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EMILE C. TEPPERMAN

HEADLINER FROM HELL

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First published in The Spider, October 1939

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version date: 2019-10-22
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

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The Spider, October 1939, with "Headliner from Hell "



As the Masked Marksman, Ed Race's gun handling was a stage sensation. But he never had to shoot straighter or faster than the day he faced a street-corner beggar who demanded a forty- thousand-dollar handout—or Ed's corpse fried in its own fat!




ON Forty-Eighth Street, between Seventh Avenue and Eighth, stood a blind man—a cane in one hand, hat in the other. His smoked glasses were very large, and covered a considerable part of his face.

Ed Race, walking west from the Clyde Theater, saw the blind man, and started to fumble a quarter out of his pocket. Ed was a pushover for every panhandler on the Main Stem. But he made ample money to afford the countless dimes and quarters he handed out every day. On the marquee of the Clyde Theater his name showed in electric lights:


SPECIAL RETURN ENGAGEMENT

THE MASKED MARKSMAN
THE MAN WHO CAN MAKE GUNS TALK!


It is quite possible that, if the blind man had known that Ed Race was the Masked Marksman, he would have chosen some other post tonight. For it appeared that this particular blind man wasn't really looking for any handouts. He seemed nervous, anxious merely to be left alone.

Though he couldn't have seen Ed's hand with the quarter in it, he actually made an involuntary motion with his hat in such a way that the coin would drop into it quickly. And he muttered a hurried "Thanks", before the quarter hit the hat.

Now many blind men have a feeling about these things which amounts to unerring instinct. Ed knew that the blind news dealer around the corner from the Clyde could tell by the rustle of paper just which magazine a customer was picking up. But it was a little too much to expect that a man without the use of his eyes could catch a coin in his hat from the air.

Ed might not have noticed it if he had not trained himself from necessity to keep all senses constantly alert. He didn't mind being rooked out of a quarter by a bogus blind man, because he'd have given a handout to anyone. But he was interested.

He looked sharply at the mendicant. "You know," he said, "I don't think I've seen you around here before. You new on this street?"

"Yeah," said the blind man. "I'm new. Well, so long, mister. I'll be seein' you again—I mean—stop by again."

Ed laughed. "Just a little slip of the tongue, eh? I don't think you're blind at all."

He was startled by the sudden transformation in the man. A stream of vile language burst from the fellow. He dropped the hat, and his hand darted to his shoulder, under his coat. It came out with a gun. Through the smoked glasses, the fellow's eyes were now visible, glaring at Ed.

This was right up Ed Race's alley. He was a little bewildered that a phony beggar should pull a gun. But his muscles reacted with the trained split-second efficiency required of them on the stage. In his vaudeville act he daily brought the audiences to the edge of their seats with the almost uncanny speed of his draw. One of his numbers consisted of juggling six Ping-Pong balls in the air. He would get them into play, send them high up, then stand at ease as they descended. Just as the audience thought that the balls were surely going to hit the floor, two heavy .45 caliber hair-trigger revolvers appeared in Ed's hands. Each gun would blast three times—and nothing remained of the six Ping-Pong balls.

So, the bogus blind-man was shocked when he got his gun out of the shoulder holster—only to have the barrel of a huge .45 smack down on his wrist. Ed's .45 seemed to have come from nowhere...

That quick draw and downward slash with the revolver had been timed so beautifully—executed with such lightning speed—that no one passing in the street could have seen it. And then, with equal speed, the revolver slid back into Ed Race's shoulder clip.

Ed grinned down into the bewildered face of the blind man, who stared stupidly from his numb wrist to the automatic lying on the sidewalk.

Abruptly, a terrific fright seemed to grip the blind man. He ripped off the smoked glasses, dropped them—discarded the cane and hat. Then he turned and streaked like a rabbit for the corner.


ED didn't bother to halt the fleeing man. He only laughed. He stooped, picked up the other's automatic, put it in his pocket. Then he gathered up the hat, cane and glasses. He tried on the glasses, to discover how much the faker had been able to see through them. For an instant he was wearing the glasses—holding the hat and cane just as the faker had done.

And in that instant a limousine pulled to a stop at the curb. It slid up smoothly.

There was no chauffeur in it. A girl with richly tinted auburn hair and violet eyes was at the wheel. She left the motor running, opened the door—got out quickly. She had a package in her hand and came straight over to Ed. She said nothing, just looked at him queerly, with a terrible intensity in her violet eyes, and a little twitching of her sensitive lips. Then she dropped the package in the hat he was holding, and hurried back into the car.

She closed the door with a bang, threw a quick glance at him. Then she said through clenched teeth, "If you don't play fair, I swear I'll follow you to the ends of the earth!"

A moment later, gears clashed and the car leaped away.

Ed started to call after her, but she was already too far away to hear. All he could do was to note the license number—ES- 9. Then the limousine turned the corner into Seventh Avenue.

Ed scratched his head. He put the cane under his arm, took the package out of the hat, and examined it. It was wrapped in white figured paper like the stuff they put on candy boxes, and it was tied with red string. He pulled at one corner of the wrapper, uncovered the contents. Then he whistled. The package was about four inches thick, and full of hundred-dollar bills. There were between three and four hundred bills in the package—which meant that it contained between thirty and forty thousand dollars.

"A nice wad for a lady to drop into a blind beggar's hat!" Ed said out loud.

"That's right, my friend!" someone said behind him. "Not a bad wad at all!"

Ed Race swung around. There was a narrow alley between two buildings, in front of which the bogus blind beggar had been standing. In this alley now stood two men. Handkerchiefs covered the lower part of their faces, so that only the eyes were visible under the hat-brim. Both were about the same height, but one was more broadly built than the other. Each held a black, large- calibered automatic—pointed at Ed's stomach.

The heavier of the two men was the one who had spoken. He said, "I'll trouble you, my friend, to throw that package over here."

"No trouble at all," said Ed.

He flipped the package toward them with his left hand. The man who had spoken reached to catch it. Momentarily, he was slightly in front of his partner. For the split fraction of an instant, the eyes of neither were on Ed Race. They did not see that his hand had continued its motion after throwing the package. His right hand moved up at the same time, and both hands crossed over his chest. Two revolvers were now in them.

The man who had caught the package saw the gleam of metal, and uttered a quick cry. The cry choked off in his throat as the barrel of Ed's gun smashed against his temple. He dropped like a log, and the package of money fell to the ground.

The other man gasped with fright when he saw the two huge guns Ed held. He didn't try to shoot. He turned and scampered down the alley, disappearing into the shadows.

Ed's first instinct was to follow. Then he shrugged, stooped and picked up the money. He stuffed the package into his pocket, and knelt beside the unconscious masked man. He pulled off the handkerchief, and frowned. The man's face was unfamiliar.

He heard heavy footsteps on the sidewalk, and turned around to see Pat Garrity, the cop on the beat.

"Hello, Mr. Race," said the cop. "What goes on—?"

"This fellow tried to hold me up," Ed told him. "His pal got away, but I beaned this one." Some queer instinct made Ed refrain from mentioning the package of money. It was not that he wanted it for himself. He had plenty. But the circumstances of his receiving it had been so unusual that he wanted a chance to look into this business. That girl with the violet eyes certainly had wanted to keep the transaction a secret. There must be some potent reason for her actions. He wanted to find out more about her—without getting her in trouble.

"Call the wagon and take this egg to the precinct house, Pat," he said. "I'll be around in an hour. I've got something to attend to."

Pat looked at him and scratched his head. "I guess it's okay, Mr. Race. Go ahead."


IT wasn't exactly an infraction of the rules for a cop to let a complaining witness leave without signing a complaint at the station house. But usually they hang on to a witness till they have everything down in black and white. In Ed's case it was different.

Garrity knew that Ed was a personal friend of Inspector MacSpain, the commander of detectives for the Borough of Manhattan. Ed had worked with the police closely many times in the past. His uncanny ability with guns, plus a degree of nervous energy which demanded action and excitement all the time, had compelled Ed Race to seek an avocation in addition to his regular job. That avocation was criminology. He had licenses to operate as a private detective in a dozen states. And the name of Ed Race was as much detested in the rackets as the name of the Masked Marksman was applauded by theater audiences.

So Pat Garrity felt no qualms when Ed nodded to him and hurried up the street with the package containing forty thousand dollars in his pocket.

Ed went no farther than the corner drugstore on Eighth Avenue, where he slipped into a phone booth and called the night emergency number of the New York State Motor Vehicle Bureau. This office is kept open twenty-four hours a day for the purpose of aiding the police in checking on stolen cars and hit-and-run drivers.

"Inspector MacSpain's office calling," he said when he got the connection. "I want the name and address of the owner of a limousine bearing the license number, ES-nine."

"We will call you back, Inspector," said the operator.

Ed grimaced, and hung up. He inserted another nickel, and called the Borough Detective Commander's office, in the Tenth Precinct Station House on Twentieth Street.

"Mac!" he said, when he got the Inspector. "There's a call coming in for you from the Motor Vehicle Bureau. I used your name. Get the information while I hold this wire!"

"All right, Eddie," said MacSpain. "But where's the fire? Are you into something up to your neck? I never saw anyone like you for attracting trouble. You're a magnet."

"I've got something on my hands, Mac, but I don't know what it adds up to, yet. Don't ask me to tell you too much. There's some of it you shouldn't know—officially. But it has to do with blind beggars who can see, and dames who hand out forty grand for a cup of coffee. And by the way, maybe you should take a run up to the West Forty-Seventh Street Precinct. There's a bird in there who's being held for attempted robbery—of me."

MacSpain whistled. "The sap. I'll go over and talk to him—wait—here's your dope from the M.V.B. Hold on."

In a moment he was back on the wire. "Here you are, Eddie. The car belongs to no less a personage than—Elspeth Sinclair, Groton Heights Apartments, Central Park South. That's the Four Hundred, Eddie. Old Warren Sinclair owns half the cattle in the Argentine. Elspeth's his daughter, and he has a son a couple of years younger than her, named Austin. Then there's a cousin named Courtney Sinclair. They have nine cars in the family, all with license plates according to their initials. Old Warren is the meanest man on earth. The cop on his beat gets a dollar for Christmas. And he gives his two kids and their cousin all the luxuries they can use—but no spending money in cash. They say Elspeth has to borrow fifteen cents if she's out alone and wants to buy a pack of butts!"

"That's funny," Ed told him. "She must have been saving her cigarette money a long time—with interest, so it could grow to forty grand!"

"What's that—?"

"Not now, Mac. I'm in a hurry. Mucho hurry. Go up and see that ginzo at the Forty-Seventh Street Precinct. I'll call you there and give you the low-down!"

He hung up and went out quickly. There was a cab at the curb, and he got into it.

"Central Park South," he said.


THE Groton Heights Apartments was a pretty tall building, with a gorgeous view of Central Park, two doormen, and a couple of extra uniformed flunkeys who were there apparently just to give the tenants the idea that they were getting their money's worth.

One of the doormen held the cab door open. Ed told the driver to wait, and started to go in. But the other doorman stopped him, courteously but very firmly.

"May I have your name, sir?" he asked. "And the name of the person you are calling on? I will announce you on the phone."

"I want to see Miss Elspeth Sinclair," Ed told him. "The name is Race."

"Thank you, sir. Have you an appointment, sir?"

"No. Tell her it's the man she met on Forty-Eighth Street tonight."

The doorman raised his eyebrows. He went to the phone in the foyer, plugged it in. But just then the elevator came down to the ground floor and the door slid open—and Ed saw the violet- eyed girl come out upon the arm of a tall, well-knit man of about forty. Both were in evening clothes.

Ed's eyes narrowed. He knew that man. On the Main Stem they called him Pug Lester, and he was known as the greatest crook gambler in town. He owned the Villa Lester, just across the river, where you could bet five thousand dollars on a number at the roulette wheel, or ten thousand dollars on the turn of a card at blackjack. He also owned three or four similar places in New York, but none were half as swanky as the one across the river. Pug Lester's society name was Percival Wayland Lester. His family was an old and respected one, but Pug Lester had certainly become a black sheep. There were quite a few unsolved killings in recent years, which the police would have liked to pin on him. But his money and his influence always managed to protect the thugs in his employ. So far nobody had ever got anything on him. As usual with a dashing, handsome chap like Lester, he was the darling of the younger set in the most fashionable circles.

To Ed Race, Elspeth Sinclair looked even more beautiful than when she had put the package in his hat.

The doorman came over and whispered to her, indicating Ed with a nod. Pug Lester frowned. Elspeth Sinclair looked at Ed, and there was nothing in her face to show that she recognized him. Those goggles hadn't been much of a disguise, and his build and his fair hair should have been enough to recall him to her. But she shook her head with a slight frown of annoyance, and Ed heard her say, "I'm sorry, but I don't know the gentleman. Please see that I am not annoyed now."

The doorman bowed, and came over to Ed. He was no longer courteous. "I'm sorry. But you'll have to leave. Miss Sinclair does not know you—"

Ed brushed the man aside, and stepped across the lobby to where she stood with Pug Lester.

Lester's face darkened and he said, "Wait here, Elspeth. I'll get rid of the fellow."

Ed disregarded him. "I've got to talk to you, Miss Sinclair," he said. "I have something to return to you—something that belongs to you."

Her eyes were cold, her lips set tightly. "I am not interested. Please leave."

"Surely, Miss Sinclair, you remember seeing me tonight," Ed said. "You put something in my hat."

She raised her eyebrows. "Something in your hat? You are mad. What would I put something in your hat for?"

"I don't know," Ed said. "But it was a lot of money. Forty thousand dollars. Don't you want it back?"

Elspeth Sinclair turned to Pug Lester. "I am afraid this man is deranged, Perk. Please—Take me out!"

Lester said, "Okay." He glared at Ed. "You heard what the lady said. She never saw you before. Now are you going to get out of here, or do we call the police?"

Ed shrugged. "I'll go—and thanks for the forty thousand, Miss Sinclair. If you should want it back—my name is Race. I live at the Longmont Hotel—Room Seven-Sixteen."

He turned on his heel and marched out of the lobby. His ears were red. He couldn't understand the girl's denials—unless she was trying to hide something from Pug Lester. In that case she could have given Ed some signal, some sign that she really did know him. But she had been as cold and uncompromising as a marble statue in a January wind.

Outside, Ed saw the limousine with the ES-9 license plate, parked up ahead of his cab. His eyes flickered with an idea, He went over to his driver, but did not get into the taxi.

"Here's twenty bucks," he said, handing the man a bill. "Follow the girl and the man who are coming out of here. Call me at the Longmont Hotel, Trafalgar Two-four-eight-four-eight, and ask for Edward Race. Report where they go. Keep with them all night if you have to. Do this job right, and there's fifty dollars more in it for you."

The driver grinned. "For that kind of money, Mister Race, I'll follow them to China."

Ed said slowly, "The man is Pug Lester. Does that make a difference?"

The driver's face darkened. "Yeah—this much difference: I had a kid brother who got knocked off once by one of Lester's hoods. I'd do this job for nothing, Mister Race!"

Ed nodded. He got in the cab, and the driver pulled away, turned the corner. Ed hopped out, and the cabby backed around so as to get a view of the entrance of the Groton Heights Apartments. Two minutes later he nodded to Ed and started off across Central Park South on the tail of the limousine. Ed saw that Elspeth Sinclair was driving, and Pug Lester was sitting beside her.


ED fingered the package of money in his coat pocket, then hailed another cab and went to the Longmont Hotel. As he got into his room, the phone was ringing. It was Inspector MacSpain, calling from the West Forty-Seventh Street Station House.

"What the hell kind of hornet's nest have you been stirring up, Eddie?" he demanded.

"Why?"

"I've just talked to the chap that Pat Garrity brought in here for attempting to rob you. He claims that you robbed him. He says you knocked him out and took forty thousand dollars from his pocket."

"That's a nice story," Ed laughed. "But he ought to think of a better one. I bet he has a record."

"No," said MacSpain, "he hasn't got a record. In fact, he's pretty clean. You'll see what I mean when I tell you who he is."

"All right, all right, I'll bite!" Ed barked. "Who is he?"

"His name," MacSpain said slowly, "is Courtney Sinclair. He's Elspeth Sinclair's cousin!"

"Well I'll be damned!" said Ed.

"You'll be worse than damned, Eddie," MacSpain told him. "You'll be jugged. He's swearing out a warrant for your arrest on a charge of robbery. And it's his word against yours. Better come down here and surrender yourself, or they'll be coming for you. And I can't stop it, Eddie. It's the law!"

"Okay," Ed said wearily. "See if you can hold up the warrant for about an hour. I'll be down then. In the meantime, I'll see what I can do about putting this jigsaw together. I'm going to call Elspeth's father—old Warren Sinclair—and see if I can pump anything out of him."

He hung up, and immediately jiggled the hook for the operator at the switchboard downstairs. "Get me the home of Mr. Warren Sinclair, at the Groton Heights Apartments, on Central Park South."

He heard the dial tone, and then a man's pompous voice answered, "This is the residence of Mr. Warren Sinclair. Mr. Sinclair's secretary speaking."

"I wish to talk to Mr. Warren Sinclair personally," Ed said.

"Who is calling, please?"

"J.P. Morgan," Ed told him.

"Ah, one moment, Mr. Morgan. I shall call Mr. Sinclair at once!"

There was a short wait, and Ed heard a startled ejaculation over the phone. Then, "Mr. Morgan, sir! A terrible thing has happened. Mr. Sinclair has been murdered!"

"How?" Ed rapped.

"Shot, sir. There—there's a bullet hole in his head. I...it's awful, sir!"

"All right. Hang up and ring the police," Ed said. "Tell them to report this to Inspector MacSpain personally. Have you got it?"

Ed put down the phone. And just as he did so, some one rapped heavily on the door.

Ed frowned. He walked over, pulled the door open—and two men came barging into the room with guns in their hands. One was the bogus blind beggar from Forty-Eighth Street. The other was a hard-eyed killer with cold, reptilian eyes.

The beggar waved his gun, said to his companion, "That's the guy, Pelley. That's the guy got the dough! Pug figured it right!"

Pelley grinned thinly. He kept his gun on Ed's stomach. "Okay, pal," he said, thin-lipped. "You got forty grand belonging to a friend of mine. Hand it over."

Ed rocked back on his heels, eying the two men, and not smiling at all.

"Pug Lester sent you?" he asked harshly.

"Never mind who sent us!" Pelley snarled. "Hand over the dough."

"How do I know it belongs to Pug?"

"You don't have to know nothing. See this?" He raised the muzzle of the gun just a little. "This is all you got to worry about."

"Is that the same gun that killed old Warren Sinclair?" Ed asked softly.

Pelley stiffened. His eyes became little pinpoints of murderous venom. His voice was soft and silky. "I'm afraid you know too much for your health, mister." He looked sideways at the bogus blind man, who had been swiftly fanning the room, looking in bureau drawers and under the mattress. "Did you find the dough yet, Luke?"

"Nah!" said Luke. "It ain't in the room. He must still have it in his pocket."

Pelley's eyes were bright. He extended his left hand, alongside of the gun in his right. "Give!" he said to Ed.

Ed shrugged. "Well, if that's the way you feel about it—" His hand went up to the breast pocket of his coat.

"Look out!" yelled Luke. "He's got a gun there—!"

But the warning was too late.

Ed Race's body was already in motion. Many an audience in the vaudeville theaters from coast to coast had watched with bulging eyes while the Masked Marksman did his double-somersault number—where he juggled six of those heavy .45 caliber revolvers, did a double-back-flip, then came to his feet to catch the guns and shoot out the flames of a row of candles thirty feet across the stage.

Mr. Pelley and Mr. Luke now were privileged to witness the same exhibition of swiftly blinding skill—but instead of paying for their tickets with money, they paid with blood.

Ed's first shot as he came to his feet out of the somersault, blended with the bark of Pelley's gun. Only the deep-toned roar of the heavy .45 almost drowned it out. Pelley had never seen a victim who moved so swiftly and bafflingly. His bullet scorched the air where Ed had been standing before the somersault, dug into the wall harmlessly. Ed's slug smashed into Pelley's shoulder with the weight of a ton of bricks, and sent him crashing into the wall. Ed had purposely fired at his shoulder, because he wanted to keep the tough gunman alive. He wanted a confession from Pelley.

He did not even look to see where he had hit the cold-eyed gunman. He never looked, because his slugs always went where he sent them. He pivoted on one heel and faced Luke just as the bogus blind man brought his gun around to bear on Ed. Ed stepped in swiftly, and for the second time that night he smacked the blind man. This time though, he brought the muzzle of his gun sharply up against the tip of Luke's jaw, and Luke collapsed like a marionette whose string has broken.

Ed got a pair of handcuffs from his trunk, and cuffed the two men together, passing the links through the bedpost.

"That ought to hold you for a little while!" he said grimly.

He started for the door, and the phone rang. He scooped it up impatiently, said, "Hello."

"Hey, Mister Race. This is Blivens—you know, the cab driver. I been stickin' to Pug Lester and that dame—"

"Where are they now?" Ed asked tensely.

"It's screwy, Mister Race, and I don't get it at all," the cabby said. "They went to one of Pug Lester's joints—the Casa Midnight, on Fifty-Seventh Street. The girl sat down at a table, and Lester went in his office in the back. Then a guy comes and sits down and talks to the dame for a couple minutes, and scrams. The dame gets white, and excited, kind of. I seen it all from the checkroom. She gets up and goes and knocks on Lester's door, and he opens it and she tells him something. Then she says goodbye to him and comes tearin' out and gets in her car. So I figure as long as Lester is in his office, I'll tail her. She drives like a bat out of hell across to Tenth Avenue, and goes in a warehouse—the old Abercombie Warehouse, which ain't been used in five years. She don't have no trouble opening the door and getting in."

"The Abercombie Warehouse!" Ed exclaimed. "That used to be a paint company. Is she there now?"

"Wait, Mister Race. You ain't heard it all yet. I figure she will be out right away again, so I park down the middle of next block, with my lights out. And who do you suppose comes along?"

"Pug Lester!"

"You smacked the nail on the head, Mister Race. Pug Lester and three of his gorillas. They park around the corner, an' go in. So I figure it's time to phone you—"

"You bet it is!" Ed shouted. "I'll be right over there. You put another nickel in the phone and call the cops. Tell them to shoot a radio car over there right away. And also tell Inspector MacSpain to come to my room at the Longmont and pick up two men!"


HE swiftly gathered up the guns of Luke and Pelley, who were still unconscious. Pelley was bleeding, but Ed didn't even stop to help him. His eyes were bleak. He was beginning to understand the set-up.

He wrapped the guns carefully in handkerchiefs so as not to destroy the fingerprints, and put them in his pocket with the forty-thousand dollar package. Then he went out and locked the door.

He got a cab downstairs, said, "Shoot across to Tenth Avenue—and don't stop for lights. Just blow your horn and keep going. I'll cover you for everything!"

The cabby was a regular at the hack stand in front of the Longmont, and knew Ed. He simply nodded, sent the taxi ahead, and kept his elbow on the horn all the time. How he managed to avoid smash-ups all the way over, only the gods of the taxi drivers know. But he got to the Abercombie Warehouse in two minutes and twenty-seven seconds. On the way over, Ed heard the clang of fire engines back near Broadway, and the wail of police sirens. There must be a big fire somewhere along the Main Stem, he thought. But he thrust it from his mind when he got to the warehouse.

Blivens, his cabby-detective, was waiting across the street. But there was no police car.

"Did you phone the cops like I told you?" Ed asked.

Blivens nodded. "A radio car ought to be here any minute—"

"Any minute may be too late!" Ed rapped. "I'm going in there now. When the cops come, send them after me!"

He ran across the street, and leaped up to the old loading platform in front of the decrepit warehouse. There was a small door alongside the big loading doors, which were closed. But the small one opened under his hand, and he stepped inside. It was pitch dark, but Ed caught a glimmer of light at the rear. He made his way toward it, ears attuned to catch the first sounds of arriving police outside. He could hear no siren, however.

The smell of creosote was strong in his nostrils. Though this warehouse had not been used in years, the paint odors still lingered. No doubt the place was impregnated with the stuff.

As he approached the rear, he saw that the source of light was the small, glassed-in office at the back. It was coming from a candle inside the office. The glass panel of the office door was broken, and Ed could see the figures of two men moving about in there, but he couldn't see Elspeth.

He moved soundlessly, until within ten feet of the office. The two men were talking in low tones. He heard Pug Lester say, "Got to get this through quick, Sykes. Snap it up!"

Ed stiffened. He heard a faint sound behind him, and then a gun jabbed him in the back. "All right, wise guy. Keep going."

Ed said, "Hell! What a sucker I am. I forgot there were three of you!"

"Sucker is the word!" muttered his captor, then raised his voice. "Look what I picked outta the cabbage patch, Pug!"

With the gun in his spine, Ed entered the small office.

The two men whom Ed had seen from outside were thugs he knew by name. One was Hymie Sykes, the other was Barney Tortola. They were busy spreading cotton waste on the floor. Tortola was spreading the cotton, and Sykes was pouring gasoline on it.

In the corner, Pug Lester sat on a chair, very handsome and cool, supervising the operation. Alongside him lay two figures, both securely bound with wire and gagged. One was a young man of about nineteen or twenty. The other was Elspeth Sinclair.

"Nice work, Leo," Pug Lester said to the man who had Ed Race covered. "I figured he'd manage to get here somehow." He got up from his chair lazily, caressing the butt of a small automatic pistol. He was still in evening clothes. "You certainly kept putting wrenches in the works for me all night, Race."

Ed grinned at him, still feeling Leo's gun in his spine. "I just put another wrench in your works, Pug. I phoned the cops to send a radio car over here. They'll arrive any minute."

Lester smiled and shook his head. "Wrong, Race. Didn't you hear the fire-engines just now? That was one of my joints burning. My boys started that fire, and it'll be occupying the cops in the radio car. They'll be over there, holding back the crowd, and not even in their car, so they won't hear the radio. They won't get the order to come here—and they won't come. How do you like that?"

"I don't like it," Ed said. "What are you going to do—cremate Elspeth and her brother, alive?"

"You got the idea, Race. And as long as you're here, you can join them. It'll be a hot time in the old town tonight." He motioned to Tortola and Sykes. "Get his guns while Leo keeps him covered. And see if he's got that forty grand too."

"Wait a minute," said Ed. "You're a sap for staging this, Pug. It's too complicated. Something is bound to slip."

Pug Lester grinned. "How do you know it's complicated?"

"I can guess," Ed told him. "That skunk, Courtney Sinclair—Elspeth's cousin—must owe you plenty of jack. Maybe he lost it at your tables, and gave you notes."

"So what?" Lester asked softly. His eyes were glittering. "So what?"

"So this," Ed went on. "The only way Courtney Sinclair can get enough dough to pay you off, is if he inherits it from his old crab of an uncle, Warren Sinclair. But he can't inherit, because Sinclair has two children of his own—Elspeth here, and her brother, Austin. So you decide to fix it for Courtney to inherit. You kidnap Austin, and demand forty grand ransom. Elspeth is ordered to deliver the dough to a blind beggar on Forty-Eighth Street. She's afraid to tell her father, because old Warren is so tight he won't pay forty grand to get his son back. He'll notify the police, and Elspeth is afraid her brother will get knocked off by the kidnappers. So what happens, but her big, handsome friend—that's you, Pug—comes along and offers to lend her the forty grand to pay the ransom. You just do that to make everything look kosher.

"She pays off, and is supposed to get word where to find her brother. Some mug contacts her in your club and gives her this address. You let her go alone, so you can prove you weren't the one to see her alive last. She comes here, you follow her—the crowd at your night club probably thinks you're still in your office—and now you're setting a little fire. All they'll find will be charred bodies of Austin and Elspeth...and cousin Courtney inherits and pays you off!"

While Ed talked, he had been standing tautly, every muscle tight and steel-springed. He had no leeway against that gun of Leo's in his spine.

Any move he made would release a bullet from Leo's gun, and he'd be through—and Pug Lester's little game would go ahead as scheduled.

Pug Lester's face was white and cold. "Every word you say is true, Race. You've called every turn. Now see if you can call the next turn. Take him, boys!"

Tortola and Sykes moved over toward him, Sykes picking up a length of picture-wire. To reach him they had to step over the gasoline-soaked cotton waste on the floor, and to pass within a few feet of Elspeth Sinclair.

She was bound and helpless, but Ed saw grim determination in her violet eyes. That girl wasn't licked yet. She made a convulsive movement with her body that sent her rolling over against Tortola's legs. Her rolling body struck him from behind, and he staggered, into Sykes.

"Hey!" yelled Sykes.

For an instant, Ed felt Leo's gun relax against his spine. That was all the break he wanted. His body twisted in a swift spiral, with elbows hard against his side. His right elbow made a battering-ram which smashed against Leo at the same time that it took Ed's spine out of line with the gun.

Then Ed came all the way around, bringing his left fist, bunched and hard, in a smashing blow.

Leo dropped the gun and went staggering backward.

Ed kept moving. He went forward into a head-on somersault, just as three guns barked in unison. Pug Lester, Hymie Sykes and Barney Tortola were all shooting. But Ed was coming out of his somersault six feet away, over in the far corner, with two blasting .45's in his hands.

He shot to kill, and without mercy. He emptied ten shots out of those two guns, and each slug found its mark in the body of one of those men. He could have stopped after the third shot, but he was filled with a terrible and consuming hatred of these cold- blooded murderers.

At last his guns were empty, and no men stood before him.

He stepped among the bloody, battered bodies on the floor, and came to the side of Elspeth Sinclair. He stooped, pulled the gag from her mouth, unbound the picture-wire. Then he did the same for young Austin Sinclair.

Austin was a wiry kid, and he didn't seem to be much the worse for wear.

But Elspeth was shivering, as with the ague. Ed Race put an arm around her to support her. She was suddenly overcome by a great weakness, and her head buried itself on his shoulder.

She raised her eyes to his. "Forgive me for treating you so shabbily at my house," she whispered. "I—I thought—"

"Never mind what you thought," he said. "You did a swell job when you rolled into Tortola. It was the break we needed. I'm thinking, young lady, that you and I could work very well together."

"I'm sure we could!"

Ed Race's muscles were always coordinated to react to any emergency. They did not fail him this time. He bent his head and kissed her.


THE END


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