term at Alcatraz.

Ed started to run after them. Krohn, whether from instinct or caution, turned his head, saw Ed, said something to his companion, and then both men sprinted around the corner. Ed's long legs were carrying him swiftly after them. It was past nine o'clock, and Forty-Fifth Street was no longer congested by the theatre crowd. He would have made it, if it hadn't been for the doorman. The bulky fellow was standing on the sidewalk, gazing at the fast retreating Krohn and companion when Ed came tearing past. And it was just at that moment that the flunky began to move his lumber some form. He stepped to one side, collided with Ed, and the two of them went sprawling in the street. Ed cursed, sprang to his feet, and raced around the corner. He was too late. There was no sign of the two men in the moving Broadway crowd. They might have slipped into the moving picture theatre just off the corner; they might have gone down into the automat cafeteria. In either case they could easily slip out of a side entrance. Or they might even be among the congested throng on the street. It was impossible to spot them. And then, too, Ed had just acted on a hunch. He had nothing that he could really say or do to Krohn or the other man if he did catch them.

Disgustedly he turned back into Forty-Fifth to find the doorman picking himself up cumbrously. Ed said to him savagely: "Never mind introductions. Just tell me what those two men were doing!"

The doorman spattered: "W-why, nothing, sir. They came out of the hotel with another man. One of them gave me a dollar, and told me to go over to the cigar store, get him two El Perfectos and keep the change. I did... You saw me give them the cigars. Then you slammed into me."

"Where'd the third man go?"

"I'm sure I don't know, sir. Now that you mention it, it is funny. There was only two of them just now."

"What did this third man look like?"

"I really couldn't tell you, sir. I didn't pay any attention to him."

Ed sighed. "All right. Here's a dollar. If that third man comes back, tell him I'll be waiting for him in the lobby." He left the puzzled doorman, entered the hotel again, and went into a phone booth. He called the home of Leon Partages, his boss, but the maid who answered the phone told him mat Mr. Partages was not at home.

"He's gone to an important director's meeting, Mr. Race," she informed him. "It's at Mr. John Delaney's home, in the Princess Apartments, on Riverside Drive. Mr. Partages was trying to get you on the phone at the Astor a few minutes ago, but they told him you'd already gone. He left word to tell you to call him at Mr. Delaney's home. The number is Torquemada 7-1224."

Ed thanked her, hung up, and dialed Delaney's number. He knew that Partages lived only around the corner from the Princess Apartments and should be there already. In fact, Partages was just entering Delaney's apartment when Ed asked for him. The boss of the vaudeville circuit took the phone.

"Listen, Mr. Partages," Ed stormed, "what kind of a nut did you wish on me? This Delaney—"

"Yes, yes, Eddie," Partages broke in excitedly. "What about him? Is he safe? Did you talk to him?"

"No. He phoned from the lobby here that he wanted to talk to me, but when I got out he was gone. He left me a note saying that he couldn't stay—that it was all wrong about his being in danger. I understand he left with two other men. Maybe he was snatched!"

Partages groaned. "It's terrible, Eddie. You've got to find him for me. Get hold of Delaney inside of half an hour and bring him here! My God, I've got to have him!"

"What's it all about, Mr. Partages?"

"My God, they're going to take the whole circuit away from me! I built it up from one nickelodeon theatre twenty-five years ago till now we've got four hundred houses all over the country... And they're going to take it away from me!"

"How?"

"How? By voting me out. I own forty percent of the stock and Delaney owns fifteen percent. Some racketeers got their hands on the rest. That's what this special stockholders' meeting is for. They're going to elect another chairman in my place and throw me out on my ear!"


ED scoffed. "Don't tell me that racketeers could get together enough money to buy up three million dollars' worth of stock—"

"No, no, Eddie, they didn't buy it. They got proxies. They scared the small stockholders into giving them proxies. Delaney and I together control enough votes to save the business. You got to get Delaney!"

"I'll do my best," Ed said dubiously.

"No, Eddie, you got to do better than that. I never asked you for such a favor before—but I'm asking one now because I might lose everything... Eddie, you've got to get me Delaney. That damn lawyer for the racketeers is here now, and he's gloating all over. He knows that something has happened to Delaney."

"Who is it?" Ed demanded.

"It's Pringle—Lee Pringle!"

"Hell!" Ed exclaimed. "Pringle is a criminal lawyer. He used to be the mouthpiece for Mike Serrone before the Big Shot was sent to Alcatraz. Is he in this deal?"

"Yes! Sure! I told you it was a bunch of racketeers. They're going in for high finance racketeering, now that their old games are busted up. They'll milk the company dry in six months and then let it go. Ed, you've got to help me save the business I've spent a lifetime building up!"

"Listen, Mr. Partages," Ed rapped into the phone. "You hang on there. Try to stall them off from voting. I'm coming right up. In the meanwhile call the police and send out an alarm for Delaney."

"But what can you do up here, Eddie?"

Ed Race's lips were tight, his eyes bleak. "Maybe I can show Pringle that it would be healthier for him to postpone the Board meeting!"

Ed hung up, stalked out of the booth into the lobby. He was sweating. The close quarters of the booth had been hot. In addition, the night was warm and he was wearing a topcoat, the pockets weighed down by two forty-fives.

He pushed through the lobby, came out on Forty-Fifth, and said to the doorman: "Get me a cab—quick! No! Hey, wait!" He snapped his fingers. "I clean forgot! I own a car now. There's supposed to be a new Gibraltar sedan parked down here!"

"It's right over there, sir, down by the employees' entrance. Did you win it, sir? Mighty lucky... say, that's funny! There's someone driving it away!"

Ed saw the new, shiny, maroon colored Gibraltar being eased away from the curb.

There was a man at the wheel, another beside him. Ed glimpsed the rear license plate; saw that it was a dealer's number beginning with DL. He shouted "Hey, you!" and started running after the car, which had already accelerated its way west toward Eighth Avenue.

The driver and his companion did not look around. Ed kept running, the doorman beside him. The doorman exclaimed breathlessly: "These auto thieves only pick the best, sir. A brand new car like that."

Ed wasn't listening. He made his way out into the middle of the street and pulled his right hand revolver. The man beside the driver in the Gibraltar looked behind, saw Ed, and whispered to the driver who hunched over the wheel. The car spurted forward. There was a red traffic light at the corner of Eighth Avenue and half a dozen cars were waiting for it to change, blocking off the Gibraltar. The car thieves could not hope to get away.

Suddenly the sedan came to a sharp stop. The two men flung the doors open, one on each side, and leaped out into the street, fled, one to the right and the other to the left. Startled passersby paused to stare at the running men, and at Ed Race bearing down on them. One of the two men reached the sidewalk, turned, a gun in his hand. He raised it to fire at Ed, snapped a shot which went high and wide, and then turned toward the entrance of a nearby hotel. Ed threw a quick shot at him and caught the man in the fleshy part of the right leg.

The man keeled over, sprawled on the pavement, just as a patrolman came puffing up. The second thief had disappeared. A crowd gathered about the fallen man, Ed having to push his way through. The wounded man was gasping. Though the wound was only a superficial one, the breath had been knocked out of him. A slug from a forty-five does that. He was bleeding profusely.

The patrolman was tugging at his own gun, having difficulty in getting it out as he eyed Ed apprehensively. He no doubt thought that Ed was a gunman, and that he was witnessing a gang fight.

Ed reassured him. "It's all right, officer. You don't have to worry. This man was stealing my car over there."

The patrolman rapped: "Well, we'll see. Give us that revolver of yours till I check up on the story."

Ed shrugged, handed him the gun. The wounded man on the sidewalk snarled "He's lying, officer. I never touched his car. He tried to hold me up—and when I tried to defend myself, he shot me."

Ed broke in: "Save it, pal. You're wasting your breath. The doorman of the Astor saw you driving off with the car. Here he is."


THE policeman was still scratching his head in perplexity when the house physician of the hotel came rushing out. He knelt beside the wounded man. "It's nothing serious," he said. "If you can get him upstairs to my office, you won't even have to call an ambulance. I can fix him up."

Several men from the crowd volunteered to carry the man up. Ed bent to help but the cop gripped his arm, pulled him back. "No you don't, guy. You wait right here till the sergeant comes along."

Traffic had started to move and was sending up a furious honking of horns. The Gibraltar was still out in the middle of the street. Ed said: "Let me move the car out of the way."

"Nix. You just stand still!"

Just then a squad car pulled in to the curb and Sergeant Dave Sayre got out. Ed breathed a sigh of relief. He knew Sayre well. He buttonholed the sergeant. "Look, Dave," he said hurriedly, after detailing the events of a few moments before. "I'm in one hell of a hurry. I've got to get uptown, pronto. Here's the Astor doorman who will corroborate everything I've told you. Hold that wounded bird till I finish my business uptown, then I'll come down and sign any papers you want... But for the love of Pete, don't hold me up any longer. It's damned important!"

Sayre nodded. "Go ahead, Race." He motioned to the cop. "Give Mr. Race his gun... And get upstairs to the doctor's office. Put that wounded guy under arrest and hold him there. What's the idea of lettin' him go up without a guard?"

The cop's face got red. "Gee, sergeant, I didn't know which one to hold onto. This was the guy that done the shootin', so I figured he was—"

"All right, all right! Get up there before that egg gets bandaged up and scrams!"

The cop left. Ed thanked Sergeant Sayre, promised to stop in at the precinct house before midnight, and went over to the sedan. He didn't have to use the key that Silas Dean had given him because the motor was still running. As he got behind the wheel, Sayre, who had walked over with him, asked: "What about this guy, Delaney? You think Krohn was in on the snatch? Should we pick him up?"

"Not yet, Dave. Tell you what—after you're through here, you come up to Delaney's place at the Princess Apartments on Riverside Drive. We can start from there. Thanks for cutting the red tape... Hm-m-m—now let's see how this new bus goes."

Sayre looked the car over. "How come, Race? You always said you preferred to use cabs. Why the investment?"

Ed grinned. "It was wished on me, Dave. I won it in a raffle. And before I get to drive it, it's stolen on me I... So long!"

He shifted into first, drove off, and headed uptown on Eighth Avenue. The car was a honey. It ran smoothly, accelerated beautifully. The motor purred like a thoroughbred. The thief had evidently spliced two of the ignition wires to start her up, for the ignition switch was still locked. Ed stepped on the gas all the way up to Seventy-Second. He frowned as his ears caught a faint throb that seemed to come from the rear end. He shrugged. The car had cost him only two dollars. He could afford to spend a few dollars to fix her up. But anyway, she should carry a new car guarantee, even though he hadn't paid for her.

Ed swung west at Seventy-Second. Taking the curve, the throb in the rear was even more pronounced, but, somehow, he paid no attention to it. He was thinking of the situation in which Leon Partages found himself. Pringle would be a tough customer to handle. He drove two blocks up Riverside Drive and pulled in at the curb in front of the Princess Apartments. He said to the doorman who held the door open for him: "I've got to leave the motor running. See that no one takes her, will you?"

He slipped the doorman a dollar, hastened inside and entered the elevator. "Mr. Delaney's apartment," he said.

The operator grinned. "Mr. Delaney is on the ground floor, sir. Apartment two."

Ed left the elevator, crossed the lobby and rang the bell of apartment two. The door was opened by Vic Krohn.

Krohn was smiling thinly. He had a small automatic at his hip, and was holding it so that the muzzle winked up at Ed. He said: "Come in, sucker. You're expected."

Ed stood loosely, his hands at his sides, touching the two heavy forty-fives through the cloth of his coat pockets. He said mildly: "That was a quick getaway you made over at the Astor. What'd you do with Delaney?"


KROHN'S smile vanished. He glowered. "I don't know what you're talking about. Come inside and quit the gabbing."

Ed nodded and walked in past Krohn who backed into the foyer. Krohn reached around, slammed the hall door shut and motioned with the automatic. "Go right inside, Race. The meeting will start in five minutes."

Ed turned slowly, entered the large sitting room. Four men were seated there. A library table near the wall had been cleared of books and a lamp which were piled on the floor. At the table sat the thin faced, sharp-nosed lawyer, Lee Pringle, whom Ed knew and disliked thoroughly. Leon Partages was sitting stiffly in a straight-backed chair, sweating a little. His ordinarily good-natured face bore a gloomy aspect and his pudgy hands were twining and untwining in his lap. Near the window sat the man whom Ed had seen with Krohn at the Astor. He was a thickset, heavy-jowled fellow. He was chewing tobacco, spitting on the rug. He had a finger through the trigger guard of a gun, swinging it.

It was the fourth man in that room that interested Ed. The fourth man was sitting at Pringle's right, smoking a cigar. He was thin, with a high forehead; coal black hair and coal black eyes. His hair was combed straight back from his forehead. He was attired in a natty light blue suit with a faint pin stripe and a blue shirt with a striped tie to match. There was a large diamond stick pin in the tie. He had his legs crossed, revealing pearl-gray spats. This man nodded pleasantly to Ed, said coolly: "Sit down, Race. We heard Partages talking to you on the phone in the foyer. Now, just don't make any trouble for us, and you won't get hurt. See?"

Ed felt Krohn's presence right behind him. He disregarded the gunman, and let his unflinching gaze meet the sharp black eyes of the seated man. "Hello, Mike," he said flatly. "How long since you got out of Alcatraz?"

Partages, who had been sitting tautly, saying nothing as Ed entered under the gun of Krohn, now started violently in his seat. "Alcatraz!" he exclaimed.

Ed nodded. "Sure, Mr. Partages. "Didn't you know that this gentleman is Mike Serrone, former Public Enemy Number One? He was up for a seven year stretch in Alcatraz on income-tax evasion charges. With time off he was due to come out about now, and the government wasn't announcing it to the press because they don't want to give these gangsters any more publicity than they can help."

Serrone stirred uncomfortably in his chair. Pringle, the lawyer, adjusted the glasses on his thin nose, coughed, and spoke. "Look here, Mr. Race, Mr. Serrone is my client. You be careful how you talk about him. You have called him a gangster. He could sue you for slander. He was convicted of evading income tax payments, and not of being a gangster. He is now engaged in legitimate business undertakings."

Ed's eyes were still locked with those of Serrone, but he said to Pringle: "Make the most of it, counselor. I still call your client a gangster. Why the guns? Does a legitimate business man carry two hoods like Krohn and this other guy?"

Pringle started to talk again, but Serrone silenced him with a raised hand. The gang leader got up daintily, rested one hand on the desk, where the big diamond ring on his little linger reflected the brilliance of the electric lights.

He said smoothly, "Enough of this. Race, you're too damn hotheaded. That's why I have Krohn and Milo here with their guns out you're liable to go off halfcocked. I want you to understand that we're here on legitimate business—we're attending a board of directors' meeting of the Partages Circuit. Krohn, Milo and I control forty-five percent of the voting stock. We've got all our proxies here, and we're ready for the meeting to begin. We're not starting any rough stuff unless you do—but we can hand it out if you want it that way. You may be handy with guns but Krohn and Milo can take care of you."

Ed laughed shortly. "How'd you get those proxies? You intimidated people into signing them. And now you want to take the business away from Mr. Partages. It's a new kind of racket!"

Serrone's eyes flickered. He glanced meaningly toward Krohn who stood behind Ed, then at Milo who grinned and arose to stand with his gun pointing toward Ed. Then Serrano said coolly: "You're behind the eight ball, Race. We ain't violating any law here. It's you that's on the wrong end of it this time. Tell him, Pringle!"


THE lawyer cleared his throat, fiddled with papers on the desk. "That is entirely so, Mr. Race. You must understand that this is an orderly Board meeting. It was called at the request of the proxy holders of forty percent of the stock, as provided in section eighteen of the bylaws of the corporation. There is nothing underhanded about this procedure. Why, even now, if Mr. Delaney should appear his shares, combined with those of Mr. Partages, could beat my clients. And furthermore, I tell you that Mr. Serrone, Mr. Krohn and Mr. Milo are all my clients, and I shall see to it that they obtain full satisfaction in the courts for the abuse you have heaped on their heads!"

Ed grinned. "That's a swell speech, Pringle. To listen to you anyone would swear that butter wouldn't melt in your mouth. But you know damn well that your clients are crooks and racketeers. You know damn well that Delaney's been either kidnapped or killed and that he won't show up here to cast his vote. You know that Krohn and Milo took him away from the lobby of the Astor while he was waiting for me."

Pringle shrugged. "Those are idle words. You could never prove anything in court. I think, Mr. Serrone, that if you have everything ready, we can go ahead with the business of the meeting. I shall act as secretary."

Ed looked across at Leon Partages, whose face was white. Partages half rose from his chair. "You can't get away with this, Pringle!" he exclaimed. "We'll bring action in the supreme court to cancel this vote. We'll charge fraud, intimidation!"

Pringle smiled in superior fashion. "There is no fraud or intimidation, Mr. Partages. No one is compelling you to vote against your wishes. Your vote will be honestly recorded, I assure you."

Ed Race said flatly: "No it won't, Pringle. It won't be recorded at all." He twisted sideways with lightning swiftness. His elbow caught Krohn's wrist, slammed it to one side just as the automatic in Krohn's hand exploded. The slug thudded into the big desk. Milo fired, but Ed had gone into a back somersault just like the one he did on the stages of the Partages Circuit every day in the year. Milo's bullet went high over Ed's hurtling body.

Ed landed on his feet, lithely, over near the window. Two heavy forty-fives had appeared in his hands with magic speed. Ed Race, the Masked Marksman of the stage, was putting on a private exhibition of shooting which the theatre going public would have paid fifty dollars a ticket to witness. On the stage he juggled six heavy guns, did a back somersault, caught the guns as they came down into his hands and shot out the flames of a row of candles thirty feet across the stage. That was swift, accurate, precise marksmanship. This was easier for him, though it would have thrilled any audience—for his targets were live ones. Krohn and Milo died simultaneously, each with a slug in his forehead. Neither had a chance to shoot a second time.

Partages and Pringle sat rooted in their chairs. But Mike Serrone now showed the quick thinking energy that had brought him to the top of the heap in the rackets. He had a small pistol in his hand as he leaped behind Partages' chair. He seized the theatre proprietor by the back of his coat collar and pushed the muzzle of the pistol out over Partages' shoulder.

Ed was on the floor, past the startled face of Partages, looking almost direcdy into that small muzzle. Partages shrieked: "Shoot, Ed! Don't mind me!" And at the same time he jerked his right shoulder up just at the moment Serrone fired. Serrone's pistol was deflected, the slug whined at an angle, and lodged in the heart of the lawyer, Pringle. Pringle uttered a single short gasp, then a shriek, and fell over the desk. His shriek was drowned out by the deep throated roar of Ed Race's big forty-five. Ed's slug, fired from the floor, cleared Partages' shoulder by a split fraction of an inch and caught Serrone in the temple. It didn't leave a neat, round hole. It took off half the gang czar's head.

Partages got out of his chair, shaking as with the ague. Ed got to his feet, slipped the two guns back into his overcoat pocket. He surveyed the room full of dead men. "Hell!" he said. "That was a swell election."

Partages was clutching at his sleeve. "You shouldn't have done it, Ed! They had the law on their side. You'll be arrested. There's no crime we can pin on them. My God, why didn't you let them take the circuit away from me? I'd rather be a pauper than see you tried for murder, Eddie!"

Ed patted the stout man's shoulder. "And I'd rather do it this way, Mr. Partages. If we can prove they kidnapped or killed Delaney, I'll have a damn good defense!"

"But where in God's earth is Delaney?"

He stopped, and they both became conscious that the door bell was being rung steadily, loudly and raucously. The echoes of the thunderous shots had drowned out the door bell's sound and they didn't know how long it had been ringing. Now it stopped. A voice thundered: "Open up in there or we'll shoot the door in!"

Partages said breathlessly: "The police! What'll we tell them?"

Ed shrugged. "The truth. I think we're getting a break. That's Dave Sayre's voice if I'm not mistaken."


HE went out in the foyer, opened the hall door. Sergeant Sayre with a bluecoat behind him fairly hurled himself in, stopped short when he saw Ed Race. He had a gun but he lowered it. "Hell!" he exclaimed. "No more action?"

Ed grinned. "It's all over, Dave. I shot three men. But you'll find four stiffs in there."

Sayre grunted. "You're getting better and better. Now you shoot three, and kill four—whew!" He whistled softly as he stepped into the living room, past the white-faced Partages. His eyes swept the scene of carnage. "Mike Serrone, Krohn, Milo—and Pringle! My God! Race, what's been going on here? I hope you have the goods on these babies!"

"I haven't, Dave," Ed said quietly. "I only suspect that they've either kidnapped or killed John Delaney."

Sayre swung around and looked at Ed somberly. "You know what this means, Race? These birds—Pringle included—are no loss to society. But if you can't show evidence that they were engaged in the commission of a felony, you'll have to stand trial for shooting them. I'll have to take you in."

Partages broke in. "See here, sergeant, I witnessed the whole thing. It was self defense. I'll get the best lawyers in the country."

Sayre interrupted him. "Did they start the shooting?"

"Well, they had guns out..."

"Yeah. I know. And Race bucked the guns. It's a habit of his. Why did they have guns out?"

"Because they wanted to keep me from interfering in their damn board meeting," Ed told him. "I'm not going to try to lie out of this, Dave. I came up here, and you know it, to try to hold them off till maybe Delaney could show up."

Sayre said slowly: "Look, Race, I'm a hundred percent for you. You've done me plenty of favors. I'd advise you to change that story. The way it lines up now, you'll go to the chair. I've got to take you in, but you let Mr. Partages get you a couple of damn good lawyers and..."

He stopped as loud, excited voices came to them from the street, outside the window. The bluecoat, who had remained in the foyer, went to the front door. Ed jumped to the window, pulled back the curtain, looked out for a minute and then began to laugh.

Sayre frowned. He and Partages stepped up to the window and peered out too. Ed said to them: "There's my defense!"

He was pointing to the thin, bedraggled, bloody headed man being helped out of the back seat of the new Gibraltar sedan that Ed had left at the curb.

Partages shouted: "Delaney! Delaney!"

Ed opened the window and they all leaned out. The bluecoat from the house came to the aid of the doorman, and together they supported the weak, shaky Delaney. He could hardly stand.

Delaney looked up at Ed, Sayre and Partages in the window and waved feebly. Partages called out to him: "What happened to you, John? How'd you get in that car?"

Delaney called to them in a voice that barely carried: "Those two men that took me from the Astor. They sent the doorman away, pushed me into the back of the car, and slugged me. I came to while the car was being driven... I banged my heels against the floorboard but the driver didn't hear... I was tied up, gagged, and couldn't get free. I just now smashed the glass. This man untied me."

Ed was grinning. "Can you beat it," he said. "And I thought there was a knock in the rear end!"

Sayre motioned to the bluecoat: "Bring Mr. Delaney up here. We want him to identify those two men who took him out of the Astor."

Delaney exclaimed: "You mean you got them upstairs? Man! Hold 'em. Don't you let them get away!"

"Don't worry," Sayre told him. "They won't get away. Mr. Race has seen to that!" The sergeant turned to Ed. "You always were a lucky stiff," he said. "You might have gone to the chair if Delaney hadn't turned up."

Ed gazed thoughtfully at the bodies of Krohn and Milo. "I really ought to thank those two for delivering my alibi all tied up like that. Come to think of it," he added, "it's a damn good thing I won that Gibraltar. If I hadn't come out looking for it when I did, those two lads would have carted it away. And then Delaney might never have been found!"

"Trust you," said Sayre, "to arrive at the right time. I bet when you finally do kick off the devil will run short of coal for his fires!"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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