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EMILE C. TEPPERMAN

MURDER — NOW SHOWING!

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First published in The Spider, March 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, March 1941, with "Murder — Now Showing!"



Ed Race had held thousands spellbound when, as the mysterious Masked Marksman of the stage, he performed deadly magic with his matched revolvers. But on this perilous night he had no chance of taking a curtain-call, for he had to juggle a fabulous smuggled diamond, the beautiful Dolores Casey, and a gang of red-handed murder experts—with Death waiting in the wings!



TABLE OF CONTENTS



CHAPTER I. — THE GIRL IN ROOM 505

AS Ed Race swung into Tenth Avenue from Forty-Second Street, the bullet went whee-ee-ee past his ear, and imbedded itself in the brick wall of the corner cigar store.

Ed knew it was a high-calibre bullet from a high-powered rifle from the thud with which it struck the wall. A fraction of an inch more to the right, and that slug would have ploughed through his brain like a meteor.

Ed's reaction was somewhat more than instantaneous. On the stage of the Clyde Theatre, where he appeared nightly as "The Masked Marksman—The Man Who Can Make Guns Talk" he gave startling exhibitions of speed and accuracy in shooting. And now at the corner of Forty-second Street and Tenth Avenue, at two o'clock in the morning, he gave a similar exhibition—but with a limited audience.

There had been no rifle explosion accompanying that shot, and the whine of the bullet was the first intimation he had of danger. Yet, almost before the slug had gouged its way into the brick wall, Ed was swinging around to face across the street, whence the shot had come, with both .45 calibre hair-trigger revolvers in his hands. Those weapons, were two of the six with which he juggled in his act at the Clyde Theatre.

He did not fire. Instead, he stood very still, his eyes fixed in puzzled amazement upon the elderly gentleman who had come out from the shadow of the warehouse entrance across the street, and was running toward him.

The old man looked like a Kentucky colonel. He was slender, with his white hair, and white goatee. Under a black cutaway he wore a white vest with a heavy gold watch-chain strung across his middle. And upon his head was a wide-brimmed black Stetson.

The most startling thing about him, however, was the old Lee-Enfield single-shot .30 calibre hunting rifle which he carried under his arm. There was a silencer screwed to the muzzle, and a telltale wisp of smoke was still curling up from it.


ED RACE lowered his two revolvers, and waited for the strange apparition to get across the street.

The old gentleman breathing hard faced Ed.

"Cunnel Ronson, suh—at yoah service!" The colonel bowed stiffly, still with the rifle under his arm.

"Was that you who just took a shot at me?" Ed demanded.

The colonel bowed once more. "None other, suh. It was I who shot at you. A thousand apologies, suh!"

Ed raised his eyebrows. "This isn't the Kentucky hills, Colonel Ronson. You don't take a pot-shot at a man here in New York, and then square it up by apologizing!"

Suddenly the little old Colonel's face became red and almost apoplectic. "Stop, suh! You misunderstand me. I am not apologizing for shootin' at yuh. I'm apologizing for having missed yuh!"

Colonel Ronson scowled. "It was the wind—the wind, and these confounded old sights of my rifle." Then he beamed. "But I assure you, suh—the next time, I won't miss!"

And with that, he turned and trotted back toward the warehouse.

For the moment, Ed was so flabbergasted that he didn't move. Then he shouted:

"Hey! Come back here!"

"Cunnel" Ronson paid no attention, but kept on trotting. He was almost across the street before Ed Race started after him. But then it was too late. The old gentleman stepped into the shadow of the warehouse, a door creaked, and he disappeared.

Ed reached the door a second later, and pushed against it. No go. It was locked on the inside.

He shrugged, and turned away and even grinned a little as he hurried up Tenth Avenue. The old "cunnel" seemed more like some strange and senseless dream than an actuality. But that bullet in the wall across the street was no fiction...


IT was fifteen minutes after two when Ed stopped in front of a dilapidated rooming house which sported the sign:


HAFLEY'S HOTEL
TRANSIENTS ACCOMMODATED


Ed paused before entering, and dug into his pocket, bringing out a small engraved card, upon which appeared the name:

DOLORES CASEY


On the reverse side of the card was scribbled in a harried hand:


Do you remember my father, Mike Casey? In his name I beg your help for myself. Come before dawn to Room 505, Hafley's Hotel, on Tenth Avenue. Before dawn—or I'll be dead!

D.C.


That card had been delivered by messenger to his hotel, and he had found it there only a short while ago, when he returned from the Clyde Theatre.

Ed Race remembered Mike Casey very well indeed. In the hectic days of their youth, he and Casey had barged into many strange places, and had fought many good fights together. Ed Race had saved Casey's life twice, and Casey had saved Ed's three times. Ed owed him one. This was a chance to repay—to Casey's daughter.

Ed put the card back in his pocket, and started toward the fly-specked entrance of Hafley's Hotel.

A man suddenly stepped out of the shadows alongside the entrance, and stood in his path. The fellow had a hand in his coat pocket, and the pocket seemed weighted down by something compact and heavy. The man's face was seamed and leathery, and the tip of his nose a fiery red. His eyes darted up and down Ed's tall, powerful figure.

"Hello, chum," he said. "You got it with you."

Ed frowned. "Have I got what with me?"

The man's nostrils twitched. "Listen, chum, don't try that stuff with me. I'm Captain Mannixter."

"Glad to know you," Ed said. "And now, if you don't mind—" He started to pass, but Captain Mannixter moved deftly in front of him again.

"Nix chum. You can't razzle-dazzle me. I know who you are, I know what you got. I want it."

"You're crazy," Ed said.

"Sure," said Mannixter, with a grin. "You too." He brought his hand out of the pocket, and there was a vicious snub-nosed pistol in it. It was the ugliest looking little weapon Ed had seen in a long time.

Mannixter's small eyes flashed with wicked triumph. He said, "Now, chum, you'll hand it over or—"

But Captain Mannixter never got a chance to finish.

Ed Race's hands moved in a magic blur. Before Mannixter actually knew anything was happening, the barrel of Ed's revolver slapped down sharply upon his wrist, and the Bulldog pistol went spinning out in the gutter.

Ed grinned pleasantly, holstering his gun. "You were saying, Captain Mannixter—?" he asked smoothly.

The other stared down blankly at his numbed and empty hand. "Gawd!" he whispered. "How—how did that happen? I never seen you move!"

"The hand, Captain Mannixter, is sometimes quicker than the eye," Ed told him calmly. "And now—if you will excuse me—I have a little business to attend to. Good night, Captain."

He brushed past the stunned Mannixter and stepped through the grimy doorway of Hafley's Hotel. Once, as he was halfway across the lobby, he glanced behind him. Mannixter was staring after him as if he were seeing a ghost.

Ed Race headed across the lobby toward the stairs. There was one elevator, but a "Not Running" sign was stuck into the dusty iron grillwork.

The clerk was dozing, with his chair tilted back against the wall, his feet on the desk. Ed passed the desk without awakening him, and started up the narrow stairway, which wound around the old-fashioned elevator shaft.

He mounted five flights without encountering a soul, and stopped before the door of Room 505.

He raised his hand, and started to rap upon the thin veneer panel, but before he completed the first tap, the door opened a bare six inches. In the opening stood a girl with jet-black hair and great, dark, harried eyes.

She was wearing a black skirt and a white blouse.

The girl had one hand at her breast, holding the blouse together. In the other hand she was gripping a big Colt's .38 automatic which pointed unwaveringly at Ed.

"Stand still!" she ordered in a low, tense voice.


CHAPTER II. — THE DEATH-DIAMOND

ED RACE smiled, looking not at the gun but at the startling, breath-taking beauty of this girl. Though he had never seen her before, he would have known her anywhere. Without difficulty he could have picked her out of a crowd as Mike Casey's daughter. The black hair and the black eyes were the hair and eyes of Mike Casey, as was the proud and reckless look of her.

The velvet-smooth, cream-white skin and the small obstinate mouth were the heritage of the Brazilian beauty whom Mike Casey had married nineteen years ago in a small mission house in the wild back-country of Rio Grande do Sul.

Ed Race had been best man and witness at that wedding, and had kissed the bride—Dolores' mother. The ways of Ed Race and Mike Casey had parted then. Ed had come north, hardly more than a kid, and had eventually drifted into vaudeville, becoming the star headliner on the Partages Circuit.

But Mike Casey's beautiful bride had died a year later, leaving this little girl-baby. Casey had taken her all over the world with him.

Gun-runner, adventurer, free-lance aviator in a dozen revolutions, the black-haired Irishman had fought desperately to build up a fortune for his baby daughter. Then he had sent her to a convent, and had disappeared into the vast, teeming mystery of China's eighteen provinces.

Ed had heard from him sporadically, had even received a letter or two. But this was the first time he had ever seen Dolores Casey face to face. And now he smiled at the irony of fate which dictated that she should be pointing a Colt .38 at the man who had witnessed her parents' marriage. "Put the gun away, Dolores," he said in a low voice. "You don't need a gun for me."

Dolores Casey looked at him for a long minute over the sights of the pistol. Then she breathed a sigh of relief and lowered the weapon.

"Come in, Ed Race," she smiled. "Forgive me, but I have to be very careful tonight."

Ed stepped in, and she shut the door quickly, double-locking it with a twist of her fingers.

Ed looked around the frowsy room. There was a sink in one corner, with a cracked mirror above it. The shade was pulled all the way down—a single bulb in the center of the ceiling illuminated the room. On the bed, a battered suitcase was lying open. Alongside it, there was spread out a pair of men's dark blue trousers, and a coat of the same color. A gray felt hat, a dark blue shirt and tie, a pair of socks and a pair of shoes were dumped on the chair next to the bed. They had all apparently been just taken from the valise.

Ed looked at the stuff, and turned to the girl. She smiled wryly.

"I was just going to put that on. It's my only chance of getting out of here alive. They're watching this place like hawks."

"What do they want of you?" Ed demanded.

"This!"

From within her bodice she extracted a small silk pouch, closed at the top with a drawstring. She dropped her gun on the bed, and opened the pouch. Then she looked at Ed.

"Hold out your hand."

He obeyed, and she inverted the pouch, allowing that which it contained to drop into his palm.

Ed Race drew in his breath sharply.


THE blinding iridescence of the object in his hand caused him to blink. It was a blue-white cut diamond almost the size of a walnut. Twenty carats at least, Ed thought. It lay there in his hand like a live thing, a beacon of throbbing, shimmering light. It held his gaze with some powerful, magnetic force, almost irresistible in its intensity.

With an effort Ed tore his eyes from it, and looked up.

Dolores Casey was watching him, her face alive with emotion; her breast rising and falling quickly.

"It's twenty-eight carats, Ed. It's worth a quarter of a million dollars—even at today's poor market prices!"

Ed whistled. "No wonder they're after it. Where did you get it?"

"It was my mother's. She gave it to dad when she died. He gave it to me to keep when I left the convent. He made me promise never to part with it—except in a case of life or death. And now—"

Ed weighed the stone in his hand, studying the swift surge of emotion flickering across Dolores' sensitive face.

"And now—it's a matter of life or death?" he said slowly.

She nodded. "Dad was fighting with the Chinese army. He— he's been captured by the Japs. They have him in a filthy prison in Soochow. I'm going to rescue him. I can sell this stone in Saigon for two hundred thousand dollars, and with the money I can finance an uprising in Soochow. They'll raid the jail, and free dad. Everything is arranged—if I can only get to Saigon with this stone. I even have a ship chartered, waiting for me at Quarantine. It sails at dawn."

Ed's lips tightened. He held the flashing stone in his hand, studying the girl. "Do you mean to tell me that you're going to China, to try to rescue your father from a Japanese prison?"

"Yes, yes. Don't you see—I can't stay here, idle, while dad is a prisoner. I must—" Then she stopped, her eyes widening, as Ed began to chuckle.

"You brave little kid!" he said. "Do you think you could ever get away with it?"

"I could try!" she said hotly. "Even if I died trying!"

He nodded. "That's the way Mike Casey's daughter would act." He closed his fist around the diamond and slipped it into his pocket. Then he raised her chin so that her eyes looked up into his.

"Tell me, Dolores—who brought you this news about your father? And who gave you the idea of selling the diamond?"

"A sea-captain," she told him. "A Captain Mannixter. He said he'd served with father for two years, and had seen him captured. Father had told him about the diamond, so he came to America to find me. He wanted me to give him the diamond, and let him engineer the rescue, but I decided to go myself."

"I see!" Ed nodded.

"I was living in Rio when Mannixter found me. As soon as he told me about dad, I got the diamond, and booked passage for New York, taking my old nurse along with me. Mannixter sailed on the same boat, and we got to New York yesterday. I smuggled the stone through the customs—"

"You what!"

She looked at him innocently. "Was that so very wrong? You see, I had no money to pay the duty—"

"Did Mannixter tell you to smuggle it through?" Ed broke in.

"Yes. It was his idea. He offered to do it for me, but I decided I had no right to allow him to take the risk, so I did it myself. He insisted again and again, but I refused—"

Ed grinned. "I'll bet Captain Mannixter was peeved at that."

"He was. But I told him father wouldn't want me to let someone else shoulder my troubles. I didn't even tell Captain Mannixter where I had the stone hidden, though he asked several times." She laughed. "You see, I had it hidden in my hair, and the Customs men never even searched me. Conchita, my old nurse, was the only one who knew where it was."

"Where's Conchita now?"

Dolores' eyes were wide and troubled. "But I don't know. She disappeared this afternoon, and that's why I sent you the letter. She had the room next door. I went out this morning with Captain Mannixter to charter the ship and make other arrangements for leaving, and when I returned Conchita was gone. Both our rooms had been searched, and all the baggage was upset. Naturally, they didn't find the stone, because I had it with me all the time. And now"—her voice choked—"Conchita is gone too!"

Ed looked down at her pityingly. "You are in trouble, kid."

"I know it. Colonel Ronson told me so. He warned me that everyone would be trying to get the diamond away from me, and that I dare not go to the police because I had smuggled it in."

Ed's jaw dropped. "Colonel Ronson! Who is he?"

"He said he was an old friend of father's. He came here only a short time ago, maybe about midnight. He said he'd received a cablegram from some friends of dad's in China to look after my interests. He said Mannixter was not to be trusted. I told him I had sent you a letter, and that I was expecting you."

Ed's smile was grim. "And this Colonel Ronson had a rifle with him?"

"No, but he had a fishing rod in a long case. He offered to smuggle the diamond out to the ship for me, in the fishing-rod case, but I refused his offer."

"You did, eh? And I suppose he was sore, too?"

"Yes. He asked a lot of questions about you, and then left. He said he would investigate you, to see if you were trustworthy. He thought maybe you wouldn't come at all—"

Ed laughed harshly. "I bet he did! And now—"

He stopped abruptly, as a sharp rap sounded at the door. At the same time a voice barked. "Open up in there, Miss Casey. Open, in the name of the law!"


DOLORES' face became suddenly drained of color. She gripped Ed's sleeve with both her little hands. "It's the Customs Officers!" she whispered. "They will seize the diamond—"

"Let them in!" Ed ordered. "I promise you they won't take the stone!"

He brushed past her and went swiftly over to a connecting door in the side wall. There was a key in the lock, and he turned it, and pulled the door open.

"That's Conchita's room!"

"All right. I'll be in here."

From the corridor, the harsh voice spoke again. "You have one minute to open up before we break the door down!"

Ed winked at Dolores, and stepped into the next room, leaving the door, open a crack. He saw Dolores go stiffly to the corridor door, unlatch it, and step back.

"Come in!" she called in a tight, strained voice.


CHAPTER III. — THE "CUNNEL'S" SECOND BULLET

AT once the door was thrust violently open and a man pushed into the room. He had a thin, sharp face and eyes that glittered deep in his head from under a pair of V-shaped eyebrows. Close behind him, another man and a woman entered, and trailing them came the leathery-faced, red-nosed Captain Mannixter. The four of them crowded around Dolores.

The thin man with the V-shaped eyebrows flashed a badge before Dolores' face.

"Federal agents!" he barked. "We have a warrant to search here for a smuggled diamond. This lady—" he waved toward the woman—"is Mrs. Davis, a federal matron. If we don't find the stone in the room, she'll search you!"

Dolores backed away from them to the foot of the bed.

The thin man motioned to his partner.

"Go ahead, Peavey. Start searching!"

Peavey grunted, and started pawing at the valise on the bed.

Captain Mannixter looked at Dolores and shrugged. "Sorry, Miss Casey, but these G-Men must have had inside dope. They grabbed me downstairs, and brought me up—"

"You lie, Mannixter!" Dolores said. "You brought them up here. You did it to get the reward!"

Mannixter shrugged again. He turned to the thin man. "Listen to her, Mr. Wilson. She thinks I double-crossed her—"

"Shut up!" said the thin man. He swung toward Dolores. "There was someone in here with you. If he's hiding, tell him to come out. There's no use of—"

Wilson brought a gun out, and a wolfish expression spread over his face. He started for the closet, and then suddenly spotted the partly open door connecting with the next room.

"Ah!" he exclaimed.

The moment Ed had laid eyes on the thin man whom Mannixter had addressed as Wilson, his eyes became bleak. Two facts about him Ed knew. His name was not Wilson, and he was no federal agent.


ED'S acquaintance with the underworld was a pretty wide one. For many years now, he had pursued his avocation of criminology, and he held licenses to operate as a private detective in a dozen states.

He had often visited the police line-up of a dreary Monday morning, in the company of his friend, Inspector MacSpain, of Homicide. And it was in the line-up that he had seen the thin man, whose name was not Wilson.

The fellow's true name was Jaimie Rego. Rego had been arrested many times, but never convicted. More than once, a murder jury had disagreed, and Rego had gone free, sneering. More than once a murder witness had suffered a lapse of memory when he looked at Jaimie Rego's vicious saturnine countenance in the defendant's chair, and had failed to identify him. For Rego's business was murder, and he was a specialist at it.

If Ed Race had entertained any doubts as to the true value of the diamond which he now had in his pocket, those doubts were dispelled now. For Jaimie Rego would not be interested if the loot were small.

Ed's eyes flashed, and his muscles tensed as he hunched forward to bring the butts of his two revolvers within easy reach.

But Rego was no heroic fool, to charge against unknown odds. His left hand snaked out, and he seized Dolores by the arm, twisted it behind her, and dragged her around so that she was in front of him, serving as a shield.

Dolores cried out, and tried to struggle. Rego snarled a curse and twisted her arm sharply upward behind her back. Dolores ceased struggling. Then, still grinning, Rego pushed her forward toward the connecting door, thrusting his gun out over her shoulder, with his finger curled around the trigger.

Ed Race, peering through the opening, cursed softly under his breath. No matter, how good a shot he was, he couldn't hit Rego when he was completely shielded by Dolores' body.

He backed swiftly away from the connecting door, and sprang across the room to the corridor door. Swiftly and softly he opened it and darted out into the corridor. His idea was to enter Dolores' room from the hall, and take the whole party of vultures from behind.

He started toward the door of 505, and sucked in his breath sharply as he glimpsed a white-haired figure down at the far end of the hall, resting on one knee, with a rifle-stock pressed against his cheek.

"Cunnel" Ronson was aiming the rifle straight at Ed, and he was pulling the trigger the moment Ed glimpsed him!


ED could have drawn and fired in that same instant while Ronson was shooting. But though he could have killed the "Cunnel" he would not have been able to deflect the rifle bullet. So instead he did something which audiences from coast to coast had seen him do on the stage. He kept on going, directly at the deadly muzzle of that rifle. He thrust both hands out before him, and went into a beautiful forward somersault.

The silenced rifle exploded with a muffled slap, and the bullet whined directly through the space occupied but a split-second before by Ed Race's head. As the slug smashed a hallway window-pane, Ed completed the somersault, and went into a second. When he came to his feet before Ronson there were, miraculously, two heavy revolvers in his hands.

On the stage, when he came out of the double somersault with the two guns in his hands, he usually fired them both simultaneously in quick succession at a row of candles thirty feet across the stage. And in ten years he had never been known to miss a single candle.

But now, as he came erect facing the "Cunnel," he did not fire. Instead, he smiled involuntarily at the old man's pitiful, bewildered expression.

"Cunnel" Ronson was staring down at his rifle with a reproachful look, as if the weapon had betrayed him. Then he turned his gaze up at Ed. He stiffened, and bowed from the waist.

"My compliments, suh. You apparently have a charmed life. No other man now living can boast that 'Cunnel' Ronson shot at him twice—and missed! Once more, suh—my apologies! I shall undoubtedly try again!"

Ed Race felt like taking that little man and wringing his neck. But, at the moment he had other things to worry about. That murderous crew in 505 would be out here in a moment, with Dolores as a living shield.

"Cunnel" Ronson, too, seemed to have pressing matters elsewhere, for he bowed once more, then turned and scampered down the stairs, stooping to snatch up a long fishing-rod case as he ran.

The whole business had consumed barely more than thirty seconds. Yet it was a precious half-minute which Ed could not afford. He let Ronson go, and swung around just in time to see Dolores being pushed out into the hall by Jaimie Rego.


REGO was still concealing himself behind her, holding her arm locked agonizingly against her shoulder blades. Dolores was unable to offer resistance, but when she saw Race she gasped, "Shoot, Ed! Shoot—"

The words were torn from her lips by a gasp of pain as Rego twisted her arm higher, and snapped a shot over her shoulder at Ed. The gun thundered in the hallway, but the shot went high.

Ed held his fire, and started running toward them. Jaimie Rego backed away, down toward the fire exit at the other end of the hall, aiming carefully for another shot. But just then, Captain Mannixter and the man named Peavey burst out of 505, with guns in their hands. They came directly into the line of fire, between Ed on the one side, and Rego and Dolores on the other.

Both Mannixter and Peavey saw Ed at the same time, and swung their weapons at him.

This was something different—something which Ed Race could handle without hesitation or compunction. A bleak smile frosted his face as he pulled the triggers of both his revolvers, trading shots with those two. They were firing quickly and frantically, emptying their guns at him, as men will do when they are suddenly brought face to face with an armed enemy.

Ed Race, on the other hand, fired his revolvers with the same cool, unerring skill which he employed on the stage.

Many people, witnessing his miracles of gun-juggling and marksmanship on the vaudeville circuit, had scoffed and said that it was one thing to chalk up a perfect score when coolly firing at an inanimate target which couldn't shoot back—but—"What would that fellow do if he were faced by dangerous enemies whose guns were spitting death at him?"

Here was the answer to that question, for all to see who would! Never a muscle twitched in Ed's face, never a tendon quivered as he sent his lead smashing accurately into a point exactly between the eyes of each. Peavey and Mannixter were both dead on their feet, and Ed didn't even wait to see them fall. He launched himself headlong past them down the corridor toward the fire exit at the other end, through which Jaimie Rego was just disappearing with Dolores in his grip.

The fire-door slammed almost in Ed's face. As he reached out to wrench at it he heard a shot from the other side. The door jarred under the crash, and Ed realized that Rego had fired into the lock. He grasped the handle and twisted it, but it would not budge. Rego's bullet had jammed the lock!


A WHITE-HOT surge of murderous rage rose in Ed. If Rego got Dolores out of the hotel to one of his own places, he'd have her at his mercy. True, Ed had the diamond—but Rego would be able to dictate his own terms. He'd demand the stone as the price of Dolores' life—and Ed would have no choice but to give it up.

He hurled himself against the steel fire-door in one last futile effort, but the door would not give.

He started to race back down the corridor toward the main stairs. There was little or no chance of intercepting Rego that way, for the gunman had a good lead by this time. No doubt he had a car parked close by, and would make good his escape with his prisoner.

As Ed ran down the hall, a couple of doors opened, and bleary-eyed patrons peered out, only to duck inside again when they saw his guns. He hurdled the bodies of Mannixter and Peavey, and was passing the door of 505 when a sudden idea struck him. He pulled up short, sliding along the cheap carpet. He swiveled around and lunged for the knob. The door was locked.

His lips tightened in a bleak grin. He stepped back a pace, and then hurled himself at the door.

The wood panels cracked under his furious impact. He launched himself at it again, tore it off its hinges, and hurtled into the room.

The shattered door hung behind him as he brought up short in the middle, facing the woman who had come up with Rego. She was in the far corner, pointing a small automatic at Ed's stomach.


CHAPTER IV. — THE TRAIL OF THE KILLER

SHE was a woman of about thirty-eight with a hard, painted face, and sharp features. The pinched, taut expression about her eyes tagged her as a dope addict.

Her mouth twitched as Ed came toward her, and she jerked the automatic up and fired blindly. The bullet went far to the left, and embedded itself in the wall.

Ed leaped across and seized her wrist before she could pull the trigger again.

"What's your name?" he asked.

She was trembling. "Gertie," she mumbled. "Gertie Mason."

"That was a cheap stunt Rego pulled on you, Gertie," Ed said. "Leaving you here to take the rap."

She lowered her eyes. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said sulkily. "I never saw Rego in here. I happened to be visiting that girl, when those other men broke in and took her away. You killed two of them. But Rego wasn't in it."

Ed was seething. He realized that with every lost minute, Rego would be digging in deeper with his prisoner. His only hope now was to make Gertie talk.

"You're a sucker to be so loyal to Rego," he tried. "He's a rat, and he's already thrown you over for Dolores Casey. She's a beautiful girl."

She shook her head. "You got it wrong, mister. I don't love Jaimie Rego." Suddenly she raised her head, and said, in a dead toneless voice, "I hate him to hell and beyond!"

"Then why did you come here posing as a federal matron, to help him steal that diamond?"

Even as he asked the question, Ed saw the answer in the straining and twitching of her facial muscles.

"You don't have to tell me," he said, as she covered her face with her hands. "It's the dope. He gives you dope, and you do whatever he asks. If he stopped giving you dope, you think you'd die."

She didn't answer.

"Look at me, Gertie," he ordered. And then she lifted her head, he hurried on: "Rego is so sure of his hold over you that he thinks he can get away with murder, and you won't talk. He knows you'd stand for anything in order to stop that gnawing hunger for cocaine. But think of this—if I turn you over to the police, they'll put you in a cell, and you won't get a drop of powder for days on end.

"You'll endure the torture of the damned. You'll scream till your throat is sore and raw... you'll tear at your own body with your fingernails..."


AS he talked, he saw the horror and the terror welling up in the eyes of Gertie Mason. She shrank away from him.

"God, no! Don't turn me over to the cops. You—you wouldn't do that to me. I—I'll tell them you murdered Peavey and Mannixter out in the hall. I'll tell them you shot those guys in cold blood. I'll tell them a story that will put you in the chair!"

Ed smiled tightly. "Who do you think I am, Gertie?"

"I don't know, but you must be a crook like the others. You were trying to get your hands on that diamond, too. Only Rego beat you to it. He has the girl now, and she must have the stone on her—somewhere. Rego'll find it, too—even if he has to cut her apart!"

Ed was listening to her, and at the same time he was trying to hear the voices of the excited patrons in the corridor. If the police showed up before he finished with Gertie, then he was through.

He couldn't deny the fact that he had been in a gun-battle with Mannixter and Peavey, and even though it might later be proved to be self-defense, they hold him for questioning.

Gertie would tell a wild tale, and they'd search him and find the diamond, and he'd be in the soup. In the meantime, Dolores would be in Jaimie Rego's hands.

He seized Gertie Mason by both shoulders and shook her hard. "Get this through your dope-filled head," he said harshly. "Whatever you think I am makes no difference. I have the diamond!" He let go her shoulder and pulled the pouch out of his pocket. He opened it swiftly, and let her look inside.

Her eyes widened. "You—you outsmarted Jaimie Rego!"

"Yes," he said grimly. "And I'm going to kill Jaimie Rego before morning. You're going to help me find him... shall I tell you why?"

She gazed at him, trembling and quivering, as if fearful of what he would say.

He went on speaking clearly, so that every word would be clear to her: "What will you do for cocaine if Jaimie Rego is killed? Who will give it to you? Answer me!"

"I—I don't—know—"

"I'll tell you. I'll give it to you. I swear to you that I'll give you a powder every day. I'll decrease it daily, till you're cured and a free woman once more. And you don't have to pay me; you don't have to do a thing except help me find Jaimie Rego. How does that sound to you?"

Watching her closely, he saw a strange, new light come into her face, a light of hope, a glimpse of doubting happiness. It was as if a thirst-maddened desert traveler had come in sight of water, but suspected that it was a mirage.

"You—you can get—the powder?"

"Yes, I can get it."

She put a trembling hand on his sleeve. "Then—then get me one—now. God, I can't stand it anymore. Jaimie Rego kept me without the stuff all day yesterday and today, so I'd do what he wanted of me tonight, here. I—I can't last much longer. Get me a powder—now!"

Ed Race felt a sudden relaxing of the tension of all his muscles.

"Come on, then—quick!" he snapped. He dragged her out in the corridor.

A small group of men was clustered at the end of the hall, near the elevator shaft, fearful to approach too closely to the dead bodies and to the open door of 505. When Ed appeared with Gertie in tow, they raised a shout.

"There he is! That's the killer! Grab him! Hold him for the cops!"


ED heard the rumbling of the old-fashioned elevator cable. The cage was rising. Evidently someone had gone down and told the clerk, and the clerk had got a policeman. He must be bringing the bluecoat up now.

The men surged forward, feeling confidence in their numbers. And Ed kept his hold on Gertie's arm, but with his left hand he drew one of his .45s and brandished it at them.

"Lookin' for trouble, huh!" he snarled.

The men, fear-stricken, melted away from in front of him.

Ed grinned as he dragged Gertie after him down the stairs.

He ran with her down the length of the fourth floor hall, to the fire-exit at the other end. This door was not jammed, and he pushed through to the iron stairwell. As the door closed behind them, they heard the elevator rumbling up to the fifth.

Ed nodded. "We can just make it. They'll think we're somewhere in the building, and lose time hunting us."

With Gertie in tow he raced down the four flights to the ground floor. She kept right up with him, seemingly revitalized by the prospect of getting the drug.

He found a door opening into a side alley and poked his head out.

Then he motioned for Gertie to follow him, and made his way down the alley.

A fence separated the rear of the hotel from the back yards of a row of tenement houses facing on the next street. Ed boosted Gertie up.

"I'm trusting you," she whispered.

He led her out of the back yards to the next street, and found a cruising taxicab.

"Uptown!" he ordered.


ED gave the driver directions and he stopped in front of a small drug store in a residential section. The store was closed for the night, but Ed pointed to an apartment above the store.

"The owner of that store lives upstairs. He owes me a big favor. I can get the cocaine from him—if you want it."

He watched her closely, noting the spasm of eagerness which twisted at her mouth. Then he saw her clench her hands so hard that the fingernails gouged into the flesh of her palms.

"You—you're sure you can get it?"

"Yes. And I'll do it legally, too. I'll get a doctor to prescribe it for you in the morning. It's legitimate to prescribe narcotics in decreasing doses for certain cases. Now—wait here, and I'll go up."

"Wait!" she said huskily.

Ed didn't move; his eyes were fixed on hers.

She gulped hard, and turned to look square in his eyes. Suddenly she smiled. "I—think I can—wait! I'll—take you to Rego—first!"

A warm light came into Ed's eyes. He squeezed Gertie's hand.

"Good girl!" he said. "I know how hard it was for you to say that!"

Her eyes were bright with tears of gratitude as she leaned forward and tapped on the glass.

"Go across town," she ordered the driver. "To the Dallas Motion Picture Theatre. Do you know where it is?"

The cabby nodded. "It's closed now, lady—"

"That's all right. Take us there!"

The man got the cab in motion, and swung west.

"Jaimie Rego owns the Dallas Theatre," she told Ed, as they rolled swiftly across town. "He has a secret apartment in the basement." She looked sideways at Ed. "She's a lucky girl to have a man like you!"

Ed shook his head. "She's the daughter of an old friend of mine. That's all."

"You didn't steal the diamond from her then?"

"No. She gave it to me to keep for her. If we fail to find Jaimie Rego tonight, I'll have to trade the diamond for her life."

"We'll find him, all right!" Gertie Mason said grimly.


CHAPTER V. — CURTAIN-CALL FOR SATAN!

THEY got out a block from the Dallas Theatre and Ed paid off the cab. Gertie led him around the corner, into the dark hallway of a cheap tenement building.

They went through the hallway out into the back, and skirted cement yards filled with littered rubbish. Then, at the rear of the Dallas Theater, Gertie pointed with triumph to a new, sleek, 1941 two-toned sedan parked in the driveway.

"Rego's new car," she whispered.

She motioned Ed into the shadow of the theater's rear wall, and then stepped up to a door which apparently opened into the basement. There was a bell alongside the door, and she pressed it twice, then once. She waited a moment, and then a little wicket in the door slid open.

"It's me, Sid," Gertie said. "Is Rego here?"

The man inside uttered an exclamation. "Hell! Rego said you was caught, Gertie. He was gonna send me over to see you in the can tomorrow, and slip you a paper."

"I got away," she said. "Let me in."

"You alone, Gertie?"

"Hell, no," she said sarcastically. "I got a platoon of cops with me."

Sid grunted. "Don't get smart, Gertie." But he unlocked the door.

"All right, Ed!" said Gertie.

Ed Race slid around into view and barged through the doorway.

Sid gasped an oath, and raised his gun. But Ed's revolver flashed up, then down in a quick, powerful blow. His muzzle caught Sid on the side of the head, and the man slid down to the floor.

Gertie said, "I like the way you work, Ed Race. You don't waste anything—not even motions!"

She closed the door, and stepped over Sid's body. They were in a small vestibule, with a stairway leading down into the basement.

Gertie took the lead, and Ed followed. There was just enough light from a wall bracket so that Ed could see the basement was entirely paneled. This was evidently a portion which had been walled off from the theatre basement proper. At the end of a short hall, Ed saw an open door in front of them.

"Sid always leaves this door open when he goes to answer the bell," she whispered to Ed. "Come on in!"

They entered a room equipped as a kitchen. There was a tray of glasses, a bottle of bourbon on the table.

Evidently Sid had been interrupted in the process of making drinks. Ed counted the glasses. There were four of them.

Gertie frowned. "One would be for Rego, and one for Nicky Piatt, his bodyguard, and one for Sid. Who's the fourth one in there with them?"

"Maybe the fourth drink is for Dolores," Ed suggested.

She shook her head. "You don't know Rego. He wouldn't be giving Dolores any drinks."

A voice from inside called sharply, "Sid! Where are you? Who was that?"

Ed recognized Rego's voice at once.

Gertie Mason winked at him and answered. "It's me, Jaimie— Gertie. I got away!"

"Gertie! Come on in! And tell Sid to hustle up with those drinks!"

Ed motioned to Gertie to go on in. He holstered his revolver, and picked up the tray of glasses. Gertie smiled.

"Good luck, Ed Race," she whispered.


ED followed her through a dining foyer which was in darkness, to the door of the living room beyond. Gertie went into the living room, leaving the door open. Ed remained in the darkened dining alcove with the tray.

Looking through the open doorway, his eyes narrowed, and he gave a sudden start of surprise. There were four people in that room. Two were free, and two were prisoners.

Jaimie Rego was sitting behind a maple desk, smoking a cigar. His bodyguard, Nicky Piatt, was standing over a chair in which Dolores was sitting. Her hands were tied behind the chair, but she was staring defiantly past Nicky Piatt at Jaimie Rego.

But it was the fourth person who drew and held Ed's attention, and startled him to the point of almost dropping the tray.

That fourth person—a prisoner, lying bound on the sofa—was Mike Casey!

The black-haired Irishman was straining against the cords which bound his wrists and ankles. His body was wasted and emaciated as if after a long illness. But the burning intensity of his black eyes as he struggled ineffectually to free himself testified to the fact that Mike Casey's spirit was still very much alive.

Seeing his old friend there on the couch, Ed was able to piece together the fragments of this vicious scheme. Casey must have come home, wounded, from China. But because he had served in a foreign army, he was subject to punishment under United States Neutrality laws. So he had sought refuge in the underworld until he recovered his health, but he had made the mistake of choosing to seek sanctuary with Jaimie Rego.

Rego must have found out about the diamond, and sent Mannixter down to Rio with a cock-and-bull story to induce Dolores to bring the stone to New York. Then, when Mannixter had failed to get it, Rego had tried the ruse of posing as a federal agent. Both attempts had failed.

Now, Rego was making his last desperate try.

Ed saw Rego wave Gertie to one side when she entered, and then the killer pointed to Mike Casey.

"You haven't got the stone, Casey, and neither has your daughter. But one of you must know where it is. Are you going to talk, or do we go to work? On this girl of yours first?"

Mike Casey groaned. "You filthy devil, I tell you I don't know where the stone is!"

Rego shrugged, and turned to Dolores. "Then you know where it is. From what Mannixter told me, you had it on you when you arrived from Rio. He stuck with you all the time, and even watched your room at night. You had no chance to get rid of it, except to give it to Ed Race. Has he got it?"

Dolores' eyes flashed scornfully. "I'll tell you nothing. What did you do to my Conchita?"

Rego laughed, and winked at Nicky Piatt. "That old hellion wouldn't talk, either. She's somewhere out in the bay, with two hundred pounds of concrete around her feet. You better give up that stone, or you'll land right next to her!"

"No!" Dolores tossed her head defiantly.

Mike Casey, on the sofa, groaned aloud. "If I get my hands free, you yellow rat, I'll break your neck!"

Rego laughed once more. He looked at Nicky Piatt, puffed his cigar so that the end glowed, and handed it over.

"Go ahead, Nicky. Make her talk!"

Piatt grinned, and took the cigar. He pulled back the blouse from Dolores' breast, and held the hot end of the cigar above her white skin.

"It won't feel so good, baby," he said. "It hurts even worse the next day. I'll make a pretty picture on you—"

Ed Race had seen enough. He hurled the entire tray and its contents, through the doorway, into Nicky Piatt's face.

Piatt uttered a yowl, and sprang backward, trying to ward off the flying glasses with his arms.

Jaimie Rego cursed and snatched up a pistol from the desk. He fired through the doorway, just as Ed appeared there, with both.45s in his hands. But Ed fired just a second sooner. A great black hole appeared in Rego's forehead, and he sat there with a foolish grin on his face for a moment, before he slid off the chair.

Nicky Piatt had got himself disentangled from the glasses and the tray, and frantically dug into a shoulder holster. Ed grinned at him and waved his own guns carelessly. "Any time you get it out, Piatt. Any time will do!"

Nicky Piatt stood very still, spreading his empty hands at either side.

Gertie uttered a cry of delight and sped over to Dolores' chair. In a moment she had her free, and then she hurried to the couch and did the same for Mike Casey.

Dolores, at a sign from Ed, went around behind Piatt, and took the gun from his shoulder holster.

From the couch, Mike Casey spoke while Gertie was untying him. "A nice bit of work, Eddie, my boy. It was nice seein' you after all these years—with those two guns in your hands. Never was an angel from heaven more welcome!"

Ed grinned. "You're getting old, Casey, to let a crook like Rego take you—"

Casey was free now, and trying to rub a little circulation into his limbs. His face darkened suddenly.

"I clean forgot, Eddie! For God's sake, be careful! Rego wasn't the brains of this deal. There's another—"

"Ah!" said Ed. "That fourth cocktail glass! Is the other one here?"

"Why yes," said a smooth voice behind him. "Indeed I am, suh!"


ED hardly waited for that voice to cease speaking. He knew by two former experiences, just what to expect when "Cunnel" Ronson was around.

Almost at the first sound of Ronson's voice, Ed went into a side-flip, the most difficult acrobatic feat in his repertoire. He rarely did it on the stage, for it caused a serious tension upon certain little-used leg and thigh muscles, and there was always danger of a bad sprain. But this time he did it, because he knew that if he went into a forward somersault in the direction of Casey's couch, where he was facing, it would draw the colonel's rifle fire straight toward his old friend. So he went into the side-flip, away from the couch.

Even as he got into motion, he heard the soft pop of the silenced rifle, and felt the tug of the bullet at his coat. He twisted in mid-air, and fired before his feet actually landed on the floor.

He shot at the blurred image of the little gray-haired Ronson, down on one knee, with the rifle stock at his cheek. And he grinned bleakly as he saw his slug thud heavily into Ronson's chest.

The "Cunnel" was thrust backward by the tremendous driving-power of the .45 caliber bullet, and he crashed into the lintel of the doorway through which he had silently appeared.

Ed sprang across the room to the side of the gray-haired man. Blood was pumping from Ronson's chest, and his eyes were rapidly glazing. There was a twisted, bitter smile on his lips, beneath the white mustache.

Ed bent low, listening.

"Can't understand it," the "Cunnel" was saying. "Can't understand... missing three times. My—apologies suh—"

A rattle came up in his throat, cutting off his words. He stiffened, his body arcing like a bow, and then suddenly went limp. "Cunnel" Ronson was dead.

Ed Race stood up, and looked bleakly around the room. Nickey Piatt had not moved from his position, with his hands raised in the air. Dolores was covering him with a gun she had picked up from Rego's desk.

Gertie Mason was standing with both hands at her breast, and a smile upon her face. Her eyes were shining. Mike Casey was getting tiredly to his feet.

"Well, Eddie," he said, "I see your shooting has improved. But those acrobatics of yours make me dizzy."

"It's about time you retired, and set up a home for your daughter," Ed grinned. "Here's your damned diamond. You better take it to the Customs tomorrow and declare it."

He flung the little pouch across the room, and Casey caught it.

The two old comrades eyed each other across the room and a smile appeared upon the lips of each. They were both casual, almost flippant. But Ed Race knew the depth of emotion which Mike Casey was hiding behind that cool exterior.

Dolores, on the other hand, did not try to hide what she felt. She rushed across the room and threw her arms around Ed, and kissed him on the lips.

"We owe everything to you!" she sobbed. "They would have killed father and me—"

Ed gently disengaged her arms. "Don't forget Gertie," he said. "She put up the stoutest fight of all. She deserves a medal—"

"Or a powder!" Gertie said huskily.

He nodded. "Let's get out of here before the police come, and I'll get it for you."

Gertie started toward him, and then stopped, a strange light in her eyes.

"I think—I can get along—without it!" she said.

"Ah!" said Ed Race. "Gertie, you've found something that's worth even more than Mike Casey's diamond!" And he pressed her arm encouragingly.

He led her to the door, and placed some bills into her hand. "Get yourself a decent room, and some clothes. I'll arrange for you to go away for a real cure. We'll leave you entirely out of the story we tell the police."

She said nothing. There were tears in her eyes as she took the money. Impulsively she reached up on her toes and kissed him, then hurried out.

Ed turned and looked across the room at Nicky Pratt. "Get the hell out of here, Nickey," he said. "I'm letting you go only because I don't want Gertie's name mentioned in this. That's the price of your freedom. Do you understand?"

"There'll never be a peep from me. Mr. Race!" Piatt said eagerly.

After Nickey Pratt had faded from the room, Ed Race came over to the couch, where the Caseys were sitting.

"Well, Casey me lad," he said, "I guess we're ready to talk to the police."

Casey nodded. "And then I'll be settlin' down, Eddie. No more adventurin' for the rest of me life!"

Ed didn't look convinced. "Until the next revolution breaks somewhere, eh, Casey me lad?"

"Revolution?" Casey asked, a funny look in his eyes. "Do you know of a place where there's one brewin'?"

"Right here!" said Dolores. "There'll be a revolution right here and now if you so much as go around the corner without permission!"

The police who arrived a moment later were a little mystified as to why these three were laughing so heartily after what must have been such a harrowing experience.

"It's that Ed Race," said the sergeant in charge of the detail. "He knows the screwiest people!"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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