Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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Ed Race didn't like bandits—even the nervous and beautiful girl targeting him with an automatic... But when he understood the set-up, he barged head first into a six-gun ambush to help her out!
ED RACE said: "Listen, miss, if that gun is loaded, please turn it the other way!"
She was only a slip of a girl, barely more than nineteen, and she was dressed in a trim-fitting gray, tailored suit with the jacket cut low to reveal the white skin of her throat. Her little breasts were rising and falling spasmodically, and her dark eyes flashed with panicky nervousness that was borne out further by the way the hand which held the automatic shook.
She had come into Ed's room at the Longmont without knocking, leaving the door an inch or two ajar, and had caught Ed in his shirtsleeves in the act of tying his cravat before the dresser mirror. Ed's coat was in the closet, together with the two heavy forty-fives in shoulder holsters. The four other revolvers that he used in his act at the Clyde Theatre were in the little black bag on the dresser, almost at his elbow, but they might as well have been a mile away for all the good they did him.
The girl said in a tight, strained voice: "Raise your hands—keep them in the air."
Ed let go of the ends of his cravat, and half-turned to face her. He could hardly believe that she meant business. "What is this—a holdup?" he asked her. In spite of the menace of the automatic, his eyes ran appreciatively over her slim figure. "I have to admit, you make a swell-looking lady bandit."
The girl stared at him intently, breathing hard. "You're Ed Race, The Masked Marksman, aren't you?" she demanded almost in a whisper. "The one who does the gun-juggling act at the Clyde Theatre, and shoots out the candles on the stage?"
Ed nodded, half-smiling. "That's the name, miss. Now, what's the game?"
She didn't answer, but raised her voice slightly, called out: "It's all right. You can come in."
The door behind her was pushed further open, and three men entered. They were strangers to Ed. The first was a stout man with a genial face and small eyes. He wore a purple-checked vest under a tan single-breasted suit, and his paunch stood out so far that the ends of the purple vest flapped when he walked. The other two men were tall, thin, and both had the pinched features and bright pinpoint eyes of confirmed dope addicts. One wore a peaked cap and the other a black derby hat. They both had automatics in their hands, though the fat man appeared to be unarmed.
The one in the derby came in last, closed the door behind him and double-locked the catch.
The girl moved to one side, still keeping her gun trained on Ed. She said to the fat man: "Well, I did it for you. I hope you're satisfied."
The fat man beamed at her. "You have done excellently, Sylvie, my dear. I'm sure Mr. Race would never have permitted a mere male to get the—ah—drop on him the way you did." He patted her on the shoulder, glanced at his two companions, noted that they had their guns trained on Ed. "You may give me your gun now, my dear. Your work has been exceedingly well done. You shall have the—ah—paper in the morning."
She released the gun to him. "B-but you said you'd bring it along with you."
"So I did, my dear, so I did. And I always keep my word." He took a small folded slip of green paper from his right-hand vest pocket. It looked to Ed Race like a folded check. "Here it is, my dear. You see, I brought it."
THE girl extended her hand for it, her thin little face shining eagerly. But the stout man smiled unctuously, drew it away from her grasping fingers, and put it back in his vest pocket.
"Not quite yet, my dear, if you don't mind. First let us get this business satisfactorily completed, and you shall have your paper." He led her courteously to a chair, gently propelled her into it. "Just sit here quietly, Sylvie, until we are through with Mr. Race."
Ed, who had been standing with his back to the dresser, scowling at the two gunmen, now glared across at the girl, said bitingly: "So you can't even get paid off. You ought to know better than to expect a square deal when you do the dirty work for three cheap palookas that haven't got guts of their own—"
The two gunmen snarled, and the one in the peaked cap took a step forward. "Listen, you!" he rapped. "Button up that lip, or I'll bust in your face—"
The fat man stopped him. "Tut, tut, White, my boy. You should control yourself. Such language!" He sighed, rolled his eyes, then said to Ed: "You must excuse my friend, here. He is not accustomed to conducting business deals in a quiet manner."
Ed exclaimed: "You birds must be crazy. This is a hotel room. All I have to do is raise my voice—"
The fat man looked shocked. "My dear Mr. Race! That would be equivalent to suicide! You must understand, sir, that I am familiar with the construction of this hotel. It is a modern structure, planned for the comfort of the guests. It is entirely soundproof; even the doors, as you see, are lined with sound-insulating material. And what is more, Mr. Race, these pistols of ours are only twenty-two caliber weapons—quite capable of piercing a man's brain at close range, but making very little noise."
Ed glanced at the girl, who was sitting wide-eyed, with her hands clenched in her lap. Her lower lip was quivering; she had lost the self-possession of a few moments ago. Ed said resignedly to the fat man:
"All right, Napoleon, I admit you're a brainy guy. Now what's the gag?"
The gunman in the peaked cap moved impatiently, growled: "Let's lay off the comedy. We ain't got all night!"
The stout man nodded agreement. "Quite so, White, my boy, quite so. Still, I wish you would let me do things in my own way. Your methods are so—ah—crude."
The gunman grumbled: "Aw, why all the talk—?"
"Yes?" The fat man almost hissed the word. Suddenly his face seemed to have lost all its good nature as he stared at the pinch-faced one in the peaked cap. Just the one word he said, but the gunman's face became a pasty yellow, and he cringed before the basilisk stare in the fat man's eyes.
"I—I didn't mean nothin', boss. Whatever you do is okay by me."
The fat man turned away from him without another word, and spoke to Ed smoothly, as if nothing had happened:
"Now, if you will permit, Mr. Race, I will make introductions. I am Mr. Brown; this—ah—gentleman in the cap, who appears so eager for action, is Mr. White; and this—" indicating the one in the derby hat—"is Mr. Black."
He beamed at Ed as if he had said something extremely clever. "Brown, White and Black. Those, believe it or not, are our names!"
"And mine," Ed told him sourly, "is Green. Now that we all know each other, suppose you tell me what nuthouse you all escaped from."
Mr. Brown's genial fat face wreathed into a deprecating smile. "You should be more careful of your language, Mr. Race. For myself—" he shrugged "—I am old and tough-skinned; I can stand insults. But my friends, Mr. White and Mr. Black, are quite different. As you may have noticed, they are very high-strung individuals—"
"You mean they're cokeys!" Ed interrupted. "Come on, let's get this farce over with. What do you want here?"
MR. BROWN became crisp, businesslike. "We are here to make you a proposition, Mr. Race. We hope you will accept it, as we would rather not use force—" He extracted a wallet from his coat pocket, took out a sheaf of money, and placed it on the dresser beside Ed, then stepped back quickly.
Ed picked up the money, riffled through it. He raised his eyebrows as he noted that there were no bills less than fifties or hundreds.
Mr. Brown went on: "There is five thousand dollars, Mr. Race."
Ed started to laugh. "You certainly went to great lengths to give me this money, Mr. Brown. First you send this girl in, then you bring two hoods along—where's the catch?"
"The catch, Mr. Race, is that we are going to ask you to do something for that money."
"You are billed to appear at the Clyde Theatre tonight. Your number is timed for 10:35—" He consulted a heavy gold watch that was strung on a gold chain which spanned his capacious vest. "—exactly one hour from now. What we want you to do is this: my friend Mr. Black, here—" He nodded toward the derby-clad gunman, who smiled broadly, showing a double row of false teeth. "—is also an expert marksman and juggler. He is not quite as good as you are, Mr. Race, but he'll do. Well, in short, we want you to let him take your place at the Clyde tonight!"
Ed said: "Sorry, Mr. Brown, or whatever your name is. Your proposition smells bad. No business." He extended the sheaf of money toward the fat man. "You can have this back."
Mr. Brown did not take the money. He made a peculiar, clucking sound with his tongue and his upper palate, and looked sorrowfully at the two gunmen.
"What do you think of that, boys?" he asked. "He won't do it!"
"To hell with him!" snarled Mr. White. "Let's knock him off and get going."
Mr. Brown seemed to be considering the suggestion. "I'm afraid that's what we'll have to do, White, my boy." He shook his head reprovingly at Ed, and his double chin waggled back and forth. "You shouldn't be so obstinate, Mr. Race."
The girl had been listening tensely all this while, picking nervously at invisible threads in her skirt. Now she sprang up from her chair.
"B-but," she cried, "you p-promised me Mr. Race wouldn't be hurt. You c-can't kill him!"
Mr. Black pushed his derby hat back on his forehead, placed a hand on the girl's shoulder. "Sit down, twist!" he barked. "Or get knocked down!"
Ed's eyes blazed. For some reason he felt that the girl, in spite of what she had done, needed protection. "Leave her alone," he said coldly.
Mr. Brown exclaimed hastily: "Yes, yes, Black, my boy, leave her alone. Just keep Mr. Race covered, the two of you, while I make the necessary arrangements." He stepped over to the telephone beside the bed. "Er—ah—do not hesitate to shoot him, boys, if he should make the least suspicious move. He is an extremely dangerous man."
Ed was standing with his back to the dresser, and he saw the murderous gleam in the eyes of both gunmen. Coked up as they were, they might even shoot without any provocation at all. Ed calculated the distance to the door, but gave up the idea for two reasons—first, because those two automatics would have belched lead at him the first step he took; second, because even if he succeeded in getting outside the room, he feared what the two gunmen might do to the girl.
He stood tense, still clutching the sheaf of money, while Mr. Brown plumped his weight down on the bed, picked up the telephone and glibly gave the number of the Clyde Theatre. It occurred to Ed that whatever it was that these men had in mind, they must have planned it very carefully indeed, to have noted the number of the theatre, and to have checked the time when the Masked Marksman act was scheduled to go on.
EVERYBODY in the room was tense while Mr. Brown waited for his connection. The two gunmen had now turned their attention entirely to Ed, and they were keeping their pistols beaded on his stomach. The girl had produced a tiny handkerchief from some mysterious recess about her person, and she was twisting it in her lap while she bit her lip. Her eyes were on Ed, and they seemed to be trying to convey some sort of message to him.
Suddenly Mr. Brown said into the transmitter: "Hello, hello, is this the Clyde Theatre? I want to talk to Mr. Forbes, the manager." He was a marvelous actor, for his voice changed as he spoke, became crisp and professional in tone.
"This is Doctor Brown, Mr. Forbes—Doctor—ah—Winfield Brown. I—ah—am calling you in behalf of one of your actors—a Mr. Edward Race. I regret to inform you that Mr. Race has been suddenly taken ill at his hotel—touch of tonsillitis, you know—and I fear he must remain in bed. What's that? No, no, it will not be necessary, sir. I have already invited a consulting specialist."
Mr. Brown winked broadly at Ed and the two gunmen, went on talking into the phone. "Mr. Race has asked me to inform you that he is sending down a very good friend of his by the name of—ah—William Black, who is an expert marksman and juggler, and who will take his place. Mr. Race says that he is certain his friend will make out all right, and it will not even be necessary to announce the change, since he always appears with a mask anyway. I beg your pardon, sir? Yes, Mr. Black is leaving now, and will be there in ample time. He is bringing along an assistant. If you will give your doorman instructions to admit them both—thank you, sir. I will give Mr. Race your regards, and inform him of your best wishes for his speedy recovery... No, I think it best that nobody from the theatre visit him until tomorrow... Goodbye, sir."
Mr. Brown hung up, and beamed at Ed. "You perceive, Mr. Race, that we really didn't need your cooperation."
Ed glanced at the two gunmen, frowned. "I don't get this yet. Why go to all this trouble to have Blackie here impersonate me?"
Mr. Brown didn't answer. He had suddenly become a dynamo of energy. He took the small black bag off the dresser, opened it, exclaimed: "Ah—four revolvers! The others must be with your coat." He went to the closet, came back with Ed's other two forty-fives and exhibited them to the man in the derby hat, who took one, hefted it in his free hand, and nodded approval.
"What do you say, Black, my boy?" Mr. Brown asked him. "You should be able to do your work well with these, eh?"
Mr. Black said: "Yeh!" and continued to concentrate his attention on Ed, while the fat man put all six revolvers back in the bag, took from his pocket a small mask, and dropped that into the bag, too.
"You see, Mr. Race," he said, "we have provided for everything. And now we are ready. White, my boy—" He put his pudgy hand on the shoulder of the one in the peaked cap. "—it will be your duty to keep Mr. Race and this young lady—ah—amused until we phone you that our work is finished. If you can avoid—ah—killing them, why, so much the better! However—" he paused significantly "—use your own best judgment."
Ed Race said nothing, while Brown and the man in the derby backed out of the room, Brown carrying the small bag.
When the door had closed behind them, Peaked-cap locked it. Then he straddled a chair backward, facing Ed and the girl. He rested the barrel of the automatic across the back of the chair, and grinned nastily.
"Sit down, Race," he said. "You got a while to wait."
Ed asked him: "What are you birds up to—are you figuring on robbing the Clyde Theatre?"
Peaked-cap continued to grin. "Pretty smart for a dumb actor. You're guessin' fine!"
The girl uttered a little gasp. "B-but Mr. Brown told me it was only to win a bet. He said he had made a large bet that his friend could impersonate the Masked Marksman, and he stood to win a lot of money, so if you wouldn't agree, they would just tie you up for a while—"
ED laughed harshly. "He stands to make a lot of money. The take at the Clyde is about sixty thousand dollars. The treasurer brings the money backstage to the office at ten-thirty every night, and this fellow will be there with my guns—"
"That's right, pal," Peaked-cap broke in. "An' my friend, Mr. Black, will just give him one slug through the head—another for the guard—an' he's off with the dough. No stranger could ever get backstage. But they'll never be lookin' for a holdup from the guy that's doin' the Masked Marksman number!"
Ed glanced sideways at the girl. She was moaning softly to herself. "I—I never knew it was anything like this. I—I would never have—"
"Why did you do it, miss?" Ed asked her gently. "How did they make you do it?"
"I—I did it for Jerry," she sobbed. "Jerry forged a check to make good a shortage at the theatre, and Mr. Brown got hold of the check. He said he'd give it back to me if I did this for him."
"Jerry?" Ed asked, frowning. "Who's Jerry?" He glanced at the gunman, who was evidently enjoying the whole thing very much from behind the muzzle of his automatic.
Suddenly Ed's eyes narrowed. "You mean Jerry Forbes, the treasurer of the Clyde—John Forbes' son?"
She nodded miserably. "Jerry and I are engaged. I happened to overhear a conversation in Jerry's office and learned about the check. Mr. Brown was trying to get Jerry to do something or other, and Jerry wouldn't do it. So when Mr. Brown left, I went after him, and when Mr. Brown found out who I was he told me all about it, and said I could get the check back if I did something for him."
Peaked-cap said gleefully: "Ain't it a scream, Race? Jerry Forbes wouldn't frame a holdup with the boss; he says he'd rather take the rap for the forged check. So what does this dame do, but practically walk up to the boss and hand him the lay on a silver platter!"
Suddenly the girl uttered a choked scream.
Peaked-cap frowned at her. "Do that once more an' you get a slug, see?"
"I don't care," she sobbed. "Kill me, kill me! I don't want to live. They'll kill Jerry now, and I'm the cause of it!"
Ed could see that she had been too stunned up to this moment to realize the peril that threatened Jerry Forbes. He felt genuinely sorry for her. He knew Jerry by sight, had heard a good deal about the lad from John Forbes, the grizzled old general manager of the Clyde Theatre.
Old Forbes had had a good deal of trouble with Jerry. The boy had quit college in his sophomore year because of some sort of scandal that his father had hushed up; then he had gotten into one scrape after another, until John Forbes had given him a job at the Clyde. Young Jerry seemed to have settled down at last, and sufficiently won the confidence of his father to have been appointed treasurer of the theater.
Ed had heard of Jerry's engagement to a girl named Sylvie Sumter, but he had not at first connected the name.
Peaked-cap chuckled wickedly. "You ain't heard the richest part of it, Race: that there check that she's beefin' about—Jerry Forbes made it good. He come clean with his old man, got the dough, an' brought it over to the boss. But the boss kept the check. An' the dame, here, didn't know Jerry made it good."
Ed said softly: "I get it. Brown is never going to give that check back. If he or his pal, Blackie, kill Jerry tonight, it won't matter. But if they pull off the robbery without murder, they'll hold the check over Jerry's head to make him keep quiet!"
Peaked-cap nodded, his bright little eyes glinting madly. "That's the stunt, pal. An' you, being a close friend of old John Forbes, won't let out a peep neither. Smart, huh?"
The girl half rose from her chair. "You fiend!" she shrieked. Her voice rose high, hysterical. "You've tricked me—"
The gunman got up, kicked his chair away. His eyes were mere pinpoints now, his lips twisted into a murderous snarl. With the generous dose of the drug that Mr. Brown must have given him, he was capable of anything now. "I told you you'd get it if you yelled, didn't I? Well, here it is." He thrust the automatic out toward her.
ED'S jaw bunched in rage, and he tensed his muscles for a leap at the other. But the gunman didn't fire, for abruptly the jarring jangle of the telephone cut into the tenseness of the moment.
Ed pulled up short as he saw the tautness of the gunman's hand relax. Peaked-cap exclaimed: "Gawd! They done the job already!" He backed toward the telephone, swinging his gun so as to keep Ed covered. The girl slumped in her chair in a faint.
Ed glanced at his wristwatch—it was only 10:05; too early for the holdup to have taken place—the money was never moved until 10:30. It must be somebody else.
Peaked-cap kept his eyes on Ed as he lifted the receiver, said eagerly: "Yes?"
Ed saw the gunman's face drop, and heard a familiar crackling into the receiver. It was Halloran, the house detective of the Longmont, who habitually talked with a foghorn voice. Ed could hear him distinctly from where he stood:
"Hello, is Mr. Race sick or something? The telephone operator tells me there's a doctor up there that called the theater to say he wouldn't be there."
Peaked-cap kept his beady eyes on Ed, rested the automatic on the end table upon which the telephone stood. Ed Race could barely restrain a grin. He had always known that the inquisitive telephone girl at the switchboard listened in on calls, but this was the first time he didn't mind.
Peaked-cap said: "That's right. He ain't feeling well. He don't want to be annoyed, so better not come up. Now hang up an' don't bother us."
He slammed the receiver down on the hook, glared at Ed. "If anybody knocks at that door, you tell him to go away, get me? Try to start anything, an' I'll let you both have it."
Ed Race said: "That was Halloran, the house detective. He's no fool. He'll guess something is wrong up here. Better get out while you can."
"An' leave you so's you can phone the Clyde? Nix. If anybody breaks in on us, it'll be just too bad."
Ed shrugged. "The girl's fainted," he said. "Let me get her some water."
"Stay right where you are!" the gunman snarled. His eyes flicked to the slumped-over, pitiful figure on the chair. "I ought to give it to you both, an' scram. If the boss had listened to me—"
Ed Race suddenly became aware that he was still holding on to the sheaf of money that Mr. Brown had given him. He glanced at his wristwatch again. 10:16—only fourteen minutes before the holdup would take place. Jerry Forbes would die; perhaps others. Desperately he sought a way out. He'd have to take long chances now. Even if Halloran came up, it was doubtful whether the gunman would hesitate to shoot, coked up as he was.
Ed held out the sheaf of money. "Am I supposed to keep this?" he asked.
"Like hell!" Peaked-cap exclaimed. "Give it here!" He held out his left hand, came closer.
Ed veiled his eyes to hide the elation in them. He feigned reluctance. "Didn't Mr. Brown say I was to have it?"
"Never mind what Mr. Brown said. I ain't passin' up five grand. Give it here, I say!"
Ed sighed, said: "Well, take it." He extended it awkwardly, and let a few of the bills dribble out of his fingers, flutter to the floor. Peaked-cap's eyes followed them instinctively. It is not in human nature to disregard fifty and hundred dollar bills floating through the air. Ed's psychology was excellent.
IN the moment that the gunman's eyes were off him, he acted with all the synchronized speed that his years of acrobatic juggling on the stage had developed in him. His left hand darted out swiftly and surely, gripped Peaked-cap's gun hand and twisted it mercilessly. Ed's fingers were like iron bands.
The gunman's face went ashen under the punishment. He uttered a hoarse cry of rage, clawed at Ed's eyes with the dirty nails of his left hand. The automatic exploded into the floor, then fell from his numbed fingers. Ed's bunched fist came up like a rocket, caught him over the temple with a sickening thud. Peaked-cap's mouth fell open, and he buckled over, sank to the floor. He lay still in a crumpled heap. Ed didn't know whether or not the blow had killed him, and he didn't care.
He sprang to the side of the girl, who had slid from the chair to the floor. He raised her head and shook her violently. There was no time now for coddling. His wristwatch read 10:19—only eleven minutes left.
Someone rapped at the door, and Ed called out: "Who's there?"
"It's me—Halloran. What's goin' on in there? I thought you was sick."
Ed left the girl, who hadn't revived under his shaking, and unlatched the door. Halloran came in, stared at the gunman and the girl on the floor, grinned at Ed:
"What the hell—who's loony now? This is a respectable hotel, Race—"
Ed wasn't paying any attention. He was across at the telephone, jiggling the hook and keeping his eye on the watch. "Get police headquarters," he fairly shouted into the instrument. "Quick—it's life or death!"
The operator downstairs said: "Oh, hello, Mr. Race! I thought you were sick. Mr. Halloran just went up to see you. How do you feel?"
Ed gritted his teeth. It was 10:20. "Listen, Nora," he yelled, "get police headquarters, did you hear? A man is going to be shot in ten minutes, Get busy!"
"Oh," said Nora. "Why didn't you say so?"
She kept the line open, and Ed heard her asking for headquarters. He held the French phone, and watched Halloran, who had gotten some water from the bathroom for the girl. Halloran was dipping his fingertips in the glass and flicking the water in her face.
"What's on the ball, Race?" he asked. "Why all the commotion? Who's the palooka on the floor?"
Ed told him tersely: "He's one of a gang. They're going to hold up the Clyde Theatre in ten minutes, posing as me—"
Halloran whistled, and Ed swung back to the instrument as he heard the voice of the headquarters operator. He said:
"Get a radio car over to the Clyde Theatre on Forty-ninth Street. It's going to be held up at ten-thirty. The treasurer, backstage. Two men—"
The operator said: "Wait a minute. I'll give you the radio room."
Ed stewed another half-minute, while the girl opened her eyes under Halloran's treatment, then got the radio room and started to tell his story over again.
The sergeant at the other end exclaimed: "Say, listen, if you're pulling something, you'll get in plenty Dutch.
You want us to send a couple men to barge in on the Clyde, an' grab the Masked Marksman? You're nuts. We know the Masked Marksman—he's—"
"I tell you," Ed broke in frantically, "I'm the Masked Marksman. I'm Ed Race. This man is impersonating me—"
"And I'm the king of China," the sergeant jeered. "Where you calling from?"
"The Longmont Hotel."
"Then hang up and we'll call you back. We're not sending a radio car without knowing who sent us—"
Ed banged the instrument down in disgust. He was sweating under his collar, and his hands were clammy.
"It's no good, Halloran," he said bitterly. "Let's go. We've got to do this ourselves."
"Never mind. Come on. We're going around the corner to the Clyde, and we're going fast. I'll tell you on the way."
THE girl, who had just come to, watched them go out, her mouth open, still too dazed to recall the situation. As they got out into the hall they heard the telephone back in the room ringing.
"That's headquarters," Ed said bitterly. "They'll get around to it—after it's all over!"
"You can't blame 'em," Halloran told him. "You sound screwy to me, too!"
Down in the lobby, Nora, the switchboard operator, caught a glimpse of both men making tracks for the street, and startled the one or two guests who were about by shouting across to them:
"Mr. Race! Police headquarters is calling. They—"
"Connect them with my room," Ed called to her. "There's someone there."
He had Halloran by the arm, and was rushing him out before the startled operator could frame another question. In the street, pedestrians stared at them, got quickly out of their way. Ed was still holding the automatic.
Over on Broadway, Halloran exclaimed breathlessly: "Ye gods, Race, the hotel will fire me, and chuck you out. Ever since you've been staying here the place is like a madhouse. The boss was just bawling me out—"
Ed's watch showed 10:26 as they swung around the corner. The lights on the marquee of the Clyde Theatre halfway up the block showed them a black sedan at the curb, facing west, away from them. A man in a gray topcoat was pacing back and forth beside it, smoking.
He saw them running, got a glimpse of Ed's face under a streetlight, saw the automatic, and his hand streaked.
Ed didn't stop running, but his automatic barked sharply, flamed, and the man staggered, clawed the air and fell against the sedan, sank to the pavement.
"That must have been their lookout," Ed panted. He clutched Halloran by the arm, swung him into the alley that led to the stage entrance. The doorman saw him coming, exclaimed:
"Hello, Mr. Race, we thought—"
He stopped, gulped, and ducked aside as he saw Ed's gun, saw the service revolver Halloran had drawn. Inside, Ed and Halloran raced down the narrow entryway; Ed, who was in the lead, barged into a property man whom he sent sprawling, and swung into the wide space backstage. Several of the actors standing in the wings turned to stare at them.
He noticed the figure of Mr. Black, wearing the little mask of the Masked Marksman, standing close beside a large packing case, holding two of the big forty-five caliber revolvers, and watching the iron staircase across the other end of the house, which Jerry Forbes would descend when he came from the box office.
And close to the foot of that staircase, in an attitude of great unconcern, stood Mr. Brown.
Mr. Brown saw Ed, but Mr. Black did not. Mr. Black was too busy watching that staircase.
At the moment that Mr. Brown saw Ed, Jerry Forbes appeared at the head of the stairs, carrying a gray, canvas money-bag that was stuffed to capacity. Just behind him was the armed guard who always accompanied him.
Ed caught the plan at once. The staircase had no railing on one side—was little more than an iron ladder. Mr. Black would fire just two shots, one for Jerry Forbes, one for the guard. Jerry would be hit, would drop the canvas sack at the feet of Mr. Brown. Before anybody could realize what had happened they would both be outside, in their car.
And that was just what was happening. Mr. Black had raised one of the revolvers, was resting it on his left forearm to steady his aim; he was drawing a bead on Jerry.
WHEN Mr. Brown saw Ed, his hand came out of his coat pocket, with a gun. The whole thing happened so fast that the telling of it can give no adequate impression of the suddenness with which Ed Race was presented with the necessity of making a decision. It was evident that Mr. Black and Mr. Brown would fire at the same time—the one at Jerry Forbes, the other at Ed.
So that if Ed shot the fat Mr. Brown, Jerry Forbes would die; but if Ed shot Mr. Black, it would be equivalent to giving up his own life for Jerry.
Sometimes, in a critical situation, a thousand thoughts, a thousand pictures will flash through a man's mind in the space of a split second, with kaleidoscopic rapidity. Into the mind of Ed Race there came only one picture—that of Sylvie Sumter, sitting tense in the chair back at the Longmont and crying: "I don't want to live!" when she realized she had sent young Jerry Forbes to his death.
And Ed Race fired at Mr. Black...
The slug caught Mr. Black in the side of the throat, before he could squeeze the trigger of the revolver he was holding.
Ed didn't wait to see the effect of his shot—he knew it had gone where he wanted it to; in eight years of vaudeville training he had never missed a shot on the stage. Even as the wicked bark of the fat Mr. Brown's gun seemed to echo Ed's shot, Ed went into a running somersault toward the stout man!
He had done the same thing often on the stage, had even shot out the flame of a candle across the stage upon coming out of the somersault. Now he heard the whine of the bullet, felt the thudding impact of it against his right shoulder.
He landed on his feet, still rushing toward Mr. Brown, whose face had lost all its pleasant geniality. Mr. Brown was trying to get another shot at him, but Ed's movements made him a difficult target.
From behind Ed, Halloran's service revolver roared thunderously. But Halloran missed—the slug clanged against the iron staircase beside which Brown was standing. Above him, Jerry Forbes and the guard had stopped short. Jerry clutched his canvas bag, while the guard fumbled with his own gun.
Brown's gun barked again, but Ed Race had dropped to the floor, rolled on his unwounded shoulder while he transferred the automatic from the right hand to the left. And then, before the fat man could find his target again, Ed, from the floor, squeezed hard on the automatic, let it pump its seven remaining slugs into Brown's body.
Out front, on the stage, the performance continued as usual; John Forbes, the manager of the theater, had appeared in the wings and was frantically signaling the Peterman Brothers to prolong their xylophone act.
And behind the scenes, Ed climbed to his feet on the arm of Halloran, while the actors, property men, electricians, crowded around them asking a hundred questions. Jerry Forbes and his guard raced down the iron staircase, stepped over Mr. Brown, and hurried to Ed's side.
"You've saved my life, Mr. Race! I saw you shoot that man!"
Jerry's father, John Forbes, pushed his way through the crowd. "Are you hurt badly, Ed?" he asked. "I've sent around the corner for Doctor Gray. He'll be here any minute."
Ed demurred, "Only a flesh wound."
FOR a moment his eyes met those of the grizzled old manager, and there was a suspicion of tears in John Forbes' eyes. He put his arm around his son, still looking at Ed Race. "I—I can't say what I feel, Ed," he husked.
"Never mind," Ed said, as the sound of a police siren came to them from outside. "I have to do something."
He pushed Halloran away, walked a little unsteadily, with blood flecking the right sleeve of his coat, over to the body of Mr. Brown. Kneeling beside him, he turned the body over, inserted his fingers in the fat man's vest pocket, drew them out with a green slip of check-paper.
He glanced somberly toward the doorway, and his fingers worked swiftly, tearing the check into small bits while the two uniformed policemen who had come in began to question the actors.
John Forbes exclaimed: "We'll have to get another number to substitute for the Masked Marksman. Who's ready?"
Ed called out to him: "Get my guns together—I'm going on myself as soon as I get my shoulder bandaged. Here comes the doctor now." He said to the little, bustling, bespectacled Doctor Gray, who had come straight over to him: "Get your things ready, Doc; I'll be right with you."
Ed pushed his way through the excited crowd, took young Jerry Forbes by the elbow and led him to one side. He pressed the scraps of torn paper into the young man's hand. Jerry Forbes stared at the pieces for a moment, then a glad light showed in his eyes. "You—you got the check back, Mr. Race!"
Ed said: "In a little while I guess Sylvie Sumter will be here. Tell her—this is a wedding present to you and her from—the Masked Marksman!"
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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