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EMILE C. TEPPERMAN

MASKED MARKSMAN'S
MURDER ENCORE

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First published in The Spider, June 1941

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version date: 2020-04-10
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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The Spider, June 1941, with "Masked Marksman's Murder Encore"



Often had Ed Race, vaudeville's fabulous Masked Marksman, matched wits and guns with Death off-stage. But never had he been forced to try that skill and courage with a mad killer—before the eyes of a packed house!




THE thing happened without the slightest warning. Ed Race was taken so much by surprise that he would have shot to death the man wearing the artist's smock—if it hadn't been for the frantic appeal of the russet-haired girl in the first row.

It happened at the Monday night performance at the Clyde Theatre, in New York, where Ed was just starting a four weeks' engagement. His name was up in blazing lights out front, on the marquee:


THE MASKED MARKSMAN—
THE MAN WHO CAN MAKE GUNS TALK!


Ed was just finishing the second half of his number, in which he juggles all six of his heavy, .45 calibre hair-trigger revolvers. In that routine, he gets all six of them whirling high in the air, then goes into a back somersault. Coming out of the somersault, he catches each of the guns in turn as it descends, and snaps six fast shots at the row of candles thirty feet across the stage. One shot with each revolver, and he puts out each of the six lights in turn. In ten years he has never missed a candle.

And it was that unerring marksmanship of his which undoubtedly, as it was later proved, caused the man in the artist's smock to do that insane thing.

This is what the man did:

He stood up in his balcony box, at the left side of stage. He was all alone in the box. Later, the cashier told how the man had bought all the seats in the box, saying he was expecting a party of friends. He produced a long-barreled, old-fashioned horse pistol from under his green smock, and rested it on his left arm. Then, just as Ed Race was taking a bow after putting out the last candle, the man in the green smock raised his voice in a shout that carried high above the reverberating applause of the audience.

"You, there! Masked Marksman!" he shouted. "I'm going to kill you!"

Ed Race, with a .45 calibre revolver in each hand, heard that voice. He glanced swiftly toward the box, and saw the fever-ridden face of the man in the green smock. He saw the glittering eyes behind the old horse pistol; he saw the big round hole of the barrel peering down at him.

It was not the first time that Ed Race had faced a cocked gun. In fifteen years on the vaudeville stage, he had made an excellent living through his uncanny skill with revolvers. Always, he appeared with that little black silk mask, which hid his features from the general public. Not many people knew his true identity. Not many people knew that, off-stage, he had an avocation which demanded even more skill with revolvers than he exhibited on stage.

For Ed Race needed constant risk and danger, as other men need tobacco and drink. He had, therefore, adopted the avocation of criminology. He held licenses to operate as a private detective in a dozen states, and he was always willing to lend his skill and resource to the service of those members of the theatrical profession who found themselves in trouble. In the course of his career in criminology, Ed had made many an implacable enemy in the Underworld. It was quite possible, therefore, that the man in the green smock was seeking his death in revenge.

Ed's first instinct was to go into another back somersault, to cheat the flashing lead which would, in an instant, come roaring out of that black muzzle. And as he came to his feet, he raised the revolver in his right hand for a snap shot which would have caught his assailant squarely between the eyes. He already had his revolver centered on the man's forehead, and he was wondering why the fellow hadn't fired. Perhaps the man had been confused by Ed's quick somersault.

The fellow still had his gun resting on his elbow, and he was apparently waiting for Ed to come to rest before shooting. Grimly, Ed's finger curled around the hair-trigger of his forty-five. All right, it would be an even duel!

And then, just as he was about to pull the trigger, he heard the girl's voice.


A HUSH had descended upon the whole house, so that although she was only whispering, her every word was as clear and sharp in his ears as the peal of a silver bell. She had been sitting in the aisle seat in the first row, and she was on her feet now, with one hand at her breast and the other outstretched in desperate appeal. Her eyes were wide with anguish, and fixed upon Ed, her deep russet hair falling about her shoulders.

"Don't shoot!" she begged. "His gun is empty!"

She was asking an awful lot of him. She was asking him to put his life in her hands. She was asking him to let the man in the green smock pull the trigger of the old horse pistol!

All this, and more, passed through Ed Race's mind as he faced that man in the balcony box, for that fleeting fractional part of a second. To say that Ed thought these things rationally, in turn, would be absurd. This was a thing where instinct alone, and not reason, must control.

And he held his fire.

He stood there, with revolver raised, waiting, a fair and easy target for the man in the balcony box.

That man's face was drawn and tight, and his eyes were wild and hot, He sighted along the barrel and pulled the trigger. The theater shook to the thunderous blast of that old horse pistol.

For one fleeting instant, Ed Race knew the bitterness of misplaced faith. That girl with the russet hair had fooled him completely. She had asked for his trust, and he had given it. With it went his life.

But the bullet never hit him. He heard it sing past him. Then there was a thud as it imbedded itself in the floor.

A great gasp of relief went up from everyone in the crowded theatre. A woman screamed, perhaps out of relief. Perhaps in anticipation of another shot. Then the audience sat spell-bound.

Ed's eyes were bleak and hard. He watched the man in the balcony thumb back the hammer for another shot. Grimly, Ed Race curled his finger around the trigger of his .45. It would be necessary to kill that man in the green smock, for he was crouching down now, and all that was visible of him was his head. Slowly, Ed's finger began to tighten.

And then, something flashed before his eyes.

That girl with the russet hair had leaped up onto the stage and thrown herself in front of Ed Race. She seized his gun hand in both of hers and dragged it down. She swung her body around so that she was in front of him, shielding him from the fire of the horse pistol. At the same time she turned a taut, strained face toward the man in the balcony box.

"Nigel!" she cried hoarsely. "Don't shoot! For God's sake, don't shoot! It's I—Laura! Don't—"

But that man in the green smock must have been in the grip of some tremendous, overpowering compulsion. He squeezed the trigger of his horse pistol once more.


ED saw that motion, even while he struggled with the girl. He wrenched her violently to one side, so that they both went over the footlights, into the orchestra pit.

The horse pistol thundered again, and the shot ploughed into the boards of the stage.

The man in the green smock cried out in baffled rage, and swung his weapon to follow Ed and the girl.

But by now, two ushers and a special policeman had reached the box. They burst into it from behind, and seized him. They tore the pistol from his grip, and overpowered him.

The house was in an uproar now, everybody standing and shouting in the orchestra and balconies. The stage was crowded with actors and stage-hands who had rushed out from the wings, and the musicians were milling around in the pit.

Ed Race paid no attention to any of this. He was looking down into the white face of the girl with the russet hair. She was clinging to him now, weak from the reaction of what she had just done. Ed could plainly see that she was fighting hard against a wave of faintness—fighting hard to keep from breaking down.

Ed smiled into her eyes and said, "That was a brave thing you did. You might have been killed. You called that man by his name—Nigel. Who is he?"

"My brother," she said, huskily. "I'm Laura Sage."

"Then he's the famous artist!" Ed said quickly. "Nigel Sage!"

Laura nodded.

Ed frowned. "But why would he want to kill me?"

"I don't know. God help me, I don't know why. I knew he was coming here to trick you into shooting him—"

"What do you mean?"

She looked up at him, and there was a deep, lurking fear in her eyes. "I don't understand it myself. But I think—Nigel was trying to commit suicide. I think he wanted to make you kill him."

"I'll be damned!" Ed grunted. "That's a new way to do it!"

Glancing up at the box, he saw that two husky special officers were holding Nigel Sage. He was no longer struggling, but was slumped between them, his head hanging, all the fight gone out of him.

Laura followed Ed's glance, and shuddered. "They'll put him in jail, now! Nigel is a sensitive artist. He'll never survive a jail sentence. Oh, please, help him. I know it's too much to ask of you. You must think I tricked you into letting him shoot you, but I swear I thought his gun was unloaded. Please believe me!"

"I do believe you, Laura Sage," Ed said softly.

"But—there's really no way to save him now—"

"Maybe there is!" Ed said grimly.

He left her standing in the orchestra pit, and vaulted up on the stage. He faced the excited, noisy audience, and raised both hands for silence.

It took several minutes, but as they saw he wanted to speak, the noise and the shouting died down gradually, until the theatre was deathly quiet.

The two special officers had taken Nigel Sage out of the box. Ed turned to the wings, where the actors and the property men had retired, and whispered sotto voce to the assistant manager, "Joe! Have those cops take the man to my dressing room!"

Then he turned to face the audience again.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said. "I am very sorry to have upset you. I hadn't planned it to be so realistic."

"The guy tried to kill you!" some one shouted from the audience.

Ed smiled. "That's what it looked like. But I assure you it was nothing like that. You see, I had planned a little special effect for you. A sort of extra thrill. That man in the box is my good friend, Nigel Sage, the artist."


HE paused, noting the looks of surprise on the faces of those in the front seats. He glanced down at Laura, and saw her staring up at him, her eyes wide with sudden hope. He waved to her and said, "You played your part well, too, Laura!" He went on to address the audience.

"It was I who asked Nigel to occupy that box, and it was I who gave him the gun. The idea was to provide a little novel excitement—and I guess it worked too well. I didn't mean to scare you so much."

He bowed, and walked toward the wings. "I feel I owe you an apology, ladies and gentlemen. Let me try to make up for the trouble I've given you. Would you like me to do a special encore?"

For a while there was silence, as the audience adjusted itself to this idea that Ed had thrown to them. It was hard for them to bring themselves to believe that the whole thing had just been a part of the regular performance.

But Ed's smiling, easy nonchalance as he faced them went a long way toward convincing them. Some one in the balcony shouted, "Give us the encore, Masked Marksman!"

Some one else echoed the shout, and then a little ripple of applause started in the rear. It was taken up in other parts, and in a moment everybody was clapping and shouting for the encore.

Ed smiled and bowed. He went to the table and picked up a fully loaded revolver. Then he took a stack of six big silver dollars. He motioned to the orchestra leader to go into the accompaniment for the silver dollar routine, and in a moment he had the house thoroughly engrossed as they watched him flip those heavy coins into the air, and shoot them down with deadly accuracy.

It was a trick he did only on rare occasions, for it required a tremendous amount of speed and concentration, and coordination of mind, eye and muscle, as well as an unusual steady nerve-reflex. It was all the more remarkable, coming from a man who had just been shot at with a lethal weapon.

The audience appreciated that supreme exhibition of his skill, and made him repeat it twice. He used eighteen of the silver dollars, firing across the stage at a steel mesh backdrop which caught the coins and the bullets.

At the end of the exhibition he picked up the eighteen silver dollars and flung them out, one at a time, to the audience. Eager hands were raised to catch the coins. They would be kept and cherished as souvenirs of the most remarkable bit of marksmanship ever demonstrated to a New York audience.

By the time Ed took his last curtain call, the audience had almost forgotten that incident of the man in the green smock. They applauded the Masked Marksman vociferously.

But Ed Race hadn't forgotten, and neither had his friends backstage.

The moment he stepped behind the wings he was surrounded by a group of eager, excited actors.


HARRY SOMERS, the manager of the Clyde Theatre, sent the Peterman Brothers on stage for their xylophone number, which followed Ed's. Then, Somers hurried over to the buzzing crowd.

"That was damned quick thinking on your part, Eddie!" he blurted. "I mean, about telling the audience it was supposed to be part of the act. You're a good trouper. You stopped a panic out there. But—what about that murderer? He really did try to kill you, didn't he?"

"It looks like it," Ed said drily. "Where is he now?"

"In your dressing room. Our two special guards are holding him there. That red-headed girl went in, too. I haven't called the police yet. I was waiting for you."

"Then don't call them," Ed said. "We may not need them—"

"But Good Lord, you're not going to let him get away with it, are you?"

"I don't know yet. I've got to talk to him."

"Who is he? Do you know him?"

Ed hesitated a moment. Then he shrugged, and said, "He's Nigel Sage."

"Whew!" exclaimed Somers. "The artist!"

Tod Leaming, the acrobat, who was in the group, uttered an exclamation. "Say! Nigel Sage is a great artist. He's painted hundreds of portraits of important people. He paints a lot of stage folk."

"That's right," said Norma Maitland. "I heard that he had painted a portrait of that snake, The Great Mungo. The hypnotist, you know. Mungo was sore as the devil, because Nigel Sage had made him look like Mephistopheles. I saw the portrait on exhibition. Nigel Sage had given the Great Mungo the most evil eyes you ever saw!"

"H'm," Ed Race said thoughtfully. "I think I'll go in and talk to Sage. I've got to find out more about this!"

They made way for him, and he hurried backstage to his dressing room, taking off his black silk mask as he went. He had two of the .45 calibre revolvers with him. While he had talked with Somers and the others, he had loaded them from shells in his pocket. He now inserted the two revolvers in the twin shoulder holsters, which he always wore, on stage and off. He never went anywhere without those two guns. He would have been undressed without them.

Inside Ed's dressing room, the two special theatre guards were standing at the door. Nigel Sage was sitting in a chair, with his head in his hands. Laura was kneeling on the floor at his side, and stroking his temple. Sage did not even look up when Ed came in.

"All right, boys," Ed said to the two guards. "I guess you can go now. He'll be all right."

"You think it's safe, Mr. Race?" one of them asked.

"I think so," Ed said softly. "And thanks for helping out, boys."

"It's nothing, Mr. Race. We owe you lots more than that. We'll wait outside. If you need us, yell."

The guard gave Ed the horse pistol, and they both went out.

As soon as the door closed behind them, Nigel Sage raised his head. He had reddish hair, not quite as dark as his sister's. His forehead was high, his eyes wide-spaced, his mouth sensitive. His hands were long and graceful, a true artist's hands. He looked squarely at Ed.

"I tried to kill you, didn't I?" he asked.

"Don't you know?" Ed countered.

"God help me, I don't. I only know what Laura tells me."

"You mean to say you don't remember anything that happened out there?"

"He doesn't, Mr. Race!" Laura Sage broke in swiftly. "He doesn't remember a thing. He was in a daze when they brought him in here. He only snapped out of it a moment ago."

"What do you remember last?" Ed asked.


NIGEL SAGE stared straight ahead of him, furrowing his brow in an effort at recollection. "I can remember that I was in my studio this evening, making some finishing touches on a portrait. Some one knocked at the door, and came in. It was—"

He paused, trying hard to remember. The veins stood out on his forehead, and there was sweat on the back of his hands as he strained every fiber of him to bring back the memory of what had happened. "It's strange. I can't recall who it was. I know it was someone I disliked very much—"

"I can tell you who it was!" Laura Sage said quietly. "I saw him come out. I was coming over to see you, Nigel. Remember, we were going to a movie tonight. Just as I got to the corner, I saw your visitor leaving. He hurried out and got in a cab. A moment later, you came out of the building, and got into another cab. I called after you, but you didn't hear me. You drove off in the opposite direction from your visitor. You seemed to be in a sort of daze. I called loud enough for you to hear, but you didn't even turn around. I was worried, so I caught a cruising taxi, and followed you. You came here to the Clyde, and bought all the seats for that balcony box. I tried to talk to you, but you pushed me away, and went inside. I—I didn't know what to do. You seemed to be in a trance. So I bought a ticket for the first row, orchestra, and came in, too. It was only after Mr. Race came on that I saw you take out the old horse pistol."

Ed raised the gun, inspected it. "Is this yours, Mr. Sage?"

The dazed artist nodded. "It's an old frontier weapon that I picked up in an antique shop. I used it as a model when I painted covers for western magazines. It was never loaded."

"That's why I told you it wasn't loaded!" Laura broke in eagerly. "I knew it had never had bullets in it. I—didn't even think it could shoot!"

Nigel Sage stared at the old gun. "I wonder who could have loaded it!"

"Your visitor!" Ed said grimly. He turned to Laura. "You haven't told us yet who that visitor was."

She drew a deep breath. "That visitor was—the Great Mungo!"

"Ah!" Ed said softly.

He had half suspected it—ever since Norma Maitland, in the wings, had mentioned that bit about Nigel Sage having painted the Great Mungo.

If there was anyone in New York who had reason to hate Ed Race with a bitter, undying hatred, it was this same Great Mungo. He was a magician who had come from Haiti some ten years ago and had made for himself an unsavory reputation as a hypnotist. There was no question but that the man had weird powers. He had demonstrated those powers on the vaudeville stage for five years, often playing the same bills as Ed Race, the Masked Marksman. Mungo had been traveling with a young woman then, Beth Seton. She had been Mungo's stooge, allowing him to hypnotize her on the stage. He would put her to sleep, and then order her to do the most fantastic things. Ed had wondered why she stood for it, until one night, in a burst of desperation, she had confessed to him that Mungo had a hold over her. It was Ed Race who had broken that evil hold of Mungo over Beth Seton, and had deprived him of the best and most docile assistant a hypnotist could have asked for. Mungo had gone down the ladder in vaudeville after that, mainly because of things the public had learned about him through Ed Race's exposure. Now, Mungo was in another racket of some kind, where he seemed to make a living. In fact, he must have money, in order to have been able to afford to hire Nigel Sage to do his portrait.

The hypnotist hated Nigel Sage for having pictured the evil of him in the portrait; and he hated Ed Race for that old grievance. What more natural then, that he should have used his hypnotic powers to force Nigel Sage to shoot at the Masked Marksman? It was clever, devilish. He had loaded that old horse-pistol, and he had hypnotized Sage, ordering him to go to the Clyde and shoot Ed Race. If Sage killed Ed, Sage would go to the chair. If Ed killed Sage, he'd probably have to stand trial. In any event, it was the kind of vicious plot which only the Great Mungo could hatch out.

Ed started visibly. He had forgotten the presence of Nigel and Laura Sage, so absorbed had he been in the process of reasoning the thing out. They were both watching him intently.


SWIFTLY, as best he could, Ed explained his theory to them. He put it quickly, tersely, brutally. When he finished, both Laura and her brother stared at him with horror in their eyes.

"Good Lord!" exclaimed the artist. "Can a man be so vicious?"

"Mungo can!" Ed told him grimly.

"But—but what can we do about it? What is to prevent Mungo from trying it again?" Laura asked tightly. "If he has the power to hypnotize Nigel once, he can do it whenever he wishes."

"Exactly!" Ed said.

"Shall—shall we go to the police?" Laura thought out loud.

Nigel laughed bitterly. "What proof have we, except my word? Mungo would only laugh at us."

"Let's go and visit our friend, Mungo!" Ed said softly.

Laura stared at him questioningly. "Will—will it do any good?"

She broke off with a catch in her voice, her eyes suddenly wide, fixed upon her brother.

Nigel Sage seemed to be undergoing some sort of spasm. His face twitched, and his hands became tightly clenched. His eyes assumed a vague and vacant stare. His whole body stiffened for a moment, then relaxed. A queer smile began to tug at his lips, and he murmured something indistinguishable, as if he were speaking to some invisible person. They could not catch the words.

Laura took a quick, impulsive step toward her brother. "Nigel—"

But Ed Race stopped her, with a hand on her arm. "Wait!" he whispered in her ear. "Don't you see what's happening? Mungo has established his hypnotic power over your brother. Now, he can throw him into a trance at will, from a distance. I've seen it done. He can give him orders, by remote control, as it were. He may even have given him a series of orders when he first hypnotized him, telling him what to do in certain cases. Look! Your brother seems to be in a daze right now!"

Laura was shivering as she watched Nigel Sage slowly get up out of his chair. He was staring blankly ahead of him.

"The gun!" he whispered. "My old pistol. Where is it?"

Ed Race acted swiftly. He turned his back on Nigel, and broke the gun, emptied the cartridge chamber of the remaining shells. Then he quickly laid it on the floor, and stepped away from it.

Nigel Sage turned around, and saw the gun on the ground.

"Yes, yes," he muttered. "There it is."

He picked it up, and pulled the hammer back with his thumb. Then he turned and stared at Ed Race.

"Ah!" he said. "I remember. I must kill you!"

And he pulled the trigger.

There was no explosion, but he didn't even seem to notice the absence of sound. He pulled the trigger twice more, sending imaginary bullets into Ed's body.

Ed winked at Laura, and swayed on his feet, then allowed himself to crumple, and fall to the floor at Nigel Sage's feet. He peeked out of the corner of his eye, and saw the artist throw the gun down, then raise his head and speak to an invisible presence. "I've succeeded this time!"

Laura was watching, fascinated, a hand at her mouth.

Nigel Sage turned around and stalked out of the room, without once looking back.

The moment he was gone, Ed sprang up and took Laura's arm. "Come on! We've got to follow him!"

In the corridor, Ed waved the guards aside, motioning them not to stop Nigel Sage. The artist walked as if in a trance, unseeing, straight past the groups of wondering actors and stagehands, until he reached the stage door. He made his way out into the street, and turned left. Ed and Laura followed, ten feet behind, not even making an effort to conceal themselves. There was no chance of Nigel's noticing them.

The dazed artist made his way across town, crossing against red lights, without even attempting to dodge automobiles. But the special god who takes care of those who cannot take care of themselves was protecting him. Autos stopped with screeching brakes, and swerved recklessly to avoid hitting him. He got across Eight Avenue, made his way to Ninth.

It was there that the last act took place.


JUST as Nigel Sage was stepping off the curb, a car came screeching around the corner. Ed Race, with Laura at his side, caught one single glimpse of the twisted face of the driver behind the wheel. It was—the Great Mungo!

Now, Ed understood the full depth of Mungo's plot. The vicious hypnotist must have ordered Nigel Sage to make his way out of the theatre after shooting Ed Race. He must have hoped that Ed would kill him; but, failing that, he had provided for finishing the thing off. There would be plenty of witnesses to testify to the fact that Nigel Sage had acted drunk or insane. They would testify that he had crossed the street at Eighth Avenue with a reckless disregard for his own safety. Under those conditions, anyone who ran him over would certainly not be held responsible. And it was this way that Mungo planned to complete his revenge. He was going to run Nigel Sage down with his own car!

All this, Ed Race grasped in the twinkling flash of time when he glimpsed Mungo's set and murderous face behind the wheel. He was only a few feet behind Nigel Sage, and there was only one thing he could do. He leaped forward and thrust at Nigel Sage's back with both hands, hard.

He sent Sage spinning out into the street, far past the rushing wheels of Mungo's car. The artist landed on his hands and knees, far out from the gutter, against one of the El pillars, and Ed barely saved himself from falling in front of the speeding car.

The car, with Mungo at the wheel, catapulted forward like a meteor. Mungo was disconcerted, and off guard, because he had been bracing himself for the shock of smashing into Sage's body, and his hands had been gripping the wheel hard. Somehow, the wheel twisted under his exertion, and the car swerved to the left, heading straight for one of the big, steel El pillars.

Ed saw the hypnotist struggling with the wheel to right it and straighten the car. But he was going too fast. The very speed which he had put on for the destruction of Nigel Sage was Mungo's own undoing. Before he could right the car, it struck the El pillar with a terrible crash of breaking glass and twisting metal. The whole front of the car was telescoped back into the wheel, crushing Mungo as if he had been made of cardboard. Almost at once, a great flash of fire roared upward, engulfing the wreckage. The murder car became a crematory for the man of murder.


IN a matter of moments, the street was full of police and spectators, ambulances and fire fighting apparatus, and squad cars.

Ed Race and Laura went over and helped Nigel Sage to his feet. If anyone noticed them, they thought that these three had only leaped to safety out of the way of the doomed car. They did not suspect the drama that lay behind.

Ed led Nigel across the street, to the opposite curb. The artist was in full possession of his senses again, and puzzled and bewildered.

"What—what's been happening?" he asked. "How did I get here?"

"Just an accident," Ed said grimly. "Nothing for you to worry about."

Nigel Sage put a hand to his forehead. "I—I have a feeling that I was in some dreadful nightmare—"

"Forget it," Ed told him. "You shouldn't work so hard. What you need is a vacation. Come on, let's go."

"You—you're sure everything is all right?"

"Everything is all right," Ed assured him. "See, here's your sister. Take her home."

"But—but who are you?"

Ed Race chuckled. "Just a friend of your sister's. I'd like to get my portrait done sometime."

Nigel Sage turned and studied him professionally. "I'll be glad to do your portrait, sir," he said. "I like your head. And I like your face. It's the sort of rugged face a person can have faith in. You're the kind of man who would go far to help a friend."

Laura, on her brother's other side, said, "How right you are, Nigel!"

And she flashed Ed Race a warm and grateful glance.


THE END


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