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EMILE C. TEPPERMAN

DEATH'S BOOKING AGENT

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RGL e-Book Cover 2017



The Spider published two different "Masked Marksman" stories
under this title. The second was printed in the June 1940 issue.



First published in The Spider magazine, April 1935

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version date: 2017-12-08
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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The Spider, April 1935, with "Death's Booking Agent"



Ed Race awoke in that little mountain town to find that the Great Booking Agent, Death, had billed him to play a star role in the final, fatal drama of life!



ED RACE stirred fretfully as the insistent clamor of the telephone, jangling against his ears, broke up his sleep. He opened his eyes. Sunlight was streaming into his eighth-floor hotel window, over the foot of the bed.

He took a minute to orient himself, lying quietly in his pajamas, while the phone still rang. This was the Elton Hotel, Nevada City. He'd gotten in at six in the morning, after a seven-hour flight from Chicago. Tired and cramped, he'd showered and snatched a bit of sleep before rehearsal time. The alarm clock on the dresser said nine-thirty—he could have had a good two hours more of sleep, if the telephone hadn't rung.

He swore under his breath, picked it up, growled into it. But he sat up abruptly as he recognized the voice at the other end.

"Ed, this is Nora Kirk!"

He was wide awake. "Hello, Nora, girl." His broad, powerful face softened momentarily. "Anybody else woke me up after three hours sleep, I'd massacre him. How's things? I got your dad's wire in Chicago, and made them rearrange my booking so I could play the Kirk Theater for the anniversary. Got in town just after the milkman, and didn't want to break up your beauty sleep"—he chuckled—"which is more consideration than you had for me."

Nora Kirk's voice sounded a bit strained. "It's fine of you, Ed. Dad was sure you'd manage it. But—" She faltered a bit. "Oh, Ed—the anniversary wasn't the real reason why dad wired you. Ed, we're in trouble—terrible trouble! Can you—"

Ed lost the next words because just then someone started rapping sharply on the door of his room. He frowned, said, "Wait a minute, Nora. There's someone at the door."

He started to put the phone down, heard Nora crying, "Ed, don't—" Then the rapping started again, and her words were drowned out. He said, "I can't get you, Nora. Hold on while I get rid of this pest."

He put the French phone down on the night table, and his bare feet pounded across the floor. He turned the key, yanked the door open, growled, "Say, what—" and stopped. He was staring straight into the muzzle of a blued-steel automatic.

A cold-eyed, smiling man with flashing white teeth held the gun on him. There was another, shorter man, behind him in the corridor, also with a gun.

The white-toothed man said, "Don't be alarmed, Mr. Race. You won't be harmed if you're nice. On the other hand—"

He pushed into the room, the muzzle of the gun less than an inch from Ed Race's chest. His companion followed him in, shutting the door as he entered.

Ed backed before the white-toothed man until he was in the center of the room. Then he said, talking very loud, "I never argue with the business end of a gun, mister. The house is yours. What's this—a stick-up, or just a friendly call?"

Neither of the two callers noticed that the French phone was off the instrument, for Ed stood so as to conceal it from their view. The white-toothed man said, "We're not stick-ups, Mr. Race. We're just taking you along to talk to a friend of ours. As I told you before, if you behave you won't be hurt."

He motioned with the gun. "Suppose you start getting dressed."

The second man, as if everything had been prearranged, went across the room to the chair where Ed had flung his clothes on going to bed. He stuck his hand into the armpit holster which hung with the coat on the back of the chair, pulled out the heavy .45 Ed always carried, and handled it admiringly.

"Say!" he exclaimed to his companion. "This is some cannon, ain't it, Hone! I bet these slugs could plow through an elephant!"

The white-toothed man, addressed as Hone, continued to smile, but he said in a thin voice, "Listen, Kranz, did we come here on business or to admire hardware? Get busy!" The last he said with a snap. Kranz scowled, but did not answer. He stuck the revolver in his back pocket, carried the clothes over to the bed.

"Go ahead, big boy," he said to Ed. "Climb into them—quick!"


ED looked at the clothes, then at the two men. He sat down on the bed, said in a loud voice, speaking very clearly, "So your names are Hone and Kranz? And you're just paying a little social call—with guns. You want me to get dressed and go with you—is that it?"

Hone grinned, showing his white teeth. "You seem to be pretty quick on the uptake, Mr. Race. That's about the idea. Maybe you get the idea too that we mean business. Suppose you start climbing into those clothes of yours—before we get nasty."

Ed shrugged, got up, and started to strip off his pajamas. He said, "I just wanted to get the thing straight, that's all. It always pays to understand what things are about."

As he got into his clothes, Kranz' admiring gaze wandered over his perfectly proportioned body. "Boy!" he exclaimed. "You got some muscles! How do you keep in trim?"

"Exercise," Ed told him. "I exercise every day."

Hone sat down comfortably in a chair across the room from the bed. He crossed his legs, rested the barrel of his gun on his knee, and said pleasantly to Kranz, "He's an actor. All actors keep in condition—especially guys who juggle guns, like him."

Ed's eyes narrowed. He deliberately slowed the dressing process. He wanted time to think.

Very few people knew that he juggled guns on the stage for a living. He was billed throughout the country as "The Masked Marksman." He appeared on the stage with his features concealed by a mask, and did almost incredible stunts with his heavy .45's—mates of the one Kranz had just taken from his pocket. The feats of marksmanship and juggling he performed on the stage had earned a national reputation for his act, but his identity had been pretty successfully concealed from the general public. One of the reasons why he had continued to keep his identity secret was because he dabbled in detective work on the side, carrying licenses in a dozen states to operate as a private detective.

In the pursuit of that sideline, he had made many enemies among dangerous men, and he felt it was healthier for him to keep it a secret that Ed Race, the private detective, and "The Masked Marksman" were one and the same. The fact that Hone and Kranz knew who he was gave him food for reflection.

Hone broke into his thoughts, saying pleasantly, "For a guy that moves as fast as you do on the stage, Race, you're awful slow getting dressed." He stopped dawdling the gun on his knee, raised it a trifle, and his eyes focused on a spot somewhere in the center of Ed's abdomen. "You know, we don't have to take you along; we could slam some lead into you right here. The party you're going to see don't have to talk to you. So don't give any more trouble than you have to. Get me?"

Ed nodded. "I get you, Hone." He hurried his dressing, wriggled into his trousers. "Only I don't get why this party should want to talk to me at all, or for that matter, why you boys should want to sling lead into me. I don't recall that there's anybody in this town with a grudge against me. As a rule, I'm a pretty peaceful citizen—" He was talking quickly, desperately, in an effort to keep the eyes of Hone and Kranz from straying toward the telephone.

Hone interrupted him, laughing heartily. "Just a peaceful citizen—ha ha! That's a laugh, Kranz, ain't it! Why, he's a holy terror!" He sobered, pointed his gun at Ed. "But I'm telling you, Race, this would be a swell time for you to cultivate that peaceful habit—it's much healthier. The party you're going to see will tell you all about it."

Ed was stuffing his shirttails into his trousers. He said nothing. Suddenly he stiffened.

Hone's eyes had settled on the end table. At first, they were casual, not grasping the significance of the French phone, which was lying on the table off the bracket.

Ed started to talk fast again, but it was no good. The meaning of the open telephone registered suddenly, and Hone sprang to his feet, snarling, "Who's on that phone?"


ED'S body tensed. He faced Hone, glancing at Kranz at the same time, out of the corner of his eye.

"That was the Police Department," he drawled. "They wanted to know if I'd seen two suspicious looking gunmen around here. Remember how loud I talked? That instrument was open while I mentioned your names." Ed grinned genially. "So maybe you'd better put your guns away, and start getting a little peaceful yourselves."

"Nuts!" Hone sneered. Over his shoulder he growled, "Keep him covered, Kranz," and picked up the phone. He said, "Hello. This Miss Kirk?"

Ed heard Nora Kirk's voice talk into the instrument, but he could not distinguish the words. Hone listened a while, then shrugged, threw a swift side glance at Ed, said into the phone, "Well, it's up to you, Miss Kirk. Your old man started this by sending for him. He shouldn't have sent for him in the first place. Now it's up to you to get rid of him. Here, you can do it yourself." He extended the instrument to Ed, growled, "She wants to talk to you."

Ed had his coat and vest on by this time. He took the phone, said, "Hello, Nora, what's all the excitement about? Why didn't you hang up and call the police when you heard what was happening here?"

Nora Kirk sounded worried, harassed. She said desperately, "Ed, you mustn't antagonize those men. Dad is in terrible trouble, and they're the only ones who can get him out of it. He shouldn't have sent for you. But now, won't you please go with them? They don't mean you any harm, and you must do whatever they say—for Dad's sake."

Ed frowned. "Sounds screwy to me, Nora, but if you say so—all right. Suppose you give me an idea what it's all about."

"I can't, Ed. I can't talk on the telephone. They'll tell you everything. Go along with them quickly now, please, and do whatever they say. I'll meet you later."

Ed hung up as Nora clicked the receiver down at her end of the line. He faced the two men, raised his eyebrows. "You boys seem to be riding high, wide and handsome. It's your show, and you're giving the cues. So what do we do next?"

Kranz uttered a sigh of relief. Hone seemed to be happier, too. Apparently they hadn't relished the job of escorting Ed Race out of the hotel and through the streets of the town at the point of their guns.

Hone said, "That's much better, Race. We'll be able to transact our business in short order as soon as you see this party we're taking you to."

Kranz started to leave, and Hone jerked his thumb toward the doorway, grinned. "You next, Race. I'll come last." He put his gun in his outside coat pocket, nodded significantly. "Remember this gat in my pocket, in case you should change your mind, or get a brainstorm."

Ed followed Kranz out along the corridor. In the elevator, Kranz stood next to him on his left, while Hone stood slightly behind. Gaining the street, they walked around the corner and entered a sedan which was parked there.

Hone sat in the rear next to Ed, while Kranz drove. They had both lapsed into a sort of sullen silence now. Hone sat slantwise at his end of the seat, his hand in the pocket where the gun was. He kept his eyes steadily on Ed, watchful for his slightest move.


KRANZ wound skillfully in and out through traffic, driving well within the lawful speed limit. He turned into Main Street, drove through the center of town. They passed the broad gilded facade of the new glittering Kirk Theater. Men were working on ladders at the side of the marquee, putting up the words which were to sparkle with electric bulbs that evening, announcing the headliners of the show. The words read:


ANNIVERSARY PERFORMANCE
THE MASKED MARKSMAN
IN PERSON


ED RACE felt a little thrill of pleasure. He had been in vaudeville now for almost six years, but he was still able to get a kick out of seeing himself billed in the bright lights.

As they left the theater behind, Ed said: "Be careful of that revolver of mine, Kranz. Don't lose it. I'll need it for my show tonight."

Kranz did not answer, merely grunted.

In a short time they had left the town behind them, swung into a broad paved road that led northward.

Ed tried to make conversation. He asked, "How far do we go, Hone?"

Hone stirred in his seat, said tonelessly, "You'll see when we get there."

Ed shrugged. "You bozos certainly can clam up when you want to. As live entertainment, you're both a couple of complete washouts."

As they approached the crossroads, Hone stole a look ahead, then called out to Kranz, "Here it is. Turn left."

Kranz nodded, swung left at the crossing into a narrow dirt road. About a quarter of a mile farther, they swung into the driveway of what appeared to be a typical roadhouse.

Kranz halted the car under the portico, and Hone jerked his head at Ed, said gruffly, "Out!"

Ed uncrossed his long legs, opened the door and stepped out of the car.

Kranz had already alighted, and Hone followed, on Ed's other side. In that order they marched up the steps, into the deserted lobby of the roadhouse. The hat-check desk at their right in the lobby was deserted. Straight ahead, three steps down from the level of the lobby, the broad expanse of a dance floor stretched before them. At the far end was a stage, and on either side of the roped-in floor were tables and chairs which were now stacked up. There was nobody around. The place would not come to life until late at night.

They did not go onto the dance floor.

Kranz led the way up a narrow staircase at the left, extending up from the lobby. At a signal from Hone, Ed followed. Hone again brought up the rear.

On the upper floor, they stopped before a door marked "Office," and Kranz knocked three times. Without waiting for an answer, he spoke, talking through the door. "It's Kranz, Mr. Bilbo," he said. "Me and Hone. We brought him along."

A voice inside said impatiently, "All right. Bring him in."

Kranz opened the door, stood aside while Ed and Hone walked in, then, closing the door behind them, stood with his back to it.

The office was fairly large, and furnished in extremely modernistic style. At the far end, before a small square desk, sat a thin, dapper-looking man attired in a faultless morning coat. His face was narrow at the mouth, but seemed to spread as it rose, to a broad, high forehead.

He stood up as they entered, resting long, white fingers with well-manicured nails upon the hardwood of the desk. Even in this one action the man moved lithely, gracefully, giving the effect almost of a stalking panther.

Hone started to say eagerly, "We didn't have any trouble, Mr. Bilbo. I talked to the Kirk dame and—"

Then he stopped talking very suddenly, as if he had been a radio and someone had switched him off. Bilbo hadn't said anything; had just turned and stared glassily at Hone out of his almost colorless eyes, set deep back under the wide forehead. Ed, glancing sideways at Hone, saw him lower his eyes, stare at the floor, and shuffle.

Then Bilbo said, silkily, softly, "Did I ask you, Hone?"


HONE started to say something, stammeringly, but Bilbo didn't give him a chance to get it out. He turned to Ed, and said in his soft voice, "I had you brought here, Race, to talk with you. Because it would be very—er—dangerous to certain friends of yours if you went off half-cocked and spoiled our plans."

Ed stared steadily at Bilbo. "What plans?" he asked bluntly.

Bilbo's mouth smiled, though his eyes returned Ed's steady stare. He raised a white hand, waved it impatiently. "Perhaps I had better show you. It will be more convincing than telling you, and you may be more inclined to listen to reason."

He came around from behind the desk, walking effortlessly and gracefully across the room to the door. He said crisply, "Kranz and Hone—come along with us."

The corridor outside was broad, thickly carpeted, and deserted. Bilbo still led the way. The doors of all the rooms were open, and Ed could see into them. They were private dining rooms, such as a roadhouse of this type would specialize in.

Ed's eyes strayed to Bilbo's straight, narrow back. There was not a crease in his expensive coat. But there was a bulge just over the right hip pocket—a slight bulge, but quite significant. Bilbo was armed.

They proceeded to the end of the corridor, stopped before the last door on the left. That door was not open.

Bilbo dug into his pocket, extracted a set of keys. Before unlocking the door he hesitated a moment, then turned to Ed and said, "You will no doubt be surprised and shocked at what you see inside here. But be careful what you do. Above all, do not act rashly. I believe Miss Kirk told you that you were to cooperate with us."

Ed nodded. "Let's get on with this, Mr. Bilbo. You've got me all keyed up with curiosity."

Bilbo looked at Hone and Kranz, said to them coldly, "You will keep your hands on your guns while we are in the room. If Mr. Race should show a disposition to—er—become unpleasant, you know what to do."

Hone smiled pleasantly, showing his flashing white teeth. "We sure will, Mr. Bilbo. Depend on it."

Bilbo turned, inserted a key in the lock, opened the door. He entered, and Ed followed, the other two close behind him.

Bilbo took two or three steps into the room, then stepped inside for Ed to look. Ed stopped short, staring.

A tall man, about forty, sat on a chair close to the head of the bed. His wrists were handcuffed, and the links of the cuffs had been run around the bar of the bedstead, so that he was effectively imprisoned. His hair, a heavy black, graying at the temples, was disheveled, his eyes were rimmed with red. He was in evening dress, and his bow tie was askew, the collar opened at the throat. His face appeared drawn and haggard under a day's growth of bristly beard.

He looked up, seemed to have difficulty in recognizing Ed, then said listlessly, "Oh, they brought you here, Race. It's no good, though. You can't help me. I should never have sent for you. I guess I'll have to pay."

Ed wasn't listening to him, or looking at him either, for that matter. His eyes were glued to the bed. A woman lay there, on her back. She was in her thirties, and her wild, disordered hair, which was almost as red as the daring evening gown she wore, fell partly over her face, which had been beautiful. One strap of her low-cut evening gown had been torn, and the dress had fallen away from her breast, revealing a white, creamy skin.

The thing that held Ed's gaze, however, was the bone handle of the thin dagger that had pierced her throat. It protruded now at a gruesome angle. Blood had spattered the bed, and lay in dry, clotted streaks on her shoulders and chest. She was stiff, cold. She had been dead for some time.


ED'S mouth twisted into a thin, grim line. He whirled as Bilbo's silky voice addressed him. "Yes, Mr. Race, she is quite dead, as you see. Do you know who killed her?"

Before Ed could reply, Kirk sat up stiffly in his chair, rattling his handcuffs. "It's a lie, Race, it's a lie!" he shouted hoarsely. "I didn't kill her. I tell you, I didn't kill her." Suddenly he slumped dejectedly. "But it's all against me. I had too much to drink last night. I don't know what happened here. When I came to, I found myself handcuffed to the bed, and"—he shuddered—"there she was!" His voice dropped almost to a whisper. "Like that!"

The dapper, graceful little Bilbo smiled. "Too bad," he said, "that you drank so much last night, Mr. Kirk. You realize, of course, that your chance with a jury would be absolutely nil."

Kirk closed his eyes, to shut out the sight of the corpse. "How much do you want?" he groaned.

Bilbo rubbed his hands. "Now you're talking sensibly." He turned to Ed. "What do you think, Mr. Race? Murder is a serious thing. As law abiding citizens, we should notify the police. But of course, there are ways—"

Ed had turned, was bleakly surveying the bed and its gruesome burden. He interrupted Bilbo, asked coldly, "Who is she?"

Bilbo jerked his head at the handcuffed man. "Perhaps Mr. Kirk can answer that better than I. He was out with her last night."

Kirk's face was lined, pasty. He looked sixty rather than forty. He kept his eyes studiously averted from the bed as he said, wearily, "She's Ruby Pearson. Ruby Pearson—a newcomer in vaudeville. She's been playing the Kirk Theater this week." He looked up at Ed, made a gesture of half-apology, went on pleadingly, "You can't blame me much, Race. I've been a widower for ten years now. We just went out for a little innocent fun."

"Innocent fun!" Bilbo interjected sneeringly. "It certainly ended up innocently, didn't it?"

Kirk had his head in his hands now. "I would have given everything to keep this from Nora. I'm thinking more of her now than I am of myself."

Ed said testily, "Well, let's stop the schmoozing and get down to business." He swung on Bilbo. "What do you want from Mr. Kirk?"

"Nothing much." Bilbo's eyes were sparkling eagerly now. Hone and Kranz, who were standing behind him, still with their guns in their hands, tensed as he went on. "The roadhouse business isn't so good these days. People are tight with their money. I've been wanting to get into the theatrical game. I'll swap Mr. Kirk my roadhouse for the Kirk Theater. He'll execute a deed of sale to me, and I'll send Hone down to the Registrar's Office to record it. Then he can go home and forget about this business. We'll cover it up for him."

Kirk's eyes opened wide, his hands clenched around the bedstead. "It's a million-dollar theater—and my equity in it is over three hundred thousand. And you want to give me a roadhouse for it, which isn't worth more than fifteen thousand at the outside!"

Bilbo shrugged. "Those are the terms, Mr. Kirk. Take them or leave them. Your million-dollar theater won't do you any good when you're sitting in the hot seat." He waved towards Ed. "You wanted somebody here to advise you. Well, you've got Race. I give you five minutes to decide."

Kirk had the look of a beaten man. Furtively his eyes strayed toward the cold, stiff body of Ruby Pearson on the bed. He said under his breath, "I'm licked. I'll have to do it."

Bilbo exclaimed exultantly, "Fine. I have the papers in my office. Kranz will get them. Mr. Race will sign the deed as a witness, to show that it wasn't given under duress." He said over his shoulder, "Kranz, go get the papers in the rubber band in the top drawer of my desk."


KRANZ was about to obey when Ed Race stopped him. "Just a minute. There's a couple of things that have to be ironed out. First, how are you going to get rid of this body?"

"Leave that to me," Bilbo told him. "There'll be no comeback."

Ed stared at him steadily. "I think Mr. Kirk is entitled to the details—before he signs the deed."

Bilbo said savagely, "All right. We're not getting rid of the body. It stays right here—and we let somebody else take the rap."

"The real murderer?" Ed asked him softly.

Bilbo shook his head. "No, Mr. Race, not the real murderer. Mr. Kirk's prints are on that knife handle now. We're going to take another guy, put his prints on it instead of Mr. Kirk's, and then take him out on the road, put a slug in his brain with his own gun, and leave him there. It will look just like murder and suicide."

"Very interesting," Ed murmured. "And have you got this other man picked out yet?"

"Yes, Mr. Race, we have him picked out. We also have his gun."

Ed threw a side glance at Kirk. The theater owner was slumped down in his chair, his forehead resting against the bedstead, his eyes closed. He was paying no further attention to what was going on in the room. The significance of what was being said escaped him entirely.

Ed's arms hung slack at his side as he faced Bilbo, but his body was tense, and he was teetering on the balls of his feet. "So I'm to be the fall guy, eh?"

His eyes narrowed to mere slits as he surveyed the three men. The guns of Hone and Kranz were trained upon him unwaveringly. "Very pretty. Very pretty, indeed. So that's why you were so willing to let Kirk have a friend come here. And I turned out to be the ideal friend for the purpose, huh?"

Bilbo, standing directly in front of Ed, must have correctly interpreted the look in Race's eyes. For he made a quick step backward, snapped over his shoulder to Hone and Kranz, "Take him, boys! Take him quick!"

But he was too late.

Ed moved with the quick, synchronized rhythm of muscle and body that he had developed through years of arduous work on the stage. He stepped in, his right hand flashed up, seized Bilbo by the lapels of his coat, and yanked him forward.

Bilbo uttered a frightened cry, started to kick and squirm. But Ed lifted him from the floor, held him helpless in his powerful grip. Bilbo's body now formed a shield against the guns of Hone and Kranz.

The two gunmen stood bewildered for a second with leveled guns, but afraid to shoot. And in that second, Ed took a quick leap forward, pushing Bilbo ahead of him. He crashed the squirming roadhouse proprietor square into Hone, who went stumbling backward against the wall. Almost as a continuation of the same motion, Ed swiveled and hurled Bilbo against Kranz.

Kranz sidestepped, and Bilbo's body crashed to the floor.

Kranz was snarling now, and swinging his gun around. But Ed had swooped down, seized Hone's wrist, twisted it—and snapped the automatic from his weakened grip.

Kranz lowered the muzzle of his gun, but Ed dropped flat to the floor, rolled away from Hone. Kranz' gun exploded, and a slug tore into the floor. Ed rolled to his back, looked up, saw Kranz above and behind him, and raised the automatic, squeezed the trigger. He had done this stunt often on the stage, shooting out candles while lying on his back. Kranz was a bigger target than a candle, and the steel-jacketed slug from the automatic caught him squarely between the eyes.

His gun exploded once more harmlessly into the air as he crashed backwards swiftly and struck the floor, dead.


ED, moving lithely, gracefully, got to his feet in time to see Bilbo dragging a small revolver from his hip pocket. Ed started to jump at him, to kick the gun out of his hand, but Hone stuck out a foot and tripped him. Ed stumbled headlong just as Bilbo shot off his revolver. The bullet clanged into the metal bedstead, ricocheted to the ceiling. Ed fell forward full length, his elbow catching Bilbo in the temple, smashing his head down hard against the floor.

Race twisted around into a sitting position, facing Hone, and said pleasantly, "All right, pal, you lose. Just stay still."

Ed stepped over to Hone, towered above him, straddle-legged. "Where are the keys?" he demanded.

Hone's white-toothed smile was no longer in evidence. He quavered weakly, "What keys?"

"To the handcuffs, rat."

Hone threw a glance toward Bilbo's body. "He's got them—in his pocket."

Ed backed away from him, stooped to Bilbo's pocket, dug out the ring of keys, stepped across to Kirk, inserted the key and flipped the cuffs open.

Kirk said, "Good God, Race, what'll we do now?"

Ed said grimly, "Guess what!"

He took out his handkerchief, leaned across the bed gingerly, and wiped clean the bone handle of the knife which protruded from Ruby Pearson's throat.

Kirk exclaimed in a hushed voice, "God! She was so young and full of life last night!"

Ed paid no attention to him, but turned, stamped across to Hone and seized him by the coat.

Hone demanded hoarsely, "What—what are you going to do?"

Ed didn't answer. He dragged him across to the bed, seized him from behind, and forced his right wrist over the dead woman's body. Hone struggled, but Ed twisted his left arm behind him in a punishing grip, held him there. Sweat broke out on Hone's face; his resistance ceased. Ed pushed him forward, pressed his right hand around the handle of the knife, held it there a minute, then released it.

He thrust Hone into the chair Kirk had occupied a moment ago, then snapped the handcuffs about his wrists, chaining him to the bedstead just as Kirk had been chained.

Hone stared up at him stupidly. "What—what—" he started to say.

Ed grinned down at him. "It's the same act," he told him easily. "Only the lead is played by you instead of Kirk. The way the story lines up now, you killed Ruby Pearson, and shot Kranz yourself. This is your automatic, isn't it?"

Hone had grown pale. He said, "You can't do that to me, Race. I didn't kill her. I swear I didn't kill her."

Ed told him coldly, "That's what Kirk was saying a little while ago. You boys didn't give him any break on it, did you?"

"Listen," Hone cried desperately, "don't plant this on me. I didn't kill her. Bilbo killed her himself."

Ed veiled his eyes to hide the triumph in them. "That's what I was trying to get at," he murmured. "Give me the story. Maybe if you talk enough you can beat the chair and get off with a jail sentence."

"Okay, okay," Hone said eagerly. "Ruby was Bilbo's girl. He went mad jealous when he saw Kirk bringing her up in here. He waited till they both got pie-eyed, then he came in and stuck the knife in her. That was when he got the idea of putting the screws to Kirk for the theater. Kirk was out completely and didn't know what had happened."

"You'll put that in writing?" Ed demanded.

Hone nodded. "Yes. Sure I will."

Hone had finished the statement and signed it, when Kirk called out hoarsely, "Ed, Bilbo's coming to."

Ed swung, met the dazed glance of Bilbo, who asked weakly, "What's happened?"

Ed stepped over to Kranz' body, retrieved his own heavy revolver from Kranz' back pocket. Then, straightening, he grinned down at Bilbo.

"Plenty has happened," he informed him. "The show is almost over. All the headliners have done their turn. The last act in the show will be when you get your head shaved and walk down to the hot seat."

Ed looked at his wristwatch, turned to Mr. Kirk. "See if you can find a phone, and call the police. We'll just about have time after that to go and give Nora the glad news, and then make the rehearsal!"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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