Roy Glashan's Library
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EMILE C. TEPPERMAN

MURDER'S BENEFIT PERFORMANCE

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A "MASKED MARKSMAN" ADVENTURE



First published in The Spider magazine, September 1941

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2017
Version date: 2017-08-25
Produced by Paul Moulder and Roy Glashan

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Cover

The Spider, September 1941, with "Murder's Benefit Performance"



The crooked cops of Cloisterville owned the town: mayor, judge—and burial business! But a brave waitress, a young publisher and Ed Race—Masked Marksman of vaudeville fame—arranged a special performance for the killers' benefit!



"I'LL take a large glass of orange juice first," said Ed Race. "Some ham and eggs, French fried potatoes, toast and coffee."

He glanced up from the menu, and saw that the waitress was looking down at him in a commiserating sort of way.

"Mister," she said, "I'm afraid you're not going to get a chance to enjoy your breakfast. Is your name Ed Race, and are you the Masked Marksman that's going to appear in the Cloisterville Theatre starting tonight? And—did you just get off the train a couple minutes ago?"

"The answer is yes, to all those questions," Ed told her.

"Then trouble is heading your way. There are two deputy sheriffs in the lobby, asking the clerk questions about you. Your baggage was just brought over from the station across the street, and Tait—that's one of the deputies—is looking it over. The other one, Widgel, is watching you from the desk."

She said all this swiftly, in the meantime going through the motions of writing down Ed's order. Then she added hurriedly, "If they arrest you, I'll call the Cloisterville Express for you. Jerry Harmon is the editor. He's my boyfriend, and he'll do all he can to help you—though Lord knows, it'll be little enough."

Ed frowned. "Why should I be arrested? I've only been in this town fifteen minutes. They can't arrest you for ordering ham and eggs, can they?"

"Mister," she said bitterly, "you don't know this town. And you don't know Judge Bolger. His family has run Cloisterville for a hundred years, and he's the law around here. He has a dozen deputies like Tait and Widgel. They enforce his law. If Judge Bolger doesn't like you, you might just as well commit suicide right away."

She threw a scared glance in the direction of the lobby.

"Well, here come Tait and Widgel. Widgel is the skinny one. Look out for him. He's dangerous. I'm on my way, mister. Sorry about the breakfast—"

"Just a minute, sister," Ed said, taking hold of her wrist. "What's your name?"

"Elsie," she said. "Elsie Vickers. Better let me go".

Ed heard the two deputy sheriffs coming up behind him, but he did not turn. He smiled up at the waitress.

"You just order my breakfast, Elsie," he said. "And when it's ready, bring it. I'll be here."

She threw a frightened look at the two deputies and hurried away.

The lawmen approached, stood one on either side of his table. Widgel was tall, with a thin, sharp face and a knife-like nose. He had small black eyes, almost entirely expressionless, and they were fixed upon Ed Race. He had his thumbs hooked under his royal-blue suspenders, pushing back his coat far enough to reveal the polished handle of a heavy-calibered revolver in his shoulder holster.

Tait, on the other side of Ed, looked like a furniture mover. His black derby was pushed far back on a thatch of dun-colored hair. His lips were thick and red, and wet with the juice of an unlit cigar which he kept chewing.

Both of them just stood there silently, looking down at Ed Race.

Ed smiled genially. "Nice morning, isn't it?"

There was no answer. Ed shrugged, and picked up his newspaper.

Tait growled, "Your name's Race, ain't it?"

"Yes," Ed said slowly.

Tait's heavy eyebrows came together significantly. He looked across the table at his partner.

Widgel nodded, his black eyes never leaving Ed's face, his thumbs still hooked around his suspenders, his gun butt still showing.

"All right, you," he said to Ed. "You're under arrest. Get up."

Ed put the newspaper down very carefully and let his hands rest on the table top. He looked from one to the other of the deputies.

"What's the charge?"

"Conspiracy," said Widgel.

"Yeah," echoed Tait. "Conspiracy."

"You both must be crazy," Ed said. "I just got into Cloisterville fifteen minutes ago. All I did was to cross the street from the station to this hotel and order breakfast."

"The charge is conspiracy," Widgel said obstinately.

"Conspiracy to do what?"

Widgel stirred impatiently. "You'll find out—in court. Come on, now, before we get tough. Get up!"

Ed pushed his chair back just a little, but he didn't rise. "Look here, you two," he said. "This is the U.S.A., and the month is September, and the year is Nineteen Hundred and Forty-one. This is not Germany, or Italy or any other country where a couple of strong-arm mugs in uniforms can walk up to a man and arrest him on a phony charge."

The speech had no effect on either of the deputy sheriffs. Tait looked angry, and Widgel looked bored.

"We know the law better than you do, mister," Tait growled. "We got a warrant for you. If you resist arrest, we got a right to shoot you like a dog—which we'd gladly do."

"Let's see that warrant," Ed demanded.

Tait looked at Widgel, who shrugged, and nodded. Tait put a hand in his breast pocket and brought out a document. He opened it up and held it for Ed to see. It was a John Doe warrant, wrinkled and dirty from much handling. In legal terminology, it ordered the bearer to apprehend the body of one John Doe and to bring the said John Doe forthwith into the presence of the Court to answer to a charge of conspiracy.

The warranty was signed by Artemis Bolger, Judge of the Cloisterville County Court, Part 1, Special Session.

"I see," Ed said. "With that warrant, you can arrest anyone you like. You're just like the Gestapo."

"It's legal," Widgel told him, in a flat, toneless voice. "We got the law on our side. Do you come? Or do we take you the hard way?"

Ed sighed. "A warrant is a warrant, even if it's in the hands of a couple of hoodlums. I guess I'll go along with you. But I'm going to have my breakfast first."

He nodded to Elsie Vickers, who had come bearing orange juice and a steaming plate of ham and eggs. She stood at one side looking worried, not knowing whether to remain there or go back to the kitchen.

"Put the tray on the table, Elsie," Ed told her.

Widgel unhooked his left thumb from his suspenders, and waved the hand at her. "Scram!" he said. "He's not having any breakfast. He's coming with us—now!"

As he spoke, he kept his black eyes beaded on Ed, and his right hand slid over to the butt of his gun. At the same time, Tait started to draw a gun from a holster hanging under his coat at his hip.

Ed didn't move. "I beg of you gentlemen," he said softly, "not to make trouble."

"Oh, hell!" growled Tait. "Let's teach this mug to step smart when we talk!"

He brought his gun out. At the same time Widgel drew his revolver, his bloodless lips twisting into a cruel line.

Elsie Vickers uttered a gasp. "Please, Mr. Race! Go with them! They'll kill you—"

What happened then was something as utterly soul-satisfying to Elsie Vickers as it was startling and unbelievable. Ed Race did not seem to move. Yet his two hands formed a blur as they crossed in front of his chest. Neither Tait nor Widgel nor Elsie actually saw his hands cross. What they did see was the flickering glint of steel, and then there were two heavy .45 revolvers in Ed Race's hands.

It was this same blindingly swift draw which Ed, as the Masked Marksman, performed every night on the stages of the far-flung Partages Circuit Theaters. From coast to coast he was billed as The Masked Marksman—"The Man Who Can Make Guns Talk!" To those who had never seen his performance, that title may have sounded like mere ballyhoo. But no one who ever witnessed it failed to change his mind. Ed's marvelous gun-juggling and marksmanship act was a thing of uncanny skill, lightning speed, and split-second timing. His favorite routine was to juggle six of those hair-trigger forty-fives, sending them high up in the air. Then, when they were all whirring high above his head, and behind him, so that the audience was sure they would land on the floor, he would go into a back somersault. As he came out of the somersault, he would catch the revolvers, two at a time on the way down, and fire each one at a row of six candles thirty feet across the stage. In twelve years he had never missed snuffing out one of those candles. Many people said that this was a clever and skillful stage performance, but that if the Masked Marksman were to be faced, in real life, with a crisis demanding that he shoot it out with live men holding real guns, he would never have the cold courage and steely nerves to equal his stage performances.

Those people, however, were unaware of the fact that the Masked Marksman had a hobby off stage, which he pursued with great enthusiasm. That hobby was the science of criminology. Ed's immense store of nervous energy had long ago demanded that he seek some channels for its expression. Accordingly—though it was little known to the general public—Ed Race held licenses in a dozen states to operate as a private detective. He made enough money as the star headliner of the Partages Circuit, so that he never had to charge for his criminological services. But he was always ready to employ his skill with firearms to help anyone in trouble. And as a result of his hobby, the name of Ed Race was as much hated in the underworld as the name of the Masked Marksman was admired in theatrical circles.

So now, for the benefit of a lone waitress and two hooligan deputy sheriffs, he gave a demonstration of speed which no paying customers had ever seen on the stage. The guns of Tait and Widgel were barely out of their holsters when they found themselves staring down into the black muzzles of those two hair-trigger .45's.

Tait's mouth dropped open, and he stiffened like a marble statue, with his hand on the gun at his hip. Widgel's hand froze against his chest. His black eyes became little murderous slits. But neither of them moved.

Ed Race sat perfectly still, holding the two guns easily, a finger curled around each trigger.

"Thank you, gentlemen," he said courteously. "Thank you for not moving. It would give me a great pain to have to put a bullet through your wrists. You will observe that these guns are forty-fives, and the slugs would probably shatter the bone so that your right hands would be useless forever after."

At his left, Ed heard Elsie's voice, in a hushed whisper. "Glory be!" was what she said.

Ed smiled. "Be seated, gentlemen," he requested. "And kindly take your hands away from your guns."

"You're making trouble for yourself, mister," said Widgel. "You can't fight all the deputy sheriffs in this town. When we get you in jail—and take away those guns—you won't be talking so fast."

Ed said nothing. He just looked at them. Slowly, Tait and Widgel let their hands fall away from their gun butts. Slowly, they lowered themselves into chairs.

Ed nodded in satisfaction. "Now, Elsie," he said, "please serve breakfast."

With a trembling hand, she placed the food on the table.

"Maybe our friends would care for some coffee while I eat breakfast," Ed suggested.

"No," said Tait.

"No," said Widgel.

Ed shrugged. "Too bad." He replaced the two revolvers in his shoulder holsters, with a motion almost as fast as that of the draw.

"If either of you care to pull your guns on me again while I'm eating," he said mildly, "you're welcome to try."

He picked up his glass of orange juice and drank. Then he started on the ham and eggs. Tait and Widgel sat like graven images, watching him. They seemed to be on edge, as if waiting for an unguarded moment. But if the chance came, it was questionable whether they'd attempt to beat that lightning draw.

Elsie withdrew silently, returned in a moment with the coffee.

Widgel took his beady eyes from Ed, and looked at her. "You, Elsie!" he said. "Go down to Judge Bolger's house. You'll find the whole squad of deputy sheriffs in the ante-room. Tell them that Tait and I are in a jam and to come over here quick."

Elsie's eyes were glowing. "I'll go," she said. "You bet I'll go—but not to the judge's house. I'm going over to the Express and get Jerry Harmon to bring his camera over. What a picture this will make! Nothing like it has happened in Cloisterville for ten years!" She started away.

Widgel called after her, "Better think it over, Elsie. This is going to cause you a lot of trouble. When this mug is gone and dead, we'll still be the law in Cloisterville!"

Elsie didn't answer. She went hurrying out into the street.


ED ate on, in silence. He had been the only patron in the hotel restaurant, and there had been no one to witness the swift gunplay of a moment ago. Even if there had been anyone else in the dining room, it is doubtful if they would have noticed anything, for Ed's motions had been inconspicuous.

Ed swallowed a mouthful of ham and eggs, and said to his unwilling guests, "Would either of you gentlemen tell me why you wanted to arrest me?"

Tait glowered at him. "You go to hell!"

Widgel's murderous black eyes flickered. "You'll know all about it before we're through with you, Race. You haven't helped yourself a bit by that gunplay. We don't have to shoot it out with you. The warrant holds good. You'll be a fugitive from justice. There's enough deputy sheriffs in this town to take you, all right. And all we want with you now is a half hour in jail. After that, you'll never be able to shoot another gun—if you're still alive. We can always say our prisoner tried to escape. Maybe that John Doe warrant is a little old, but it's legal."

"That reminds me," Ed said. "I'd like to see the warrant again, please."

He held out his hand toward the man called Tait.

The burly deputy sheriff scowled. "You can't see it!"

Ed sighed. He took out one of his revolvers, and hefted it. He looked appraisingly at Tait. "Did you ever see what the barrel of one of these things can do to a man if it's raked hard across his face?

Tait's eyes met Ed's. There was lurking fear in them. The man was a physical coward.

Grudgingly, he took the warrant out and handed it over.

"Thank you," said Ed. He holstered the revolver again, and put the warrant in his pocket without unfolding it. Then he took another mouthful of ham and eggs.

Just then the street door of the dining room opened, and Elsie appeared, accompanied by a tall, sandy-haired young man whose youthful face was alive with enthusiasm and eagerness. He had a big Graflex camera with a flash gun attached to it.

"Glad to meet you, Mr. Race!" he bubbled. "I'm Harmon, editor and sole proprietor of the Express." He raised the Graflex, pressed the plunger, and the flash bulb exploded. "This is going on the front page!" he exclaimed. "A picture of Mr. Tait and Mr. Widgel, sitting quietly and peacefully with the man they tried to arrest!"

"You print that picture," said Widgel, "and you know what'll happen to you?"

"Sure," said Jerry Harmon. "You'll wreck my plant and my office. That's what you did to my father when he was running the Express. You shot him in the back, too—and killed him. I've been waiting for a chance like this!"

His face suddenly became serious. "But you'll have to get out of town, Mr. Race. You can't give your performance at the theater tonight. This isn't your fight. You're a stranger in Cloisterville, and it's no concern of yours what goes on here. I'll lend you my car, and you can leave at once—"

"No, Jerry," Ed said gently. "I have other plans. I gather this reign of terror has been going on in Cloisterville for ten years?"

"Yes. Judge Artemus Bolger was once an upright and honest man. He was dad's best friend. But ten years ago, Madge Bolger, the judge's daughter, disappeared. No one knows what happened to her, but after a while she was given up for lost, and the judge became an embittered recluse. He hasn't left his house for ten years. No one sees him any more. He hates everybody because of what happened to Madge. It's ten years since he brought these gunmen in, headed by Widgel. They exact tribute from every business man in town. They go around with John Doe warrants, and arrest everyone who doesn't pay. In jail, they beat them, cruelly. Every once in a while they say a prisoner tried to escape, and they were forced to kill him."

Ed raised his eyebrows. "Doesn't the judge have to run for re-election? Doesn't he have to come out of his house for the campaign?"

Jerry Harmon shook his head. "Widgel and his thugs do all the campaigning that's necessary. They see to it that Bolger is re-elected. I can tell you why they tried to arrest you. They would have held you in jail overnight, so you couldn't open at the Cloisterville Theater tonight. You've been advertised for miles around, and the house has been sold out for weeks in advance. All that money would have to be refunded. They would have gotten in touch with the Partages Circuit before the evening show, and demanded a substantial sum to release you. That's how they operate."

"I see," Ed said slowly. "Well, we'll try to change all that!"

"But how..."

Ed's eyes were twinkling. "Take their guns away, Jerry!"

At the same time, he drew his own revolver, and covered the two deputies.

"Oh, boy!" Jerry Harmon said ecstatically. "Will this be a pleasure!"

He gave Elsie his camera to hold, and went around behind Tait and Widgel, whom he relieved of their weapons.

"Can you find any handcuffs on them?" Ed asked.

Jerry dug around in their pockets and brought out two sets of handcuffs, and two rings of keys.

"All right," Ed ordered. "Put the bracelets on them. Link their wrists together."

Widgel's black eyes became venomous. "You're crazy, Race! You're just making it worse for yourself!"

Even Jerry Harmon looked doubtful. "If we go too far, Mr. Race, these thugs will have a good case against us. After all, they're legally appointed officers of the law; and they have a warrant for you. You haven't the authority—"

"You're mistaken, Jerry," Ed told him. "I have plenty of authority." He took out the John Doe warrant from his pocket. "This warrant orders and directs the bearer to take into custody the person of John Doe. Well, right at this time, I'm the bearer! And these are two John Doe's whom I'm taking into custody!"

"Well I'll be damned!" said Jerry Harmon. And he clicked the handcuffs on their wrists. Then he immediately snatched the camera from Elsie, screwed a flash bulb into it, and snapped a picture of Tait and Widgel linked together.

"This is going to make nice reading!" he murmured.

Ed Race stood up. "Let's go!" he said.

"Where to?" Jerry asked.

Ed raised his eyebrows. "How can you ask such a question? Since I'm the bearer of a warrant from Judge Bolger, I'm taking my prisoners—to the judge!"

Tait's mouth fell open in astonishment.

A light of incredible, unholy joy flickered in Widgel's black eyes.

Ed chuckled. "You boys are hoping to turn the tables on me, with the help of all your deputies, aren't you? Well, you'll have your chance!"


JUDGE Artemis Bolger's home was a stately, almost mansion-like house about a mile out of Cloisterville, off a quiet and secluded road. The sign at the foot of the hill read:


CLOISTERVILLE COURT


An arrow pointed up the side road toward the house at the top of the hill.

They had come out in Jerry Harmon's car, with Elsie sitting beside the young editor. She had taken the morning off from the restaurant. "I wouldn't miss this for any job in the world!" she had said.

Ed Race sat in the back, with his two handcuffed prisoners beside him. They had both been strangely silent all the way out. But now Tait said hastily, "Here's the judge's house. Just go up the driveway."

Jerry Harmon slowed the car and turned around. "Look here, Mr. Race, I'm in this with you to the hilt. But it's like suicide to go up there. They have two dozen deputized thugs, and there's a guard with a machine gun on the ground floor. We can't hope to win if we go in this way—"

"Why no," Ed said. "I never contemplated entering by the front door. Drive around the hill, Jerry, and park in a secluded spot."

Jerry grinned. He put the car in gear again and headed down the road. "I know every inch of this country," he said. "Here we are."

He turned in at a little dirt side road which was barely visible from the highway. Anyone unaware of its existence would have missed it completely.

"We have to walk from here," he said.

Ed nodded. "Can you drive, Elsie?"

"And how!"

"All right. You stay here with the car. Get it turned around, and keep the motor running. Stay at the wheel."

He herded Tait and Widgel out of the car, and prodded them along after Jerry Harmon, who led the way, with his camera slung over his shoulder, and a small automatic pistol in his hand.

The underbrush screened them from the house until they were close to the back door. Jerry stopped and pointed to the steel-barred grille.

"How are we going to get through?"

"Easy," said Ed. "I'm sure Messrs. Tait and Widgel had keys for it."

He took two rings of keys which Jerry had found on them, and ran across the short space of clearing to the door. Once close under the house, he could not be seen from the upper windows. He tried the keys, and the second one clicked the lock.

Carefully, he eased the door open, and peered inside. It was comparatively dark in there, but he spotted a man seated on a chair, with a sub-machine gun on his lap. The fellow saw the light slanting in through the partly open door.

"That you, Widgel?" he demanded.

"No," said Ed. "It isn't Widgel." And he stepped inside and kicked the door shut.

"Who are you?"

"Not a friend," Ed said.

The fellow cursed, and raised the submachine gun to his shoulder. Ed's right hand gun came into his hand with the speed of magic, and blasted once, thunderously, in the hallway. The machine-gunner uttered a scream which was cut short in his throat as he died on his feet. The slug smashed him back down the length of the hall, and the sub-machine gun fell from his hands.

From somewhere in the house, men began to shout, and there was the sound of running feet.

Ed pushed the door behind him open again, and raced down the hall. Behind him, he could hear Jerry Harmon, dashing into the house. Ed picked up the machine gun from beside the dead gunner, and handed it to Jerry. Then he raced ahead, both revolvers naked in his hands. As he got to the front foyer, he met the full rush of the crowd of deputized thugs.


ED fired four times, twice with each gun, and the foremost of the thugs went down. The others stopped short.

Ed grinned, and flattened himself against the wall, leaving the corridor clear, so that they could see Jerry Harmon with the machine gun.

"Do your stuff, Jerry!" he called.

"No, no!" one of the thugs yelled. "We surrender!" They threw their weapons down hastily.

Jerry Harmon advanced, grinning. "If these mugs had only known—I don't know how to shoot this damned thing!"

Ed grinned. Down at the rear, he saw Tait and Widgel. Jerry had used the extra pair of handcuffs to cuff them to the grating of the steel-grilled door.

Swiftly, he showed Jerry how to release the trip of the machine gun. "Keep these birds covered while I see what goes on upstairs! We haven't found Judge Bolger yet!"

He hurried up to the second floor, but found no gunmen there. His eyes narrowed as he saw a door, heavily bolted from the outside.

He shot back the bolt, and yanked the door open, holding a gun ready. But as soon as he saw what was inside, he put the gun away.

The windows were all barred and closely shuttered.

A wan, emaciated girl of about sixteen lay on the bed. She was asleep. At her side sat a man with white hair and a furrowed face, expressive of untold misery. A look of dread was in his eyes as he faced the door. But when he saw a face he did not know, some of the dread left it. He stood up with difficulty.

"Who—who are you?" he asked.

"My name is Race," Ed said. "If you're Judge Bolger, I've just cleaned out your deputies. They're all under arrest—including Tait and Widgel!"

Judge Bolger's eyes widened. A strange, glad light shone in his face. "You—you're sure? It—it's all over—the dreadful nightmare?"

For a moment Ed Race stared at him, while full comprehension dawned upon him. Then he said softly, "Yes, Judge. It's all over."

"Thank God!" the old man whispered. "Widgel and those others came ten years ago. For ten years they've held Madge and me prisoners here. They let it be thought that I'd been embittered by Madge's disappearance. But she hadn't disappeared. She was a prisoner here with me. And when I refused at first to sign their papers, they—threatened to do terrible things to Madge—till I agreed. I agreed to everything—if only they'd leave Madge alone!"

Ed Race came around and put a hand on the Judge's shoulder. "It's all over now, sir. Put all that behind you. Now you can get the best medical attention for your daughter."

There were tears in the old man's eyes. "What can I do to repay you?"

"I'll tell you what you can do, Judge," Ed said with a smile. "You can resume your official duties by performing a marriage ceremony. There are a couple of kids downstairs who will want to be getting married quick—now that they've got the biggest scoop of the year for their newspaper!"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.