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EMILE C. TEPPERMAN

MURDER SETS THE STAGE

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First published in The Spider, September 1940

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version date: 2020-03-26
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The Spider, September 1940, with "Murder Sets the Stage"



Ed Race had thrilled thousands with his crack trigger work, as The Masked Marksman of Vaudeville. Yet the night he fought a desperate duel against those two professional killers, the Terror Twins, only Ed was thrilled—by the glory of his own magnificent battle against the Underworld!



TABLE OF CONTENTS


CHAPTER 1. — THE GIRL IN THE ALLEY

AT ten-fifty every night, Ed Race finished his Masked Marksman act at the Clyde Theatre. Since he always wore street clothes for his sharpshooting feature, he had no changing to do, and could leave the theatre every evening by five minutes of eleven.

Tonight, upon stepping out of the stage entrance, he turned left toward Broadway as usual, for his nightly cup of coffee and hot roast beef sandwich at Lindy's. Almost at once, he heard a woman's muffled scream. It came from the direction of the alley which separated the Clyde from the Argus Theatre, and which ran clear through from 46th to 45th Street.

To Ed Race, that scream was like a dinner bell to a hungry man. The Partages Circuit had decided to book him solid for six months at the Clyde, and he was becoming restless. For a month now, nothing had happened to break the monotony of his daily vaudeville appearances. That scream was the tonic he needed.

He swung toward the alley, and saw a struggling group of men surrounding a lone woman. She was fighting tooth and nail, kicking at them with her high-heeled evening slippers. One of her attackers got behind her and slapped a huge paw over her mouth.

Ed Race had only that single quick view of the silent struggle as he headed into the alley. Immediately, his path was blocked by two burly men. They both wore tan top-coats, belted at the back, with the collars turned up. They both wore tan slouch hats, with a small black feather stuck in the band. And each had a gun in his fist. One of them had a piece of court-plaster stuck over his right eye, while the other was dabbing at a split upper lip with a bit of woman's lace handkerchief. Apparently they had both been in a scrap of some kind recently. And they both handled their guns with a certain grim air of efficiency which bespoke long familiarity practice with firearms. Aside from the crooked bit of court-plaster on the one, and the split lip on the other, their faces were as alike as duplicate rotogravure reproductions. There was no doubt that they were twins.

They barred Ed's course into the alley, standing shoulder to shoulder, their guns poked out at him.

"Just keep walking and go on about your business, mister," said the one with the court-plaster over his eye. He jerked his head backward in the direction of the scuffling men who were surrounding the lone woman. "This ain't nothin' that concerns you!"

Ed brought up short, with the muzzles of the two pistols less than six inches from his stomach.

"Stand aside!" he said tightly.

"Tough guy, hey?" Court-plaster barked. "See how you like this—"

His finger tautened on the trigger, but Split-lip hastily interrupted. "Don't shoot, Bootsy. A shot will bring the cops. Slug him—like this—"

He raised his gun to pistol-whip Ed across the temple.

"Okey-doke, Wootsy," said Bootsy, and raised his gun at the same time.

That was a grave mistake on the part of Bootsy and Wootsy. If they had known that Ed Race was the man who appeared nightly on the stage of the Clyde Theatre as the Masked Marksman, they would certainly have pulled the triggers of their guns and have risked the chance of a shot attracting the police.


EVERY night for ten years now, Ed Race had been giving an exhibition of gun-juggling acrobatics which had put him in the forefront of the country's star vaudeville headliners. His amazing skill with the six heavy .45 caliber hair-trigger revolvers which were the main props of his act never failed to bring down the house in a spontaneous burst of applause. The high spot of his number was when he juggled the six revolvers at once, sending them high into the air, and then going into a lightning back somersault. When he landed on his feet, he would catch the revolvers as they came into his hands, and fire them in turn at a row of candles thirty feet across the stage. In ten years, he had never missed one of those candles. Among the general public, there were very few who knew the true identity of the Masked Marksman. There were many who were inclined to scoff at his marvelous skill, saying that it was one thing to practice accurate marksmanship against inanimate objects, but it would be a wholly different thing if the Masked Marksman were faced by a living, armed enemy. Those who made this statement were unaware of the fact that Ed Race held licenses to operate as a private detective in a dozen states, and that two of those six hair- trigger revolvers always travelled around with him in twin shoulder holsters—and that they had more than once blasted hot gun-fire at dangerous enemies. For Ed Race's nervous energy was such that he could never be content with the comparatively humdrum existence of a vaudeville actor—even of a headliner. To satisfy that craving for action and excitement, he had embarked upon the avocation of criminology.

Now, as those two muzzles whirled swiftly above his head, Ed Race performed a feat which no audience had ever seen him do. He let his body sag until he was almost in a sitting position on the ground in front of Bootsy and Wootsy. But as he dropped, his two hands crossed over his chest and then flashed upward in a motion so swift that no human eye could follow it. And in each of his hands there was now one of those heavy .45's.

That lightning draw itself had been witnessed by millions of theatre-goers from coast to coast—but never under such conditions. On the stage, Ed Race usually flipped two silver dollars in the air, then stood with his hands at his sides nonchalantly, as the coins began their downward descent. Just as they were about to hit the floor, Ed would draw and fire one bullet from each revolver. He never missed.

Here, in the darkness of the alley mouth, it was somewhat different. But the split-second draw was no slower than on the stage. He did not pull the triggers of the two guns. Instead, he brought them up so that those thick barrels, each almost a half inch in diameter, cracked against the descending wrists of the two gunmen. The pistols flew from their hands. Startled yelps of pain burst from their lips. They stared in uncomprehending blankness at their empty, numbed hands.



ED RACE was up on his feet in an instant. He held the two guns at his sides, pointing at the gunmen, and said only one word: "Scram!"

Bootsy and Wootsy did not wait for a second invitation. They turned and ran down the street toward Broadway, leaving their pistols on the ground. Ed didn't wait to see them disappear. He launched himself into the alley.

Those scuffling men in there had the woman down. One of them twisted her arms behind her, while a second held her feet. Another still pressed a huge paw against her mouth. The fourth was swiftly rummaging through her purse.

As Ed Race darted into the alley, the man with the purse threw it disgustedly to the ground, allowing its contents to scatter in all directions.

"It ain't in her pocketbook," he grunted. "We got to search her. Pull her clothes off, quick!"

One of the three men holding the woman saw Ed at that moment. He uttered a warning to the others, and raised a gun. He fired just a hair's-breadth of time behind Ed Race. The thunder of Ed's heavy .45 drowned out the sharp bark of the man's automatic. The fellow's slug went wild, because the powerful hammer-blow of Ed's bullet smashing into his chest carried him backward as if a whirlwind had caught him up. The fellow crashed to the ground five feet away, without uttering a sound. The other three were caught flat-footed without guns in their hands. They saw Ed coming toward them like some deadly, avenging figure out of the night, and with one accord they let go of the woman and ran. In a moment, they had disappeared into the blackness of the alley down at the 45th Street end.

Ed Race could easily have shot the three of them as they ran. But it wasn't in his code to shoot men in the back. He shouted to them once to halt, but when they disobeyed and kept going, he shrugged. There was nothing for him to do about it. He raced after them, past the woman on the ground, for a few feet, just to make sure that they were gone for good. Then he swung around to help the woman up.

He stopped short, his eyes narrowing with anger and surprise. The woman was no longer on the ground. She was on her feet, and running as fast as she could, back toward the 46th Street end of the alley. She had her skirts pulled above her knees, and Ed caught a glimpse of shapely, silk-stockinged legs and high-heeled silver evening slippers clicking against the concrete. The girl was wearing a black evening dress cut down to the waistline in the back. Her shoulders were white against the black satin of the evening dress, and he could see that she was slim and supple. A great mass of black hair which had been coiled at the back of her neck had fallen loose, and was streaming out behind her.

"Hey, stop!" Ed shouted.

The girl didn't even look back. She just kept on running, and swung out of the alley, turning left toward Broadway.


ED reached the mouth of the alley a moment later and saw her disappearing into one of the side entrances of the Argus Theatre. The door through which she had slipped slammed shut just as Ed reached it. He pushed against it, but it would not give. The girl must have slid the bar shut on the other side. This was one of the fire exits of the Argus, and during the early part of the performance inside, there was generally an usher stationed here to keep persons from entering without paying the admission fee. But now, close to the end of the show, there would be nobody stationed here, and it had, therefore, been easy for the girl to slip inside.

Ed turned away disgustedly. The Argus was one of the largest legitimate theatres in New York, seating thirty-five hundred people. It would be impossible for him to find that girl. By the time he got around to the front, she might have slipped out through any one of the numerous exits.

The two pistols discarded by Bootsy and Wootsy were still lying on the sidewalk where they had fallen. The shots in the alley had apparently not attracted any attention, for no one had come to investigate. This was quite understandable, for the average New Yorker is a blasť sort of creature who likes to appear even more sophisticated than he really is. No one can trick him into believing that the backfire of an automobile is a gunshot.

Ed swung hastily back into the alley. He knelt beside the man he had shot in the chest. The fellow was lying on his back with his arms outstretched, one knee raised in the air. He was dead.

Ed turned away from the body, and stooped to pick up the scattered contents of the girl's purse. There was a lot of silver lying around, but he didn't bother with that. He picked up a flat oblong compact with the initials S. T. engraved in flowing script on the gold-plated cover. He also found a silver cigarette lighter upon which was inscribed: To Sara, from George. The third item he found was a ring with two automobile and three house keys. This caused him to look further, and over by the wall he found a black leather card case. It contained two one-hundred dollar bills, and five ten dollar bills folded into a small wad; an automobile operator's license in the name of Sara Trent, age twenty-six, five feet two, hair black, eyes dark brown, residence Scarsdale, New York. On the back of the operator's license there was the record of five traffic law violations—three for speeding, and two for parking at a hydrant. There was no owner's license.

Ed Race stuffed these things into his pocket, took a last look at the dead body of the gunman, and then stiffened as a voice behind him growled, "Don't move!"


CHAPTER 2. — THE TERROR TWINS

ED stood very still, and the man who had surprised him came around ahead of him, stepping carefully over the dead body. Ed gulped when he saw who it was. Detective Lenihan, of the Broadway Squad, was one of the toughest and most uncomprising policemen on the force.

"Oh, it's you!" Lenihan grunted, recognizing Ed. But he didn't lower his gun. He jerked his head down toward the dead man. "You killed him?"

"Who, me?" Ed said, innocently. This was going to be difficult. His gun had been fired, and ballistics could easily prove that the slug in the dead man's chest had come from his gun. Moreover, Lenihan had no doubt seen him picking up and pocketing the things from the girl's purse. Ed would probably be able to clear himself in the long run of any charge of murder. No jury in the world would deny that this killing had been purely a case of self-defense—especially when it was shown that the dead man's gun had also been fired. But Lenihan was not the type of man to take anything for granted. He would certainly arrest Ed, book him and fingerprint him, and charge him with suspicion of manslaughter. It would mean at least a night in jail—and possibly a good deal more. It might even mean a trial. And there was no use arguing with Lenihan about it. It was too good a chance for him to chalk up another arrest.

"Quit stalling!" Lenihan growled. "I asked you, did you shoot this guy?"

"Well, I'll tell you," Ed said slowly. "This is what happened—"

"You better make it good," Lenihan told him. "Maybe I ought to inform you that anything you say may be used against you, Race. But you know all that stuff—" a trace of a sneer came into the detective's voice—"being a sort of private detective, yourself. So talk up, if you want to."

Knowing that nothing he might say would save him from a night in jail, Ed talked, merely to give himself a chance to think. As he told Lenihan swiftly what had happened, his mind was working with desperate concentration to find a way out. That girl—Sara Trent—must have had something that Bootsy and Wootsy and the others had badly wanted. But now that Ed had saved her from their kind attentions, she had not even stopped to thank him. Ed said nothing to Lenihan about the girl. He told only of having seen the fight in the alley, and of having had the run-in with Bootsy and Wootsy. Lenihan raised his eyebrows at mention of those two names.

"I know the guys," he said nodding grimly.

"They're the two most dangerous killers in New York. Your story must be a lie, Race. If you were up against them, you wouldn't be alive at this minute."

Ed smiled sourly. "You're certainly a trusting soul, Lenihan. Let me show you just how it happened. Maybe you'll believe it then—"

OUT of the corner of his eye, Ed had seen that the sidewalk on 46th Street was now thronged with people who were coming out of the show in the Clyde Theatre. They were moving slowly, talking about the show as they made their way toward Broadway.

Under Lenihan's eager eyes, Ed moved a few feet down the alley.

"The gang was right here," he explained, "scrapping among themselves. Now I was standing here—" He moved a few feet farther away from Lenihan and toward the crowd on the sidewalk. Lenihan watched him suspiciously, holding the police service revolver cautiously at his side.

"So what?" he demanded harshly. "What's all this play-acting about? Did you shoot this guy, or didn't you?"

"I'm coming to that," Ed said. "Now, just watch—"

He took three or four more steps toward the street, bending low as if looking for bullet holes along the wall. "This is where I was standing when the guy shot at me." He took two more steps away from Lenihan. "And then I raised my revolver and fired, and those other three guys began to run, like this—"

Ed bent his head down, crouching low, and ran, weaving from side to side out of the alley to the thickly crowded sidewalk.

Behind him, Lenihan yelled hoarsely, "Stop! Stop! Or I'll shoot—"

Ed didn't stop. He knew very well that Lenihan would never risk a shot into that crowd.

People gave way before Ed, with startled cries. A man tried to stick out a foot and trip him, but Ed hurdled that barrier. Then he was out in the middle of the street, dodging taxicabs. He heard Lenihan still shouting, behind him, but did not look around. He slipped into the side entrance of the Emerald Hotel, which was directly opposite the Argus Theatre, and then he stopped running. Forcing himself to walk in a leisurely manner, he made his way across the lobby, and out the front entrance on to Broadway. He stepped into a taxicab at the curb, and said casually, "Grand Central Station, please."

The cab pulled away and made the corner on the green light. Looking back through the rear window, Ed saw Detective Lenihan just rushing out of the front entrance of the Emerald Hotel, and get into another cab at the curb. Ed took out a five dollar bill, and handed it over the driver's shoulder.

"Changed my mind," he said quickly. "I forgot something. I'm getting out here. Just keep going."

While the cab was still moving, Ed opened the door and stepped out. He reached the sidewalk, and turned around in time to see Lenihan's cab rapidly overtaking the one he had just left. Ed grinned to himself, and hurried back to 46th Street. As he reached the corner, he saw the stream of theatre-goers pouring out of the Argus Theatre. The show in there was just over. The marquee lights were out, in front of the Argus, but Ed could read the electric light lettering:


GEORGE BECKETT
IN
THE FOURTH HUSBAND


ED knew now where to find Sara Trent. Hurrying around the corner into 46th Street, he saw small groups of excited people clustered around on the sidewalk, discussing the chase which had just taken place.

No one even gave Ed Race a second glance as he made his way through the crowd. The last thing in anyone's mind was that the fugitive who had just been pursued by the detective would return at once to the scene of the crime.

Ed stepped in through the stage door of the Argus Theatre, and old Fred Egan, the doorman, greeted him respectfully.

"Is Mr. Beckett in his dressing room, Fred?" Ed asked.

"Yes, Mr. Race. You can go right in."

Ed made his way backstage, returning the greetings of several of the other actors in the cast of The Fourth Husband. There were few men in the theatrical profession who were as well liked as Ed Race. It was a matter of common knowledge that any trouper in trouble could count on Ed's help.

At the door of dressing room Number One, Ed paused a moment before knocking. He heard voices inside, raised in altercation.

"You planted those gunmen in the alley to waylay me, George Beckett. You know you did," a woman was saying.

"Gunmen?" Beckett's smooth, suave voice came distinctly to Ed Race through the closed door. Ed Race knew all about George Beckett. The man had very little acting ability, but he was a handsome devil—the type who might have made a successful matinee idol twenty years ago. Now, forever, the vogue of the matinee idol had passed. He had been supplanted by the Clark Gables and the Robert Taylors of the movies. These days, it took top-notch acting ability like that of Alfred Lunt or Walter Hampden to attain real success on the legitimate stage. It had always been a mystery to Ed Race, as well as to the rest of the theatrical profession, how George Beckett managed to get the backing for the various shows he had appeared in. The Fourth Husband was a cleverly written satire which called for far greater talent than Beckett possessed. Yet he received excellent write-ups from the critics. Ed wondered whether he had some mysterious hold on the dramatic reviewers.

As he put his hand on the knob to open the door, he heard Beckett saying, "I assure you, my dear Sara, that I know nothing of these gunmen—"

"Then how did they know I was supposed to have your note? Those filthy men were starting to undress me to search for it—" there was a hidden catch in her voice—"when someone came along and started to shoot at them. I—I was sorry I had to run. I left my purse, and lots of things that could identify me. But I couldn't afford to be found there. I—I wish I could find that man, to thank him—"

"Glad to accommodate you, Miss Trent," Ed Race said, pushing open the door of the dressing room, and stepping in. "You can thank me now!"


SARA TRENT was standing in the middle of the room, pointing a small, .22 caliber pistol at the handsome George Beckett. Beckett was sitting on the bench in front of the dressing table. He was turned halfway around to face her, with the makeup only partly removed from his face. Sara Trent must have surprised him at the dressing table. Ed surmised that she had entered while Beckett was still on the stage. Her small, lively young body was quivering with anger, and there was no doubt that she was ready to shoot Beckett. No wonder, then, that the actor had been talking to her so soothingly.

Sara Trent swung halfway around as Ed stepped through the doorway, and she immediately recognized him. She uttered a little gasp. "Oh. You're the man who—"

That was all she said, because George Beckett seized the opportunity to leap straight at Sara and seize her wrist. He twisted hard, and Sara Trent uttered a cry of pain and let go of the pistol. George Beckett snatched it up. Then he leaped backward and swung the weapon to cover both Sara Trent and Ed Race.

"Now, damn you both," he snarled, with all trace of suavity gone from his voice, "I'll get that note—"

He broke off short, uttering a cry of mingled surprise and pain. For Ed Race had swung into a blinding blur of motion. Suddenly, inexplicably, one of his heavy, .45's was in his hand, and chopping down upon Beckett's wrist. Beckett dropped the gun and doubled over, pressing his injured wrist against his chest. His face went white with pain beneath the makeup.

"Now," Ed Race said pleasantly, "we can talk this over like gentlemen!"

"Race!" Beckett barked. "You cheap juggler! You've broken my wrist!"

"So sorry," Ed said. He turned to the girl. "I don't want to intrude into your affairs, Miss Trent, but the fact is that I've got a dead man out in the alley to account for, and a very nasty detective is hunting me for manslaughter—or worse. Now, if you'll explain to the police that the gunman was trying to hold you up when I shot him, it will help me out of a jam—"

"Oh, no!" she exclaimed. "I couldn't do that!"

"You couldn't!"

"No-o. It—it would be rather embarrassing..."

George Beckett, who had sunk back onto the bench in front of the dressing table, still nursing his injured hand, began to laugh nastily. "You're damn right it would be embarrassing! And a lot more than that!" A spasm of pain passed across his handsome face, but he went on, with a knowing leer, "If you know what's good for you, Sara, you'll tell this big ape to get out of here, and you'll hand that note over to me. Otherwise, there'll be one helluva big scandal in the Trent family!"

"No, there won't!" she said tightly.

"There won't, eh?" Beckett sneered. "What will your husband say when he finds out that you gave me eighty thousand dollars to back my show?"


WATCHING the two of them, Ed Race saw Sara Trent's slim body become taut. She looked so young and girlish, that he had never thought of her as having a husband. But he saw now that she was wearing a thin platinum band on the third finger of her left hand. And at the same time he realized who she really was. He had never thought to connect this supple, beautiful girl with the Honorable Cadwallader Trent. He recalled now that the Honorable Cadwallader, who was fifty-seven years old, and president of the Civic Reform Association, had only recently married a young singing star by the name of Sara Ormsby. She had been a radio singer, and for that reason Ed had never met her personally. This, then, was the former Sara Ormsby, now Mrs. Cadwallader Trent, wife of a millionaire reformer. No wonder she didn't want her husband to know that she had backed George Beckett's play to the tune of eighty thousand dollars. Why she had done a thing like that, Ed could only guess. But he could also see that it was supremely important to her to keep it a secret from her husband. So important that she must have come here alone, secretly, to get the money back. So important that she had been desperate enough to bring a pistol with her. And now, as Ed watched her, he realized that there was little she would refrain from doing in order to protect the good name of her husband and to keep him from learning about her folly.

He looked with loathing over toward where George Beckett was nursing his wrist and watching Sara Trent out of narrow, calculating eyes.

"Just imagine what the newspapers and radio boys will have to say about it! They will be asking how come you got tied up with George Beckett. Your husband will probably get apoplexy when he sees the newspaper headlines—Reformer's wife backs handsome actor secretly!"

Beckett was enjoying himself so much that he almost forgot about the pain in his wrist. "All I have to do is tell them—"

"Oh, no, George," Sara Trent said calmly. "You won't tell them!"

"I won't? Why not?"

"Because I'm going to kill you!"

She swooped down and snatched up her pistol from the floor where Beckett had dropped it. Then, still on her knees, she swung it up to fire point-blank at the actor.

Ed Race had no love for George Beckett. He knew now that the man was a blackmailer, and a cad of the worst type. Nevertheless, he didn't want to see Sara Trent commit murder. So he reached out and yanked her arm. She pulled the trigger, and the gun exploded, sending the slug into the wall up near the ceiling.

Beckett's face was a travesty of sudden terror. He had been within an ace of meeting his death. He sat frozen on the bench, unable to move.

Sara Trent tried to wrench her arm free of Ed Race's grip. She squirmed and struggled, beating at his chest with her free hand and trying to kick at his shins.

"Let me go!" she gasped. "Let me kill him! The world will be better off without him!" She fought like a little wildcat, trying to free herself. For a moment, Ed had his hands full with her. He couldn't get hold of the pistol, because she kept wriggling and squirming.

It was during this moment that the door behind him opened. Ed heard the sound. He turned and saw Bootsy and Wootsy. Murder smoldered in their lackluster eyes.


CHAPTER 3. — TRAPPED!

THEY had replenished their arsenal each of them had a big, black automatic. Bootsy still had the court-plaster over his eyebrow, and Wootsy was licking his split lip. Both were grinning with immense satisfaction.

Bootsy stuck the muzzle of his automatic in the girl's ribs and said, "Drop it, sister!"

Wootsy thrust his gun forward at Ed Race. "The idea is to stand still—or get shot, mister!" he growled.

"And if you start something," Bootsy snapped, "we'll just as soon shoot the dame and you right here!"

Ed might have gone for his gun anyway, if only his own safety were involved. But he knew very well that Bootsy would keep his word. The moment he started anything, the girl would get a slug in her side. So he stood very still, letting go the girl's arm. Bootsy reached over and smacked the side of his palm down upon her wrist, making her drop the gun. Both of Bootsy's hands were in good condition, but Wootsy was holding his automatic in his left hand. His right was stuck deep into his pocket. He looked at Ed with smouldering eyes.

"You busted a bone in my wrist, mister. I ought to break your skull for that!"

Ed grinned. "In order to do it, Wootsy, you'll have to lift that gun of yours up in the air. Remember what I did last time?"

Wootsy scowled. "All right, wise guy, just take those guns of yours out of the holsters and lay them down on the rug. Don't make any quick move while you're doing it."

"Sure," Ed said quickly. "Glad to oblige—"

But George Beckett burst out sharply, "Don't let him touch his guns, you dope! That guy is the Masked Marksman!"

Ed's hands were clasped over his chest. His fingers were touching the butts of the two heavy revolvers under his armpits. He only had to bring them out in a single swift motion. But Wootsy's automatic was glued to his side, and Wootsy's finger was taut around the trigger.

"That's all, mister!" Wootsy snapped. "Just stand still, like that. Don't make another move!"

With his eyes glued on Ed Race's hands, Wootsy took three steps backward, bring him alongside of Bootsy and Sara Trent. Then Wootsy spoke to George Beckett, without taking his eyes from Ed. "Get around in back of him, Beckett, and get those guns off, him!"

Beckett rose from his seat, and came up toward Ed from behind.

Ed stood very still, on the balls of his feet, ready to launch himself into action at the first chance. He kept watching Wootsy, and listening for the movement of George Beckett behind him. For the moment, he was paying no attention to Sara Trent. He was, therefore, doubly surprised when she suddenly leaned forward, disregarding Bootsy's gun in her side, and got hold of Wootsy's gun-hand in both of hers. Then she bent down and sank her teeth into the fleshy part of Wootsy's hand. The gunman emitted a yelp of pain, and tried to yank his hand free of Sara's teeth. He was handicapped by the fact that his right arm was useless. He tried to pull away, but Sara kept her teeth in him, just like a bulldog. Bootsy, who had been guarding her only perfunctorily, swung his gun around, reversing it to hit her on the head.


THAT was all the chance which Ed Race needed. Sara Trent had given it to him, and he was not one to pass up such an opportunity. He pivoted on his heel, and grabbed George Beckett by the front of his shirt, then swung him around and gave him a powerful shove which sent the actor crashing into Bootsy, just as the gunman was about to bring his reversed weapon down upon Sara Trent's head. The gun came down, and the butt slammed into the side of Beckett's head, instead. Then the two of them hurtled against the wall, carried there by the impetus of the shove Ed Race had given the actor.

Ed stepped in now, drawing one of his guns. He raised it and brought it down gently upon Wootsy's skull, just behind the ear. He didn't hit too hard, just hard enough to crumple the gunman up on the floor.

Sara Trent released her teeth from Wootsy's hand and stood up. Her eyes were shining. "Did I do all right, Mr. Race?" she asked eagerly.

"You did fine, Sara," Ed praised. "That was a brave thing. But I don't see how it's going to help you. If Beckett tells your husband—"

He was interrupted by the sound of heavy footsteps out in the corridor, accompanied by Detective Lenihan's bellowing voice.

"Never mind telling me what a nice guy this Race is!" Lenihan was shouting. "You let him in here, and you know where he went. Now you just show me which room he's in—"

The doorman's voice, subdued and tremulous, followed. "I tell you, officer, Mr. Race wouldn't do nothing bad. Why, everybody goes to him for help. He's in here, in Mr. Beckett's dressing room. But I'm sure you're making a mistake—"

Ed Race threw one quick glance at Sara Trent's white face. Then he leaped across the room and turned the key in the lock, just as Lenihan's heavy hand descended on the knob on the other side. Lenihan rattled the knob, and knocked wrathfully upon the panel.

"Open up in there!" the detective shouted. "I know you're inside, Race. You better come out—"

Consternation shone in Sara Trent's eyes. "They mustn't find me here. It—it would ruin my husband—"

Ed Race threw a quick glance around the room, while Lenihan kept pounding on the door. Bootsy had been knocked out when his head struck the wall. But George Beckett was still conscious, though a little dazed. He was getting unsteadily to his feet.

Ed Race stepped over to him, and looked him over thoughtfully. "Sorry, old man, but this is necessary."

He brought up his fist in a short arc to the point of Beckett's chin. The actor's head snapped backward, and his eyes rolled. His knees buckled under him, and he sank down on Bootsy.

Outside, Lenihan was smashing at the door panel with the butt of his revolver. "You come out, Race, or I'll break this door down!"


COOLLY, Ed took Sara Trent's arm, and led her across the room to the window. He peered out and saw that it overlooked the alley. There was a cluster of detectives and policemen around the dead body of the gunman, only a few feet away. There was little chance of escaping in that direction. But there was a fire escape landing just outside the window, with a ladder leading upward.

"Out you go!" Ed said to Sara Trent, placing his hands under her arms, and boosting her up. He flicked off the electric light switch, plunging the room into darkness. Then he followed her out on the fire escape, with the sound of Lenihan's pounding still thundering.

Swiftly they mounted the fire escape ladder to the next landing. Here there was a doorway marked, "Fire Exit Number 13." Ed pulled the door open, and they slipped silently into the darkness of the first balcony. The theatre had already been cleared of all patrons, for the show was over. The lights were out.

Ed felt Sara Trent trembling against him as they made their way up the balcony aisle.

"You should have killed Beckett!" she whispered fiercely. "Or you should have let me shoot him. He's a filthy, vile, blackmailing scoundrel. He—he's ruining my life. I used to know him years ago, when we both acted in stock companies out West. After I married Cadwallader, Beckett turned up, and threatened to tell my husband a lot of lies about my past. Not a word of it would have been true, but—but I was afraid of what Cadwallader might think. So I allowed Beckett to blackmail me into lending him eighty thousand dollars to back his show. It was all the money I had. My husband had settled it on me when we were married, because he didn't want me to feel that I was dependent on him."

Ed had her by the arm, and was hurrying her up the aisle, his mind working swiftly upon some means of escaping from the Argus. He knew that Lenihan would have the building searched, without delay. But he was intrigued by what Sara had just told him.

"You mean to say that your husband gave you that much money—eighty thousand dollars—in cash?"

"No, not in cash. That's the trouble. It was in stock of the International Research Corporation, of which he is the president. And now, Cadwallader has told me that the company is being reorganized, and that I must turn in my stock to the trustee, for which I will receive a hundred and fifty thousand dollars of the new stock. But—but I gave that old stock to Beckett, in exchange for his note. Beckett gave it as collateral, and borrowed the money which he put into the show. He promised me that he'd be able to return it by today, and that's why I came this evening. He told me to meet him in the alley outside the theatre after the show, and he would turn the stock back to me."

"I see," Ed said softly. "And instead of turning the stock back to you, he had a couple of thugs waiting to take the note from you."

"He would have left me with nothing—nothing to show for my eighty thousand dollars!" she exclaimed bitterly. "And now he threatens to tell my husband everything!"

They were at the top of the balcony now, and Ed suddenly seized Sara Trent's arm, squeezing it hard. "Quiet!" he whispered.


FAR below them, on the stage, the flicker of a flashlight appeared. Men's voices sounded down there, rolling upward through the empty house. They heard Lenihan's deep-voiced growl: "They didn't get down the alley. They must have come up the fire escape. They must be somewhere in the house!"

The beam of the flashlight swung around, and then upward toward the balcony. Ed pushed Sara Trent down onto her knees and then flat on the floor, throwing himself down beside her behind the last row of seats, just as the long, questing finger of light moved toward them. It bathed the spot just above where they lay, and then swept on.

"They must be hiding some place up there!" Ed heard Lenihan bark. "Ed Race ain't alone. No one man could have knocked out all three of those gizmos in the dressing room. There's someone else with him, all right, but I don't know who. We'll find them! Spread out, boys, and search this place from top to bottom!"

Lying flat on the floor with Sara Trent beside him, Ed could hear her quick and labored breathing.

"If I'm found in here," she whispered, "it'll be the end of everything—between my husband and me!"

From down below, they heard Lenihan's voice raised once more: "Find the manager, somebody. Get him to turn on all the lights!"

Ed Race pushed up to his feet, drawing Sara with him.

"Let's go!" he whispered, and started across the top of the balcony toward one of the exits at the far side.

"Where are we going?" she asked. "It's no use. We can't escape. Let's give ourselves up, and I'll tell the whole story, and at least clear you—"

"Not yet, young lady," Ed said grimly. "We're going to make one last try!"


CHAPTER 4. — SARA'S GAME

JUST as they reached the exit, all the lights in the great theatre flashed on in blinding brilliance. Ed pushed Sara Trent out into the corridor and leaped after her. But he was just a moment too late. From down on the stage came Lenihan's stentorian voice: "There he is! Up there! Cover all the stairs and close in on him, boys!"

Throwing a quick glance behind him, Ed saw that the stage was now full of bluecoats and plainclothes detectives. They were rushing for the wings, to reach the staircases. A gun blasted down there, and a bullet zinged past Ed's ear and smashed into the wainscoting. Then Ed ducked out after Sara Trent.

She was waiting for him, breathlessly, in the corridor. Her face was flushed, and her breast was heaving. "They—they shot you!"

Ed shook his head. "Lenihan isn't good enough. That was a tough shot Come on, now. I think there's a way out of this!"

Seizing her hand, he ran with her around the wide mezzanine corridor. They could hear the pounding of many feet racing up the stairways toward them. In a moment the police would be on this floor. They were coming up the stairs on both sides of the mezzanine, and Lenihan's heavy voice was plainly audible, shouting urgent orders: "Don't give him a chance to fire at you. He's too good with a gun!"

Sara Trent cast a hopeless look at Ed. Her lips formed two words: "We're caught!"

"Not yet!"

Here, in the center of the mezzanine, there was a row of offices. In his time, Ed had appeared at benefit performances in almost every theatre in New York City, and he was familiar with the internal arrangements of most of them. But it was a long time since he had been through the Argus, and he felt his pulse racing. For upon the accuracy of his recollection rested all their hopes of escape. If he was wrong, they were trapped...

Abruptly, he uttered an exclamation of relief. His memory had not failed him. Here, between the offices of the assistant manager and the treasurer, was another door—the door of the self-service elevator, by means of which the executives went up and down in the theatre, and by which the cash was transferred from the cashier's booth down below to the treasurer's office. He snatched open the door of the elevator and thrust Sara Trent into it. Then he stepped in after her.

He was not a moment too soon, for almost at once they heard the voices of the police outside on the mezzanine. Ed pushed the button marked "Main Floor," and the cage shot downward.


SARA TRENT leaned weakly against the wall of the elevator, with a hand on her breast. She looked, almost unbelievingly at Ed. "I—I thought we were trapped!"

He grinned at her encouragingly, as the cage came to rest. "Chin up, now. This is going to be ticklish!"

He inched the door open, and peered out into the foyer. The last of the policemen were racing up the stairs, and for the moment there was no one on the main floor out there. He motioned for Sara Trent to follow him, and edged along the wall to the basement stairs. They heard other men running up front, along the aisles of the orchestra pit, and Ed hurried the girl down the stairs. At the bottom, there was a long corridor leading to the rear of the theatre. They followed this until they came to an iron ladder which brought them up backstage. The doorman and several of the theatre employees who had not already gone home were out on the stage, but back here in the corridor there was no one.

"What are you going to do?" Sara Trent whispered.

"We've got to get hold of Beckett," Ed told her, "and get him out somehow. We've got to find where he's put that stock of yours."

"I told you, he gave it as collateral to a loan shark."

"Then we have to find out who the loan shark is!"

He led her down the hall to dressing room Number One. The door of the dressing room was open, and Ed inched over and peered inside. He chuckled. A uniformed patrolman was in there, having been left as a guard. Stretched out on the floor lay George Beckett, still unconscious from the blow Ed had given him. And handcuffed to the steam pipe, were Bootsy and Wootsy.

The uniformed patrolman was bending over Beckett, trying to revive him.

Ed motioned for Sara Trent to remain where she was, and he began to steal softly into the room. Bootsy and Wootsy, who were facing the door, saw him. Bootsy said, "Hey—"

The uniformed cop jumped to his feet and swung around, and Ed met him with a pile-driver right that sent him teetering back on his heels. Ed followed it with a left cross to the jaw that put the man on the floor for good.

"Boy!" said Bootsy.

Ed paid no attention to either of them. He stooped and got a good grip on George Beckett's body, and hoisted him up on his shoulder. The actor hung limply as Ed turned to go out.

Sara Trent, standing in the doorway, said, "Where are you taking him?"

"We'll get him alone somewhere," Ed told her, "and sort of induce him to talk!"


HE was almost at the door when he was stopped by a hail from Bootsy. "Say, pal," Bootsy said, "you wouldn't leave us guys here for the cops to work over, would you, now? That there cop on the floor has the key to these handcuffs. How about doing a good deed for today, and opening these things up?"

"It's a good idea, Bootsy," Ed said, "but it won't work. You boys can stay right where you are. It'll keep you out of trouble."

"On the other hand," Wootsy urged, "you can never tell when it might pay to do a couple of guys a good turn..."

"I'm afraid I must regretfully refuse," Ed told them. "After all, if you're working for Beckett here, it would be silly for me to free you—"

"But that's where you're making a mistake, pal," Bootsy broke in, earnestly. "It's really an insult! Imagine—thinking that two high-class torpedoes like us would work for a heel like Beckett! Mister, our boss is big time!"

Ed Race was already halfway out of the room, but he stopped abruptly and gave Sara Trent a significant glance. He turned around slowly.

"Do you boys, by any chance, work for the loan shark who advanced the money to Beckett?"

Bootsy and Wootsy, still squatting on the floor with their wrists linked together, looked up at Ed owlishly.

"That's right, pal," Wootsy said. "You hit it square on the nail. Our boss lent this heel plenty of jack, an' he took stock as collateral. Now this dame comes along with a note, an' if she proves that the stock didn't rightly belong to Beckett, she could get it back from our boss. So we got orders to grab her an' get the note."

Sara Trent exclaimed, "Oh—oh! Then—you two can tell me who has my stock—"

Bootsy and Wootsy shook their heads.

"Oh, no," Wootsy said, looking hurt and indignant. "What kind of heels do you take us for, lady? That would be squealing. We ain't no squealers!"

Ed snorted disgustedly. "Come on, Sara. There's no use talking to these two birds. We'll get all the information we want out of Beckett—as soon as we get him away from here!"

"You're wrong there, pal!" Bootsy said. "If we don't go out of here, neither do you!"

Ed's eyes narrowed. "How are you going to stop me?"

"Very easy, pal. There's plenty of cops in this theatre. Wootsy and I will just start to yell as loud as we can. That'll bring Lenihan and the rest of them down here on the run."

And to illustrate what he meant, Bootsy lifted up his head and began to emit a long and plaintive yowl which sounded not unlike the wail of a bloodhound with a stomach ache.

"Stop that!" Ed exclaimed. "Lay off—"

Bootsy stopped yowling. "Well, pal, will you change your mind?"


ED sighed. He flung Beckett off his shoulder and laid him, not too gently, on the floor. Then he went over and searched the pockets of the unconscious policeman until he found the man's key ring. Without difficulty, he identified the handcuff key. He stood with it in the center of the room, looking speculatively down at Bootsy and Wootsy. "If I free you two boys, will you promise to let me get Beckett out of here—without interfering?"

"Word of honor as a gentleman!" Bootsy said with a real ring of sincerity in his voice.

"You can trust us, pal!" Wootsy chimed in. "We won't make a sound. But that don't mean that we give up. When we meet again, we're gonna try to get that note for our boss, even if we have to take the dame apart to find it!"

"All right," Ed said suddenly, "it's a bargain."

He threw the key down on the floor within reach of Bootsy and Wootsy. "Leave it there until Miss Trent and I get out of here with Beckett."

"It's a deal, pal," Bootsy said, grinning. "An' we won't forget this, believe me!"

Ed grunted, and bent down and lifted Beckett to his shoulder once more. "Come on, Sara," he said.

Ed reached the stage door with Beckett over his shoulder, and Sara close behind him. He waited while Sara pushed the door open and peered out into the street.

"Coast is clear," she called over her shoulder, and stepped out. Ed followed her. In the street, Sara suddenly took the lead. "I have a car around the corner," she said, and led him swiftly back toward Seventh Avenue. They passed a dark doorway, and Ed stepped into it.

"Go and get your car, and pick me up here. It isn't exactly fashionable to walk around Mew York carrying an unconscious man on your shoulder."

He handed her the key to her car, and she nodded swiftly and hurried away.

A moment later, a sedan rolled up in front of the doorway, and Sara Trent motioned Ed to get in, opening the back door. He dropped his burden into the rear, and climbed in alongside of Sara. She immediately shifted gears and pulled away.

"You seem to know where you're going," Ed said. "Do you?"

She nodded. "Cadwallader and I have a duplex apartment on Park Avenue. The servants are all at our Scarsdale house now, and the apartment will be empty. We can take Beckett up in the service elevator."

"What about your husband?" Ed asked. "Is there a chance he'll be there?"

"No. He left for Boston on business this morning, and I don't expect him back until tomorrow."

She reached into the dashboard compartment and brought out a long envelope which she handed to Ed. "This is Beckett's note for eighty thousand dollars, acknowledging receipt of the stock. I was suspicious of him, and instead of bringing it with me, I left it here in the car. Otherwise, those horrid gunmen would have had it by this time!"

Ed took the note out of the envelope, and glanced at it quickly. The one mistake that Beckett had made was in specifying in the note that he had received the eighty thousand dollars in stock of the International Research Corporation, "to invest for Mrs. Sara Trent."

"How come he wrote that into the note?" Ed asked.

Sara's mouth was tight and firm as she looked ahead of her, gripping the wheel tightly, and driving with reckless disregard of traffic lights. "I wouldn't give him the stock unless he made the note read that way. I had to have the stock back, and thought he was telling me the truth when he said he only needed it for a short while."

"I see," Ed said. "That's why he had to get the note back. He and this unknown loan shark would then have been able to divide the stock between themselves, and you'd have had no comeback." Sara Trent's lips were quivering. "But now—if I don't get the stock back, and if he tells Cadwallader about the transaction, it—it'll be the end."

She drove on silently for a moment, then said impulsively, "You keep that note for me, Mr. Race. I—I think it'll be safer with you."

He nodded, and slipped the envelope into his pocket. A few minutes later, she skillfully tooled the sedan into the curb on a side street off Park Avenue, in front of the service entrance of her building.

"This is where I live. The night service man on duty here is quite devoted to me. I always tip him very generously, and I'm sure he'll keep mum."

Ed shrugged. "We'll have to take a chance on that."


HE opened the door and started to get out, but Sara Trent impulsively put a hand on his arm. "Wait, Mr. Race," she said huskily. "There's—there's something I must tell you. Something I've been keeping from you. I've dragged you into this, and Lord knows how you're going to get out of it. I think I owe it to you to make a clean breast of everything."

Ed dropped back into the seat. "Go ahead," he said.

She hesitated a moment, then hurried on. "I must tell you—Cadwallader and I—we haven't been getting along so well lately. I—I've filed papers for divorce. I—I was going to fly to Reno next week." She went on, talking swiftly, as though eager to get it all over with at once. "You see, I've been a little selfish about this whole thing. It's not so much to avoid trouble with Cadwallader that I—"

"I understand," Ed said harshly. "If Cadwallader finds out about this business, he'll have good grounds for contesting your divorce action."

"Yes, yes, that's right. But there's even more to it than that. I don't want his money. I can make my own living, singing on the radio. But if I haven't the stock to return to him, I wouldn't feel free to go ahead with the divorce. It's—it's as if he had bought me with that eighty thousand dollars. I—I feel that I belong to him until I can pay it back. Don't you see—" there was a sudden choking sob in her voice—"if I don't get the stock, I'll never be free!"

Ed turned around to look at her, and studied her small, lively features for a long minute. She did not drop her eyes, but met his gaze frankly and openly.

"You must believe me," she whispered. "You must believe that it's not the money I want—only the right to my freedom!"

Slowly, Ed nodded. There was a kindly, understanding light in his eyes.

"I believe you, Sara Trent," he said.


CHAPTER 5. — SOMERSAULT OF DOOM

GEORGE BECKETT was sitting up in the back of the car when Ed leaned in to pick him up. Beckett was rubbing his chin, and looking groggy, but when his eyes focused on Ed Race, they became filled with hate.

"Damn your hide, Race, I'll kill you for this. You've messed up my face, so I won't be able to act for over a week."

Ed didn't bother to reply. He just seized hold of Beckett's shirt, and yanked him out on to the sidewalk. He held him up with one hand, and showed him his balled fist. "Will you come up with us under your own steam, Beckett, or do you want me to knock you out again?"

The actor shrank back from Ed's fist. "I'll come up, but don't think you can get away with this. The cops are looking for you already. When they catch up with you, I'll prefer charges of kidnapping—"

He glanced around and became conscious of their whereabouts. His eyes darted up toward the tall building before which they were standing. Suddenly, a crafty glance came into them. "What—what's this?"

"We're going up to Mrs. Trent's apartment," Ed told him grimly. "Any objections?"

A secret, cunning smile tugged at Beckett's lips. "Objections? No. You don't have to knock me out. I'll come up with you."

Ed looked at him suspiciously. Beckett seemed entirely too willing. But he shrugged, got hold of the man's arm, and motioned for Sara Trent to precede them.

The Trents' duplex apartment occupied the eighth and ninth floors of the building. They got off at the eighth, and Sara opened the door. Ed plumped George Beckett down into a modernistic chair in the spacious, air-conditioned living room.

"Now," he said, "we can have a little heart to heart talk. The first thing you're going to tell me is the name of the loan shark with whom you deposited Sara Trent's stock as collateral. I have no time to fool around with you. Either you talk quick, or I'll give you a nice, fast work-over on that pretty face of yours!"

Beckett sprawled back in the chair, looking up insolently at Ed. "Suppose you beat me up, for the sake of the argument. Suppose I tell you the name you want to know, what good will it do you, then? Tomorrow, I'll go and see Mr. Cadwallader Trent, and tell him the whole story. Believe me, Mr. Race, I hold all the cards in this deck."

Sara Trent seized Ed's sleeve and tugged at it.

"It's no use, Mr. Race, I'm licked. No matter how it turns out, I'll have to face the music. There's no sense in getting yourself more and more involved, and piling charges up against yourself." Her shoulders sagged. "Let him go—"

"Not till I find out the name of that loan shark!" Ed said obstinately. He bent down and got hold of Beckett's shirt, and pulled him up on his feet.

"Wait!" George Beckett shouted hastily. His eyes, narrowed and cunning, darted over Ed's shoulder toward the door at the far end of the room. A slow, triumphant grin spread over his face. "I'll talk, Mr. Race. Sure, I'll talk. You want to know the name of the man who got the stock as collateral, don't you?" He licked his lips. "All right, I'll do better than name him—I'll show him to you. If you want to see him, just take a look behind you!"


ED thought that Beckett was trying some kind of trick. He took one step sideways, and turned to look in the direction in which Beckett pointed. Sara Trent turned, too, and an exclamation of dismay and fear welled up from her lips.

"Cadwallader!" she exclaimed.

Three men stood in the doorway. Bootsy and Wootsy were a little in the lead, each with a gun in his fist, pointing at Ed Race. Slightly behind them stood Cadwallader Trent.

The middle-aged millionaire was a tall, saturnine man, with a long, gaunt face and a pair of thin, intolerant lips. Beneath deep and bushy eyebrows, his sharp eyes flickered from Ed to Sara.

"Good evening, my dear," he said tauntingly. "It would appear that I find you in a very compromising situation. What is all this I hear about your having given my stock to this actor here?"

Sara Trent uttered a gasp. "Cadwallader! Are you the man to whom Beckett gave the stock?"

"Yes, indeed, my dear. It seems that my own stock came back to me. True, I gave Beckett some little money for it, to finance his show. Otherwise, the stock is intact, and in my hands. But you, my dear, are in a bad position. I would advise you to withdraw your suit for divorce—or else I will prove in court that you have been unfaithful to me."

"That's not true!" Sara exclaimed, flushing hotly. "Beckett means nothing to me. I was only trying to protect you."

Cadwallader Trent raised his eyebrows. "What do you say to that, Beckett?" he asked the actor.

George Beckett smiled viciously. "I'll testify in court that she was going to elope with me, and that that's why she gave me your stock. Is that the way you want it, Mr. Trent?"

Cadwallader Trent nodded. "That's right, Beckett. I've already given you ten thousand dollars. When you testify in court, I'll give you another ten thousand dollars. It's worth it to me, to see that my wife doesn't get her freedom!"

"Mr. Trent," Ed said steadily, "I think you're a skunk!"

Trent stiffened, and turned his deep-set eyes upon Ed. "As for you, my dear Mr. Race," he said softly, "I understand that you have intruded yourself into my affairs unwarrantedly. You have made yourself a general nuisance to me. I think that we will all be better off if you are dead." He raised his voice, speaking to Bootsy and Wootsy. "Give it to him now, boys."

Sara Trent screamed, "No, no!" and tried to throw herself in front of Ed.


BUT Ed Race was already in motion. He went into a beautiful, graceful somersault, such as he did on the stage almost every night. He did a double forward flip, which carried him ten feet away from where he had been standing, and close to Cadwallader Trent. The guns in the hands of Bootsy and Wootsy thundered in the room, and the slugs travelled over Ed's head to converge upon the spot where he had been standing only an instant before. Ed Race was no longer there, but it was George Beckett's misfortune that he had been standing directly behind Ed. Both of the gunman's slugs buried themselves in Beckett's chest.

The actor uttered a high, thin scream, threw his hands into the air, and twisted around like a whirling dervish and collapsed.

Ed got to his feet, directly behind Trent, with both his heavy.45 caliber hair-trigger revolvers in his hands. The muzzles of both guns were thrust forward, poking into Cadwallader Trent's back.

"Nuts!" Bootsy spat disgustedly. "How can we shoot a guy that does somersaults!"

Ed Race threw a quick, reassuring glance at Sara Trent, who was standing stiffly with both hands pressed tight against her breast, and her eyes opened wide. He winked at her, and then turned his whole attention to Bootsy and Wootsy.

"I've sort of taken a liking to you two boys, and I wouldn't like to have to kill you. Now, if you boys will just put your guns down on the floor and turn around with your hands in the air, you can wait here till the police come. Or else we can shoot it out right here and now."

"Get away from behind Trent," Bootsy taunted, "and we'll finish it out."

"Glad to oblige!" Ed said.

He gave Trent a powerful shove, which sent him sprawling across the room, and out of the line of fire. Then he stood, spraddle-legged, with a gun in each hand, facing the two gunmen.

It is very doubtful whether any two men in all the world had ever been as much surprised as were Bootsy and Wootsy at that moment. While Bootsy had invited Ed Race to get from behind Trent and shoot it out with them, it was the last thing in the world that he expected Ed to do.


WOOTSY was no less flabbergasted. For a long, pulsing second, the two of them stood there, unable to believe that it had really happened. Ed waited, with his guns at his hips, watching them collect their thoughts. Then, as their fingers squeezed triggers, Ed fired once with each gun, never moving them from alongside his hips. Both their shots were fired so hastily that they went inches too high. The bark of their automatics was drowned by the thunderous roar of Ed's two .45's.

Wootsy died on his feet, and Bootsy sank slowly down to the floor, letting the automatic drop from his fingers, and looking a little surprised. Very gently, he sank down on his right side.

Ed put a hand on his shoulder, started to speak, and then stopped. Bootsy was dead. Slowly, Ed rose to his feet. He holstered both his revolvers, and turned to look at Cadwallader Trent.

"Now," he said softly, "We're going to attend to you!"

The millionaire shrank back from him. "What—what are you going to do—"

"You can guess what I'm going to do," Ed said grimly. "There's only one way out of this, for Sara. I'm going to shoot you through the heart with Bootsy's gun, and say that you were killed in the fight."

"No—that would be murder! For God's sake—you wouldn't kill me—"

"Yes," Ed said. "It would be murder—but murder it's going to be!"

Not for nothing had Ed Race spent the better part of his life on the stage. Long before he had become an acrobatic juggler of lethal weapons, he had toured the country acting in Shakespearian drama as well as in hundreds of other plays. Ed could have gone to the top of the theatrical profession as a dramatic actor, had he wished. But he had preferred the more exciting life of juggling deadly weapons. Now, he was putting to use every iota of his acting ability. He had to convince Cadwallader Trent that he was going to shoot. Had Trent known a little more about him, the millionaire would have had no fear that Ed Race, the Masked Marksman, would kill an unarmed man.

"Don't shoot," he screamed. "I'll do anything you want. I'll let her get her divorce. I'll turn back the stock—"


ED stopped his relentless forward march, and seemed to think over Trent's plea. Then he glanced at Sara Trent, and winked. "What do you say, Sara? Shall we let this skunk live?"

"Yes, yes! We've had enough killings."

Ed nodded. "All right, Trent. I'll let you live if you'll sign a confession of this whole thing."

"Anything, anything!" Cadwallader Trent exclaimed eagerly.

Five minutes later, when Detective Lenihan and a squad of men appeared in the apartment in response to Ed's telephone call, Ed Race met them at the door with Cadwallader Trent's signed confession in his hand.

The detective read the confession through hastily, then looked over at the dead bodies on the floor. He blew a gusty breath of air out of his lungs.

"Well, I'll be damned! You could knock me over with a feather! How the hell do you always manage to land on your feet?"

Ed grinned at him. "You learn to do somersaults for as long as I've been doing them," he said, "and you'll always land on your feet too!"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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