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EMILE C. TEPPERMAN

DEATH TAKES A BOW

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First published in The Spider, June 1943

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version date: 2020-06-30
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The Spider, June 1943, with "Death Takes a Bow"



Ed Race, star of the Portages Circuit, only wanted to be a patriotic citizen when he picked that workman's badge out of the gutter. But the emissaries of the Butcher of Berlin had another role for Ed to play—a mere walk-on part in a Satanic spectacle.




WHEN Ed Race picked up the badge, he had no suspicion that he was holding dynamite. He had arrived in Bridgetown that afternoon, and had been busy rehearsing at the theatre for the opening of the new show tomorrow. Now he was on his way back to the hotel, and he had seen this shiny badge lying in the gutter.

It bore the picture of a middle-aged man with a studious face and a high forehead. Across the picture was a number, and beneath the number there appeared the following:


BRIDGETOWN MUNITIONS CORPORATION
No admittance without this badge


At the bottom there was a scrawled signature which looked to Ed like: Warren Fletcher.


Now Ed knew that the Bridgetown Munitions Corporation was over at the edge of town. The owner of this badge must have lost it on his way to or from work, and wouldn't be able to get into the plant without it. So, like a public-spirited citizen, Ed decided to return the badge.

He stopped at the curb for a moment, wondering whether to mail it out to the company, or to take it there. Or he might drop it off at police headquarters, so that the authorities could see to it that the right man got it back.

After a moment of hesitation, he decided that the best thing to do would be to phone the munitions company and ask them what they wanted done.

He was just turning away from the curb, when a woman came running up to him. She was a tall woman, with no color at all in her face. Her cheeks were as pallid as those of a dead woman. She wore no make-up at all, and her dark hair was combed tightly back under a drab handkerchief scarf. The only thing that seemed alive in her face was her eyes.

"Excuse me," she said. "Did—you find my father's badge?" Her gaze fastened on the badge, and she stretched out a hand for it. "Thank you so much. Father missed it when he got home. He was so worried—he sent me out to look for it."

She almost had hold of it, talking fast and breathlessly, not giving Ed a chance to speak.

Ed Race frowned and closed his fist on the badge. "Just a second, please," he said softly. "You say this is your father's badge?"

"Yes."

"And your name please?"

She hesitated just a fraction of a second. Her eyelashes drooped. Then she said swiftly, "Why—I'm Lydia Fletcher. My father is Warren Fletcher."

"And you can identify yourself?" Ed asked.

"Identify myself? Of course. I—Dr—"

She looked helplessly down at her empty hands. "Oh, I'm so sorry. I came away in such a hurry, when father told me he had lost his badge, that I didn't bring my purse. I have all my papers in my purse." She gave him a hesitant glance, her dark eyes shining beseechingly out of that pallid face of hers. "Would you come home with me? We have plenty of identification at home—both father and I. If you'd just come home with me, I'm sure we could convince you that everything is in order. I have a cab here. It would only take a few minutes, and I'm sure father would be glad to pay your cab fare back—"

Ed shrugged. "All right, I'll go with you."

"Thank you! Thank you so much!" She linked her arm in his, and led him down the street toward a waiting cab. "I took the taxi because it was so important that I find the badge. You don't know how important it is to us!"

Ed got into the cab with her, and she said to the driver, "Number Thirteen Decker Street, please!"

Ed gave her a quick glance. "Did you say you came here in this cab?"

"Why, yes—" she paused a moment. "Why—do you ask?"

"It just seemed queer," Ed said mildly.

"Queer? What was queer?"

"That you should have given the driver the address just now. I should think he'd know where to go—if he came from there."

"Oh, that!" she said swiftly. "You're very observant, aren't you? You see, I didn't really take this cab from home. I started out in father's car, but I got a flat tire and had to leave it."

"I see," Ed said. "And did your father drive home from work in the car?"

"Yes, of course." She paused a moment, and her lips formed a smile—but there was no smile in her eyes. "I suppose you're going to ask how father lost his badge out of the car?"

"Well, I was wondering about that."

"You see, father stopped at the corner where you found the badge. He wanted a drink at the bar right down the street. So when he missed the badge at home, he was sure he must have dropped it right there. It was the only place he could have lost it. And when I got to the corner and saw you picking something up, I was sure it was the badge."

"That's fine," said Ed. "That explains everything."

"If—if you'd care to give me the badge now—without bothering to come on home—it would save you the trip. I assure you it's perfectly all right."

"I'll go along, if you don't mind," Ed told her. "I'd rather hand it to your father—just to be sure everything is okay. In these times, a citizen has to be very careful."

"Of course. And I appreciate your going to all this trouble." She abandoned all attempts to get him to hand over the badge. Her tone changed to one of casual interest. "I don't even know your name."

"Race," he told her. "Ed Race."

"And may I ask what business you're in?"

"I'm an actor."

Ed wasn't surprised that she didn't recognize his name. Few people had ever heard of Ed Race. But millions knew and admired the Masked Marksman. It was under that title that he was billed from coast to coast on the Partages Circuit. He always appeared with a little half-mask, and there weren't many who recognized him off stage. They called him The Man Who Can Make Guns Talk, and that was pretty near what he did.

His acrobatic, gun-juggling, marksmanship act never failed to bring down the house. The six hair-trigger forty-five caliber revolvers he used in his act were his stock-in-trade. He knew guns as well as an expert draftsman knows his drawing-board, or a skilled mechanic his calipers or micrometer. Four of those six revolvers were in his trunk at the Bridgetown Theatre. The other two were in the twin holsters under his arms. But he didn't bother to tell this pallid woman about that. Neither did he enlighten her on the score of his ability to handle guns.

She raised her eyebrows when he told her he was an actor. She was about to say something further, but the cab swung in to the curb.

The driver said, "Here you are."

Getting out of the cab, she hesitated a moment, then said, "Would you mind paying the driver, Mr. Race? I haven't my purse. I'll reimburse you as soon as we get upstairs."

"Sure," said Ed. He stepped to the cab window, taking money from his pocket. As he did so, he happened to glance back down the street. He saw a small private ambulance which had pulled up to the curb about fifty feet away. The driver and the attendant in the front both wore spotless white uniforms. They seemed to be waiting for someone.

Now the sight of a private ambulance was in itself no startling thing. The ambulance had as much right to be there at that time, as Ed Race himself, for that matter. But the thing which caused Ed to become tense and watchful was the fact that he had subconsciously noted that same ambulance back where he had picked up the badge.

At that time, he had thought nothing of it. But now it became a matter of significance. Furthermore, he had seen that ambulance pass slowly by, while he had been talking to the woman. It should have reached this spot long before the taxicab.

Ed's lips tightened just a bit. Otherwise, he gave no sign that he had noticed the vehicle. He paid the driver, and turned back to the woman. She was waiting for him at the door of the building. It was a four-story brownstone house, with a sign alongside the door which said, Furnished Rooms.

Almost every house in Bridgetown had a furnished-room sign these days, to accommodate the great influx of war workers hired by the new addition to the huge munitions works. Ed saw that the rest of the row of brownstone houses all had similar signs and that the only way to tell one building from another was by the number on the door.

The woman smiled at him as he came up to her. But there was a strange, tense look in her eyes which did not match the smile on her lips.

"Father will be so grateful to you," she murmured, ringing the bell. A buzzer sounded. She pushed the door open, and stepped in. Ed cast a quick glance behind before following her, and saw that the two attendants had descended from their seat in the ambulance. One of them had gone around to the back to open the door, while the other was advancing in the direction of Number Thirteen.

Ed said nothing, turned and stepped into the hall after the woman. She was waiting at the foot of the stairs.

"This way please," she said, and led the way up. On the first floor landing she rapped at a door.

Someone inside answered, "Yes?"

"It's I, dad—Lydia. I've brought someone."

"Come in, please."


SHE pushed the door open, and Ed followed her inside. The room was a combination study and bedroom. "Dad and I have adjoining rooms," she explained quickly. "He does a good deal of his work here at night." She turned to the elderly man who sat at the desk. "Dad, this is Mr. Race. He found your badge, but he wanted to make sure everything was all right. So I brought him along."

Ed nodded to the man at the desk, studying him keenly. He had a high forehead all right, just like the photo on the badge, and he resembled the picture in many other ways—but he did not have a studious look, as the man in the photograph had. Instead, this man seemed taut and nervous, and jumpy.

"Thank you, thank you for finding my badge," the man said in a rasping voice. "It would have been a nuisance without it. You have no idea how strict they are at the plant." He got up from his chair and extended a hand. "You have the badge, please?"

Ed took it out of his pocket. He held it up to the light, comparing the picture to the man before him. "You're Mr. Fletcher?" he asked. "Mr. Warren Fletcher?"

The other bowed. "Professor Warren Fletcher, sir," he said. "I was Professor of Applied Chemistry at Gordon University, until the Bridgetown Munitions Works requisitioned my services."

"I see," Ed said, still holding on to the badge. His ears were keenly attuned to all sounds in the house, and he distinctly heard the downstairs door being closed. Someone had come in from the street. He wondered tensely if it could be the white-coated attendants from the ambulance.

He looked at the elderly man before him, and then cast a side glance at the woman. She had gone over to the desk and picked up a purse. Her smile was wide as she opened the purse and took out some money. Ed's eyes narrowed as he saw that it was quite a wad of money, and that there were several twenties and fifties in it. It was a bit strange that the daughter of a quiet professor of chemistry should be so amply provided with funds. She picked a five-dollar bill out of the wad, and came over to him with it.

"This will reimburse you for your cab fare and your trouble," she said.

Ed waved the money aside. "I couldn't think of it." He still held on to the badge, in spite of the professor's extended hand. He spoke casually. "You know, Professor, I'm somewhat of a chemist myself. I sort of dabble in it. It's tremendously interesting, you know. By the way—what do you think of the recent discovery by Professor Eggstein of Polytechnic, as to the explosive properties of ethyl dicarbonate sulphide?"

The other blinked. "A very interesting discovery, sir."

"You are familiar with the work of Professor Eggstein?"

"Of course, of course. He has done very interesting work. I've followed him carefully."

Ed Race grinned. "Well, that's absolutely astounding!"

"Astounding, sir? What is astounding?"

"That you should be interested in Professor Eggstein's work with ethyl dicarbonate sulphide. It's a small world after all, isn't it?"

"But why should that be astounding, sir? After all, I am also a chemist—"

"But you see," Ed explained in a patient voice, "Professor Eggstein is not a chemist. In fact, there is no Professor Eggstein. Neither is there any chemical by the name of ethyl dicarbonate sulphide. I just made them both up."

The fake professor's mouth dropped open. He took a swift step backward. Ed started to go for one of the revolvers in his shoulder holsters, but something hard was poked violently into his back.

The woman's voice sounded harshly behind him: "Do not move!"

At the same time, the door was thrust violently open, and two men rushed in. They were the white-coated attendants from the ambulance. One of them had a long-barreled Luger in his hand. The other held a small, wicked-looking automatic rifle.

They moved swiftly and efficiently. The one with the automatic rifle stepped up and thrust the muzzle against Ed's stomach, while the other sprang around on the other side of him, and snatched the badge out of his hand. He turned and gave it to the elderly impostor.

"Here is the badge, Herr Hauptmann Kronvaldt!" he said obsequiously.

Ed Race barely repressed a start of surprise as he heard that name. There had been many stories about the notorious spy and saboteur, Captain Horst Kronvaldt. Many of the stories dated back to the last war, when Kronvaldt had been responsible for two of the most disastrous munitions explosions in America. Kronvaldt had once been an actor in Bavaria, and his genius for disguise was unlimited.

According to the tales told about him, he had once posed as the consul of a South American country, in an attempt to gain access to the Secretary of War in an endeavor to assassinate him. That plan had failed only by accident. Kronvaldt had made his escape, and had not been heard from until America's entrance into World War II.

Recently, there had been rumors that Kronvaldt was once more operating in the States, with a vicious and efficient organization. Just how vicious and efficient it was, Ed Race was now privileged to see for himself.

Behind him, the woman said, "You fool! You should have given me the badge when I asked you for it in the street. Now it will cost you your life!"

She spoke to Kronvaldt. "This fool is an actor, Herr Hauptmann. He gave me the name of Race. Ed Race. No doubt he is quite unimportant. He will hardly be missed."

Kronvaldt's eyes were sharp and glittering. "Take him downstairs with the others, Otto," he said to the one with the Luger. You will know what to do with them."

"Ja," said Otto. He jerked his head in the direction of the door. "Out!" he ordered.


ED RACE still had those two forty-five caliber revolvers in his holsters. They hadn't even bothered to search him. The woman's statement that he was an actor had convinced them that they had nothing to fear from him. Ed was tempted to draw those two powerful weapons right then and there. He would surely die, if he did. For with all his skill he could not hope to outshoot the woman's gun, the Luger and the automatic rifle. But he would just as surely get a couple of them before he went down, and he would spoil whatever vicious plan they had in mind. But Kronvaldt's mention of "the others" intrigued him. He wanted to see who those "others" were. He had an idea that they might be the real Professor Fletcher and his daughter.

So he meekly went in the direction which Otto had indicated. Otto spoke to the one with the automatic rifle. "Come too, Hans. If he makes one move that you do not like, shoot. The walls are soundproof. No one will hear!"

"I will shoot," said Hans. "Do not worry!"

Out in the hall, Otto went down the stairs first, walking backward and keeping his Luger centered on Ed's stomach, while Hans came close behind, with the muzzle of the automatic rifle at his back. They did not stop at the ground floor, but continued on by the back stairs, down into the cellar.

Otto went to a heavy oak door and removed a padlock, then swung it open. Ed had thought that this was a storage bin, but he saw his mistake in a moment. It opened into a narrow corridor at the end of which was another door, with a peephole in it. Otto opened the peephole, turned a flashlight through it for a moment, and grunted. Then he inserted a key in the door and unlocked it. He swung it open and turned to Ed.

"In there!" he ordered.

Ed stepped past him into the unlighted room. But he took only two steps. This was the chance he had been waiting for. His back was now to Otto and Hans, and they could not see what he was doing with his hands. Those hands crossed swiftly over his chest, each dipping into a shoulder holster. As he did so, he pivoted on one heel and did a complete right-about face. He heard a muffled exclamation from Otto, but the fellow's voice was drowned in the sudden deep-throated roar of Ed's two heavy forty-fives.

He blasted twice with each gun, straight into the narrow passage, and the entire room was filled with the terrible thunder of his gunfire. The reverberating echoes rolled down the passage and hurled themselves back, blasting against the ears like thunderous drums of doom. The flashlight in Otto's hand fell to the floor but did not go out. It lay there, its shaft-of light slanting along the floor for a second, and then it was obscured as a body fell across it, obliterating the light.

Ed jumped forward, not knowing whether he had hit Hans or not, for he had not been able to see him in the dark, behind Otto's flashlight. The next second, he knew he had not hit him, for a quick burst sounded from the automatic rifle. A fiery line of tracer slugs smashed down the passage, fanning Ed's cheek like the breath of death.

Then Ed fired four times more with each gun, emptying them. The chatter of the automatic rifle ceased. Ed sprang forward along the passage. But just as he reached the end—the heavy oak door was slammed shut in his face. He hurled himself against it, but the bar had already slid in place on the other side.

Now, as the echoes of the gunfire died away, Ed heard muffled cursing on the other side of the door. He hurriedly dipped into his pocket and pulled out cartridges which he slipped into the chambers of his hot revolvers. Then, on the other side of the door, he heard the woman's voice.

"Hans! What has happened? You are wounded!"

"That verdammt American!" Hans barked. "You said he was a fool, Anna. You said he was an unimportant actor. You made us think he was harmless!"

"But—but what happened?"

"Harmless! Hah! He was armed. He killed Otto, and he wounded me. Here—my side is bleeding, and my left arm is useless. I just barely got out and locked him in. Now what do you think of your harmless fool?"

"Otto is dead?" Anna demanded.

"I think so. That devil shot him at close range. He must have had two guns. They sounded like howitzers. I thought there was a law in America. I thought they did not allow their citizens to carry arms!"

"It is true," said the woman. "There is a law against it. That is why we always have it so easy. But there must be some mistake. This man cannot be the harmless actor he said he was. It's too bad that Kronvaldt has already left. We must decide for ourselves what we shall do. They all must die."

"Help me upstairs," said Hans. "We will send for Maximilian and Adolf and the others. We must smoke them out. For the time being they are safe. They cannot get out."


AS their voices receded, Ed Race turned around and made his way back down the passage. There he found the body of Otto. He moved it over, and picked up the fallen flashlight. Then he entered the room, swinging the light upward to the ceiling. It illuminated the whole room, revealing its two occupants.

They were standing at the far wall, blinking in the light. One of them was Professor Fletcher. Ed recognized him at once from the photograph on the badge. The other was a girl of about twenty, dark-haired and dark-eyed.

Ed smiled at them. "Professor Fletcher? And Miss Lydia Fletcher?"

The girl took a step forward. "Who—who are you? You—you must be on our side."

"Indeed I am," he said. "Swiftly he told them how he had gotten here. As they listened, their faces became tense and frightened.

Professor Fletcher said hurriedly, "They kidnaped us when I came out of the Bridgetown Munitions Works today. But on the way out here, I managed to slip my badge out of the car, hoping to leave some sort of clue. Otherwise, no one would ever have known what became of me."

He put out a hand suddenly, and gripped Ed Race's sleeve. "We've got to get out of here, Mr. Race. Kronvaldt is going to the munitions works, posing as me. He's going to plant a pencil- bomb in the Explosive Research Department. It will destroy the whole works—and kill thousands of people!"

"Won't someone recognize him as an impostor?" Ed asked.

Lydia Fletcher shook her head. "Kronvaldt planned this very shrewdly. Dad and I just came here to Bridgetown today. It's dad's first day on the job. I waited for him outside the plant, while he went in and presented his credentials and got his badge. While I waited, an ambulance pulled up alongside our car, and those two men in the white coats stepped out of it, and pushed into the car. They sat in the rear, holding guns at my head, till dad came out. They made us both get in the ambulance, and Otto drove us here, while Hans followed in our car.

"They must have disposed of our car somewhere. On the way, dad pretended to stumble, and got his badge off and pushed it under the crack in the ambulance door. Otto was driving, and there were two other men in the back guarding us, but they didn't notice what dad had done with the badge. They drove up to the back alley behind this house, and brought us down here.

"When they found dad didn't have the badge with him, they were furious. They threatened to put my eyes out if he didn't tell them where it was. So dad was forced to tell them just where he had got rid of it. That woman said she'd go after it. Otto and Hans followed in the ambulance to cover her."

Ed nodded. "They're a pretty vicious and desperate crew. How do you think Kronvaldt will work it—I mean about the explosion. How long will it take him?"

"From what he said to the woman," Professor Fletcher told Ed, "I'm afraid he's going to plant the pencil-bomb as soon as he gets into the plant. It's timed to go off in thirty minutes. Right after he plants it, he'll pretend to be suddenly taken ill, and will go home."

"So the plant is due to be destroyed in a half hour!" Ed said.

Lydia's eyes were wide. "And then they intend to kill us, and leave. The idea is that no one must live to tell just who was responsible for the explosion. That will leave Kronvaldt free to plan other atrocities!"

Ed swung away from them, and moved out into the passage. "We've got to get past that oak door, and reach a telephone. If we can phone the Munitions Plant—"

Professor Fletcher came along behind him, stepping over the body of Otto, and following Ed along the narrow corridor to the oak door. "We would need a battering ram to crash it down," he said. "And even if we did break it down, there would still be those men out there to stop us. They have automatic rifles. How would we get past them?"

"Just let us get out of here," Ed said grimly, "and we'll worry about the automatic rifles later."

He turned the flashlight on the massive door, examining it carefully. But there was no weakness in it. So solidly built was it that it did not even budge when both men hurled their combined weight against it.

Professor Fletcher wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. "I get sick at the stomach," he said wretchedly, "when I think of the thousands of workmen in the munitions plant who will die in half an hour—because we can't get through one oak door."

Ed's eyes were bleak and hard. He took out both his revolvers. He broke the chambers, and extracted five cartridges from each, leaving only a single bullet in each gun.

"Have you a pen knife, Professor?"

"Yes. But why—"

"Get to work, then. It's our only chance. Cut the noses off those cartridges and take every drop of powder out of them!"

Understanding came into the professor's eyes.


ED hurried back along the passage, and stooped alongside the body of Otto. He found the man's Luger pistol, and then went swiftly through his pockets. He found two full clips for the Luger in one of the pockets.

Lydia Fletcher watched him, puzzled. "What are you going to do?"

He thrust the Luger cartridges into her hand. "Take these to your father. Here's my penknife. Help him to extract the powder from them!"

He followed her down the passage, and stood the flashlight up against the wall, so that it gave them enough light to work by. While Fletcher and his daughter labored over the cartridges, Ed took a handkerchief from his pocket, and tore it into strips. Then he twined the narrow strips together, interlacing them into a single length of cloth, about six inches from one end to the other.

Lydia and her father now had a small pile of black powder on another handkerchief. Ed removed the clip from Otto's Luger and extracted those cartridges too. The powder was taken out and added to the pile.

"There's about six ounces here," said Professor Fletcher. "It might just do the trick."

Ed tied the ends of the powder handkerchief in a knot, making a tight bundle. He put one end of his improvised wick into the package, making sure that it was set firmly in the powder. Then he laid the entire makeshift bomb on the floor, close up against the door.

He took a match from his pocket, and struck it. The flame flared up eerily. "Here's hoping!" he said. He touched the match flame to the end of the twisted wick and held it there until the cloth caught. It burned slowly and fitfully, and then took on, and the flame began to travel down the length of the wick toward the powder.

"Get back!" Ed snapped.

The Professor and Lydia hurried down the passage into the room, with Ed close behind. Ed had both his revolvers in his hands—with one shot apiece in them. They waited tensely, hugging the wall, while the wick burned down to the homemade bomb.

"When it explodes," Ed said, "I'll go out first. You wait here till I call you."

"Give me one of those guns," the professor said. "Let me come with you and fight."

"No," Ed said. "There's only one bullet in each of these guns. I've got to make them both count."

"But—"

The professor was interrupted by the shattering sound of the explosion in the passage. The thunder rolled back into the room like a great wave of wrath.

Ed waited just a moment, until the flying fragments of wood ceased catapulting down the passage. Then he stepped out and raced along the short corridor. There was light coming from the cellar beyond. He saw that the oak door was hanging lopsidedly on its hinges.

He leaped through the opening into the lighted cellar. His gaze swung toward the stairs. The door at the head of the stairs had opened, and a man with an automatic rifle came through. Behind him, Ed glimpsed a second face. The man with the automatic rifle uttered an oath when he saw the shattered door, and Ed Race standing there with two guns in his hands. He shouted something to the man behind him, swung the automatic rifle up and pulled the trigger. But Ed's right-hand gun had already thundered its message of death, and the heavy slug smashed into the man's forehead.

The man with the automatic rifle came tumbling down the stairs, and the rifle came clattering down with him.

A second man with a rifle in his hands appeared at the head of the stairs. Ed's right-hand gun was empty now, and he had only one bullet in the other. One little bullet, which held within itself the fate of so many people. But it was not only the bullet. It was the gun in which the bullet lay, and the hand that held the gun—and the spirit of the man and the steadiness of his nerves and the sureness of his aim. Many of those in his audiences had admired his shooting on the stage, but had scoffed at him, saying that it was all right to exhibit such marvelous marksmanship against inanimate objects—but what would he do if he were up against a living, dangerous enemy?

Those scoffers should have been at Thirteen Decker Street. Standing with both feet wide apart, left arm outstretched, Ed looked like a marksman on a target range. He waited until the very last second, until the man had swung the muzzle of the automatic rifle up so that it was almost beaded upon him—then he slowly pulled back his trigger without jerking it, until the hammer fell.

The gun thundered and kicked like a high-spirited stallion. The man up there uttered a shriek that was cut off in the middle, and a black hole appeared between his eyes. His knees buckled, and he came rolling down the stairs.

Ed heard angry and confused shouts from up above in the house. As the echoes of his shots died away, he could distinguish the voice of the woman up there, and those of several men.

"Cover that cellar doorway!" the woman was shrieking frantically to the men. "Lay down a barrage. They mustn't come out of there alive!"


A SWIFT glance told Ed that Professor Fletcher and his daughter were coming out of the passage. He motioned to them to wait there. Then he snatched up one of the automatic rifles and dashed up the stairs. He reached the upper landing just as a small, tight knot of men appeared in the hallway. He saw the glinting guns in their hands; saw that the one in the lead had a sub-machine gun. Ed didn't wait any longer. He pulled the trigger of the automatic rifle, swinging the muzzle from side to side across that deadly group of killers, and sprayed them with a hail of lead.

The three leaders went down under that barrage. The other two uttered shouts of terror, and turned to run. But the woman suddenly appeared in the hallway behind them. She had a sub- machine gun in her hand, and was sheltered behind the two fleeing men. She knelt and brought the rapid-fire to her shoulder. There was a look of such diabolical hatred upon her face that she seemed an unearthly thing of incredible evil.

Ed Race had no choice. He brought the automatic rifle into action once more. He aimed low, between the legs of the running men in the hall, and sent six quick shots past them. All six slugs smashed into the body of the woman, carrying her backward as if on the crest of a wave—then suddenly allowing her to drop to the floor, lifeless and crushed. But before she fell, her finger contracted in reflex action on the trip of the sub-machine gun, and the single burst from the muzzle sprayed lead into the bodies of those two running men.

Ed Race stood alone in the hall, with the automatic rifle under his arm. The sound of the gunfire died away, leaving all still and quiet in the house. Professor Fletcher and his daughter came up the cellar stairs, and stood beside Ed, hardly daring to believe that he had won through. Somewhere outside, a police siren was screeching.

Wearily, Ed moved down the corridor, stepping over the twisted bodies. He went to the front door and opened it, admitting a rush of uniformed police.

Swiftly now he told them the story told them of the bogus professor, even now planting his deadly seed of destruction in the munitions works.

A sergeant of detectives snatched up a telephone, and talked frantically for two minutes. He did not hang up, but waited tensely, holding the receiver, asking questions of Ed and Professor Fletcher, speaking the answers into the telephone to be relayed by headquarters over the radio to the police cars which were racing toward the Bridgetown Munitions Plant. At the same time other operators at headquarters were contacting the captain of the armed guards at the plant.

Ten minutes later, the sergeant sighed and put down the phone. He looked up at Ed, and wiped away perspiration.

"It's okay," he said. "They just got him. They found the time bomb where he had planted it. He was just going into a song and dance about being suddenly taken sick and wanting to go home."

Professor Fletcher came forward, his hand shaking. "It—it's all over? The plant is safe?"

The sergeant nodded. He looked up at Ed. "Thanks to you. Who are you, anyway—a Federal agent?"

Ed shook his head, smiling. "No, just an actor." He looked at his watch. "Which reminds me—I have a curtain call in half an hour. I'd forgotten all about it. I'd have been in an awful jam if we hadn't been able to get through that oak door!"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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