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EMILE C. TEPPERMAN

MIAMI MURDER INTERMISSION

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First published in The Spider, July 1941

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

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

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The Spider, July 1941, with "Miami Murder Intermission"



Ed Race for once, it seemed, would not be able to open the Miami vaudeville season as the popular Masked Marksman. For he was welcomed by a dive-bombing act that blasted him into a maelstrom of murder, and obliged him to champion a young lady who had a rifle, a million bucks—and more enemies than John Dillinger!




TABLE OF CONTENTS



CHAPTER I. — WELCOME, STUKA-STYLE

ED RACE was doing seventy on the moonlit Florida highway, when he heard an airplane flying low and coming up rapidly from behind him. Grinning just a little, he gunned the motor of his powerful super-charged Buick Convertible up to ninety, just as a gesture. Here, even on the straight flat road, ninety was a dizzy speed. But the plane would easily pass and leave him far behind.

Now the roar of the motor was almost directly overhead—and Ed gave a startled exclamation, as suddenly a spotlight lanced downward out of the sky, cutting athwart the beams of his own headlights.

Ed did not slacken his speed. He risked peering upward out of the window. That plane was diving down at him, straight as an arrow!

In the dark, at this dizzy speed, it was difficult to see the plane clearly. But Ed was almost sure he could discern someone leaning out the right side of the open cockpit, holding an object in his fist. And even as Ed craned his neck, the fist described a short parabola and hurled the object downward.

Ed Race was on his way to Miami to open the winter season at the Partages Theatre with his nationally famous "Masked Marksman" act. He knew no reason why anyone should want to blast him with a bomb. True, Ed had made himself many an enemy, by reason of his hobby, which was the practice of criminology. Though he was a successful actor, his nervous energy had long ago compelled him to seek more excitement than the juggling of .45 calibre revolvers on the stage. Hence, he had acquired licenses to operate as a private detective in a dozen states. He never charged a fee for his criminological activities, using his privilege only in the service of friends.

Still, the fact remained that the pilot overhead had already heaved a small black object down at the road ahead, just at the spot where Ed's car would arrive within seconds. At his present speed there was not enough time for Ed to stop. There was a six-foot ditch at the right, and a ten-foot railroad embankment at the left.

Ed's reaction was the instinctive one of a man accustomed to split-second crises. On the stages of countless theatres from coast to coast his daily performances consisted of juggling six heavy .45 calibre revolvers in the air, and going into a back somersault while they were still whirling overhead. Then he would come to his feet and catch them, two by two as they came down, firing each at a row of candles thirty feet across the stage. In ten years he had never missed one of those candles! Such swift accuracy bespoke an ability to react instantaneously—as he did now.

His hands, gripping the wheel hard, twisted it over to the right. At the same time, his foot drove down on the accelerator. The speedometer needle jumped from ninety to a hundred-and-ten. The powerful convertible slewed around toward the ditch and shot forward like a projectile. Ed never took his foot off the accelerator until the rear wheels had left the ground, and the car was shooting through the air for one incredible moment, with nothing but its momentum to carry it over the ditch. Then the front wheels hit the soft ground of the field beyond the ditch.


HE held on tightly, giving her gas once more, and waiting for the crash. But the car was being carried forward by the tremendous speed it had gathered, and the tires rolled on ahead for some distance before they mired in the soft and yielding earth. Even so, the sudden deceleration threw Ed against the steering wheel so hard he thought his ribs had cracked. When the car finally stopped, still upright and in one piece, it took him a moment to catch his breath. Then he breathed a deep sigh of relief and began to think again.

At just what moment the explosion had taken place, he did not know. Every single iota of his attention had been concentrated on bringing the car across the ditch. Dimly he was conscious of the ear-deafening concussion which the bomb made when it struck the road, a hundred feet ahead. And now, as the ground shook with the reverberating thunder of the detonation, he thrust open the door and leaped to ground. Dirt and pieces of torn-up concrete from the crater in the road were falling in the field about him. His face was bleak and hard as he raised his eyes to the plane which had banked and was circling back toward him. The goggled passenger was peering over the side, another bomb poised to throw.

Ed's hands crossed over his chest, snaked up to his armpits and out again, gripping the two .45 calibre hair-trigger revolvers which he always carried. They were two of the six with which he performed on the stage. He raised both guns to the plummeting plane. It was less than a hundred feet above the ground now, and the pilot had leveled off so as to pass directly over Ed's head. The goggled passenger had his arm raised.

Grimly, Ed began to pull the triggers of his two weapons, firing them in synchronized threnody of doom. Slugs blasted out of those two revolvers with deadly accuracy. The passenger slumped over the side of the open cockpit, his helmeted head riddled with lead. At the same time, the propeller seemed to disintegrate.

The nose of the plane dropped as the pilot strove desperately to glide to a landing. At the same time, the bomb fell from the lifeless fingers of the passenger. But the man had apparently not had time to pull the firing-pin, for it struck the concrete road without exploding.

Flying bits of propeller hailed down upon Ed Race. But he stood erect, supremely unmindful of them, watching the plane. The pilot attempted a pancake landing. But the wheels dug into the soft ground. The tail came up; the nose slammed in to the soil and then the ship pitched over in a rending somersault. The fuselage crumbled into a ghastly mess of accordioned metal, crushing the bodies of its occupants. Miraculously, no flames burst from it. The pilot must have switched off his ignition.

Ed Race stood unmoving for the space of a dozen heartbeats. Then he ran to the wrecked machine. A single glance told him there was nothing to be done for the pilot and his passenger.

Gravely, methodically, Ed Race went about the business of reloading his two emptied revolvers. He was just slipping them back in their holsters when a pair of powerful headlights came up the road toward him. He faced their glare.


CHAPTER II. — THE RIFLE GIRL

THAT car was coming fast. Its headlights picked up Ed's stalled convertible and the wreck of the plane, but it did not slacken speed one whit. Then, the driver saw the crater in the middle of the road, and tires screamed as brakes were frantically applied. The car came to a stop less than a yard from the bomb crater.

Ed noted that it was exactly the same make and model as his own car. The door flew open and a young woman leaped out. She was a long-legged blonde in a snug-fitting tailored suit which did ample justice to her long, slender body. She moved with the lithe grace of a trained ballet dancer as she stepped to the rear of the car, where she was momentarily beyond Ed's view. When she stepped back beside the car, a rifle was at her shoulder. She pointed it at Ed, with her cheek nested along the stock like an expert markswoman.

"Raise your hands in the air, and come here!" she ordered. "If you make a single suspicious move, I'll shoot!"

Ed smiled in the darkness. "Take it easy, lady," he called out. "I mean you no harm."

"Who are you?" she demanded.

"Just an innocent traveler."

"Sure!" she retorted bitterly. "You were in that plane. You were going to bomb me as I drove past here. But you crashed!"

"On the contrary," Ed said mildly. "I was the one who was bombed. I shot the plane down, out of the air."

"A likely story! No one could shoot like that!"

"Want me to prove it to you?"

"How?"

Ed moved over near his own car.

She swiftly raised the rifle to her shoulder, but seeing that he had no weapon in his hands, she lowered it a little.

Ed nodded. "Thank you for not shooting. Now, if you'll take a look at my car here, you'll see that it's exactly the same model and make as yours. We both have New York license plates. Even from the ground, it would be easy to mistake one for the other, let alone from a plane—at night."

He was only thirty or forty feet from her, and he could see her head shift as she turned to look at his car, mired in the soft earth.

"Go on," she said.

He shrugged. "You can guess what happened. That pilot and his murderous passenger must have mistaken me for you."

"So you shot it out with them—and brought down a plane traveling at about a hundred and fifty miles an hour?"

"Exactly."

The girl uttered a brittle laugh, edged with disbelief. "Everything you say sounds logical—up to the part where you claim you shot them down."

"You think I'm lying?"

"Yes. Somehow, your plan to kill me with a bomb went haywire. Now you're trying to trap me into throwing away my rifle. Then you'll finish me off."

"Wait a minute!" Ed said hastily, as she raised the rifle once more to her shoulder. "Just a minute. I said I could prove to you that I shot the plane down."

"Well? Talk fast, mister!"

"All right. You're standing in front of your car. At your side is the door handle. Underneath the handle is the lock. It's not quite as large as a quarter, is it?"

She did not turn her head. "It's no bigger than a nickel," she said. "What about it?"

"If I hit it from here, will you believe that I could have shot down a plane flying almost straight at me—at close range?"

She laughed once more, sharply. "Maybe you could hit this lock, but you'll never get a chance to prove it, because I'm not fool enough to trust you with a gun in your—"

Her voice was blotted out by the blasting thunder of Ed's gun. In a blinding stream of motion which the eye could not possibly have followed, his right hand had magically produced a gun and fired. He faced her once more, empty-handed.

For a long, tense moment, the girl stood staring at the smashed lock. Then she turned and faced Ed Race. She smiled, a bit wryly, and put the rifle down on the ground.

"All right," she said. "You've showed me what a fool I've been—thinking I had you at my mercy with the rifle—while you could have killed me at any moment."

She paused, looking completely feminine and helpless. "Come on over. I think I could do worse than trust you."

"Thank you," Ed said, and leaped across the ditch to the road.

He had judged her to be about thirty. But now, as he came close to her, he saw that he had been mistaken. She was much younger—twenty-one or twenty-two. She was tall—barely two inches less than his own five-foot-eight-and-a-half—and slim, with vivacity in her eyes.

"My name is Weston," she said, giving him her hand impulsively. "Kate Weston."


ED took her hand, and smiled at the cool firmness of her grip. This girl was admirably poised, this Kate Weston. She wouldn't lose her head easily. "I'm Ed Race," he told her. He took out his wallet and showed her his driver's license, and his Stage & Screen Guild membership card. "Just to set your mind at rest about me, in case you still have a suspicion that I had anything to do with those bomb-throwers. I'm an actor, and I'm on my way to Miami where I open on Monday."

She looked at him blankly. "An actor? With guns in shoulder holsters? And able to shoot like that!" She put a finger on the smashed and twisted auto lock.

He laughed. "That's the kind of actor I am, Kate. I do a gun-juggling and marksmanship act—"

"Oh! Then you're the Masked Marksman!"

"Yes."

"I saw you in Canada, two years ago," she rushed on. "I—"

"In Canada?" he asked frowning.

"Yes. Don't you remember playing the Montcalm Theatre, in Montreal?"

"Of course!" he exclaimed.

"And I was on the same bill with you—the Weston sisters. We did a ballet dance—"

Ed shook his head. "I'm sorry, I don't recall—"

"Naturally, you wouldn't. You were the star of the show, and we were just beginning. We started the program. You probably hadn't even got to the theatre when we were on."

Ed smiled. "You're Canadian then. What brings you here, on a Florida highway? And why did those men in the plane want to kill you?"

Her eyes clouded. "My uncle was American. He owned an estate down here, in Kington—"

"Kington?" he asked. "That's the next town, isn't it? I had it marked on the map as my next stop."

She nodded. "It's only five or six miles away. I've visited my uncle here, several times. He died last month, and left his estate to my sister Ruth and me. Ruth came down here two weeks ago to claim the inheritance for both of us, while I remained to fill our Canadian theatrical engagements, with a substitute partner."

Kate Weston's lips began suddenly to tremble. "We were warned not to claim the estate. An offer was made to us, of fifty thousand dollars in cash, for all our rights. Ruth and I decided not to sell. She started out, driving from Montreal, just as I was doing. And—and her car was destroyed in an explosion, between Jacksonville and Kington—just as mine would have been!"

"I see!" Ed Race said softly. "Who was it that warned you not to come down? Who offered you fifty thousand dollars for the estate?"

"A Montreal lawyer named Ernest DeWitt. He said he was authorized to make the offer in the name of certain powerful interests in Kington. He hinted that if we insisted on claiming our inheritance we'd never live to enjoy it." Her voice caught in her throat. "He—was right, as far as Ruth was concerned."

Ed nodded. "And almost right as far as you are concerned. What do you intend to do now, Kate?"

Her chin jutted firmly. "I'm going to Kington and fight those murdering devils! I'm going to pay them off for Ruth—even if it costs my life!"

Ed's eyes were glowing. "I think," he said softly, "that I'll just go along with you!"

"What about your car?"

"We'll leave it here, and report the attack in Kington. Let's get going quick, before anyone else gets here."

"But why not wait—"


ED took her elbow, urging her into the convertible. "If there are powerful interests in Kington who don't want you to claim that estate, they'll know about this attack being scheduled. I want to see their faces when they get a look at you!"

He left her waiting in the car, and hurried back to his car. He moved his luggage to her convertible, then dug a screwdriver out of the tool box and went to work on the license plates.

"What are you doing?" she demanded.

"Changing the plates, Kate. I'm putting your plates on my car, and my plates on yours."

"But why—"

"You just wait and see!" he chuckled.

In five minutes he had the change completed. Then he got into her car once more, took the wheel and maneuvered it around, facing north once more.

"We've got to find a back road into Kington. We can't pass that crater."

"I don't understand why you changed the license plates," she insisted. "What good will that do—"

"Watch me," he said. He drove the car a hundred feet up the road and stopped. Then he took out one of his revolvers. He fired four times, aiming at the gas tank of his own car. Immediately, there was a dull, booming explosion, and a sheet of flame spread upward. Chunks of metal blasted out in every direction, together with burning shreds of upholstery. Some of that burning wreckage fell on the wrecked plane, and in a moment it too was blazing.

Ed nodded grimly, and swung back to the wheel. He put the car in gear and raced away from that blazing holocaust.

Kate Weston put a hand on his arm.

"I think I understand what you did," she said. "You've fixed it so they'll think I was killed in there, and that the plane was wrecked somehow, and the killers caught in their own trap."

"Exactly," Ed told her. "Let those powerful interests in Kington think there's no more Kate Weston to worry about. Maybe that will bring them out in the open. In the meantime, you'll be safe from further attacks!"

Her eyes were shining. "That car cost you eighteen hundred dollars, Ed. I'd offer you this car in exchange—only I've only made one payment on it."

"Don't let that worry you," Ed told her. "If you collect your inheritance, you can pay me back."

"But if—I don't?"

"If you don't," Ed Race said bleakly, "there'll be work for the coroner in Kington tonight!"


CHAPTER III. — TOO MANY COPS

THE City of Kington appeared to be a bustling community as Ed Race drove the convertible down Broadway. At the corner of First Street, he pulled up in front of the Coast Hotel, which seemed to be the most respectable hostelry in town. The sign above the entrance said:


COAST HOTEL

UNDER THE PROPRIETORSHIP
OF

OLLIE PARADISE


Ed raised his eyebrows as he glanced across the street and saw the sign above a tall department store building:


OLLIE PARADISE & COMPANY

.

A little further down Broadway, there was a stately, granite two-story bank building. It also bore the name of Paradise.

Ed raised his eyebrows. "This Ollie Paradise seems to be a big man in Kington," he said to Kate Weston.

She nodded. "Ollie Paradise was Uncle Martin's partner. Ollie now owns the town."

"I see!" Ed said. "And have you met this Ollie Paradise?"

"Only once, about six years ago, when Ruth and I were down here visiting Uncle Martin. We were only kids then. But we were scared of Mr. Paradise. He's a big man, with great bushy eyebrows, and a little moustache. And he always goes around with two bodyguards."

Ed nodded contentedly. "I think I'm going to like it here in Kington." He pointed to the colored porter who was coming out of the hotel. "Let him take your baggage in. Go in and register—but not under your own name. Register as—let's see—Kate Jones. Then sit tight in your room and wait for a call from me."

"What will you be doing?"

"I'll be finding out about your inheritance. Whom were you supposed to see, here in Kington?"

"A lawyer by the name of Wesley Dekkar. He has an office in the Kington Building. He said over the phone that he'd be waiting there for me, no matter when I got into town. That was four hours ago."

"All right," Ed told her. "When you get upstairs, call Wesley Dekkar, and tell him you're sending your representative to talk to him. Tell Dekkar to take his orders from me, just as if they were your own orders. Will you trust me that far?"

"Even farther!" she said, with shining eyes. "I'll give you a written power-of-attorney—"

"Not necessary," Ed said crisply. "The phone call will be sufficient. Goodbye, Kate!"

"Goodbye, Ed," she whispered. "And—good luck!"


ED was just pulling away from the curb when a man who had been walking hurriedly up Broadway, stopped short, staring at the front of the convertible. He looked startled, and then he frowned. He raised his hand and waved wildly, authoritatively, at Ed.

Ed gave the man a queer look, and slowed up again, pulling back into the curb. At the same time he hunched his shoulders forward so that the butts of his .45's were ready to be drawn.

The man who had waved to him was short and chunky, with a high forehead under a derby hat which was pushed well back on his head. He inspected the front of the car carefully once more, and came over to the window.

"You!" he demanded. "Where did you get this car?"

Ed raised his eyebrows, watching the fellow across the empty seat. "Who wants to know?"

The man grimaced, and pulled back the lapel of his coat to reveal a badge, and then let the lapel drop.

"Police!" he said.

Ed didn't look convinced. "Excuse me. Just let me take another look at that badge. For all I know, it might be phony."

The man's face reddened, and his hand went up toward his left shoulder. "Listen, wise-guy, I'm Captain Smeed, in charge of Kington's Detective Division. You talk civil to me, or by God, I'll take you apart! I asked you where you got this car!"

He thrust his right hand in under his armpit and started to draw out a gun. With his left hand he reached over the open window and felt for the door handle on the inside.

Ed nodded to himself as if in confirmation of something.

"Just as I thought," he said. "Mr. Smeed, I think you're a fraud—or else you'd let me get a good look at the badge. If you attempt to pull that gun, I'll be justified in defending myself—like this!"

Smeed's gun was already out of the holster. Ed's hand streaked in a lightning motion, and a revolver seemed to have leaped into it by magic. The barrel of the revolver swung forward into the forehead of Captain Smeed. The blow jarred Smeed back on his heels, but did not knock him out. His gun fell on the seat alongside Ed, who scooped it up.

"Now," Ed Race said pleasantly, "suppose you get in. We can have a nice talk in my car."

"Damn you!" Smeed muttered. "I'll put you in the can for the rest of your—"

"Are you getting in?" Ed asked silkily. "Or do I put a slug in your throat?"

Smeed muttered something unintelligible under his breath. He hesitated, looking into Ed's eyes. What he saw there made his face go a little pale. The muzzle of that .45 revolver stared uncompromisingly at him.

At last he said, "Damn you, I believe you'd shoot!"

"You'll never know," Ed told him cheerfully, "unless you're inside this car by the time I count three. One, two—"

"Wait! Wait!" Smeed exclaimed hastily. He yanked open the door and climbed in.

"Thank you," Ed said sweetly.


HE put Smeed's gun on the floor at his feet, and holstered his own revolver. He saw the vicious gleam in the other's eye as he left himself without a weapon in his hand.

"Ah!" said Smeed, and swung his right fist. Ed blocked the blow with his left. "Sorry," he said, and brought up his right fist, inside Smeed's swing, and square into his chin.

Smeed's head popped back, struck the steel framework of the top, and he sagged limply in the seat, like a flour sack.

Ed frowned, and drove on. He parked the car two blocks south, directly across the street from the Kington Building, where Kate Weston had said that Attorney Dekkar had his office. Then he pushed Smeed's unconscious body down on to the floor, where he would not be visible from the street, and went through his pockets. He found a pair of handcuffs, and linked the captain's left ankle to the steering column. He confiscated Smeed's keys and badge, and a small notebook with telephone numbers, which he found in an inside vest pocket. Then he covered the limp figure with an auto robe.

Ed nodded genially to a uniformed policeman who came past, and went around in front of the car to see what it was that had attracted Smeed's attention. Sure enough, there was something. Someone had pasted a half sheet of red two-cent stamps on the front of the right fender. It made quite a sizable sticker, which would be immediately noticeable to anyone who had been warned to be on the lookout for a car with such marking.

Ed Race stood there at the curb and rubbed his chin. If Smeed had been on the lookout for this car, there must undoubtedly be others in Kington who were also on the watch.

Ed took out his pen knife and bent over the fender. He began to scrape the stamps off. The uniformed policeman came past again.

"What's that, mister?" he asked. "Stamps?"

"Yes," Ed told him.

"What's the idea of putting stamps on a car?"

Ed looked annoyed. "I wanted to mail it."

"Haw, haw!" said the cop. "I see you're from N'Yawk."

"That's right."

"Just get in?"

"Yes."

"Did you pass the wreck on the Florida highway? They say there's a burned plane and a burned car. Queer accident. Did you see it?"

"No," Ed lied. "I didn't come in on the Florida highway. I came on the county pike from the northwest."

"Oh," said the cop. "Are you an undertaker?"

Ed froze. He felt something hard poking into his side. "Because if you ain't an undertaker," the cop continued, "it's funny that you got a stiff in your car."

"It's not a stiff," Ed said. "It's just a—sort of friend of mine."

"Let's take a look," the cop suggested.

They moved around to the door. The cop, considerately, had taken off his uniform cap and was holding it over the gun, so that passersby would not be attracted.

"Open the door, mister!"

Ed shrugged, and pulled the door open. "You're not going to like this," he warned.

"Huh!" grunted the cop. "Pull the blanket off him."

Ed exposed the mottled face of Captain Smeed. He was still unconscious, but he was breathing regularly.


CHAPTER IV. — THE CLUTCH TRICK

"FOR the love of Saint Peter!" breathed the cop. "You've got Smeed in there! The toughest dick in town! How'd you do it?"

"A right uppercut to the jaw," Ed explained. "Listen, officer," he hurried on earnestly, "I know how you cops feel about anyone who assaults a brother officer. But I've got to make you understand what this is about. I assure you I'm not an enemy of the law—"

"Enemy?" said the cop. He grinned, and put away his gun. Then he thrust out his hand and gripped Ed's in a lusty handshake. "Mister, you've made me your friend for life!"

Ed looked a little dizzy. "What do you mean?"

"Haw, haw!" said the cop. "Mister, there's a hundred men on the Kington Police Force that would give a year's pay for the privilege of landing a right upper-cut on this monkey's jaw. But none of 'em had the guts to do it. Smeed works with Ollie Paradise's political machine. Right now, Ollie Paradise is Mayor of Kington. We take orders, and we don't like it. I don't care if you're wanted for murder in ten states, mister, I ain't even seen you tonight!"

He slammed the door shut, winked at Ed, and turned away.

"Wait a minute," Ed said. "Don't you want to know—"

"I know all I need to know right now, mister. If you're bucking Smeed and Ollie Paradise, that's enough for me. I dassen't butt in actively to help you—but I promise you that whatever happens around this beat—I'll be blind and deaf. And I'll pass the word along to some of the other boys on tour."

"I wouldn't be surprised!" Ed said, musingly.

He waited till the cop had moved down the street. Then he completed the job of scraping the postage stamps off the fender, put away his penknife, and crossed the street to the Kington Building. He consulted the bulletin board, and took the elevator up to the fifth floor. Wesley Dekkar's office was in 505. His name was on the frosted glass window, with the modest superscription:


ATTORNEY-AT-LAW.

Beneath that, in one corner, was the additional lettering: Notary Public, Commissioner of Deeds.


Ed tried the door and found it unlocked. He walked in without knocking. He was in a small reception office, equipped with a stenographer's desk and a filing cabinet. But the desk was unoccupied, and the filing cabinet had been ransacked. There was no one in the room.

A door at the other side carried the legend on the frosted glass window: Mr. Dekkar, Private.

Ed crossed the room and stood close to that door, listening. For a moment he heard nothing, and then there came faintly to him the sound of a subdued moan. He cursed softly under his breath, and pushed the door open.

The inner office had also been thoroughly searched. Papers and desk drawers lay all over the floor. Among them, lay a man in shirtsleeves.


HE was on his face, with both arms wrapped around his head, as if to protect him from possible blows. There was a pool of blood around his head, and his shirt was stained a deep crimson. He was stirring, and moaning.

Ed sprang across and knelt beside him. The man must have heard his step, for he cowered, and pressed his arms closer around his head. "D-don't hit me!" he muttered. "I—told you everything, didn't I?"

Ed lifted him up, and plopped him in the chair by the desk.

"Don't be afraid," he said. "I'm a friend."

The man's head was bleeding from a nasty cut, and his face was battered and bloody. His nose was broken, and his lips were badly cut. "W-who are you?" he asked feebly.

"My name is Race," Ed told him. "I come from Kate Weston."

"Oh, God!" the man moaned. "You're the one she phoned about!"

"You're Wesley Dekkar?"

"Y-yes."

"What's happened here?" Ed demanded, though he had a good idea already.

"God help me," Dekkar groaned, "I've practically sentenced Miss Kate to death!"

"What do you mean?" Dekkar dabbed feebly at his bloody face, and gasped, "Ollie Paradise and his two gunmen bodyguards were here—Smokey Lewis and Go-go Blair. They—they beat me."

"Why?"

"They—they wanted me to tell them whether I had heard from Miss Kate. They—they suspected that she hadn't been in the car that was wrecked and burned on the highway, and they figured she'd come to see me. They walked in just as Miss Kate was phoning me. They tried to trace the call, but they couldn't so they beat me."

Ed Race's eyes were cold. "And you told them where to find her?"

"God help me, I did. They left five minutes ago."

"Damn you!"

"Don't blame me too much. I'm a lawyer—not a fighting man. I—couldn't stand the beating. Ollie Paradise would have let his gunmen kill me. There's too much at stake. Miss Kate's estate is worth a million dollars. And by her uncle's will, if she doesn't claim it by tomorrow, it reverts back to her uncle's partner—Ollie Paradise!"

"I see!" Ed said. For a second he stood still, frowning in deep concentration. Five minutes was enough head-start for Paradise and his killers. They could have gotten to the Kington Hotel by this time, and Ed couldn't hope to overtake them. There was only one slim chance—that Ollie Paradise's killers wouldn't do their job right there in the hotel, but might take Kate Weston out. He snatched up the phone and asked for the Kington. In a moment he had his connection.

"Let me talk to Miss Kate Weston, please!"

"I'm sorry, sir," said the clerk at the other end. "Miss Weston is not in. I just saw her going out, accompanied by—Dr—two men."

"Thank you," Ed said bitterly, and hung up. He jiggled the hook. "Police Headquarters, please!"

Watching him from the chair, Wesley Dekkar shook his head hopelessly. "You won't get anywhere—"


ED motioned him to silence as a voice at the other end of the wire said gruffly, "Police Headquarters. Sergeant Kramm speaking!"

"Let me talk to the inspector in charge, please," Ed asked.

"What about?"

"I want to report a kidnapping."

"Just a minute."

Ed held the wire, and a moment later another voice said, "Inspector Falk, talking. What is it?"

"Inspector," Ed said swiftly, "I want to report a kidnapping. I'd like you to put it on the teletype at once. There may yet be a chance to save the girl. She was just taken out of the Kington Hotel by two men—Smokey Lewis and Go-go Blair—"

"Is that so?" Inspector Falk said. "Well, I'll tell you what—you come down here and make your report in person—"

"But there's no time!" Ed exclaimed. "Put the alarm right out, and I'll come down in the mean time. If you throw a force of men into the downtown district, you may be able to—"

"Listen, you!" the inspector barked. "Don't tell us how to run the police department!" There was a bang as Falk hung up.

Ed put down the phone. His hands were clenched tightly. He saw Wesley Dekkar looking at him piteously. "It's useless. Most of the officers in the police department work for Ollie Paradise. They've probably been tipped off not to answer any call on this case."

"Where would they take her?" Ed demanded.

"God knows," Dekkar told him. "There are fifty places where they could hold her—if they didn't want to kill her at once. They might just keep her prisoner till the estate is forfeited, and then make her sign a release so as to keep everything legal."

"Would they let her go then?"

Dekkar's bloody lips twisted. "Not they. If they kill her, she can never make trouble for them. If they let her live, she might go into court and contest the release, on the ground that she had signed it under duress. But if she's dead, there'll be nobody to contest it."

"That's what you think!" Ed barked. He came and stood over Dekkar. "Who in this town is in Ollie Paradise's confidence? Who would know where they've taken her?"

"Who?" Dekkar shrugged. "Inspector Falk would know. There's a certain Captain Smeed who would surely know—"

"Ah!" Ed exclaimed. "Captain Smeed, eh!"

He turned and fairly ran out of the room, leaving the bloody-faced Dekkar with mouth agape.

Downstairs in front of the building he saw his convertible still parked across the street. The uniformed cop was down at the corner, and when Ed saw him he hurried over toward him.

The cop shook his head slightly, and turned away to look into a store window. Ed got the signal. He slowed up, and walked past the cop, then stopped and looked in the next window. He spoke swiftly out of the corner of his mouth.

"I've got to talk to you."

"Listen, mister," said the cop. "A prowl car was just past here. They got a flash from Inspector Falk at Headquarters, that a guy named Race is in this neighborhood. There's a plainclothes dick watching you."

The cop said all this out of the corner of his mouth, while still seeming to be looking at the window display.


ED turned casually, and saw the man the cop had referred to. He was directly in front of the Kington Building entrance, and he was looking at Ed with a scowl on his face. Evidently, he could not decide whether to check on him or not.

Ed gritted his teeth. "Look here," he said to the cop. "What's your name?"

"Egan. Mike Egan."

"All right, Mike. I'm Ed Race. I'm the guy they're looking for. They've kidnapped a girl named Kate Weston, and they're going to kill her. They want to grab me so I can't interfere with their plans. Now—do you want to arrest me, and get in their good graces?"

"Not me!" Mike Egan grunted. "What I told you before still goes. There's plenty of uniformed men on the force who will help a guy with guts enough to stand up to Ollie Paradise!"

"All right," said Ed. "I've got to get to my car—"

"That's where I come in!" said Mike Egan. "Stay here, Mr. Race, and take your cue!" He turned away and moved around the corner.

Ed waited, holding his breath. A moment later, three quick revolver shots came from around the corner, followed by the shrill sound of a police whistle.

Ed grinned to himself as he saw the plainclothesman sprint around the corner.

Mike Egan had effectively drawn him away.

Ed wasted no time. He dashed to the convertible, climbed under the wheel.

Smeed was just recovering consciousness, and he grunted, "Hey, you! Let me up!" Then he realized what had happened to him, and raised his voice. "Help! Police!"

Ed gave him a backhanded clout that silenced him, and sent the car scooting away from the curb. He turned the next corner and drove until he reached the river front.

"You damned fool!" Smeed said. "Why don't you quit, and let me go? You're a sap if you think you can beat Ollie Paradise in his own town."

Ed turned and lifted Smeed up to the seat alongside him, by the scruff of his neck.

"Ollie Paradise's two gunmen, Smokey Lewis and Go-go Blair, have kidnapped Kate Weston," he said coldly. "I want you to tell me where they would take her."

Smeed grinned sardonically. "Now isn't that nice! You think I'll talk?"

"I'm sure you'll talk!"

"Yeah? Pal, I've dished out plenty of punishment. I can take it, too. Go ahead."

Ed smiled. "I'm not going to touch you, Mr. Smeed."

Smeed gave him a queer look. "What do you mean?"

"I'm just giving you a chance to talk. Where have they taken Kate Weston?"

"Go to hell!" said Smeed.

Ed didn't reply. He put the car in gear, and pulled it slowly out as far as it would go on the dock. He brought it to rest with the front wheels almost touching the edge. The river flowed by dark and forbidding. He put the gear in neutral.

Smeed's eyes widened. He watched, saying nothing.


ED opened the door on his side, and put his left foot on the running-board. Then pressing the clutch down with his right foot, he put the gear in first.

"Hey!" Smeed exclaimed. "What—what you gonna do?"

"I'm going to jump," Ed told him. "I'm going to jump out on the dock. When I jump, my foot goes off the clutch. The car will shoot off the edge of the dock and go to the bottom!"

"My Gawd!" Smeed yelled. "I'm chained to the wheel. I'll drown like a rat!"

"That is the general idea," Ed told him coldly. "Well, so long, Captain Smeed!"

He leaned far out of the car.

"For Gawd's sake, no!" Smeed screamed. His voice cracked with fear. "Wait! Hold on! Don't jump! I'll—talk!"

"All right," Ed said. "Talk."

Smeed bit his lip. "There's only one place where Ollie Paradise would take the Weston girl. If—if I tell you—do you let me go?"

"I leave you here," Ed said, "till I find out if you're telling the truth. If you lie, I'll come back and finish."

Smeed licked his lips. "Okay then. Ollie Paradise has a back entrance into City Hall, through an alley between the Hall and the Criminal Courts Building. He's brought many a captive in there. There's a suite of rooms in the basement where he keeps his prisoners."

"And Kate Weston will be there?"

"I could swear it. But it won't do you much good. You'd never get in there and out again—alive."

"I'll worry about that," Ed said.


CHAPTER V. — UNDERGROUND JUDGMENT

THE City Hall was at Fifth Street and Broadway. Ed recalled having passed it when he drove down Broadway. He avoided Broadway now, keeping to the back streets, and walking swiftly. Twice he tried to hail taxicabs, but they were occupied. He was in a burning frenzy to get there before anything happened to Kate Weston. He remembered the proud tilt of her head, the uncompromising way in which she talked, and her young courage. She would refuse to sign a release, and they would torture her. What those men could devise for her in the way of torture he shuddered to imagine.

He found the alley between the City Hall and the Criminal Courts Building, and he felt a certain sense of relief at sight of a black police van parked there. Thus far, Smeed's story was borne out.

The van was empty. A chunky plain clothes detective was standing guard at the small side entrance into the City Hall Building. He frowned when he saw Ed walking around the police van, and put a hand up to his shoulder holster.

"What is it, you?"

"I'm looking for Ollie Paradise," Ed said.

"The Mayor?"

"Yeah."

"Why come here?"

"Lay off!" Ed growled. "They just brought a girl in here. I got to see Ollie about her."

"Who the hell are you?"

Ed was close to the man now. "The name," he said softly, "is Race!"

The detective grunted with surprise, and yanked out his gun. Ed, smiling coldly, hit him with the barrel of a .45 revolver that seemed to come up out of nowhere. The man slumped over without a sound.

Ed picked him up and dumped him in the police van. Then he went and tried the side door to the City Hall Building. It was locked.

Ed frowned, and went back to the Black Maria. He climbed in and went through the pockets of the unconscious detective, and found a ring with half a dozen keys. He tried them all, but none would open the lock.

Ed cursed, baffled. Suddenly he remembered the keys he had taken from Smeed. He pulled them out of his pocket, and the second one worked. The door swung open.

It was dark in the narrow corridor into which he stepped. Ed used his flashlight, and saw a flight of stairs leading down. He took them quietly, carefully, with a gun in his hand. At the bottom there was another narrow corridor, with a closed door at the far end. It, too, was locked.

Once more he tried Smeed's keys, and the door yielded. He opened it and stepped into a neatly furnished apartment. This was the hideout Smeed had mentioned. The windows, high up near the ceiling, were barred and shuttered. He tapped the walls and found them soundproofed. Murder and torture could take place down here daily, with no one the wiser!

Ed stepped through the small foyer, and paused in the entrance to a larger room. This was furnished with a desk and chairs. At the far end there were two other doorways, one of which was open. A single glance through that one told him that it was one of the cells in which Ollie Paradise kept his secret prisoners. There were several people in that far cell, but no one in the large room. Ed tiptoed across.

He saw Kate Weston seated in a straight-backed chair, unbound. In another chair sat an elderly man with white hair and a white moustache, a high, scholarly forehead, and eyes which burned with deep resentment at the three men who were standing over him.


OF those three men, Ed Race had no difficulty in picking out Ollie Paradise. He was a big man, according to Kate Weston's description, and he towered above his two gunmen, Smokey Lewis and Go-go Blair. Ed picked the darker of those two for Smokey Lewis. He had black hair which was mottled and unkempt, coming down over his eyes. His face was pinched and sharp, the face of a confirmed dope-eater. "Smokey" fitted him well. Go-go Blair was tall and thin, with a nasty, apparently permanent grin upon his thin and bloodless lips.

Blair stood behind Kate and had hold of her hair. He yanked her head back cruelly. His other hand was around her throat, with the fingers splayed out ready to squeeze.

Ollie Paradise was talking to the gray-haired man in the other chair. "According to Martin Weston's will, I have the right to buy up Kate Weston's share of the estate, Judge Kilmer. That's all I want to do." He smirked. "You see, everything will be strictly legal. The only thing is that old Weston specified in his will that the transfer must be witnessed by you. He was sure that you wouldn't betray him."

"You're right, you devil!" the gray-haired Judge Kilmer thundered. "I'll never witness the transfer. I'll never let Miss Weston sign it!"

"Oh, yes you will, Judge! You'll be glad to, when you see the things we can do to her! Don't forget that there's a million dollars at stake!"

He turned to Kate. "What about it, Miss Weston? Will you sign the release, or would you prefer to have my friend, Go-go, begin to work on you?"

Kate stared at him. "If I sign the release, will you let Judge Kilmer go?"

"Of course, my dear," Ollie Paradise assured her. "All I want is the release. You can both go free—"

"Don't believe him, Miss Weston!" Judge Kilmer said. "He'll never let us leave this room alive! He knows that I'll order his arrest the moment I'm free. Thank God, I'm not in his pay. This is the first time I've gotten direct evidence against him. I can send him up for life on my own testimony. Do you think he'd free me?"

Ollie Paradise's face jerked with anger. "You're damned right, Kilmer! Both of you die. It's just a choice you have—sign the release and take a nice, clean death, or refuse, and go through hell before you die!"

Suddenly, Kate Weston uttered an ejaculation. She had caught sight of Ed Race through the doorway. She smiled. "I think, Mr. Ollie Paradise, that something may go wrong with your plans before very long."

Paradise scowled. "What do you mean—"

"She means this!" Ed Race drawled. And he stepped through the doorway, with both revolvers naked in his hands.

Smokey Lewis uttered a screech, and jerked up the gun which he had been holding in his hand. Ed shot once, and hit him right over the heart. Lewis bounced back like a rubber doll, landed against the wall, and dropped to the floor...

The thunder of that single shot reverberated through the little cell-like room with deafening thunder as Go-go Blair let loose his grip on Kate's hair and thrust his hand toward his pocket. But he stopped short in mid-gesture, looking into the big muzzle of Ed Race's revolver. He stiffened, carefully took his hand away from his pocket, and raised both of them in the air.

Ollie Paradise had long ago stuck his hands up in the air. His face was white and drawn as he cowered back in a corner from Ed Race's wrath.

"Why don't you try to pull a gun?" Ed asked coldly. "Go ahead. Make a try. You face life in jail if you don't."

But Paradise wouldn't move. "I'll s-stand my chances in court!" he said, shivering.

Judge Kilmer laughed harshly. "In my court, Paradise. I'm the senior Judge of the Criminal Court. I'll testify against you personally!"

"So will I!" Ed said grimly. "Between us, we should put him in cold storage!"

He helped Kate Weston to her feet, and gave Judge Kilmer one of his revolvers. "Let's herd these boys upstairs," he said. "It'll be a bit of a surprise to the good people of Kington to find their mayor on trial!"

"No surprise," said the Judge. "They've been waiting for this for a long time. No reward will be big enough for the man who broke Ollie Paradise's power!"

"All I want out of it," Ed said, "is a new automobile."

Kate Weston took his arm, and looked up at him with sparkling eyes. "You're getting the new automobile from me. Remember? That was the bargain."

Ed smiled. "It'll be a pleasure!" he said.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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