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EMILE C. TEPPERMAN

ENCORE WITH DEATH!

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First published in The Spider, December 1940

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version date: 2020-03-26
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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The Spider, December 1940, with "Encore With Death!"



Ed Race, the Masked Marksman, had two hours in which to save a girl's life twice, uncover and defeat the blood-thirsty plot of Manhattan's most dangerous criminal—and reach the theatre in time for his curtain call!



TABLE OF CONTENTS


CHAPTER 1. — LITTLE GIRL LOST

ED RACE felt good behind the wheel of his new Buick coupé, as he drove the glittering car down Forty-fourth Street, past the Clyde Theatre, where his name appeared in bright electric lights:


The Masked Marksman
The Man Who Can Make Guns Talk!


Tonight was to be his last appearance of the season at the Clyde, then he was going south for a six-weeks' run at the Partages Theatre in Miami. He went on at ten-thirty, and it was only eight o'clock now, so there was two and a half hours to kill. He drove another block west, and swung into a parking lot, run by old Jock Meaney, an ex-vaudeville trouper.

As he pulled up to the entrance, a man stepped from behind a car and walked directly in front of him. Ed slammed on the brakes and came to an abrupt halt.

Ed's eyes narrowed as he recognized the man he had almost run down. He had seen that thin-lipped, Mephistophelian face around town frequently. Gus LeClerc was as dangerous a man as could be found in New York. The police—unofficially—had several murders chalked up to his credit.

LeClerc's face twisted viciously as he jumped backward, out of the way. His muddy eyes, set deep in his head, flicked over toward Ed, and he stepped close to the car.

"Ah!" he said. "It is my friend Monsieur Race who 'ave try to kill me!"

"Not your friend," Ed said stiffly. "Don't call me your friend."

LeClerc shrugged. "'Ave it as you will. But it is true that you 'ave try to kill me?"

"No," Ed told him. "If I wanted to kill you, I'd do it right. I wouldn't miss."

"Ah, yes!" LeClerc smiled ironically. "I 'ave forget that you are the so famous Masked Marksman. With your revolvers, you can 'it a quarter—"

"A dime," Ed corrected.

LeClerc smiled thinly. "Let it be a dime. I believe you. I 'ave seen your act. But it is also true, Monsieur Race, that I am a marksman. I 'ave serve in La Legion Étrangère—"

"I'm not interested," Ed said coldly. "Good bye."

LeClerc's lip twitched spasmodically. "Good bye, Monsieur Race. I 'ope—for your sake—that it was but an accident."

Before Ed could reply, LeClerc swung on his heel and walked swiftly away.


ED shrugged, and drove the car into the lot. Old Jock Meaney waved to him, and came out of the little shanty at the gate. His grizzled, weather-beaten old face was mantled with a cloak of indignation.

"I saw that, Eddie," he said. "He certainly got sore over nothing. You're lucky he didn't pull a gun on you. That LeClerc is the meanest cuss in town."

"Is he a regular customer?" Ed asked.

Jock Meaney shook his head. "He's just been parking these last three or four days. See that big Cadillac over there? It's his." Meaney grinned. "There's an empty space next to it, that you can have, Eddie. But be careful, don't scrape his fender. He's liable to cut your throat."

Ed smiled, and headed into the space alongside the Cadillac.

He got out and locked the Buick. He was between his own car and the Cadillac, and as he turned to walk out, he heard a peculiar muffled, thumping noise from the Cadillac. He stopped, and glanced inside.

"I'll be damned!" he muttered.

A figure was huddled down on the floor, in the rear. It was a girl, tied hand and foot, her knees yanked up almost to her chin. She was making muffled and ineffectual noises by banging the heels of her slippers against the floor, but her body was so cramped that she couldn't get any force into the blows. It was only by the merest chance that Ed had heard her.

She stared up at him, and he saw that she was gagged, too. Her eyes were dark, and as big as saucers, and her face was a white, frightened blob.

Ed seized the nearest door handle, and twisted. It was locked. He cursed under his breath, and tried the other three doors in turn. They were also locked. The windows were all screwed up tight, but the cowl ventilator was open to allow a little air to enter the interior, so the girl wouldn't suffocate.

Ed was around on the other side of the car now, and he saw that she had twisted herself halfway around, to follow his progress. And he also saw now, that it was not rope with which she was tied, but strips of her own dress. They were of some bright red material, which had been twisted into rope. The dress had evidently been ripped off her, for her only attire consisted of a pink brassiere and a pair of pink panties.


"I'LL be damned!" Ed repeated. He motioned to the girl to wait, and hurried around to his own car. He unlocked it again, and delved into the tool box. He came up with a heavy tire wrench. Gripping it tightly, he smashed at the left front window. The glass cracked, and then broke. In a moment Ed had the back door open, and was yanking the gag from the girl's mouth. She was frightened, but she had a lot of poise and self-command. She flashed him a trembling smile and said, "Thanks, and have you got something to cover me with?"

Ed grinned and nodded. He took out his pocket knife and ripped through the bonds on her legs and arms, then he reached back into his own car and pulled out the auto robe. He handed it to her.

"That ought to cover you—and keep you warm, too."

She wrapped it quickly around her, and stumbled out of the car, looking like an Eskimo squaw.

The noise of the breaking glass had brought old Jock Meaney on the run. He stood there, his mouth open, staring from Ed to the girl.

"Jumping Jeepers!" he whispered. "Was she locked in LeClerc's car?"

Ed nodded. "Better call the cops, Jock—"

"Wait!" said the girl. She had regained a good deal of her composure, but her lower lip was still trembling just a little. "I—would rather you didn't call the police!" she added.

Jock Meaney looked incredulous. "Not call the police! After LeClerc leaves you tied up in the back of his car! Nothing doing, sister. This is too good a chance to get that skunk. We'll make a complaint about him—"

"No!" she said firmly. "Please don't. There—there's nothing to complain about!"

"Nothing to complain about!" Ed exclaimed, giving her a queer glance. "What about leaving you tied up in the car?"

She looked at him from under suddenly lowered eyelids.

"Oh, that! It was only a—joke. Mr. LeClerc had nothing to do with it!"

Jock Meaney snorted. "That's the way with everything LeClerc does! Even his victims are too scared to testify against him!"

Ed shrugged. "All right, young lady. You're the only one who can make the complaint against him. If you feel that everything is all right—why that's fine. I'm sorry I intruded. If I'd known you were sitting tied up in there, of your own free will—"

"No, no." She put an impulsive hand forward to touch his arm, and the auto robe almost slipped off her bare shoulder. She quickly snatched at it, and covered herself again.

"Please—don't think I'm ungrateful. I—it's just impossible for me to go to the police." There was a film of moisture over her eyes. "If you would just take me where I can buy a dress. I have no money, but if you'd lend me some—I have a ring I could let you hold for security."

From her finger she removed a glittering ring which was set with small stones all around.

"I see," Ed said. "All right, get in my car. I'll take you to a store."

He helped her into the Buick, and then went around to the other side to get in under the wheel. Jock Meaney shook his head doubtfully. "I don't like it, Eddie. If you ask me, I think she's in as deep as LeClerc, in something nasty. Else why wouldn't she want the police?"


CHAPTER 2. — THE LADY VANISHES

"THAT'S what I intend to find out," Ed told him. Ed climbed in beside the girl, and backed the Buick out of the space, then swung it down the parking lot toward the gate. He swung west on Forty-fourth, and headed toward Eighth Avenue.

"Where do you want to buy this dress?" he asked, glancing sideways at the girl.

"There's a small dress shop in the Hotel Durham." She was playing nervously with the diamond ring, which Ed had not taken. The auto robe had fallen open, and was hanging loosely over her shoulders.

"Better pull that robe together," Ed advised. "If we pass a traffic cop, he'll think it queer—"

She flushed, and swiftly covered herself. Then she turned impulsively to Ed.

"Believe me, I'm awfully grateful to you for getting me out of there—much more grateful than I seem. And I'm sorry I dragged you into this. LeClerc is a killer. He's mean and vicious—"

"I know him," Ed said shortly. "What did he want with you?"

Her eyes became veiled, and she turned and stared straight ahead. "I—don't know."

Ed grunted. "You don't know why he tied you up and left you in the car?"

"No."

"You mean you don't care to tell me?"

"I'd rather you didn't ask me. I'd rather you didn't mix into this any more than you have to. After I get the dress, let me give you this ring, and go away. Forget what's happened."

Ed laughed grimly. "You're in trouble, young lady, and you need help. You're going to get it from me—whether you want it or not. What's your name?"

She hesitated a moment, then said, "Joyce."

"Joyce what?"

"Joyce—Carter."

Ed smiled. "Why don't you make it Joyce Smith, or Joyce Jones. They're easier to remember than Carter."

"You don't believe I'm telling you the truth?"

"No. You're scared out of your wits right now, and you're afraid to trust anybody—"


IMPULSIVELY, she brushed aside the auto robe, and put a slim hand on his arm. "Please—don't believe that! I'd trust you with my life. It—it's only that I don't want to repay your kindness by dragging you into something that may mean your death!"

"Why are you so frightened of Gus LeClerc?" Ed demanded. "He's only a man."

She shuddered. "You don't know LeClerc."

Ed shrugged. He pulled the car in to the curb in front of the Durham Hotel.

"Here we are. There's the dress shop you wanted."

There was a little store with a single dress in the window, against a modernistic background. The name on the plate glass read:


LUCILLE, LTD.


It was one of those swanky, expensive dress shops, patronized only by those who had the means to pay much more than the mere intrinsic worth of a dress. This girl had automatically thought of Lucille's when pressed by emergency. Therefore, she must be one of their regular customers.

She started to open the door, then shrank back at sight of the crowds pushing along the sidewalk past the hotel. Her face flushed.

"I—I can't go in—like this!" She glanced down in sudden confusion at her unconventional covering, and pulled the robe around her once more. She looked appealingly at Ed. "Could—could you go in and buy me a dress? Anything will do, as long as it's a size twelve."

She thrust the wedding ring out at him again. "This is worth a good deal of money. If—if you could lay it out for me—"

Ed nodded. "Keep the ring. I'll get you a dress."

He opened the door on his side, and stepped out. He walked around the front of the car, and saw that she was looking at him intently. She raised a hand to call him, and he stepped up on the sidewalk, then came around to her window.

"Yes?"

She raised her eyes to his—eyes in which there was a wealth of mystery or pain.

"I—I don't even know who you are," she said, very low.

Ed smiled. "My name is Ed Race. I'm a vaudeville actor."

"Where do you live—just in case I should want to get in touch with you some time."

"The Longmont Hotel," Ed told her. "For tonight only. Then I leave for Miami. You can write to me in care of the Partages Circuit."

He turned swiftly and crossed the sidewalk to the dress shop. He stepped inside, and threw a quick glance behind him. Through the window, he saw that the girl who called herself Joyce Carter was watching him.


A TALL woman in a sheath-like black dress came over and looked him up and down appraisingly. "Is there anything I can do for you, sir?"

"I just wanted to know," Ed asked, "if you have a customer whose first name is Joyce." He took out his private detective's badge and flashed it. He very seldom used that badge. Though his Masked Marksman act brought him in enough money to live comfortably, he had long ago discovered that his over-supply of nervous energy required some other outlet besides the mere earning of a living. So he had adopted an avocation—that of criminology. He had licenses to operate as a private detective in a dozen states. He never accepted money for his services, but the theatrical fraternity knew that they could always count on him in case of trouble. The big forty-five calibre revolvers that he used in his act had seen as much service off-stage as on. He always carried two of them in the holsters strapped under his arms, and he had not exaggerated when he had told LeClerc that he could hit a dime. On the stage at the Clyde, the feature number of his act was when he juggled all six of the revolvers high in the air, then did a back somersault, coming up to his feet to catch each gun in turn as it came down, and snap a shot at a row of candles thirty feet across the stage. In ten years he had never missed one of those candles.

Now, however, his appearance was bland and courteous, and the woman gave only a passing glance at the badge. She smiled and nodded.

"Why yes, Officer. One of my best customers is Mrs. Joyce Fleming, of the Stillwell Towers. I hope she's not in any trouble with the law—"

"Does she wear a size twelve?"

"Yes—"

"Thanks," said Ed. "That's all I wanted to know!"

He brushed past the lady, and made for the exit into the hotel. She looked after him, curiously. "But I don't understand—"

"You've helped me a lot," Ed called back to her. "And you've helped Joyce Fleming, too!"

He hurried out into the hotel lobby, and made straight for the revolving doors leading out into the street. Just as he got through them, he saw his Buick moving away from the curb, with Joyce Fleming—or Carter as she called herself—at the wheel. She was giving the car plenty of gas, and it spurted away down the street.

Ed smiled, and nodded to himself. He stepped over to the curb and climbed into a taxi parked at the cab stand.

"Do you know where the Stillwell Towers is?" he asked the driver.

"Yes, sir," said the man. "On Seventy-sixth Street, just a few doors from Riverside Drive—"

"Can you make it in ten minutes—for ten dollars?"

The man grinned. "Pull out your watch, Mister—and hold on to your seat!"


CHAPTER 3. — TWO TOUGH GENTS

THERE was a half-minute to spare when the cab swung into Seventy-sixth Street from West End Avenue, and slowed up in front of the Stillwell Towers. The Buick was not there.

"How's that, Mister?" the cabby asked over his shoulder.

"Nice work," Ed said. "Now, pull around the corner."

On Riverside Drive, Ed got out and gave the man a ten dollar bill. "Put your flag up again," he told the driver, "and wait. Here's an extra ten for any waiting time you may put on the clock."

Ed opened the door and stepped out on the sidewalk. He moved over into the shadow of the building, just as the Buick came rolling around the corner. Joyce Fleming hadn't been able to make as good time as the cab driver. Ed flattened himself against the wall, and watched the Buick pull past the cab and stop in front of the Stillwell Towers.

The robe-covered figure of Joyce Fleming came out, and swiftly disappeared into the service entrance.

Ed grinned and went around the corner to the main entrance. A liveried doorman held the door open for him to enter, and inquired politely whom he wanted to see.

"Mrs. Joyce Fleming," Ed told him. "Mr. Race calling."

"Mrs. Fleming isn't in, sir," the doorman told him. "She left early this afternoon. But Mr. Fleming is in, if you care to see him. He has some visitors, though."

"A Mr. LeClerc?" Ed asked.

"Yes, sir," the attendant said, raising his eyebrows.

"Was Mr. LeClerc alone?"

"No, sir. He had two other—Dr—gentlemen with him."

"I see," Ed said softly. "Please announce me to Mr. Fleming, will you?"

The attendant nodded, and went to the wall switchboard. Watching him closely, Ed saw that he pressed the button of Apartment 14B.

In a moment a voice spoke through the annunciator. "Yes? Wat is it?"

The attendant frowned. "May I talk to Mr. Fleming, please?"

"Mr. Fleming is busy. Wat is it?"

Ed tapped the attendant on the shoulder, and shook his head urgently. The doorman got the idea, and said into the annunciator, "I—Dr—merely wanted to ask Mr. Fleming whether he wants the Times or the Tribune tomorrow morning."

"No paper tomorrow!" said the voice upstairs. "An' if any one calls, you will say that Mr. Fleming is out. Un'erstand?"

"Yes, sir," said the attendant, and hung up. He turned a worried face to Ed. "I can't make it out, sir. That was the voice of the LeClerc person. Mr. Fleming would never permit a guest to answer the house phone—"

"I think I'd better go up," Ed said, moving toward the elevator. "Have you got a pass-key to the apartment?"

"Yes, but—"

"It's all right," Ed said, flashing his badge. "I'm a private detective, working for Mrs. Fleming."

"Oh, that's different. Here you are, sir—"

The attendant took out a ring of keys and removed one.


ED took it quickly, and hurried over to the elevator. The operator had been standing in front of the cage, watching interestedly. He followed Ed into the cage, and sent it up. The car stopped at the fourteenth, and Ed got out. He moved down the hall to the door of Apartment 14B. He tried the door very gently, and found it locked.

He inserted the key the doorman had given him, and turned it carefully until the lock clicked. Then he took out the key, turned the knob once more, and inched the door open.

The apartment was ablaze with light. There was nobody in the foyer, but there was plenty of evidence that some one had been here. A big oil painting which had apparently been hanging on the foyer wall, was lying on the floor. There was a small Louis XIV desk at the left, and all the drawers had been pulled out, the contents strewn on top of the picture, and the drawers dropped carelessly. The rug had been pulled up, and was lying piled in a corner.

Ed stepped silently through the foyer, and stopped in the doorway of the library. If the foyer had given the impression that a mild storm had passed through it, the library looked as if it had been swept by a tornado. All the drapes were pulled off the windows and piled on the floor. The rug had been ripped up, and all the pictures removed from the walls. The upholstery of the sofa and the easy chairs had been cut open, and the stuffing was strewn about, some of it still floating in the air. Every book had been removed from the bookshelves, and dumped on the gutted sofa, making a pile that reached almost to the ceiling. A large writing desk near the window was lying on its side, almost entirely dismantled, as if some one had taken it apart in search of a secret compartment. In search of something very valuable...

Ed smiled grimly, and stepped into the room. There was a doorway at the right, which was closed, and another directly in front, which was open. Through the open door, Ed could see a long hall, and he heard the sounds of men moving about down at the far end. He made the mistake of choosing that door.

He was halfway across the room when a voice behind him said, "Stand still, lug. And don't turn around!"


ED RACE didn't stand still. On the stage, he was used to swift timing, and split-second reactions. By experience he knew that no man will pull the trigger of a gun while he is still talking. The time between talking and shooting may be as little as the twenty- fifth of a second. But it still represented a margin of time. In addition, swift and precipitate action always has the effect of stunning the average man into immobility for another second or two. Tests conducted among expert automobile and motorcycle drivers which Ed had seen performed in police laboratories, had shown that men will react automatically, without any delay, to expected emergencies. But an unexpected crisis will always show from one to three seconds of utter immobility, while the brain prepares the order to transmit to the muscles.

It was that precious space of "immobilized time" which Ed counted on. Almost before the man behind him had finished talking, Ed went into a back somersault such as he executed on the stage every day. He aimed himself at the man behind him, gauging the distance so as to bring himself close to the other when he came to his feet.

His body flashed through the air in a bewildering blur of motion, so that the fellow could not have shot accurately even if he had possessed immediate command of his reflex system. And before the man could swing the automatic in his hand to bear on the hurtling figure, Ed was on his feet, with a heavy, forty-five calibre revolver in his hand. He landed within arm's reach of the other man, but with his back to him, of course. But he was already twisting in the air when he came down, and swinging with his right hand in a wide arc. That hand held the revolver, and its muzzle smashed into the man's temple with a nasty crunching sound.

The man emitted a wheezing gasp, and went down without firing his automatic. His body thudded heavily on the floor, and he sprawled out, motionless.

From down the end of the hall came the voice of Gus LeClerc.

"Torpo! Is that you w'ich make the noise? Wat 'as 'appen?"

Ed didn't answer, flattened himself against the wall.

Once more LeClerc called. "Torpo! W'ere are you?"

Another voice, heavy and brusque, also at the end of the hall, growled, "Why, don't that big lug answer?"

Ed heard LeClerc say, "Go, Puggy, an' see w'at is the matter."

A moment later, heavy footfalls sounded in the hall, and then a big, husky brute of a fellow stepped into the room, brushing past Ed. Puggy stopped short, looking at the prone body of Torpo.

Ed stepped forward, and snapped the muzzle of his revolver straight up against Puggy's chin. The man's head snapped back, and his arms flailed the air. Ed grinned thinly and hit him again, this time with a left to the side of the jaw. It rocked Puggy back on his heels, but didn't knock him out. The big bruiser let out a howl of rage and leaped backward, pulling the trigger of his gun. The shot thundered in the room, and smashed into the wall behind Ed. Frantically, Puggy pulled his trigger twice more. Ed sighed, and fired from the hip. He hit Puggy in the right shoulder. The smashing impact of the forty-five calibre bullet drove the big man backward, and he tripped over the overturned desk. His head hit the floor with a smack, and he lay still.


CHAPTER 4. — DEATH TURNS HANDSPRINGS

ED whirled, and raced down the hall. He saw LeClerc's thin face peering around the doorway at the far end, then it disappeared immediately, and the door slammed shut. A key turned in the lock.

Ed stopped short, just to one side of the door, so that a bullet through the panel wouldn't find him.

"LeClerc?" he said softly.

For a moment there was silence, then the sharp cry of a woman in pain.

"Don't, you devil! Oh, God, no! No—"

It was Joyce Fleming's voice!

Ed Race uttered a cry of anger, and hurled himself against the door. He bounced back from it as if he had been a rubber ball. The door was solid oak.

A laugh sounded inside. LeClerc's voice came through.

"Good evening, Monsieur Race. As you hear, the so-beautiful Mrs. Fleming is 'ere with me. I advise you to be careful w'at you do." He paused, then said, "It is so very convenient for me. She 'ave come in the back way a few minute' ago, an' 'ave walk right into our arms. You mus' do nothing, Monsieur Race. I can make 'er scream even more!"

"What do you want of her, damn you?" Ed demanded.

LeClerc's chuckle came through the door. "Only a few minutes more, in w'ich to search this room. W'at I seek mus' be in 'ere, for it is nowhere else."

"Suppose I call the police?" Ed asked.

"Please, no!" Joyce Fleming called out piteously.

Ed backed away from the door. He frowned, puzzled. Joyce Fleming was apparently in mortal terror of LeClerc. She was in there with him, at his mercy. Yet she didn't want the police.

There was no more sound from inside that room. But suddenly, Ed heard another sound. It was like a muffled groan, coming through a gag, and it came from another room, directly opposite.

Swiftly, Ed stepped over and tried the door. It was open, and gave under his hand. He stepped in, with his revolver out. Then he drew in his breath sharply, and put the revolver away. This room, like the library, had been searched thoroughly, and with ruthless efficiency. And upon the stripped bed lay a man, bound and gagged. His eyes met Ed's, with a queer mixture of hope and fear in them.

Ed stepped across to the bed and took out his pocket knife. He slashed at the gag and the strips of bed-sheet which bound the man, and cut him loose. As he did so, he noticed that there were vicious red welts on the prisoner's arms, chest and face. He was clad only in a pair of trousers. As soon as he was free he sprang off the bed, staggering a little, and made for the door, blindly.

Ed seized his arm, swung him around.

"Wait a minute! Where do you think you're going?"

The man staggered and would have fallen if Ed hadn't supported him.

"I'm Gerald Fleming," he croaked hoarsely. "That devil, LeClerc, has Joyce in there. Got to get her out—"


ED pushed him into a chair, and stood over him. From where he was standing, he could look out into the hall, and see the door opposite, where LeClerc was barricaded. He kept his revolver in his hand, in case that door should open suddenly.

"What's LeClerc after in there?" he demanded of Fleming.

"God help me," Fleming groaned, putting his face in his hands, "It's all my fault. I've brought misery and disgrace to Joyce and the baby!"

"Baby?"

Fleming looked up wildly. "My baby boy is in there with LeClerc. I heard Joyce scream just now. She'd never scream for herself. It—it must have been something that devil did to little Jan!"

Ed felt a sudden vicious desire to get LeClerc's throat between his two hands.

Fleming rushed on impetuously: "LeClerc's two killers have been in this apartment, keeping us prisoner, all day I They tortured me this morning, but I wouldn't talk. Then Joyce came home with Jan, and they grabbed the baby. I—I gave in. But there was nothing I could tell them. I didn't know where the shoes were. They threatened to maim the baby, and Joyce made up a story out of desperation. She told LeClerc that she knew where they were, and would get them. He took her out through the service entrance, and they were away for almost an hour. He must have found out that she was lying to him, so he left her tied up in the car, and came back here to work on the baby and me. God, he'll kill Jan—"

"Take it easy," Ed told him. "LeClerc is still looking. But what's this about shoes?"

"God forgive me," said Fleming. "Five years ago, before I married Joyce, I ran a nightclub in Miami, and a man was killed there. I knew LeClerc was the murderer, and so did everybody else. But there was no proof. The man was found dead in an upstairs room, with a bullet through his right eye. I knew LeClerc had been in that room, and I saw a chance to make some easy money. My business was on the rocks, and I'd have gone bankrupt soon."

He stopped, and groaned.

Ed looked down at him dispassionately. "You tried to blackmail LeClerc!"

"God, yes. What a fool I was! I had seen LeClerc come downstairs and wipe his hands off on one of the drapes in the foyer, before he left. I looked at the drape, and there was a black smudge on it. So I went upstairs, and found the dead man. Both his shoes were off. His feet had been burned with cigarettes to make him talk about something, and then he had been killed. I reasoned that LeClerc had taken off the victim's shoes, and had dirtied his hands. I figured there'd be fingerprints on those shoes, and there were, but they were smudged. So I took the shoes and hid them, before the police came.

"I see," Ed said softly. "And then you got in touch with LeClerc and told him you had put those shoes away in a safe place, where they'd be found if anything happened to you?"

"Yes! I've collected a small fortune from him in the last five years. That's why we've lived so well. Joyce didn't know anything about it. She thought I was in the liquor business. Then, last week, LeClerc stopped sending me money. I was scared, but I called him up and tried to bluff. I said I had those shoes, with the prints, still hidden. A murder charge never dies. They could hang him for murder today, as well as five years ago.

"Sure," said Ed. "And where are the shoes?"

"I threw them away long ago. They were no good, they didn't have a legible print on them. But LeClerc thinks I've got them hidden. He won't kill us till he gets them. He'll just keep on torturing us. And we daren't call in the police. It would ruin my baby's whole life!"

"Very nice," Ed said.

Fleming looked up wildly. "Believe me, I'd gladly die if it would save my baby!"

"I know," Ed said softly. "But you should have thought of all that before you got married—and had a child."

He swung away, and went out in the hall. From the other room there came sounds of searching, an occasional curse from LeClerc.


FLEMING came out staggering after Ed. "When he finds out the shoes aren't in that room, he'll go to work on Jan. If we call the police, LeClerc will get desperate. He'll kill Joyce and the baby before he's captured! I know he will!"

Ed nodded. "The service entrance will be locked, of course, but—"

"The terrace!" Fleming exclaimed.

"What about the terrace?"

"It runs along the apartment. You can get out onto it from the library—"

Ed was in motion before Fleming finished. He sprinted down the hall to the library, and hurdled the body of Puggy, who was still lying inert, with his skull cracked, draped over the desk. Torpo, at the other side of the room, was likewise motionless.

Ed went to the French window, and yanked it open. Fleming, running erratically behind him, had picked up Puggy's gun.

"Let me go first!" he begged. "It-it's the only square thing for me to do."

"Go ahead," Ed said heartlessly. "But don't forget that LeClerc is a crack shot."

"I know, I know. I don't care."

Fleming pushed past Ed on to the terrace. Just as he got out, he stumbled and fell forward, and the gun slid out of his hand, making a terrible clatter on the concrete floor.

Immediately, the window of the bedroom next door was flung open, and LeClerc's head was poked out.

"Diable!" he shouted, and fired.

Ed was lifting his own gun to shoot, but Fleming suddenly struggled up to his knees, seizing Ed's sleeve as he did so, and jerking Ed's gun down.

LeClerc's bullet thudded into Fleming's rising body. The unfortunate man screamed, and blood spurted from his throat.

Ed ripped his sleeve from the dead man's grip, and flicked his gun up. But LeClerc had ducked inside. In a moment he reappeared, with a tow-headed baby in his arms, protecting his face. He thrust his gun out and fired past the baby's head.

Ed Race automatically went into a forward somersault. He actually felt the bullet graze the top of his shoulder. If he had been standing still, it would have pierced his heart. He twisted in the air as LeClerc shot at him again, past the baby's head. Then he was coming down, directly above the crouching figure of LeClerc. The killer had the baby in front of him, and he attempted to raise the child to protect him from a shot from above. But he wasn't fast enough. Ed fired downward, and the heavy forty-five calibre slug smashed down through the top of LeClerc's head.

Ed landed on his feet, and caught the baby as it fell out of the dead killer's arms. Little Jan seemed to be enjoying the fireworks immensely. He laughed and waved his arms as Ed picked him up. The child was hardly more than a year old. It put a chubby little hand on Ed's face, and said, "Goo!"

Ed gulped and climbed into the room. It was a shambles, like the others. Joyce Fleming was tied in a chair, her eyes wide, and straining against the bonds. When she saw the baby safe in Ed's arms, she relaxed. She took the child from him.

"Your husband is dead," he said gently. "He paid willingly with his life for what he did to you."

A police whistle shrilled somewhere outside, and some one pounded at the front door. "Open up in there!"

Joyce Fleming sobbed. "It will all come out—the whole terrible story—"

"It doesn't have to," Ed told her. "We can tell the police that LeClerc was holding the baby here to force you to raise money. We don't have to say anything about your husband's extortion racket."

Joyce Fleming's eyes were wet. "You—you're too good to be true!"

The baby giggled, and said, "Goo!"

Ed looked at his watch. He still had thirty minutes to reach the theatre in time for his act.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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