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EMILE C. TEPPERMAN

DEATH'S CURTAIN-CALL

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First published in The Spider magazine, August 1935

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version date: 2017-12-11
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Cover

The Spider, August 1935, with "Death's Curtain-Call"



Ed Race, who juggled guns for both business and pleasure, wanted to do a favor for a pretty girl friend... But a crooked poker game and a murder plot nearly made Death step forward to take Ed's final bow...!



THE façade of the three-story brownstone building bore nothing to indicate the nature of its occupancy except for a small, metal plaque alongside the door, above the bell. The bronze letters on the plaque read:


THE THIRTEEN CLUB


Ed Race strode past the building with an air of casualness, but his quick glance took in the heavy, oak door with the grilled peep-hole and the barred-and-shuttered windows through which no light shone.

Ed knew The Thirteen Club pretty well; he had a card of admission to it, had often visited it when his vaudeville bookings brought him to New York. It was a pretty swank place, and its exterior gave no hint of the huge sums of money that were won and lost every night across the poker tables. Ed had never been able to find out who operated the Club, but he knew that, whoever it was, the proprietor must be pretty clever. No roulette wheels, no dice tables that had to be camouflaged in the event of a raid. Poker was a gentleman's game, and here, only poker was played. The chips might represent pennies, dollars or centuries, but no money was ever exhibited at the tables. The police had long ago given up as a bad job the proposition of trying to get the goods on The Thirteen Club...

Nevertheless, fortunes had been won and lost there, men had been ruined in that poker game.

Ed went there occasionally when he couldn't find anything more exciting. He was known on the vaudeville stage as The Masked Marksman, and under that stage name he had taken the country by storm, packing the houses wherever he appeared. His specialty was an acrobatic juggling number, using heavy .45 caliber revolvers similar to the two which he now carried in his armpit holsters, instead of the usual dumbbells that were the concomitants of the average juggling act. The feats of marksmanship which he performed on the stage while juggling those revolvers were little short of miraculous. He was billed:


THE MAN WHO CAN MAKE GUNS TALK!


But he craved excitement, thrills, danger. So he dabbled in crime investigation on the side. He now had licenses to operate as a private detective in a dozen States, and he had chalked up some remarkable successes to his credit in the past few years. Little by little, it become known in the theatrical world that Ed Race could be depended upon to get you out of a jam, if you ever found yourself behind the eight ball. And it was just such a mission that brought Ed Race down here, walking past The Thirteen Club this evening.

He didn't stop at the entrance, but went on up the street, rounded the corner.

Joe Dunstan and Norma Maitland were waiting for him in Dunstan's expensive, high-powered sedan, parked at the curb a few feet down from the corner.

Norma Maitland had phoned Ed a half hour ago, asking him to meet them around the corner from The Thirteen Club. It was urgent, she said.


ED had known Norma Maitland for years now, and took an almost fatherly interest in her. She was pretty, in a healthy, blond sort of way. Her softly modulated, deep-throated contralto voice had won her headline prominence in the vaudeville circuit, and she had appeared on many bills together with Ed. Now she was in trouble, apparently, and Ed hadn't hesitated to come the minute she called.

Joe Dunstan, who had been sitting behind the wheel beside Norma, got out and shook hands with Ed. He said: "It's damn nice of you to come, Race. I wanted to handle this myself, but Norma insisted."

Ed grunted, said: "You know I'd have been sore if you hadn't let me come. What's it all about?"

Norma Maitland was twisting a handkerchief in her hands. "It's about my brother, Harry. I—I'm afraid he's gotten himself into a terrible spot."

Dunstan put a hand on her shoulder, said soothingly: "Let me tell him, Norma."

She pecked at her eyes with the handkerchief, said huskily: "All right, Joe."

Dunstan turned to Ed. "Look, Race. You know I want to marry Norma. I've been trying for three years now, and she hasn't made up her mind yet. Well, considering that she will, eventually, naturally I look on Harry almost as my brother-in-law. You know he works in the Gerard Bank. Well, I'll put it brutally—he's embezzled forty thousand dollars—and every nickel of it he's lost in The Thirteen Club around the corner here!"

Ed whistled. "Forty grand! That's a hell of a lot of dough!"

"Sure it is," Dunstan went on eagerly, "but not to me. I could pay it out and I wouldn't miss it. I want Norma to let me make it good for Harry, but she won't allow it. You've known her a long time, Race. Tell her it's all right."

Ed looked puzzled. "Let me get this straight, Joe. Why did you have me meet you here?"

Norma said brokenly: "Because Harry's in there now!" She turned away from him suddenly, covered her face with her hands.

Dunstan started to put an arm around her shoulders consolingly, but Ed yanked him by the sleeve, said: "Let her cry, Joe. It'll do her good. You can tell me all about this business. What's Harry doing in there now?"


JOE DUNSTAN led him away a few feet, out of Norma's hearing. "I was over at Norma's house this evening, and Harry came in. He looked all wrought up, and his face was flushed and excited. They went in the next room, but Harry talked so loud I couldn't help hearing everything he said. Norma hadn't suspected a thing before. Harry told her about the forty thousand he'd embezzled and lost there, and then—" Dunstan paused, lowered his voice even more—"he told her he had thirty thousand more in his pocket that he'd taken today. He was going down to The Thirteen Club and make one last try to recoup. And if he didn't, he said he was going to blow his brains out. The reason why he was telling her about it, was because he wanted her to use the proceeds of his insurance money to reimburse the Gerard Bank!"

Ed said thoughtfully: "Harry's only a kid. He hasn't got a chance with the sharks that play there—even if the game's on the level. And I'm pretty sure The Thirteen Club doesn't make its profit on percentage alone."

"That's what I say!" Dunstan exclaimed eagerly. "They'll take the thirty thousand away from him, too, and he'll bump himself off!"

"The way I get it," Ed ruminated, "it's my job to go in there and take him out."

Norma had stopped sobbing. She had come up to them now, and she put an impulsive hand on Ed's arm. "Would you, Ed?"

Ed smiled. "Of course I will, Norma."

"And then," Joe Dunstan broke in, "I want Norma to let me make up Harry's shortage."

Norma Maitland looked pleadingly at Dunstan. "Please, Joe, don't insist on that. I—I couldn't let you—"

She stopped as a maroon limousine with a plug-ugly chauffeur, and two men in the rear, sped past them, rounded the corner toward The Thirteen Club. The thing that had attracted her attention was the fact that one of the two men in the interior had been leaning forward, staring at them out of the window. His face was long and sallow under a black slouch hat; his mouth was a thin gash of cold cruelty.

She shuddered. "That man—he stared at me so queerly—"

"I know him," Ed muttered. "He's Nick Savoldi, manager of the Club; just a figurehead for the real owner, but supposed to be pretty tough all by himself. I think I'll go in and have a talk with Nick."

"Wait," Joe Dunstan broke in thoughtfully. "I know Nick, too. I've been in the place myself, and I once did Savoldi a favor." He glanced at Ed deprecatingly. "You'd only shoot the place up, perhaps get yourself in a jam, and bring the cops down. We can't afford that—Harry might be picked up, and his shortage exposed before we could cover it."

Ed shrugged. "What do you suggest, Joe?"

"Let me go in first, Race. Maybe I can do more with Savoldi—you know—'A kind word turneth away wrath.' If I don't come out in, say, a half hour, you come in after me. Got a membership card?"

Ed nodded. "Go ahead."

He watched Dunstan leave them, turn the corner. Norma Maitland gripped his arm. "Oh, Ed, I appreciate everything Joe is doing, but I'd rather you could have taken care of it. If Joe puts up that money, gets Harry out of this jam, I—I'll feel—obligated—"

"You mean you'll have to marry him?"

"Y-yes."

"And you'd rather not?"

"I—I don't know, Ed. Joe's nice; he's been awfully attentive, and all that. But, somehow, I don't think I could give up the vaudeville stage." She turned her gaze toward him. "You know how I feel, Ed. You're a trouper yourself."

Ed Race pressed her arm, smiled a slow smile of understanding. "It gets in your blood, doesn't it, Norma? I—"


FROM around the corner came a mad outcry, the thud of a fist against flesh and bone, the wild scream of a youth: "Damn you, damn you! Let me in again. Give me a chance!"

Norma Maitland's eyes widened in terrified surprise. "That's Harry. I know his voice!"

Ed was already speeding around the corner. The sight that met his eyes was not an unusual one. It was the spectacle of an inebriated youth being bounced from a more or less exclusive establishment where he had made a nuisance of himself.

The youth was Harry Maitland. And the door of The thirteen Club was just closing on the gaunt visage of Nick Savoldi, who had apparently participated in the bouncing.

Harry Maitland lay on the sidewalk, stirring weakly. Beside him stood the thug whom Ed Race had seen in the limousine with Savoldi. He had a square face and a flat nose, looked as if he might at one time have been a second-rate boxer. His knuckles were gnarled and twisted.

At the moment, however, he wasn't using his knuckles; he was directing a vicious kick at the limp body of Harry Maitland. The kick landed in young Maitland's ribs, tearing the breath out of the lad, leaving him white and gasping on the ground.

Ed reached the thug's side, swung his left fist up in a short, compact arc that landed flush on the other's chin, rocked him backward, and sent him sprawling against the wall of The Thirteen Club.

The blow had been a hard one, delivered with the impetus of Ed's run added to the weight of his body and the heft of his broad shoulders. Ed had meant it to be a knockout, hadn't cared if it did a whole lot of harm. He had seen that vicious kick.

But the thug was used to taking them on the chin. He reeled, splayed his hands out against the wall for support, and glared at Ed. Then his hand went for a gun. He was fast, but compared to the swift, lightning-like motion of Ed's hand, he resembled a snail. Ed had practiced that draw for years, performed it every night on the stage.

As if by legerdemain, one of his heavy forty-five caliber revolvers seemed to have materialized out of thin air.

Ed swept it up in a swift motion, struck the thug's wrist with the barrel while his ham-like paw was still reaching into his breast pocket. There was the sound of snapping bone, and the thug dropped his arm, the hand hanging limp, his face suddenly twisted, sweating with the pain of a broken wrist.

Ed grinned thinly, stepped back a pace so that he stood over Harry Maitland. He kept his revolver leveled, still covering the thug, growled out of the corner of his mouth to the boy: "You all right, Harry? Can you get up?"

Young Maitland groaned, managed to struggle to his feet. He murmured weakly:

"Ed! Those guys trimmed me, threw me out. My God, I had thirty thousand dollars, and I dropped all but five hundred. They wouldn't let me play any more, wouldn't give me a chance—"

"Shut up!" Ed snapped, still keeping his eyes on the thug, who was holding his injured wrist with his other hand, glaring murderously.

"What's your name, gorilla?" Ed asked him.

"Go to hell! I'll have your hide for this!"

"His name is Louie, Ed," the boy spoke up. "That's the name I know him by. He's Nick Savoldi's bodyguard."

"What happened to Joe Dunstan?" Ed asked. "He went in there after you a few minutes ago."

"Joe is there, arguing with Savoldi. But Savoldi wouldn't listen to him. He ordered me thrown out anyway."

Ed's lips tightened, his eyes grew grim. "All right, Louie," he rapped out at the gorilla, "we're all going inside. I guess I better talk to your boss."

Louie's eyes narrowed, his teeth showed in a snarl. "That's what you say. Try and get in, Wise Guy!"

Ed grinned wickedly. He stepped close, whispered softly: "Look, Louie. I happen to know that the cop on this beat stays away from here all night. Your big boss, whoever he is, sees to it that he keeps at the far end of the beat."

Louie winced from the pain of his wrist, scowled. "So what, Wise Guy?"

"So there'll be nobody at all to interfere with what I'm going to do to you, pal."

He raised the revolver above the other's head. "Did you ever have your face side-swiped with the barrel of a forty-five? It hurts like hell. I can cut your map to ribbons—so it'll look like the map of Europe after the War. And that's just what I'm going to do in one minute, if you don't be a good Boy Scout, and follow orders!"

Ed stopped talking, stood tense in front of the hood, with the heavy revolver poised. His calm, cold gray eyes met those of the other, their glances locked. The cold, purposeful stare of those eyes of Ed's convinced the man he would do just what he promised.

He glanced from Ed to the Maitland boy, who stood just behind him, then back to Ed again. He licked his lips, looked up fearfully at the gun barrel, lowered his eyes, and asked: "What—you want me to do?"

Ed grinned. "That's better. You're going to ring the bell of this place, and I'm going to stand to one side. When the doorman opens the grill, you'll tell him everything is jake, you've got rid of the kid, and to let you in. Then when he opens the door, I'll come in with you. After that you can stay or scram—it's all the same to me. But I advise you to scram."

Louie licked his lips again. "Savoldi seen you around the corner with that dame. He gave strict orders not to let you in. He'd have my hide—"

"The minute is up," Ed told him coldly. His arm, which held the revolver, stiffened.

"Wait!" Louie cried, frightened. "Don't slash me, mister. I'll do it!"

Ed nodded. "You're smart."

He sidestepped, dragged the boy along with him. His eye caught sight of Norma Maitland, standing anxiously near the corner. She had been watching the tableau tensely. Now she came running over, folded her brother in her arms. "Harry, Harry. Are you hurt?"

The boy twisted out of her embrace, his handsome young features contorted into a sullen expression. "Didn't I tell you not to mix in this, Norma? You'll only get Ed and Joe in trouble. Savoldi's in there, and he's a killer. You should've left me alone!"

Ed kept his eyes on Louie, said over his shoulder, "Give me that five hundred you have left, Harry."

"What for?"

"Give it to me, quick!"

Under that whiplash command the boy's sullenness faded. He produced a roll of bills from his pocket, handed them over.

"Now," Ed ordered the girl, "take your brother away from here, Norma. I'm going in there and see what's happened to Joe; also to see what I can do with Savoldi."

But Norma Maitland surprised him. "We're not going away, Ed! Harry and I aren't going to let you and Joe fight our battles for us alone. We're going in with you!"

Ed recognized that tone. There was no use arguing with Norma Maitland when she got stubborn—and they didn't have all night, either. He shrugged, said: "Have it your way, Norma."

He said to Louie: "All right, gorilla. Ring the bell!"

He drew Norma and the boy close to the wall, while Louie, under the threat of the revolver, put his finger on the button just below the metal plaque which bore the name of the club.

Somewhere inside, a bell jangled. In a moment, the little grilled peephole opened; an eye stared out.

Louie hesitated, and Ed poked him in the side with the gun. Louie said: "It's all right, Tiny. I got rid of the kid. Let's get in."

There was a grunt, the peephole closed, and the heavy door swung open. Ed stepped quickly into the doorway, slamming into Louie with his shoulder so as to send him sprawling on the sidewalk. He stood aside while Norma and her brother ran in past him. Then he entered the vestibule, closed the door behind him.

A big man, who must have weighed all of two hundred and ten pounds, stared at them out of little pin point eyes that were almost buried in folds of fat. His triple chin wagged in astonishment.

"What the hell's this?"

He didn't have time to ask any more, because Ed moved close, clubbing his revolver. He said: "It's all about this, Tiny," and brought the leaded butt down on the fat man's temple in a smashing blow.

Tiny's eyes disappeared entirely, his mouth dropped open, letting his chins sag. He collapsed gently to the floor.

Ed motioned Norma and Harry to follow him, stepped through the vestibule into a wide foyer. The floor was carpeted with an expensive hooked rug that must have cost at least a thousand dollars. The place was furnished handsomely and lavishly. Apparently the owner had no fear of a police raid, for he had put plenty of money into the place.

To the left, a staircase led upward. Ed said to Norma over his shoulder: "Upstairs is where they play. Savoldi's office is down here. You wait—"

He stopped short as a door further down in the hall, which led off the foyer, opened abruptly.

Nick Savoldi appeared, started to walk in their direction, toward the staircase. Before he had taken more than two steps, he saw Ed, with Norma and Harry. He jerked to a stop; his hand flashed toward his armpit.

But Ed covered him with the big forty-five. "Hold it just like that, Savoldi!"

Savoldi's gaunt face betrayed nothing of his thoughts. Only his eyes burned intensely. He glanced at Harry Maitland, then looked back at Ed. "What's the trouble, Mr. Race?" he asked innocently.

Ed advanced along the hall, holding the gun level. He said: "Back up into your room again, Nick."

Savoldi said: "Sure, sure, Mr. Race. But you don't need that gun. What's the big idea?"

He was backing into the room even as he talked. Ed's revolver was poking into his chest. Norma and Harry followed them in, and Norma shut the door.


SAVOLDI'S office had a row of filing cabinets against one wall, a door which connected with the next room on the opposite wall. Near the window was a rich mahogany desk upon which rested a typewriter and two telephones. Ed knew that one of these was an outside wire; the other was the house phone.

Savoldi backed up to his desk, leaned against it, and wheezed: "But I don't understand, Mr. Race—"

"What's happened to Joe Dunstan?" Ed demanded.

Savoldi shrugged. "We—er—had a little argument. He left in a huff."

"I was in the street all the time," Ed grated, "and I didn't see him come out."

Savoldi smiled broadly, shrugged. "We have more than one entrance, as you your self know, Mr. Race. But—"

"All right. Let that rest. Let's talk about Harry Maitland, here. The kid's a good friend of mine. He dropped seventy grand here in the past few weeks, and he's in one hell of a jam."

There was a nasty flicker in Savoldi's eyes. His upper lip quirked in a half sneer. "That is not my fault, Mr. Race. We cannot wet-nurse our clients. The young man insisted upon playing in the game with the five-hundred-dollar chips, and he had the money—so what were we going to do?"

Ed whistled. "Five-hundred-buck chips!"

He glanced sideways at Harry Maitland, who lowered his eyes. "I'm sorry, Ed," the boy whispered. "I was a damn' fool." He raised his head, thrust out his chin. "But I'll take my medicine. There's nothing you can do to help me. I lost the money gambling, and I wouldn't take it back even if Savoldi wanted to give it to me."

Norma put a hand on her brother's shoulder. "I—I think I know where I can get the money for you to make up your shortage, Harry. Let's get out of here—" Her voice broke.

Ed put his gun away. "I'm sorry I barged in in this way, Savoldi. I guess you're right. The kid played and lost. You're not in business for your health."

Savoldi relaxed slightly at sight of the disappearing gun. He said more eagerly: "It's all right, Mr. Race. Many of us go off the handle that way. I'm sorry the boy was treated so rough before, but Louie had to put him out. He was raising too much of a disturbance, and you know how quiet this place is ordinarily."

Savoldi went to the door, held it open for them. "I wish there was something I could do," he went on glibly, "but you know I'm not the boss. And I couldn't give Mr. Maitland seventy grand out of my own pocket. I only work here on a salary."

Ed suddenly snapped his fingers. "Wait a minute. I've got a hunch."

He strode across to the desk, drew a checkbook from his pocket, and wrote out a check for five thousand dollars. He thrust it at Savoldi.

"I'm going to take a whirl at the poker table. Give me chips for that—five hundred dollar ones!"

Savoldi took the check hesitantly. "You—never played that high before, Mr. Race."

"I'm doing it now."

"Well—"

"Well, what? Are you afraid of the check?"

"Oh, no, Mr. Race, not at all. Your check is good here any day. Savoldi shrugged. "It's okay with me, Mr. Race."

He went around to the front of the desk, took a steel strongbox out of the top drawer, and from it extracted ten yellow, metal chips which he handed to Ed.

"There you are, sir. Five thousand dollars. I'm afraid it won't go far in that game though."

Ed took the chips without saying anything, turned to Norma and Harry Maitland. "You stay down here, Norma. Women aren't allowed upstairs. You, Harry, come up with me. You're going to watch behind my chair while I play, and see that nothing is pulled off."

Before Savoldi or Norma could say anything, Ed had pushed Harry Maitland out of the room, rushed him upstairs.


THERE were five or six rooms on the upper floor. Ed was familiar with the layout. One room was a combination rest and smoking room, with checker boards and a ping-pong table. Recently a bar had been installed there, and members could get anything they wanted to eat or drink without paying a cent. In the other rooms there were always games going on, and you could pick your own stakes. There was a game with fifty-cent chips, one with dollar and two-dollar chips, another where the smallest chips were fifty-dollar denomination, and then the fourth room, where only the elite played, with five-hundred-dollar chips. You had to go through the barroom to get to all the games.

The bartender raised his eyebrows in astonishment as he saw Ed and Harry Maitland make for the door of the last room.

"Excuse me, Mr. Race," he called out.

"That's the five hundred"

"It's all right, Sam," Ed told him. "We're taking a special fling tonight."

Ed opened the door, pushed Harry Maitland through. Four men were sitting around a table, tense, tight-lipped. A house dealer was distributing cards. There was an air of quiet tension in this room, and no conversation was made except for the purposefully monotonous tones of the players in announcing their bets.

Ed knew two of the four players. They were professional gamblers of not too savory reputation. Their names were Farrell and Buckner. The other two, though Ed had seen them around town, were unknown to him by name. They were the playboy type, evidently wealthy suckers; and it was apparent that Farrell and Buckner were finding them easy prey, judging by their stacks of chips.

Ed had no doubt that the two gamblers were working under some sort of tacit arrangement whereby they split their profits with the house.

Farrell looked up from his cards, said: "Oh, hello, Maitland! You back?" Then he saw Ed, exclaimed: "Well, Mr. Race! You joining us big-timers?"

Ed pulled up a chair between Farrell and Buckner, who spread out to make room for him. "If you don't mind," he said pleasantly. "I feel lucky tonight."

Farrell introduced him to the other two men. "Meet—er—Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones." He grinned. "Names don't mean anything here. The fact that we're allowed to play means that we're okay."

Ed put his chips on the table, and the house man dealt him in. "We're playing open blind," Farrell told him. "Blind opener can buy four cards, and re-raise."

Ed nodded. "Okay by me." He noted that "Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones" were a bit nervous, sitting in strained attitudes. Both had long glasses of whiskey-and-soda beside them, from which they drank.

Buckner was first, and opened blind for five hundred, throwing in his chip carelessly. Mr. Smith stayed, after studying his cards carefully, and Mr. Jones dropped out. Buckner was next. He squeezed his cards, squinted at them, and threw in two chips. "Up five hundred!" he said laconically.

Ed had already looked at his cards. He had three aces. "All the cards in the game?" he asked.

"No, sir," the dealer told him. "Sorry I didn't mention it before. The two's, three's and four's are out."

Ed saw Buckner's raise, put in two chips. With the two's, three's and four's out, three aces wouldn't be a top hand. The cards generally ran high when the low ones were out, and Buckner might have a straight on the go. However, three aces had to be played.

Farrell pushed in two chips.

"I'll raise it again," he said carelessly.

Mr. Smith looked troubled, but put in his two chips. Buckner said pleasantly: "Sorry, but it'll cost you another chip. I'm re-raising."

Ed's eyes narrowed. He recognized the stunt. He and Smith were sandwiched in between these two professionals, who were boosting the pot to make a killing.

He said nothing, though, saw the two raises, watched Farrell and Smith put their money in.

Buckner grinned. "Well, I guess it's a real pot now. Let's buy cards."

Farrell said: "I'll take three."

Ed frowned. "You had your nerve re-raising on a pair."

Farrell shrugged. "Buckner's bluffing. He probably hasn't got a thing."

Mr. Smith drew two cards, and Ed figured him for three of a kind, or else he wouldn't have stayed. Ed's aces were better than Smith's holding.

The dealer looked inquiringly at Buckner, who said: "I just want one card."

Ed's eyes swiveled to the dealer just in time to see him slip a card from the bottom of the deck.

The movement of Ed's hand was so swift that it took them all by surprise. It clamped tightly over the dealer's wrist, gripping it cruelly, holding him so that the bottom card was half in and half out of the deck. The dealer was caught cold.

"Well," Ed said softly, "this explains a lot." He twisted the dealer's wrist so that the card fell to the table. It was the king of spades.

The dealer's face was white, his eyes searching in every direction for escape. Ed let him go, swung on Buckner. "Let's see your cards!" he ordered.

Buckner glared at him. "I demand the pot!" he spluttered. "You broke it up when I was winning! I—"

Ed reached up, gripped him by the lapel of his coat. "Are you going to show me those cards?" he asked.

"Let go of me!" Buckner rasped. Then he raised his voice, shouted: "Nick! Help!"

He got no further. Ed's fist came up in a flashing blow that caught him on the chin, lifted him from the floor. In the same instant Ed sidestepped, whirled, his left hand darting to his armpit holster. It came out with one of the forty-fives, and he stood there smiling coldly, covering Farrell and the dealer. The dealer hadn't moved, but Farrell was raising a small automatic which had come out of his pocket.

Farrell's jaw dropped open as he realized he was staring into the muzzle of a forty-five caliber revolver, less than a foot from his face. He let go of the automatic, allowed it to drop to the floor, and shouted: "Don't shoot!"

Ed grinned, stooped and picked up the automatic, which he pocketed. He threw a glance toward the door, where young Maitland was standing. "Lock the door, Harry," he ordered.

He didn't wait to see that he was obeyed, but walked around and frisked the dealer, who submitted meekly. Ed took from his hip pocket a small twenty-two caliber pistol.

Then he backed away, bent beside Buckner, and picked up the five cards which the gambler had dropped when he was knocked out.

Ed laid them on the table, face up, and said to Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones: "That'll show you how your money went."

The five cards consisted of three kings, a jack and a nine.

"Buckner was buying only one card," Ed explained to them. "Ordinarily nobody would keep a jack for a heeler. But Buckner knew what he was going to buy; he knew he'd get a fourth king. I'd probably have got a full house, aces up, and he expected me to bet my head off against his four kings!"

Mr. Smith glared at Farrell and the dealer. Jones exploded: "Thirty grand I've dropped here in the last few months—in this gentleman's game! I want my money back!"

Farrell shrank from the table, glanced at the dealer. The dealer cleared his throat, said cautiously: "Look, Mr. Race—maybe if we go down and see Nick, he will square things up. I did wrong, but I had to deal 'em like that, or I'd be out of a job. I think you can make Nick pony up."

Ed nodded grimly. "You bet I'll make Nick pony up. Let's go." He motioned toward the door. "And don't try anything. I feel a little sore."


HARRY MAITLAND unlocked the door, and they filed out, Farrell and the dealer first, then Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones. Ed pushed Harry out next, then followed, leaving Buckner still out on the floor.

The barroom was deserted; the bartender gone. Harry Maitland whispered: "He must have heard the ruckus, and gone down to warn Nick."

Ed said nothing, shepherded his company down to the ground floor and into Nick's office.

Norma Maitland wasn't there. But Nick Savoldi was, with the bartender. Neither had a gun. The bartender was standing beside Nick's desk, and Nick was sitting quietly, his hands on the glass top.

He spoke quickly, before Ed had a chance to say anything. "I think we can fix this up, Mr. Race. These clucks should have known enough to lay off while you were in the game."

Ed closed the door behind him, stood with his back to it. He looked at Mr. Jones. "How much have you lost in this place?"

Mr. Jones answered promptly. "Twelve thousand, three hundred dollars. I ought to get interest on it, too!"

"Okay," said Ed. He swung on Savoldi. "That's twenty for Smith, twelve-three for Jones, and a hundred thousand even thousand, three hundred."

Nick smiled ingratiatingly. "If you'll wait just a few minutes, I think I can fix for Harry Maitland. A hundred and thirty everything up."

"Where's Miss Maitland?" Ed asked.

"She—er—left, Mr. Race. "She—"

Ed took a long step over to the desk, elbowed the bartender out of the way. "Where's Miss Maitland?" he repeated. "I'll give you one minute to tell me what you've done with her!"

Savoldi gulped, said very low: "She's in the next room." He jerked his head toward the connecting door at the left. "With the boss."

Ed whirled, handed his revolver to Harry Maitland. "Cover these birds," he rapped. "And look out for the trigger; it goes off if you touch it."

He turned, started for the connecting door. Just then it opened a crack, and the muzzle of a gun was stuck out. An eye appeared at the crack behind the gun.

Ed stopped short in midstride. He was close to Farrell. He gripped the gambler by the arm, hurled him at the crack in the door just as the gun spat. Farrell uttered a scream, staggered backward with a bullet in his shoulder.

In that second, Ed had drawn his second revolver from the other shoulder holster. The room rocked to the heavy explosion of the big forty-five. The gun disappeared from the crack in the door, as did the eye behind it.

Nick Savoldi started up from behind the desk, shouting: "He's killed the boss!" Nick reached into the open drawer beside him, but Harry Maitland yelled: "Sit still, Savoldi!"

Nick dropped back into the chair, took his hand away from the drawer. He glared at young Maitland.

Ed grinned, said: "Good stuff, Harry. Hold 'em like that," and sprang through the connecting door. A body lay in the next room on the floor, close to the door, face down.


NORMA MAITLAND lay on a couch at the far end. She had been gagged and blindfolded, and her hands tied behind her. She was struggling, kicking desperately.

Ed sprang over the body on the floor, untied her bonds. She sat up, smiled. "You took an awful long time, Ed," she said.

He helped her up, then walked over to the body of the man he had shot, turned it over. Norma uttered a gasp. "Joe Dunstan!" she exclaimed.

"That's right," Ed said bitterly. "He was the real boss of The Thirteen Club. He planned to get your brother in a hole, and then help him out with the money he took from the kid in his crooked game. That's how he figured on getting you to marry him!"

He took her by the arm, led her into the next room. "Your boss is dead, Nick," he informed Savoldi. "You've got nobody to protect you with the cops any more. When they get here it's going to be pretty hot for you."

Savoldi's face had gone a pasty yellow.

"You could make it easier for yourself."

"How?" Savoldi asked hoarsely.

"By opening up that safe in back of you, and reimbursing these gentlemen."

Savoldi got up from the desk. "I'll do it, Mr. Race," he said. "You—you'll put in a good word for me, won't you? You stand in well with the department."

"I'll do that," Ed promised.

He watched grimly while Savoldi opened the safe, took out a huge stack of currency, and began counting it out.

Norma Maitland looked up at him with wet eyes. "Ed," she murmured, "You're a darling!"

Ed grinned down at her, patted her on the back. "Don't mention it to a soul!"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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