Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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Ed Race, gun-juggler supreme, liked to help his friends out of tight places. But when that gun-active Samaritanism led him between the raking crossfires of both gangsters and police, Ed knew there was only one thing to do: blast his way out in a double gamble with death!
ED RACE was due at the Clyde Theater ten minutes after ten for his gun-juggling number. He was shaving in the bathroom of his single room at the Longmont Hotel when the insistent rapping came at the door.
He had just stepped out of the shower, letting the water drip from him while he shaved. The left side of his face, as well as his chin, was still lathered.
He grumbled impatiently and went to the door still dripping, still clutching the razor. He was thinking grouchily that the tailor always managed to bring his suits back at the most inconsiderate times.
He yanked the door open savagely, saying, "Why the hell can't you—"
Then he stopped short, gulping. "Hey! You can't come in here! Say—"
The girl evidently didn't even hear him. She had been looking behind her, with a frightened face; but now she sprang inside, breathing hard.
Ed closed the door, dropped the razor, and reached back to the bed. He dragged off the top sheet and covered himself hastily with it.
"My God, Miss Partages! Why don't you look where you leap!"
He knew her. Elsie Partages, daughter of fat, generous Leon Partages, who owned the string of theaters of which the Clyde was the largest. Elsie's father was the man who paid Ed's salary.
Ed Race, The Masked Marksman of vaudeville fame. His gun-juggling and shooting act was headlined all over the country, and he had no rivals. He was billed as "The Man Who Could Make Guns Talk." And he did just that. Not satisfied with his stage success, however, he had turned his attention to another field in his insatiable search for excitement. The investigation of crime— pursued as a sort of sideline. He had licenses which permitted him to operate as a private detective in a dozen states.
Few people knew Ed Race was The Masked Marksman; fewer still knew he was interested in detective work. But those few had taken advantage of such knowledge to call upon him whenever they got in a jam.
He shrugged resignedly as he gazed into the white, frightened face of Elsie Partages. She was in trouble apparently— and had naturally come to him.
Her eyes were like those of some hunted thing. She wore no hat, and her dress was rumpled and torn at the right shoulder. Her breast was heaving spasmodically. Her gaze darted around the room to the open window. Swiftly she ran across, closed it, set the catch, and pulled down the shade.
"Mr. Race!" she exclaimed. "Help me, please. Don't let them get me!"
"Don't let who get you?"
"Those men. There were three of them. They killed Roy Santis, upstairs in Room 640. They shot him until he was dead, with long guns that had funny things on the ends and didn't make any noise at all."
She came up to him eagerly. "You must do something, Mr. Race. Roy's dead up there, and I was seen to go up with him. The police will be looking for me. If dad ever found out—" She caught her breath, added almost inaudibly: "I was such a fool, I— I was— going to elope with Roy!"
"What? You elope with Roy Santis! The guy that's almost been classed as Public Enemy Number One— except that the cops couldn't ever get anything on him!"
She lowered her eyes. "I— I didn't know it— not till one of those men who shot him told me. It seems he double-crossed them, or something. Here—" She reached into the blouse of her dress, drew forth a stone strangely iridescent in the half-light of the room.
Ed had seen valuable stones before. He whistled. "Boy! That must be worth—"
"A hundred and fifty thousand. It's the Cawnpore Pearl. Roy Santis and those three men held up the messenger from Bellamy's last week— you saw it in the paper, I suppose?"
Ed held out his hand, and she dropped the glowing gem into his palm. He turned it over in his fingers. Then he frowned as he noted two small scratches at one point on the surface. They were not imperfections, and he wondered how they had got there.
He shrugged. There were more important things to consider at the moment.
He looked up at the girl. "How did you get this?"
"Roy gave it to me. He said it was a wedding present. He told me to hide it until we were married and out of the country. I didn't know it was the Cawnpore Pearl. Then when those men broke in, they wanted to know where it was; they searched the room. I got scared and ran out— they weren't paying me much attention, because they thought I'd fainted."
Ed considered. And then he said: "You wait here till I get the rest of this beard off my face. Then I'll take you downtown and see if I can get Inspector Hansen to put the hush-hush on your part in it."
Ed picked up his razor and went into the bathroom, taking the pearl along with him. He closed the door, thrust the sheet into a corner, and started to lather his face all over again. He scowled at his reflection in the mirror.
The girl who was waiting for him out there in the next room had always been a problem to her father. Her mother had died ten years ago, and she had grown up willful, spoiled. She was not inherently bad, but she seemed to have a faculty for doing things that got in the newspapers and embarrassed her father. Like this business of eloping with Santis.
HE had almost finished shaving when someone knocked heavily at the outer door. He heard Elsie Partages ask in a shaky voice: "W-who's there?"
"Damn that girl!" he growled to himself. "Why couldn't she keep still!"
From outside someone exclaimed triumphantly: "She's in here, Mac. I told you she'd go lookin' for Race!"
Ed was beginning to get tired of this. He put the razor down with a sigh, wound the bath towel around his middle, and tied it in a knot at the side. He opened the bathroom door. The girl was standing rooted to the floor.
At the same instant two shots— muffled, in quick succession— tore into the lock, and the door swung free. Those chaps outside were men of action, all right.
Ed's guns were with his clothes on the bed across the room, near the door. It was too late to get them. A big broad-faced man had appeared in the doorway. He held a silenced automatic in his big ham of a fist, and his face did not reflect the slightest excitement. Behind him were two others, attired like the first in tan topcoats and tan slouch hats, each with a silenced gun.
The big man looked from the girl to Ed and started to grin. "Just a little party, hey? Suppose you hold it like that!"
Instead, Ed swept up a heavy ashtray from the end table close to his left hand and with a single continuous motion hurled it at the face of the man in the doorway. And then he gasped out a wild curse, for Elsie Partages had chosen just that second to recover from her fright and take a single involuntary step forward, which brought her in line with the missile. It struck her a glancing blow across the forehead, and she stumbled, gasped, and fell forward into the big man's arms.
The other two had shoved into the room, however, and now their guns menaced Ed. So he did the only thing he could have done under the circumstances: He ducked back into the bathroom, slammed the door, and sidestepped just as a hail of lead smashed through the thin wood.
Suddenly the shooting ceased. The same voice he had heard before ordered, "Get in there and take him, Mac. He ain't got a gun!"
Ed leaned over and catch-locked the door. He grinned as the knob was turned.
"Hello, Sid. He's locked himself in!"
"All right. Shoot the lock out!"
Ed didn't wait. He snatched up the Cawnpore Pearl, which he had left beside the shaving cream and, giving a last yank to the knot that held the towel about him, he scrambled up on the washbasin and pushed open the window. He was outside, clinging to the sill, when the first of several shots shattered the lock.
He put the pearl in his mouth, reached up with one hand and closed the window. The sill to which he clung was in reality a long ledge extending across the wall of the hotel.
AS he worked along the ledge he expected any moment to hear the shouts of someone from the building opposite. But no alarm was raised. He heard the bathroom window opening and knew that in another moment he would be a splendid target. It was a good time to get off the ledge, and he did. He had traveled about six feet, and was at an open window. This would be the room next to his. He didn't know who occupied it, but there was no time to be squeamish. So he heaved himself up and vaulted in.
The bright sunlight had partly blinded him, and he didn't know anybody was in there until a masculine voice said hoarsely, "Hey, you! What you doing there?"
He couldn't answer because he had the pearl in his mouth. He raised his hand to take it out, and the voice snapped, "Don't move! I've got you covered!"
Ed stood still. Slowly his eyes got accustomed to the semi-gloom, and he saw a small, bald-headed man sitting on the bed holding a revolver shakily and— even then— reaching for the telephone.
He spat out the pearl, which rolled along the carpet. "Wait, mister. I can explain all this. There's some men in my room—"
The little man grunted. "You can tell it to the police." He scanned Ed's appearance. "Imagine it! Breaking in here through the window, half naked— hello, hello. Operator! Send up the house detective at once, and notify the police. I've caught a burglar in my room, a naked burglar! Yes, that's what I said— a naked burglar! If you don't believe me come up and see for yourself!"
He hung up with a bang, and glared over the sights of his revolver. "Back home we hear a lot about the New York bandits, but I swear— we never read about no robbers goin' around dressed in bath towels! I bet my name will be in the papers on account of this. Maybe even my picture!"
Ed stood there resignedly. He didn't make any sudden moves. If the little man got scared, the revolver might go off. Ed knew how to handle men who were accustomed to guns; but he had learned that a person like this could be more dangerous than a real killer.
It seemed like an hour before someone rapped at the door.
The little man called out, "All right, Mister Detective— just a minute." And then: "You, Mister Burglar, just go over there and open that door." Ed obeyed as quickly as possible.
Halloran, the house detective, was a big, husky, redheaded chap, and when he saw Ed in the towel he burst out laughing. The little man got off the bed and asked testily: "What you laughing at? Think this is a joke? This here burglar climbed in through the window. If Emma hadn't of made me bring along my revolver, he'd of killed me. O' course, I was so excited I clean forgot it wasn't loaded!"
Ed started to swear, and Halloran burst out laughing more loudly than ever.
"This is rich, Race. Imagine Ed Race being bagged by a guy from the sticks, with a gun that wasn't loaded!" He clapped Ed on the back. "Wait'll I tell this story around!"
Ed rubbed his bare shoulder where the other had slapped him.
"You win, Halloran. The joke's on me. Now let's get serious. There's a girl in my room, and three gunmen that are after her."
"No!" Halloran exclaimed. He got out his own revolver and said to the little man, "Give Mr. Race that gun of yours, will you?"
The little man protested incredulously. "What! Give a burglar my gun? Not—"
Halloran snatched the gun out of his hand and handed it to Ed. "He's not a burglar, Mister, he's an actor— which is almost as bad. Come on, Race, let's go!"
But Ed was already out of the room and in the corridor before his own door. The door was partly open, with the lock sagging out where it had been shot away.
As Halloran joined him, with the little man peering out from his own doorway, Ed kicked the door wide and stepped inside.
The room was empty.
Halloran came in and stood beside him. He was grinning again. "Sure you wasn't dreaming this thing, Race? Sounds kind of phony to me. Three guys gunning for a girl, an' you in the next room with a towel."
Ed stirred impatiently. "Don't be a dope, Halloran. Those guys were here. They must have gone down while you were coming up. I wonder how they got her out of here—"
"Hey!" Halloran almost shouted. "Wait a minute. I saw them!"
"They were coming out of the elevator just as I got in— three guys in tan coats, and this girl in a blue dress and no hat. I thought they looked kind of funny. Two of these guys were close to the girl on either side of her and they had their hands in their pockets. She walked kind of wobbly, but I was in a hurry to get up here and didn't pay them much attention."
"They were the ones," Ed said grimly. "They've got away."
He turned to see the little man standing in the doorway, holding something in his hand. It was the Cawnpore Pearl.
"I found this on the floor," he said.
Ed snatched it from him. "It is. I spit it there."
ED pushed him out of the room. "I'll write you a letter about it sometime," he said. "Right now I'm busy." He closed the door.
The little man called through testily, "This is a damn nuisance. I'm going to check out of here!" Ed paid him no attention, just started scrambling into his clothes, not bothering even to shave his upper lip.
Halloran watched him, puzzled. "This is a hell of a note," he complained. "You go running around the hotel naked, you have dames and gunmen coming up here, and now a guest is going to check out. Where do you get this stuff?"
Ed stooped over to lace his shoes. "If it'll make you feel any better," he said cheerfully, "I'll tell you there's a stiff in Room 640, too. Laugh that off!"
Halloran almost burned his fingers on the cigar he was lighting. "A stiff! My Gawd. Who?"
"Roy Santis. This pearl is part of the swag from the Bellamy job. The guys that were in here are the ones that knocked off Santis. Two of 'em are called Sid and Mac. I didn't get the name of the other guy. Santis was going to double-cross them and lam with the jewel, taking the girl along. So they bopped him. The girl had the pearl, and she got away and ran down here, for me."
HALLORAN tried another match with a hand that shook a little. "Geez," he exclaimed, "this is terrible. Roy Santis knocked off in this dump? I never even knew he was staying here. The boss will can me for this." He sighed. "Who was the girl?"
"I don't know. She just ran in on me."
Halloran squinted at him through a cloud of cigar smoke. "Nerts. You trying to tell me it was just coincidence, her picking your room?"
"Take it or leave it," Ed told him shortly. He finished lacing his shoes and hastily examined the two revolvers in his shoulder holsters. They were two of the heavy forty-fives he used in his act. He preferred them to lighter guns because he was used to the heft of them.
He had already started for the door when the phone rang.
He answered it, and started slightly when he heard the voice of Leon Partages on the other end, talking at a mile-a-minute rate.
The theater owner was beside himself with anxiety. "Look here, Ed, this is terrible. I just got a phone call from some man, and he says he's got Elsie a prisoner and he'll kill her if you don't do what he says."
"What does he say?" Ed demanded, trying to make his tone casual for the benefit of Halloran.
"He says Elsie had a pearl or something and she gave it to you. She told him she did. Well, he wants you to turn the pearl over to him, or else he'll kill Elsie." Partages' voice cracked slightly. "Ed, what's this terrible thing all about? Has he really got Elsie?"
Ed gulped. How could he tell this doting father that his only daughter had been about to elope with Roy Santis, that she was actually involved in this sordid business?
He said into the mouthpiece, "It's all right. There's nothing to worry about. Did the man say how or where I was to return the—" He stopped, saw that Halloran was listening, and finished: "— the— thing?"
"You mean the pearl? Yes. He said you should take a cab from the Longmont and drive south on Broadway, slowly, until a man got in with you. You're to give the man the pearl, and they'll release Elsie in a half-hour."
"Okay," Ed said. "I'll do that. Don't worry, everything is jake."
He hung up and said, "I've got to go now, Halloran. See you later."
But the detective barred his way. "Wait a minute, Race." He looked at Ed very queerly. "What's this stuff you're pulling? You going to leave me holding the bag, with a stiff in Room 640 and a guest next door checking out? Nix. Lemme turn in the pearl at least, so I can square things with the cops. They'll overlook a lot if I give 'em a chance to take credit for recovering the Bellamy swag."
Ed turned cold. He'd forgotten that he had told Halloran about the Cawnpore Pearl. He couldn't have avoided it anyway because Halloran had seen the little man give it to him.
He shrugged. Partages deserved a break.
"Look, Halloran," he said earnestly. "Suppose you forget about that pearl. There's a girl's life in the balance, and I've got to give the stone back to save her. Make believe you didn't see it. I think I can get you a handsome present— say a couple of centuries."
Halloran shook his head. "Nix, Race. That's got to be reported to the police. Don't forget, the guy next door knows about it, and he'll blab his head off to the cops."
Halloran stopped suddenly, and his eyes narrowed. "Sa-ay! What's this, anyway? You seem to know an awful lot about the whole thing, for having got into it accidental like. How do I know you wasn't in with Santis and that crowd? I think I'll call up headquarters right now. I ain't getting the hotel in dutch any more than I can help."
He started for the phone. "You wait right here, Race, while I call up. Inspector Hansen will want to talk to you."
Ed sighed. "I hate to do this, Halloran," he said softly, "but I got to get that girl out of a jam."
Halloran stopped short, half turned, and said, "Do what?"
Ed's bunched fist flashed up in a short swing that landed with a thud behind the big detective's right ear.
Halloran grunted and sank to the floor.
Ed worked swiftly. He took off Halloran's tie, gagged him with it, strapped his wrists behind his back with his belt, dragged him over to the bed, and laid him there. Halloran was breathing regularly. He'd have little difficulty freeing himself when he came to.
ED hurried out to the elevators then. He found himself still holding the empty revolver Halloran had taken from the little man next door, and he thrust it into his coat pocket.
The door of number 512, the little man's room, was closed. He considered going in and returning the revolver, but there was no time for that. He pressed the button for the elevator, descended to the lobby, and crossed to the clerk's desk. The Longmont was a small hotel, and the clerk operated the switchboard himself.
He wore a worried frown as Ed approached. "What's up, Mr. Race? Mr. Smallwood in Room 512 phoned down—"
"He had a bad dream," Ed interrupted. "There's nothing to it. Did you phone headquarters?"
"Certainly, sir. A radio car should be—"
"When they get here, tell them to go up to Room 640. Don't tell them anything about that little runt in 512. He's had enough trouble with his bad dreams already. He says he's going to check out."
The clerk smiled. "It doesn't matter, Mr. Race. He intended to check out anyway." He showed Ed a long railroad ticket. "He asked us yesterday to get him a ticket for Chicago. He's leaving on the one o'clock train."
"Give him this," Ed said, laying the revolver on the desk. "And tell him it's a good thing for him it wasn't loaded. I bet he doesn't even know you need a license to carry one in this town!"
Hurrying out, Ed hailed a cab. As he was getting in he saw a radio car pull up to the curb. He grinned. The clerk would send the cops up to 640, and when they found the body of Santis they'd be too busy to go looking for Halloran.
"Where to, mister?" the cabby inquired.
"Go slow down Broadway," Ed told him. "I'm picking up a friend along here somewhere."
He sat well forward so that he could be seen from the street. "Slower," he directed in a moment.
They traveled at a snail's pace for almost three blocks, and Ed began to think something had slipped.
Then the cab was halted for a red light, and someone opened the door quickly and got in beside him. It was Sid— the big man at whom he had thrown the ashtray.
Ed said, "Where's the girl?"
The man grunted and put out his hand. "Where's the pearl?" His other hand was in his jacket pocket, and the outline of the silencer on the muzzle of his gun was visible through the cloth.
Ed's eyes locked with his. "No girl, no pearl," he said.
The man snarled. "You crossin' us, Race?"
"No." Ed's voice was calm. "I just want to make sure you don't cross me. I'm taking a big chance, as it is. The cops are sure to find out I turned the pearl back to you, and then I'm going to be in one hell of a jam. I don't want to do that for nothing. When I see the girl I'll give you the sparkler."
Sid seemed to think that over, studying Ed all the time. Finally he shrugged. "All right. You got the pearl with you?"
"Let's see it."
"Nix. When I see Elsie Partages."
"Okay, Race. But if you're crossin' us—"
"I'm not. Where do we go?"
Sid tapped on the glass. "Drive west, to the river," he instructed the cabby.
It took sixteen minutes to cover the five blocks to the riverfront, with lights at each corner. Neither Ed nor the big man said another word. But they watched each other carefully. The big man never took his hand from his pocket.
AT Twelfth Avenue they got out and Ed paid off the driver. They watched the cab disappear up the street, and then Sid said curtly, "This way. You try any tricks an' the girl is as good as croaked."
"I won't try any tricks," Ed told him. "I only want to get her away."
Sid nodded, starting south, walking warily alongside.
"Just to keep the record clear," Ed said, "I'd like to warn you not to try any tricks yourself. Ever hear of The Masked Marksman?"
"Sure. Seen him in vaudeville. Don't tell me you're him!"
Ed's hand flashed to his armpit, and in a motion so fast the other was unaware he had begun it, he had his heavy revolver out and was poking it into Sid's side.
The big man turned white, gulped. His own hand was frozen inside his pocket, on the butt of the silenced gun. He was caught flat.
Ed grinned, holstered the revolver again. "That was just to warn you not to try anything. There's three of you where we're going. I'm going to give you the pearl, and you're going to let me walk out with the girl. Otherwise it'll be too bad for a couple of you. Clear?"
"Hell," said the big man. "We won't stop you."
They turned at the next corner and Sid led the way down an alley, then through a side door into a low, one-story building that had at some time in the past been a junk shop of some sort but was not untenanted.
The office was in the rear, and here they found the other two men who had broken into Ed's room.
In a corner, on a chair, sat Elsie Partages. She was not tied but sat quite still, evidently in fear of her guards. But she jumped up when she saw Ed, ran to him, threw her arms around his neck and started to sob. Ed pushed her off roughly. He wanted elbow room.
Sid explained to the other two that Ed had the pearl with him. The tall, thin one said, "All right, guy. Let's see it."
Ed stepped back to the wall, drew the pearl from his vest pocket, and flipped it across. The thin man's eyes lighted as he caught it dexterously.
Elsie exclaimed, "Ed! Are you going to take me out of here?" She gripped his right arm, and once more he had to shake her off. He tensed.
He was watching Sid, who had taken the pearl now and was examining it closely. He looked up suddenly and snarled. "You're crossin' us, Race. This ain't the Cawnpore Pearl!"
Ed looked unbelieving. "So that's the stunt, is it? You're not crossing me at all, are you?" He grew ugly. "Listen, you— that's the stone this girl gave me. She got it from Santis. And if it isn't the Cawnpore Pearl, then Santis put one over on her and on you, too!"
Sid shook his head. "Santis didn't put anything over. This here is a perfect imitation of the Cawnpore Pearl, an' he wouldn't of had a chance in the world to have such an imitation made. We shadowed him every minute of the time."
ED glanced from one to another of them. The other two were just waiting for a word from Sid.
"How do you know that's a phony?"
The big man answered heavily, "We found out how Bellamy's marked it. They had a secret mark on it, because there was word going around that a certain slick confidence man was coming to town to work a substitution gag on them, with a perfect imitation. So they had two little dots cut into the real stone, and the clerks in the store were supposed to look for them every time they handled the pearl." Sid held the stone up under the electric light. "Well, there ain't any marks on this one. This is phony."
Ed's body was taut. He saw in their eyes the conviction that they had been hoaxed; saw their determination to kill.
Alone, he would have shot it out with them, willingly matching his skill and speed against their numbers. But with Elsie Partages beside him, it was a different matter. If the fireworks started, he couldn't possibly prevent her death.
"Listen," he said desperately. "This girl knows nothing about the pearl. She just took what Santis gave her and kept it for him. You don't think she got this phony and switched it on you—"
"No," said the thin man, who stood at his right. "But we think maybe you did. You got one chance, Race. Do you come across, or do we start shooting?"
Ed's eyes narrowed. His arms were crooked at the elbows, ready to flash in and out of his armpit holsters. Death faced them both here— him and the girl. These men couldn't be talked out of it.
Suddenly they all stiffened, froze.
From the doorway came a sharp, incisive voice.
"Don't move. You're all covered!"
In the doorway stood Detective Sergeant Steve Bland, whom Ed knew well. Behind him, in the gloom of the junk shop, were Halloran and Smallwood, the little man who had threatened to check out of the Longmont.
Ed stepped away from the wall, pushed Elsie Partages behind him. "Stay back, kid," he whispered. "There's going to be fireworks."
There was. Sid and the other two weren't going to be taken.
Sergeant Bland was just saying: "Race, where do you get that stuff, tying Halloran up? It's a good thing I thought of going to your room. And found the cab driver who brought you here. He thought it was a phony set-up, and he watched where you went—"
Sid cried hoarsely, "Let's take 'em!"
They fired from their pockets.
Steve Brand staggered, as the small office rocked to the explosions of his own .38. He stumbled backward into Halloran, still firing into the room.
The echoes of the .38 were almost drowned by the deeper roar of Ed's two .45s. He had flashed them out almost as the firing began, had shot three times.
When the smoke cleared away, Bland wobbled into the room, supported by Halloran, while Smallwood danced in after them.
The sergeant glanced down at the three bodies on the floor, looked over at Ed, who was holding Elsie Partages in his arms. She had fainted.
"Hell," said Sergeant Bland, "you never leave anybody alive. I can't chalk up arrests with corpses!"
Ed said sourly over his shoulder, "When guys with guns are blasting at you, Steve, it's always safest to shoot to kill. You hurt bad?"
"No. It's a flesh wound." Bland stooped and picked up from the floor, where Sid had dropped it, the glowing pearl. "Ye Gods!" he exclaimed. "This is the Cawnpore Pearl!"
Elsie had opened her eyes, and Ed sat her in a chair. "Keep your eyes closed, kid," he told her. "I'll take you out in a couple of minutes."
Then he swung to Bland. "That's— not the Cawnpore Pearl, Steve," he said. "It's a phony. Somebody switched it."
Bland examined it closely. "You're right. There's supposed to be a couple of secret marks—"
HALLORAN looked appealingly at Ed.
"Geez, Race, didn't these guys have the real stone, after all? Can't—"
"Wait a minute," Ed broke in. He buttonholed Bland. "Look, Steve, I'll make a bargain with you. Elsie Partages, here, didn't have anything to do with the Bellamy job. She witnessed the murder of Santis, but the three guys who did it are dead; so you don't need her for anything. If I turn up the real Cawnpore Pearl, will you give her a break, and see to it that she's not mentioned at all?"
Bland grumbled: "Okay. You turn it up, I'll keep her out of it, and we split the reward three ways— you, me, and Halloran. Too bad I can't make a pinch, so as to get credit for an arrest, too."
"I'll give you a pinch, too, Steve," Ed told him softly.
Halloran was staring at him open-mouthed. Bland asked unbelievingly: "What you going to do— pull it out of your hat?"
"No," said Ed. "There's your pinch!"
He swung and pointed at the mousy looking Smallwood, who had been edging toward the door. "That's your confidence man who came to New York to try to ring in a phony instead of the Cawnpore Pearl. Only he was too late, because Santis and these other muggs beat him to it by pulling the robbery. He had the imitation with him, and when he found the real one on the floor, he just switched them, and returned the phony to me!"
Halloran exclaimed: "Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle! Small—"
Mr. Smallwood was no longer a mousy sort of person. He sprang backward, got behind Elsie Partages' chair and seized her from behind, around the throat. His free hand produced a small automatic, as if by magic.
"Stand back, you dicks!" he snarled. "Or I'll let the girl have it! She's walking out of here with me, and you're going to like it. Drop your guns, quick—"
His last words were drowned by the terrific thunder of Ed's .45.
Smallwood had been stooping behind Elsie's chair, so that only the top of his head had been visible. But Ed's slug found its mark in his forehead, and he was hurled backward as if he had been kicked. His grip was torn from Elsie's throat, and the automatic exploded once in the air, spinning out of his lifeless hand.
When the reverberations died away, Bland exclaimed: "God, that was close shooting, Race! I wouldn't've had the guts to try it. A half-inch lower, and you'd have killed Miss Partages!"
Ed was already stooping beside Smallwood's body, going through his pockets. "Hell," he said, "I couldn't miss. Don't I practice enough?"
His fingers came out of Smallwood's vest pocket with a stone that shone a gorgeous deep purple under the electric light. The imitation, which Bland still held, was pale, lifeless, by comparison.
"That's the goods!" Halloran said. "Boy, what a beauty!"
Ed handed the stone to Bland. "There you are, Steve." He went over to Elsie Partages, patted her on the back. "It's all over now, kid. You can go back to your old man and tell him to give you a good licking."
"What I don't understand," Halloran was musing, "is how the devil Race got wise to this here Smallwood. He looked so innocent and helpless—"
Ed turned away from Elsie, grinning. "Just a small mistake he made, Halloran. He said he was checking out because he was annoyed, and all the time he had intended to leave at one o'clock today. And he laid it on a little too thick about the folks back home, and getting his picture in the paper."
Sergeant Bland winced, touched his wounded arm. "I never suspected him. I just dragged him along with us, because Halloran was sore at you and wanted Smallwood to sign a complaint against you. He didn't want to come, but I made him."
"All right," Halloran said sheepishly, "I was sore. So would anybody be when he gets socked behind the ear. What I want to know, though, is what made you so sure, Race, that Smallwood had the pearl. Just his talking—"
Ed was ejecting the spent shells from his revolvers, replacing them with fresh cartridges. "It wasn't just his talking, Halloran. There was one thing more. I'd noticed those scratches on the pearl myself, when Elsie gave it to me. And the only time it was out of my sight after that was when I dropped it in Smallwood's room. So he was the only one who could have switched them!"
Sergeant Bland sighed, dropped the stones in his pocket. His left arm was hanging limp at his side. "Let's get out of here," he said, "so I can have my wing fixed up." He glared at Ed. "And next time, I wish you'd leave somebody alive so I can make a pinch!"
Non sibi sed omnibus
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