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EMILE C. TEPPERMAN

DEATH TAKES AN ENCORE

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First published in The Spider magazine, May 1935

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version date: 2017-12-09
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Cover

The Spider, May 1935, with "Death Takes An Encore"



Ed Race, gun-juggler supreme, heard the crackling of the electric chair as he listened to the police tell him how he had killed his friend. But Race knew that the life of any act may depend on those last few minutes—before the curtain drops!



WHEN Ed Race descended from the train in Grand Central Station, after his tour of the Midwest Vaudeville Circuit, he was surprised to be met by a reception committee. It was a committee of one, and it consisted of a gentleman by the name of Dave Sayre, sergeant of detectives attached to the Homicide Bureau.

Ed didn't see the sergeant until he had turned his bag over to a porter. He started to follow the redcap, then stopped and turned as someone tapped him on the back.

"Hello, Dave," he said, "what brings you down here? Looking for corpses in Grand Central Station?"

Sayre ignored Ed's bantering tone. The sergeant's homely face remained grave as he took Ed by the arm. "The inspector wants to see you, Race," he said. "And it's no joke."

Ed stared at him, then asked sardonically, "What's the trouble now? I haven't gone and killed anybody, have I?"

"That's just what the inspector wants to see you about. Sorry, Race, but your first stop is headquarters."

Ed shrugged. "I don't know what it's all about, but you're the law, so I guess I better go."

He got the redcap, checked his bag, and walked out with Dave Sayre through the Park Avenue exit, got into a headquarters car which was waiting there.

The detective sergeant was singularly uncommunicative on the drive downtown. Ed Race didn't say much either. He was more or less peeved, inclined to think that Sayre was playing some sort of practical joke on him. He had had several brushes with the Homicide Bureau in the past, but all in all he was on pretty friendly terms with them, though neither Inspector Hansen nor Sergeant Sayre would admit it. They respected him highly, though he was often a thorn in their side.

Ed Race was a vaudeville juggler—a headliner. He worked with forty-five caliber revolvers, doing almost incredible feats with the heavy weapons. So expert had he become that his act was featured throughout the country, and he could have lived very comfortably on his income, if he had not had the misfortune to suffer from an insidious urge for excitement.

This urge for excitement had caused Ed Race long ago to procure for himself licenses as a private detective in about a dozen states. He had gotten himself into some pretty tight spots as a result of his interest in crime, but his supreme skill with a gun, as well as the marvelous control which he had developed over his muscles through continuous practice of his acrobatic juggling act, had always got him out, thus far, with a whole skin. He had made plenty of enemies, as well as some fast friends, and had earned the wholesome respect of men like Sergeant Sayre and his superior, Inspector Hansen. But he didn't relish the idea of being dragged down to headquarters in such summary fashion immediately upon his arrival in the city. He had a lot of other things he'd wanted to do.


DOWNTOWN, in the big, cool gloomy building on Centre Street, Sayre led him into the inspector's private office.

Doctor Cole, one of the assistant medical examiners, was bending over Hansen's desk, talking to him in a low voice. When they entered, the doctor stopped talking and nodded to Ed, whom he knew fairly well.

Hansen looked up from the papers on his desk. His mouth was turned down at the corners, and he was frowning. He was a dapper man in his early fifties, and he wore spats and a blue handkerchief in his breast pocket. No one would have taken him for a hard-bitten inspector of police. He looked more like an insurance agent than anything else.

He dispensed with the greetings and clipped out: "Sit down, Race." He indicated a chair next to his desk, facing the window.

Ed didn't take the chair indicated. He walked around the desk, perched himself on the corner alongside the inspector's chair, and growled, "I realize it's April first, Hansen, but if this is your idea of an April Fool joke, it's all bananas to me. I overslept on the train, and didn't have a chance to get breakfast. I'm hungry, and if I don't wrap my arms around your neck and kiss you, it's because I'd rather wrap myself around some ham and eggs. So you'll have to excuse me if I don't go goofy with pleasure at the thought of being entertained by you!"

Hansen's face flushed, and he pushed himself up from the chair. He was not quite as tall as Ed, and even though Ed was sitting on the desk, he had to raise his eyes to the juggler as he shook a finger in his face. "Damn it, Race, you lay off the wisecracks and answer a few question now. Maybe you don't know it, but you're going to be booked down here. Booked for murder!"

Ed raised his eyebrows. He wasn't worried, but he was very hungry. Also very curious. He settled himself. "Someone's either nuts or else has a sprained sense of humor, Hansen. Spill it."

Hansen sat down at the desk again, snatched up a sheet of paper which had been lying in front of him. Then he glanced up, pointed a finger at Ed, demanded sharply, "You worked for Jake Landor on the Midwest Vaudeville Circuit, didn't you?"

"That's right, Inspector. I just finished a four-months' tour. My contract has eight months to go, and I was coming into New York to talk to Jake about releasing me so I could go to Hollywood to take a contract with Aetna Pictures."

Hansen consulted the sheet of paper in front of him, nodded, and said, "That's right. You finished up in Meadstown on Saturday, went into Chicago, and you took the Century Limited out of Chicago at 2:15 yesterday, arriving here at nine o'clock this morning. And of course you don't know that just twelve hours before—at nine last night—Jake Landor was murdered!"

Ed jerked to his feet from the desk. "Murdered! How? By whom?"

"That," Inspector Hansen told him slowly, "is why Sergeant Sayre brought you down here. You are accused of murdering Jake Landor, Race!"

Ed Race looked down at the dapper inspector in silence. Landor had been more than a casual employer to him. It was Jake Landor who had originally started Ed in vaudeville with his gun juggling act eight years ago. It was Jake Landor who had built up the act, under the title of "The Masked Marksman," until now it was headlined wherever Ed appeared.

They had been good friends. It was true that they had had many differences during the past eight years, but there had been nothing of any real consequence. It took Ed several moments to regain his composure.

He said huskily, "You—you think I killed Jake Landor?" Suddenly his eyes blazed. "I always thought you were a pretty good cop, Hansen. But I take it all back now. You're nothing but a cheap nitwit in spats. Jake Landor is murdered, and all you have to do is sit around here and have me brought in for the murder? Why, I was on the Century at the time that you yourself say he was killed!"

Hansen leaned back. "Take it easy, Race. Whether you like it or not, you're accused of killing Landor. And you're going to answer my questions and like it!"

Ed stood tense, his whole body contracted, his hands clenched, staring stormily at the other. After a little while he relaxed, but did not remove his gaze from Hansen. He said in a low, dangerous voice, "I'm not answering your questions, Hansen. If you weren't masquerading as a police inspector, I'd push your face in. As it is, I'm going out of here now and find the killer of Jake Landor myself. To hell with you and your questions!"

He swung about, headed for the door.

The sergeant's big form stopped him. "Listen, Race, you know you wouldn't get to first base that way. We're treating you OK, but if you want to get roughed up, we can do it. Now, go back and behave yourself." After all, it would be easy enough to show them that he had nothing to do with Landor's death—but that he'd have plenty to do with bringing the killers in. White-lipped, he nodded, went back.

Hansen spoke quickly: "You wrote a letter to Jake Landor Saturday night from Chicago, didn't you? And you sent it to him air mail, special delivery, didn't you?"

Ed's eyes were puzzled. "Sure I did. I wanted to be sure Jake would stay in New York so I could see him this morning. What of it?"

Hansen did not take his eyes from Ed, but he jerked his head in the direction of Doctor Cole, said curtly to the medical man, "Tell him about it, Doc."


DOCTOR COLE stroked his thin, smooth-shaven face. "Landor died," he explained, "as a result of inhaling the fumes of hydrocyanic acid. The autopsy shows conclusively that this was the cause of death."

Ed was still puzzled. He glanced at Dave Sayre, who was still standing at the door, then back at the inspector. "I still don't see what that has to do with my writing a letter to Jake." He glared at Hansen. "Maybe you'll stop being mysterious and give me the lowdown."

For answer, Hansen opened the drawer of his desk, withdrew a manila folder from which he extracted an envelope with an air- mail stamp. He held it gingerly between thumb and forefinger and asked, "This the letter you wrote, Race?"

Ed recognized his handwriting and nodded.

Hansen handed it across the desk to him and said very quietly, "Take a whiff of that."

Ed took the letter, asked, "Whiff? What do you mean?"

"Go on," Hansen prompted, "do as I say."

Ed raised the envelope to his nostrils and immediately got a faint odor of bitter almonds. He frowned, his thumb rubbing over what looked like the traces of some paraffin, still adhering to the inside of the envelope. He looked up at the doctor. "That's—hydrocyanic acid, isn't it?"

Cole nodded somberly. "Just the traces left. But when Landor slid the letter opener under the envelope flap, that punctured the little paraffin sac which you—ah—the criminal—had placed there for that purpose. Before he knew it, Landor had taken just one breath of that stuff. It was enough—more than enough."

Ed started. "My God, Doctor! That—that's fantastic! It's my letter, all right, but I certainly didn't fix any paraffin sac filled with hydrocyanic in the thing. It—it's—" He shook his head.

Hansen got up from behind the desk, thrust his jaw forward. "Now do you see why you were brought down here, Race?"

Ed's face was white, strained. "I get it," he said, low- voiced. "Sorry, Hansen, I couldn't see how you figured me for killing Jake while I was on the Century. I thought you were being bullheaded or smart, or something."

Hansen didn't answer him, but motioned to Dave Sayre. "Send in the two witnesses, Dave."

The sergeant left the room, returned in a few minutes with two men. Ed knew both of them.

One was Bert Dorsey, Jake Landor's secretary. The other was Thayer Zachary, the head of Middle States Vaudeville Enterprises, Inc., the leading rivals of the Midwest Vaudeville Circuit.

Thayer Zachary was a man in his middle fifties, tall, powerfully built, with a commanding appearance. He had his finger in a number of pies, was interested in motion pictures as well as in vaudeville.

He nodded curtly to Ed, said to Inspector Hansen, "You will oblige me by getting through with this as quickly as possible, Inspector. I am a busy man."

"That's all right, Mr. Zachary," Hansen told him. "I realize you are a busy man, but this is murder. It takes precedence over business."

Bert Dorsey, a small, mouse-like man of thirty-eight or forty, turned watery blue eyes upon Ed Race in reproachful fashion. His mouth trembled as he said, "Y—you had no business killing poor Mr. Landor—after all he'd done for you, Race. Damn you, you've killed my employer, and now I've got no job!"

Ed was silent, but Hansen snorted. "Lay off that stuff, Dorsey. You ought to be damn glad you didn't open the letter yourself." He seated himself behind the desk, pointed a finger at the secretary. "Now tell us what happened when that letter came."

Dorsey sniffled, proceeded in a hesitant voice. "I was home with Mr. Landor when it came. I answered the doorbell and signed for the letter. Ordinarily I would have opened it, if it came in the regular mail, but Mr. Landor was in the sitting room, so I brought it right in to him. I had been working on some accounts at the desk in the corner. I handed him the letter and started back for the desk. Suddenly I heard a gasp, and I turned around to see Mr. Landor jerking in his chair with awful sort of convulsions. He had dropped the letter to the floor."

Dorsey shuddered, closed his eyes and gulped.

"Go on," Hansen urged him in a kindly voice. "What happened then?"

"I dashed up to him to see if there was something I could do, to see what was the matter. Mr. Landor's face was getting bluish. Suddenly he slipped from the chair to the floor, as if he was paralyzed. He seemed to be strangling. I rushed for the phone, but before I got the connection he was dead!"

Dorsey raised his hand, pointed a shaking finger at Ed. "He did it, he did it!" he almost shrieked. "He did it because Mr. Landor wouldn't release him to act in the movies!" Dorsey sank into a chair, covered his face with his hands.


ED RACE had listened tensely to the account. He saw that Thayer Zachary's eyes were upon him, and he said calmly, "What do you think, Mr. Zachary—do you think I killed Jake Landor?"

Zachary regarded him coldly. "I am quite sure you did, Race."

Ed took a step in Zachary's direction, his face a dull red.

Dave Sayre stepped between them. "Take it easy, Race," he soothed. "Wait'll you hear what Mr. Zachary has to say."

Zachary went on impassively, addressing himself to Inspector Hansen. "As I told you before, Inspector, I had had lunch with Landor earlier in the day. He told me he was worried about Race; said that he had talked to him on long distance twice during the week, and that Race had been angry with him for refusing to release him from the contract. He said Race claimed he could make fifteen thousand dollars a week for ten weeks in Hollywood and that Landor was keeping him from making the money for spite. He said Race had become quite violent over the phone."

Hansen bent his shaggy brows upon Ed. "Do you deny that?"

Ed had difficulty controlling himself. "I did talk to Jake twice, but we didn't have any such argument. Jake merely asked me to wait until I got back to New York to talk about it, because things were pretty well up in the air for him, personally. He said there was a possibility that he might have to sell out his holdings in the Midwest Vaudeville Circuit, and that I better wait a week until he knew where he stood. I readily agreed. There were no arguments or threats between us."

"That's what you say," Hansen sneered. "On the face of the evidence that is presented here, I think we'll have to hold you for the D. A." He turned to the two witnesses. "You may go now, Mr. Zachary and Mr. Dorsey. But please be ready to come down to the District Attorney's office to tell your story later in the afternoon. The D. A. will probably take you right before the Grand Jury and get an indictment."

Zachary bowed, cast a cold glance at Ed, and left the room, followed by Dorsey, who still seemed to be suffering from nervous shock.

Ed was restraining himself with difficulty. He was seeing red for the first time in his life. He had been in tight jams before, but never had he been faced with such damning evidence. When the door had closed behind the two witnesses, he swung about, blurted at Hansen: "What sort of sap do you take me for? If I had wanted to kill Jake, would I do it that way—wouldn't I know that my letter would be found with that stuff in it?"

Hansen shook his head sourly. "Lots of guys do crazy things. The evidence is against you."

"You mean," Ed demanded hotly, "that you're going to hold me—have me indicted for murder?"

"That's just what I mean, Race."

Hansen motioned to the detective sergeant. "Take away his artillery, Dave. Then take him downstairs and have him booked and fingerprinted. If he wants a lawyer, he can get one." He looked up at Ed. "I'm sorry as hell about this, Race. I used to think a good deal of you. And I hope to hell you can clear yourself of this charge. Believe me, I'm sincere about that."

Dave Sayre stepped up to Ed, looking apologetic, and reached a hand toward Ed's shoulder holster.

Ed's face was grim, determined. He was not going to be locked up. He sidestepped swiftly, putting the sergeant between himself and Hansen. At the same moment his left hand came up, palm outward, and smacked square into Dave Sayre's face.

Ed murmured, "Sorry, Dave, I got to do this."

Ed's arm straightened behind the opened palm, sending Sayre toppling into Hansen's desk. The sergeant fell backward over the glass top, his hands spread-eagled on either side of him in a frantic endeavor to regain his balance. But he couldn't stop, smashing into Hansen's gun hand before the inspector could spring backwards for a clear shot at Ed.

Ed Race streaked for the door, yanked it open. The last thing he saw as he closed the door behind him was the gaping, open mouth of Doctor Cole, who stared at him in astonishment.

Ed hurried toward the rear of the hall, slipped out through a side exit just as he heard Hansen's stentorian bellow behind him.

A uniformed policeman who had been strolling down the hall swung about, tugging for his revolver. But Ed was already outside. He sped around the corner, hailed a cab, and swung himself into it.

"Uptown," he ordered curtly. "And don't wait."


THE driver turned startled eyes as he heard shouts from around the corner, but Ed got out his heavy forty-five caliber revolver, pressed it into the driver's back. "Did you hear what I said?" he asked softly.

The driver was too scared to talk. He merely faced forward, automatically threw the car into gear, and shot ahead just as Hansen's bulky form appeared around the corner behind them, followed by Dave Sayre and half a dozen bluecoats.

"Turn right at the next corner," Ed commanded.

The cabby obeyed. Then, at Ed's instructions, he made a left turn at the next corner, headed northward again.

Ed knew that the alarm would be out for him in a matter of moments. As they drove uptown he kept a watchful eye out for radio cars, but they encountered none. They passed a couple of traffic officers, but these had not yet been apprised that there was a chase on.

At Twenty-third Street, Ed got out of the cab, gave the driver a ten-dollar bill. He now had his revolver in his overcoat pocket. "Get going!" he ordered.

The cabby took the ten-dollar bill half reluctantly and ground off. Ed watched him till he had rounded the corner, then hurried back to a cab stand, got another cab and drove across town to Eighth Avenue. Here he changed cabs once more, drove uptown to the Forties, and got out. He walked east on a side street till he came to a little store in the basement of a private house. The built-in window was littered with junk and knickknacks. The only lettering on the window was the name Gibson's.


MA GIBSON, who ran this little junk store, came running from the rear with a glad cry when she saw who it was. She was a buxom woman, and she had pinpoint eyes. Her face, however, despite the small eyes, reflected boundless good nature.

Ed had done her many a favor in the past, had once saved her only daughter from a miserable fate at the hands of a dope ring. He knew he could depend upon her to the limit—and no questions asked.

"Look, Ma," he said urgently, without any preliminary greetings, "I got to hide out here till tonight. How's that little secret room in the cellar where you used to cache swag—still working?"

Ma Gibson, as he had expected, asked no questions. She turned and led the way to the rear, then down a flight of steps to the cellar.

Ma Gibson's face was creased with worry. She exclaimed solicitously, "Is it bad, Ed? Who's after you?"

"The cops. They think I killed Jake Landor."

"Well, of all the damn fools! Don't they know that you and Jake were the best of friends?"

Ed shrugged. "I've got to prove I didn't kill him. I'll need to get around a little. Think you can drop over to Jennings' Theatrical Agency and pick me up some makeup stuff so I can change my face a little—just enough to fool them in the dark? And you might bring along whatever you've got in the ice- box. I'm still starving!"

Ma Gibson nodded vigorously. "Of course, I will, Ed. And if you want me to go down to headquarters and give that spalpeen of an Inspector Hansen a piece of my mind, I'll gladly do it!"

"Don't bother, Ma." Ed patted her shoulder. "I'll attend to that part of it. Don't worry about me. Just get me the stuff, and I'll manage."

After she had closed the door, Ed sat in his little cubbyhole and concentrated on the problem. He took out the two heavy forty- five caliber revolvers that he carried in the twin holsters under each armpit. Reverently he laid them on the table, took out his handkerchief and polished them.


THESE were two of the half-dozen guns that he used in his phenomenal juggling act, which had carried the country by storm. Ed could do things with those heavy revolvers that were almost incredible. When he went through the routine of his number on the stage, the perfect coordination of his mind, his eye and the muscles of his body produced effects of marksmanship that were well-nigh superhuman.

Eight years of rigid training as a vaudeville juggler and marksman served to keep his superb body continuously in condition. And he gave his guns as much attention as he gave to himself. Every day they were cleaned, and the cartridges were examined for defects.

Now, as Ed unloaded them, blew microscopic specks out of the chamber and then reloaded them, he thought bitterly of Jake Landor, lying dead in the police morgue with the scent of bitter almonds about his body. It was Jake Landor who had devised the slogan which had carried Ed to fame across the country: "The Masked Marksman—The Man Who Can Make Guns Talk."

Ed finished reloading the guns, making sure that the chamber under the hammer in each was empty. This was for his own protection, as the closely filed hair-trigger needed little coaxing to go off.

Ma Gibson was away for almost an hour and a half. Ed was beginning to be worried about her when he heard a scraping sound on the other side of the wall, and the hidden door began to swing open.

But Ed was taken entirely by surprise at sight of the figure who faced him. Thayer Zachary stood in the doorway, his hand gripping an automatic which was trained squarely on Ed's stomach.

Zachary had the darkness of the cellar behind him, and Ed's room was lighted. There was no chance for Ed to draw in the face of that murderous automatic. Zachary's face was set, his eyes fixed with a deadly purpose.

He said, "Stand still, Race." Then he called out over his shoulder, "Bring her in."

He sidestepped into the room, left the doorway open, and in a moment Dorsey appeared with Ma Gibson. He held her hands twisted behind her back in a cruel, merciless grip.

Dorsey was no longer the shy, frightened, mouse-like man that he had been in Inspector Hansen's office. His eyes were bloodshot, his thin lips were drawn back from discolored teeth. He retained his grip on Ma Gibson's arms, and she winced as he twisted them upward. There was a flaming red mark on her arm above the elbow, which was rapidly blistering.

Her fat, usually good-natured face was twisted in agony as she blurted out, "I couldn't help it, Ed. They knew you were here. They dragged me into the back of the store and gagged me, and then they heated an iron and put it to my arm. I couldn't stand it. I had to tell them about this room. I—"

Her rapid, almost hysterical flow of words was abruptly checked by Dorsey, who slammed her body against the wall so that the breath was knocked out of her.

"Shut up, you!" he growled.

Ed's eyes flamed. He took a half step forward, but stopped as Zachary thrust his automatic out at him. Zachary was cold, fully in possession of himself, and, Ed realized, was the more dangerous of the two.

Zachary said softly, "Get back up against the wall, Race, and lift your hands up over your head."

Ed stalled for time. He said, "So you two boys collaborated on the scenario, eh? Which one of you killed Jake Landor?"

Zachary smiled thinly. "It doesn't matter, Race. To all intents and purposes, you are the one who killed Landor."

"I see it now," Ed said bitterly. "You wanted to buy out Jake Landor; you had to have his circuit, or go on the rocks yourself. So you bribed this little rat here"—indicating Dorsey—"and he got the hydrocyanic acid ready. Then when my letter came, he gave Jake a few whirls of the acid, and planted a couple of drops in my envelope with the paraffin. With you to back him up with your story about having had lunch with Jake earlier in the day, he was able to get away with it, and pin the rap on me. And you figured you'd be able to buy up the circuit at a bargain from the executors."

He stopped, grinned sourly as he saw in Zachary's eyes that he had hit the mark with every one of his deductions.

Dorsey, who still retained his cruel grip on Ma Gibson, spat out viciously, "Get through with this, Mr. Zachary. What's the difference what he knows? Let's finish this up and beat it!"

Ma Gibson uttered an involuntary gasp of pain as he gave her arms an extra twist to emphasize his words.

Ed's fist clenched. "You little rat!" he rapped out. "I'm going to kill you for that!"


DORSEY burst out laughing. "You ain't going to kill anybody after today." Dorsey was not the type who would generally be expected to act in a vicious or murderous manner. But Ed could see that he was merely trying to give himself courage. He was on the verge of hysteria with the knowledge that he had actually killed his employer, Jake Landor, and was trying to buck himself up. It was amateur killers like these that were dangerous, for there was no accounting for what they might do in the heat of the moment.

Zachary, however, was the man to be reckoned with right at this time. Ed read death in the big theater man's eyes.

Zachary said softly, "That is right, Race. After today you will no longer be interested in what happens to anybody."

He stepped closer, snapped out, "Raise your hands up higher—all the way up!"

The muzzle of the automatic was close to Ed's chest. He obeyed, his eyes locking with Zachary's as he said coldly, "You're not crazy enough to think you can get away with this, are you? You were smart enough to frame somebody else for Jake's death. Whom are you going to frame for mine?"

Zachary smiled with his lips, but his eyes had a sort of cold, deadly, fish-like stare. He took a handkerchief out of his pocket, and still holding the gun on Ed, he awkwardly wrapped the handkerchief around his left hand, then reached in and jerked out one of Ed's heavy forty-fives from its shoulder holster. He was now holding the revolver with the handkerchief wrapped around the butt so as not to leave any fingerprints. Then he stepped back four paces to the door.

Ed said, "Look out for that, it's got a hair-trigger."

Zachary, still keeping his eyes on Ed, felt gingerly for the trigger of the big revolver. He called out, "All right, Dorsey, stand away from the woman. Come over here."

Dorsey let go of Ma Gibson's arms, came and stood beside Zachary. Zachary swung the big revolver in his left hand to cover both Ed and Ma Gibson, and handed the automatic over to Dorsey.

Ma Gibson had slumped back against the wall, her arms hanging limply. Her face was white from the torture.

Ed was watching Zachary closely. Suddenly he said tensely, "Listen Zachary, I can guess what you're going to do. Don't do it. Ma Gibson never harmed you. You don't have to rub her out. Let her promise to keep mum on this, and I'll give you my word to take the rap for Jake's murder."

Zachary shook his head. "I don't believe in taking any chances, Race. When people are dead, that's the only time I'm sure they can't talk."

Dorsey, whose hand holding the automatic was shaking a bit, inquired nervously, "What you going to do, Mr. Zachary?" His voice was high-pitched, at the verge of breaking.

"I'm going to kill the woman with Race's gun," Zachary told him. "Then I'll kill Race. His fingerprints will be the ones on the gun. We'll come rushing down here and find them both dead. The story will be that Ma Gibson knew he killed Jake Landor, and in a fit of rage he shot her and then shot himself. It'll go over fine. We can say that we came here because we knew that Race was in the habit of seeing Ma Gibson when he was in town. We just walked in at the tail end of the shooting."

Dorsey drew in a deep breath that sounded like a wheeze. "God, can we get away with it?"

Ed broke in hurriedly, "Of course you can't, Dorsey." He was playing on the secretary's apparent weakness and fear. "Landor is dead—you can't take that back. But you don't have to get in any deeper. You can turn state's evidence on Zachary and cop yourself a plea. How about it, Dorsey? Quick, turn that automatic on him!"

Zachary snarled, "Damn you, Race!" and backed up another step so that he now stood in the doorway, commanding Dorsey with the automatic as well as Ma Gibson and Ed.

Dorsey turned half-toward him. "Don't worry, Mr. Zachary, I'm not listening to him. I'd get twenty years in jail on a plea anyway. I'd rather take a chance with you."

"Okay," said Zachary softly. "Here goes!"


HE swung the gun toward Ma Gibson, steadied it, and his finger depressed the trigger.

There was only an empty click.

Ma Gibson, who had stood silent against the wall ever since Dorsey had released her, uttered a slight gasp. Her body had been involuntarily pressing backward against the wall, shrinking from the slug that she had expected to slam into her.

At the sound of the empty click under the hammer, Zachary's face went a dead white. His eyes sought Ed, and he uttered a startled gasp of dismay. For in the split second that it had taken him to press the trigger, Ed's hand had flashed in and out from the right-hand armpit holster in a motion that was a marvelous exhibition of perfect timing. He clicked the hammer on the empty chamber, then fired as the muzzle of the revolver came level with Zachary's chest.

Zachary's body went hurtling out into the darkness of the cellar, accompanied by a choked cry of pain.

Dorsey fired his automatic with a wavering, trembling hand, and the shot went wild. But Ed's next shot caught Dorsey in the right shoulder, spun him around and crashed him against the wall. The automatic slipped from his nerveless fingers.

Ed holstered his revolver, ran over to Ma Gibson, and caught her as she was slumping to the floor. He shook her hard.

"Hold on, Ma. Don't faint, whatever you do. It's all over."

Ma Gibson didn't faint. She was made of pretty sturdy stuff. She smiled wanly, said, "I'm all right, Ed. Is Zachary dead?"

"Where I hit him," Ed told her grimly, "he ought to be good and dead by now."

Dorsey's pain-racked voice came to them from the floor. "Get me a doctor," he wailed. "I'm dying."

Ed stepped over to him, stood above him spraddle-legged. His eyes were wintry, unsympathetic. Dorsey wasn't dying. The slug had caught him high in the right shoulder, had possibly smashed the bone, but the wound was not fatal. The secretary, however, did not know this. That heavy forty-five caliber slug would make anyone that it hit think the end of the world had come.

Ed did not disabuse Dorsey of his fear. He said, "What do you want a doctor for? You might as well kick off now, as wait to be burned."

Dorsey's shoulder was bleeding profusely; crimson stained his coat and dripped to the floor. His eyes were closed in agony, and there was sweat on his hands, his face and his neck. His collar was wilted, splashed with red.

He gasped, "I don't want—to die. Get me a doctor—save me—I'll confess. I—killed Landor. Zachary—made me do it. He knew—I had served a term for—forgery, fifteen years—ago."

Dorsey's voice died away to a whisper with the last word, his eyes remained closed, and his body collapsed on the floor.

Ed's mouth was a tight, bitter line. He flung over his shoulder to Ma Gibson, "Now what'll we do? When he comes to, he'll deny it, of course."

Ma Gibson got to her feet, walked over to him unsteadily. "Never mind, Ed, boy, the police will get a confession out of him somehow. They ought to be here. Those shots—?"

She stopped suddenly, and Ed jerked his eyes to the doorway at the faint sound of movement in the cellar beyond.

The figure of Detective Sergeant Dave Sayre appeared in the doorway, stepping over the inert body of Zachary. He held a service revolver in his hand, but it was not leveled at Ed.

He seemed to be quite happy as he said, "Don't worry about the confession, Race. I heard him just before he keeled over. Funny," he went on, stepping into the little room and holstering his gun, "I had a hunch you'd be at Ma Gibson's—only I could never have found this room by myself." He looked at Ed, and there was a strange warmth in his eyes. "You know," he said huskily, "I was pretty sure you hadn't killed Landor. I knew you weren't that kind of guy. The inspector will be glad to hear it too."

Ed grunted. He holstered his revolver, went to the body of Zachary and retrieved the other one.

Ma Gibson was sitting in the chair near the table, sobbing quietly into a small handkerchief.

Sergeant Sayre asked Ed, "What happened here? Where did these boys get the nerve to try gunplay with you?"

"Zachary had the drop on me," Ed explained. "The thing that ruined him was that he didn't know that you always keep the first chamber of the barrel empty under the hammer of a hair-trigger revolver! I thought that stunt might save someone's life someday—and it sure did!"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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