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EMILE C. TEPPERMAN

MURDER'S ONE-MAN SHOW

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First published in The Spider, August 1940

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version date: 2020-03-08
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The Spider, August 1940, with "Murder's One-Man Show"



It was only a tiny scrap of canvas—yet it widowed a cop's new bride, made a millionairess into a thief—and framed Ed Race, the Masked Marksman, into a murder picture calling for more deadly accurate shooting than had ever thrilled Ed's theater-going fans!



TABLE OF CONTENTS



CHAPTER I. — GIRL IN THE GALLERY

THE girl was wearing a neat, tailored blue suit and a high-necked blouse of white silk. She was dark-haired, her legs were shapely, and she was slim and attractive.

Ed Race noticed all these things about her as she came running down the steps of the Lawrence Art Gallery on Fifty-seventh Street. He stopped short on the sidewalk, because he saw that if she continued down at the speed with which she was coming, she would bump into him. She couldn't see Ed, because she was looking behind her as she ran.

Ed wondered what there could be inside of the Lawrence Galleries which could have frightened her so. And then she tripped on the next to the last step, and fell right into his arms.

Her body was soft and fragrant, but she suddenly squirmed and fought like a little wildcat. Ed could see that she was both startled and terrified, and that her violent effort to get free was a reaction from the suddenness of her fall into his arms. He grinned, and set her down on her feet. She was breathing hard, and throwing apprehensive glances back toward the entrance of the Lawrence Galleries.

She straightened her coat, and smoothed down the disarranged blouse over her heaving bosom, and then smiled up uncertainly at Ed.

"Oh—I—I'm so sorry. I was startled—"

"That's all right," said Ed.

Impulsively, she put a hand on his arm. "Would—would you help me?"

"If I can."

Once more she threw a hasty glance toward the doorway out of which she had come running. "A—a nasty man was annoying me—in there. He's following me out. Would—would you—stop him?"

"Of course," Ed told her. "Here he comes now. You run along, and I'll just give him a little lecture—"

He stopped, and began to grin once more. The man who had been pursuing the young lady appeared in the doorway and came down the stairs on the run. And Ed knew him by sight. He was Second Grade Detective Joe Griscomb, attached to the Forty-seventh Street Police Station. The Clyde Theatre, where Ed staged his Masked Marksman show twice a day, was in this precinct, and he knew every one of the plainclothesmen in the district. Twice a day he startled the packed audiences of the Clyde with the wizardry of his gun-juggling and marksmanship act. But outside the theatre, he had another avocation which had often brought him in close touch with the police.

That avocation was criminology. He held licenses to operate as a private detective in a dozen states, and his friend, Inspector MacSpain, had often said that Ed attracted trouble the way jam attracts flies. Truly, he had often found worthy use for the two heavy forty-five calibre hair-trigger revolvers which he always carried in his shoulder holsters.

But tonight, he wasn't sure whether this was going to be comedy or tragedy. He was quite sure that Detective Joe Griscomb hadn't tried to force his attentions on this girl—pretty though she was. For Griscomb was a young detective who was head- over-heels in love with his new bride.

Ed looked down at the girl, studying her quizzically.

"So!" he said. "This is the man who was annoying you, eh?"

"Yes!" she gasped. "Please keep him here till I get away—"

She started to run, and Detective Griscomb shouted, "Hey, Mr. Race! Hold her!"


HE took the rest of the steps down to the street in a flying leap, and Ed grasped the girl's arm. She tried to twist out of his hold, but Griscomb reached her and put a hand on her shoulder.

"All right, young lady," he growled. "You're under arrest!"

He turned to Ed. "She just stole a picture out of the gallery. Cut it out of the frame with a razor blade. There was a painting stolen last week, too, and I was watching for the thief to come back and try again!"

The girl stamped her foot angrily. "That's ridiculous! I'll sue you! How dare you accuse me of stealing a picture? You can see I haven't anything—"

She turned appealingly to Ed. "Don't believe a word he says. He was trying to date me up, in there, and now he's trying to make a lame excuse. Think of it—accusing me of being a thief!"

Her face was flushed, and her eyes flashed angrily—so angrily that Ed was tempted to believe her innocent.

But Joe Griscomb laughed harshly. "That painting was only ten inches square. It's a nude by that new artist, Pasquale Manuel. It's worth fifty thousand dollars. You tucked it somewhere in your clothes. Lady, you're going to be searched by a matron!"

He reached for her handbag, which was tucked under her arm.

"Here. Let's see what's in here—"

Griscomb's hand was still on her shoulder, and as he took the bag out from under her arm she suddenly bent her head and sank her teeth in the fleshy part of his hand. The detective gasped with the sudden pain, and yanked his hand away.

The minute she was free, the girl turned and ran.

Griscomb cursed under his breath, dropped the purse, and started after her.

The purse fell to the ground at Ed Race's feet. Ed didn't join in the pursuit. He felt that Joe Griscomb should be amply able to handle that girl, and the purse presented a subject of greater interest at the moment. For two cars had just come cruising down the street. They were both grey, two-door coaches, and alike as two peas, including license plates muddied over so to be indistinguishable. One of these cars pulled in at the curb, while the other kept going in the direction of the fleeing girl and Joe Griscomb.

Out of the car which had stopped, there stepped a tall, distinguished looking gentleman in a Prince Albert, with striped pants and a cane. He wore a moustache and a goatee, and had the appearance of a Spanish grandee, or of a foreign ambassador. This gentleman hurriedly stooped to pick up the purse which the girl had dropped.

The purse was half a dozen feet from Ed, quite close to the curb. Ed's eyes narrowed. He stepped forward quickly, and put his foot on the purse, just as the foreign looking gentleman was about to grasp it.

"Better leave it alone, mister," Ed said mildly.

The gentleman straightened up, frowning, without lifting the purse. "Excuse, please," he murmured. "You weel kindly to take thee foot from thee purse. Eet ees thee purse of my wife, which she 'ave drop."

Ed raised his eyebrows. "You mean to say that little girl who's running away is your wife?"

"But yes, señor. An' now—"

He stooped once more to pick it up.

Ed kept his foot on it. "You know," he said, "I think you're a liar!"

THE foreign looking gentleman muttered an oath. He turned to the car from which he had descended. A swarthy fellow, also in a Prince Albert, was sitting at the wheel.

"Juan," the bearded gentleman said to this swarthy one, "thees man 'ere—'e make trouble!"

Juan's lips parted in a grin. "Oho! We shall see!" His hand rose from the cushioned seat, gripping a huge, wide-mouthed revolver. He swung it toward Ed.

Now, for the first time, Ed Race began to take more than an impersonal interest in the proceedings. His reaction—at first—had been the same as that of a bored man-about-town at a summer resort, who suddenly spots a pretty girl in the hotel. Only with Ed, it was the scent of danger which provided the stimulus. Ed could appreciate a pretty girl as well as the next man. But give him the choice between the charming company of the most beautiful woman in the world, and a night spent matching wits and guns with the underworld of crime—and Ed would always choose the latter.

It was one of the reasons why he had never married. For he knew in his heart that if a call came from a friend at crime's mercy on his wedding night, he'd forsake the honeymoon.

So now, when he saw the big gun in Juan's hand, it was almost with a feeling of pleasure that he went into action.

The chances were that neither Juan nor the bearded gentleman were able to tell just what happened. On the stage of the Clyde Theatre, the Masked Marksman gave a nightly demonstration of the same swift draw which he now executed. He did it while going into a back somersault, with his hands empty. The audience usually let out a long gasp of surprise when they saw him coming back on his feet—with a gun in each hand. Then they gasped again as the two guns blasted out thunderously, snapping out the flames of a row of candles, thirty feet across the stage.

So perhaps Juan uttered a gasp when he saw the flicker of motion made by Ed's hand, and then felt the searing thud of a bullet into the fleshy part of his shoulder. Certain it is that he never saw the heavy forty-five come out of the holster.

Ed fired only once, to disable the man. At the same instant, be thrust out with his left hand against the chest of the bearded gentleman, sending him sprawling into the side of the car. Then he stooped and snatched the purse from the ground. He had no fear that Juan would pick up the revolver and shoot with his left hand, for he knew just how much shock can be conveyed to a man's body by the impact of a forty-five calibre slug.

He stuffed the purse in his pocket, and at the same time he heard the staccato rat-tat-tat of a machine-gun around the corner. The girl had disappeared around that corner, with Joe Griscomb chasing her—and so had the second of the two identical cars.

Ed cursed under his breath, and set off at a run toward the corner.

The rattle of the machine-gun ceased suddenly and was replaced by a woman's scream. Ed couldn't be sure, but he thought he recognized the voice of that girl. He sprinted forward, and a bullet fanned his cheek from behind. Ed didn't even turn to look. He wanted to get around the corner and see what had happened to Joe Griscomb.

The girl's scream was repeated once more, while he was still twenty feet from the end of the block. And at the same time, a second bullet whined through the air, almost biting his shoulder. Indeed, it came so close that he thought the cloth of his coat must be scorched.

Still, he did not take the time to turn and shoot back. Either Juan, or the bearded gentleman with the Spanish accent, was trying to get him in the back, and the next try might be a good one.

His legs were ramming up and down like pistons when he rounded that corner—just in time to see the grey coach roaring away down at the far end of the block, with the door swinging open, and two figures struggling, half inside and half out on the running board. One of them was a thick-set man, and the other was the girl who had stolen the painting. The thickset man was trying to drag her inside, and the girl was trying to break his grip and jump from the racing car.


CHAPTER II. — ED RACE—KILLER!

THE girl was mad, for if she did break the stocky man's hold, she would go catapulting from that speeding auto with an impetus that would surely smash her body to pulp.

Ed could have hit that man easily with a snap shot, even in the moving car. His narrowed eyes were centered on the fellow's mop of black hair which hung down over his forehead as he struggled with the girl, and Ed could have put a bullet right square in the center of his forehead. But to do so would have meant certain death for the girl, as well. So he held his fire, and the next instant the car had swung around the corner and was gone.

Ed turned swiftly to the body of Detective Joe Griscomb, lying in a pool of blood on the sidewalk.

The single burst of machine-gun slugs had filled the young detective's chest full of lead. He would never again come home to his bride.

A gust of fury swept through Ed Race. Whoever these picture crooks were, they had not hesitated to kill in order to recover their loot. For the sake of a piece of canvas ten inches square, young Joe Griscomb was lying dead now, and his new bride was a widow.

Ed whirled to retrace his steps around the corner. There might be a chance yet to catch Juan and the bearded man. But he had hardly taken two steps before a siren screamed almost in his ear, and a police car raced up alongside him with squealing brakes and scorched tires. A police sergeant leaped out of the car with service revolver in hand, and leveled it at Ed.

"Drop that gun, you!" he barked. "Drop it or I'll drill you!"

Ed froze where he was. He could understand the sergeant's mistake. There was the dead body of Joe Griscomb on the ground, and here was he, with a revolver in his hand.

Ed knew this fellow. He was Luke Morrison, who had recently been transferred to the precinct from the headquarters squad, and who was so officious and blustering that he had made himself obnoxious to everybody in the district.

"I can't drop this gun, Morrison," Ed said. "You know damned well it's a hair-trigger. If I drop it, it'll go off."

Morrison came forward, peering at Ed's face.

"Oh," he grunted. "So it's you, is it? Who'd you kill this time?"

He bent for a moment over the body of Griscomb, and then straightened, his beefy face growing purple. His eyes became specks of rage.

"So you're a cop-killer now, huh!" he came over and extended his hand, palm up, at the same time pointing his service revolver at Ed's stomach.

"Let's have that gun of yours!"

Ed did not surrender his forty-five. Instead, he deliberately returned it to its holster.

"Don't be a fool, Morrison," he said in a low voice. "You can see that poor Griscomb was killed by a machine-gun—"

"Yeah," said Morrison. "I see. I also see that you were scramming away from here when we pulled up. Daly saw you scramming, too!" He jerked his head in the direction of Patrolman Daly, the driver of the police car, who had scrambled out by this time.

Sergeant Morrison kept his eyes on Ed, but spoke over his shoulder to the patrolman. "You're a witness, Daly. You saw him running away."

"That's right, Sergeant," Daly said reluctantly. "But Mr. Race is no murderer. He's a friend of Inspector MacSpain—"

"Never mind that!" Morrison exploded savagely. "MacSpain is on vacation, and can't do him any good. The fact is, we caught him in the act of running away from the scene of a murder. That's enough to hold anybody on—"

"Damn it, Morrison," Ed protested, "I was trying to catch the killer's accomplices. There were two cars—"

"Sez you!" Morrison sneered. "Suppose it was the other way around? Suppose you were in cahoots with the killer—"

"You're crazy!" Ed exclaimed. "I can prove what I say. There was a girl whom Joe Griscomb was after. She stole a painting out of the Lawrence Galleries around the corner, and Joe chased her—"

He stopped, his eyes widening in amazement. Coming from around the corner, there appeared the gentleman in the Prince Albert, with the moustache and the goatee. He was carrying a gold-knobbed cane now, and he was hurrying. At sight of the group around Griscomb's body, he waved his cane and shouted, "Ah! I see zat you 'ave catch thee criminal! Bueno!"


MORRISON moved around a little, so he could see the new arrival, and still keep Ed covered.

"Who're you?" he demanded.

The bearded gentleman bowed from the hips. "Permit me! I am thee Señor Felipe de San Toro. My apartment—eet ees opposite to thee Lawrence Galleries. From my window I 'ave see 'ow thees man—" indicating Ed—"'ave snatch thee purse of a woman, an' thee detective 'ave chase 'im. Then 'ave come thee car weeth thee machine-gun, an' thees man 'ave call to those in the car to shoot thee detective. Thee detective 'ave start to run around thees corner, but those een thee car 'ave keel 'im. I 'ave become dress very queek, an' 'ave come down to tell all thees!"

"Ah!" Morrison said triumphantly. "Thanks very much, Mr. Sam Toro. You don't know how much I appreciate this!" He smirked at Ed. "Well, Mr. Masked Marksman, what have you got to say now? Here's a man who testifies he saw you give the word to gun Griscomb!"

"He's a damned liar!" Ed exclaimed. "He's one of the crooks. The girl stole a painting from the Lawrence Galleries, and then San Toro's accomplices killed Joe and kidnaped the girl—"

"But no!" interrupted San Toro. "I am insult'! 'E 'ave taken thee purse of the woman!"

Morrison eyed Ed narrowly. "What about that, Race? Have you got the purse? If you have it, you might as well admit it, because you'll be searched."

"Good Lord!" Ed protested. "You can't believe a cock-and-bull story like that—"

"Your story sounds more like cock-and-bull," Morrison broke in. "Now answer yes or no—have you got that purse?"

Ed sighed. "Yes—"

"Aha! So you admit everything! You're under arrest—"

"Wait, Morrison! I tell you, that girl stole a painting, and Griscomb was chasing her. This San Toro was in a car with another man, whom I shot—"

"Well, well!" Morrison sneered. "So now you admit you shot some one!"

"Certainly. You didn't give me a chance to explain—"

"You'll have all the chance you want—before a jury! Come on, now. We'll check on this fairy tale of yours about a girl stealing a painting from the Lawrence Galleries!" He took Ed's arm in a steely grip, and motioned to San Toro to come along. "Stay here," he ordered Daly, "and keep the crowd from touching the body."

A small crowd had gathered, and they watched in silence as Morrison led Ed Race around the corner, with the Señor Felipe de San Toro talking volubly, explaining how shocked and horrified he had been at witnessing the brutal attack in the street.

Ed Race refrained from talking. He saw that it was useless to attempt to make any explanations to Sergeant Morrison. Whatever he could say would be a waste of time. The only thing that would tend to support his story would be the missing picture in the gallery.

The Lawrence Galleries seemed to be entirely quiet and undisturbed by the events which had taken place. It was a private salon for the exhibition of paintings, and there were never many people there at any one time. Their sales ran into large sums of money, so that they did not need to do a volume of business.

There was a short hall, which opened directly into the exhibition gallery, and at the doorway to the room there was a small gilt sign which read, PLEASE RING FOR ATTENDANT.

Morrison grunted, and stuck a thumb on the bell. They heard it ringing somewhere in an inner office. The exhibition room contained perhaps thirty oil paintings, and fifteen or twenty etchings, displayed artistically along the walls. Ed glanced around swiftly, trying to spot the empty frame from which the girl had cut the small canvas. But he was interrupted by the appearance of Westley Lawrence, the proprietor, from the rear office.


CHAPTER III. — JOE GRISCOMB'S WIDOW

LAWRENCE was a small, bird-like man with large blue eyes, and a weak chin. He smiled ingratiatingly when he saw Señor Felipe de San Toro, but frowned in the direction of Ed and Morrison, as if wondering what these interlopers were doing in the sacred precincts of his premises. "Ah, Señor de San Toro," he exclaimed. "It is indeed a pleasure to see you tonight. I hope you have decided to purchase the Manuel. At fifty thousand dollars, I assure you it is an unqualified bargain—"

Señor de San Toro waved his hand deprecatingly.

"Later, Señor Lawrence. We 'ave another matter now."

He turned to Morrison. "You see, eet ees that I am a good customer of Señor Lawrence. In Spain, I 'ave a great art collection. I buy many paintings een thees countree—"

"Never mind that now," Ed broke in. He addressed the gallery proprietor. "Look here, Mr. Lawrence. Did you have a detective guarding these premises."

Lawrence frowned, and nodded. "Indeed, yes. There was a Detective Griscomb here, but I do not see him. A painting was stolen last week, and I asked for a police guard—"

"How about the painting that was just stolen?" Race demanded. "A small one, ten inches square, and worth fifty thousand dollars!"

Lawrence jerked to attention. "Stolen? My God! That would be the Manuel—the one I'm trying to sell to Señor San Toro. Stolen, you say? Impossible. Let me see—"

He hurried across the room, with the others trailing him. On the far wall, with a small electric light bulb directed upon it, hung the smallest oil painting Ed had ever seen. It was enclosed in a simple black frame, and depicted a nude dancer about to do a pirouette, with her arms high in the air. Every line of the dancer's slim and supple body expressed grace and beauty, and movement. There was something almost ethereal about her body, which was creamy white and pink against a background of rich purple draperies.

"You see!" exclaimed Westley Lawrence. "It is not stolen." He wagged a finger in Ed's face. "What sort of nightmares do you dream? Who told you it was stolen?" He turned around to San Toro. "Here it is, Señor de San Toro, in all its beauty. The smallest canvas in the world, by the newest genius among painters, Pasquale Manuel. See the perfection of detail, the magnificence of the color—" Ed wasn't listening. He was staring, almost incredulously, at the painting. This was it, without a doubt, for Griscomb had said that it was ten inches square, and this one exactly fitted the size. Had Griscomb lied then? Or were there two such paintings in the Lawrence Galleries?

But far overshadowing even that conjecture in Ed's mind, was another fact—the nude dancer in that painting was the girl who had fallen into his arms a few minutes before!

The face which peered out at him from that rich miniature canvas was the face of that girl. And if he was any judge of feminine form, the body was hers, in size and contour. She had posed for this picture!

Ed ran a hand over his forehead. The girl had certainly been running away when she fell into his arms, off the gallery steps. Joe Griscomb had accused her of stealing this portrait, and to avoid being searched she had bitten the detective's hand and run away. And yet—here was the picture, intact! Was it possible that the girl had been telling the truth, and that Griscomb had really been trying to annoy her?

He snapped to attention as Sergeant Morrison produced a set of handcuffs.

"Well, Mr. Masked Marksman, it looks like you're in this thing, right up to your neck! Your story has been proved a lie, all the way down the line! First you claim that Mr. San Toro, here, was in with the killers, and it turns out he's a wealthy man and a customer of the Lawrence Galleries. Then you claim a girl stole a picture, and it turns out that the picture is right here!" He thrust out the handcuffs. "Let's have your mitts, Mr. Masked Marksman! You're going in the can—on a charge of complicity in murder!"


ED RACE had never been one to kid himself. He saw the seriousness of his situation now. Morrison would, of course, have to establish a motive on Ed Race's part, if he wanted to convict him of being involved in the killing of Joe Griscomb. But Ed knew just how they would handle a man in headquarters, who was accused of killing a cop. Also, he was beginning to feel that this case would take a little high-powered investigating on his part. He realized that he was up against a pretty clever man in the person of the Señor Felipe de San Toro. In jail, Ed wouldn't have the ghost of a chance to get to the bottom of the queer business. And in the meantime, who could tell what would happen to that girl? He was sure that she had been kidnaped by San Toro's accomplices. Whether she had stolen a picture or not, he didn't know right now. But he meant to find out.

So the first thing that happened while Morrison was extending the handcuffs, was that Ed's hand seemed to make a whirring motion in the air, and suddenly, the barrel of one of his heavy forty-fives was descending upon Morrison's wrist.

He didn't hit any too hard, because he was reluctant to do permanent damage to a cop—even to one like Morrison. But the blow was sufficient to smack the revolver out of the detective sergeant's hand. Then, almost in the same motion, Ed brought the forty-five up, and the barrel clicked lightly against the point of Morrison's chin. The sergeant's head jerked back, and his eyes glazed. His jaw went slack, and he toppled slowly forward.

Ed caught him, and eased him down to the ground, then sprang up. His idea was to get Señor de San Toro off by himself somewhere, and give the Spanish gentleman a thorough grilling.

But Señor de San Toro was apparently no slouch as far as quick thinking went. He had no desire, it seemed, to be present in the same room with Ed Race—without the protection of the police. While Ed was lowering the unconscious form of Morrison to the floor, San Toro turned and ran headlong out of the exhibition room, shouting with all the power of his lungs.

"Elp! Police! Thee murderer 'ave escape'!"

Westley Lawrence stood ringing his hands in panic, and staring wide-eyed at the big gun in Ed's hand. San Toro's voice came rumbling back to them from the street, shouting ever higher and higher.

Ed cursed under his breath. There would be other policemen out there now, and they'd be swarming in here in a moment. He swung the gun on Westley Lawrence, making his face as ferocious as possible.

"I'm a desperate man, Lawrence," he growled. "Do you want me to put a slug right in your guts?"

"N-no! P-please—"

"All right then. Show me the back way out of here—quick!"

Shaking all over, Lawrence led him through the rear, and out to the back entrance. Already, there were the sounds of running footsteps at the front of the building, and Ed could hear San Toro's voice.

"'E mus' be escape by thee back way—"

Ed gripped Lawrence's arm tightly. "Look here," he demanded. "Are you sure nothing was stolen from the gallery tonight?"

"Y-yes!" the little man quaked. "N-nothing was t- taken—"

"Are you sure that Manuel painting is the original? Sure it wasn't switched?"

"I—I didn't look c-carefully. B-but it seems to be the same—"

"All right. I want you to go and examine it with a microscope. I'll call you on the telephone, in a half hour. Let me know what you find out. And remember—if you tell the police I'm going to phone you, I'll come back and blast your front teeth into the back of your head!"

Making his face look as murderous as he could, he shoved Lawrence backward into the hall, and sprang out of the back door into the rear alley, just as San Toro's voice came more clearly than ever from the exhibition room.


ED sped along the alley, and as he got out into the next street, he caught the high-pitched voice of Westley Lawrence yelling that the murderer had threatened to fill his guts with lead.

Ed grinned thinly in the darkness. He crossed the street, cut through another alley, worked over toward the avenue, and hailed a cab. He gave an address on Ninety-fourth Street, which was where Joe Griscomb lived.

As the cab sped uptown, Ed took the purse from his pocket and examined it. He whistled when he saw the contents. He had thought that possibly he might find the folded canvas in here, but there was no stolen painting in the purse. It contained a driver's license and a passport, both in the name of Georgette Vaughn. The picture on the passport was that of the girl who had posed for the Manuel painting—and who had been accused by Joe Griscomb of stealing it.

In addition to the usual feminine accessories, there was a roll of bills containing almost nine hundred dollars, and a checkbook on the National City Bank. The address of Georgette Vaughn was given in the driver's license as the Greymont Towers, on Fifty-seventh Street, which was one of the swankiest residence buildings in town. There was also a small, engraved calling card, with a beautiful crest in one corner, and the name: "Señor Felipe Miguel de San Toro y Moroja."

On the back of the calling card there was scribbled: "Lawrence Galleries, 10 P.M.—we shall await you outside, dear lady, and protect you!"

There was no signature to this gallant note but Ed's eyes flickered. He was willing to bet that the handwriting would turn out to be that of Señor de San Toro.

Ed put all the things back in the purse, with a perplexed frown creasing his forehead. The name of Georgette Vaughn was familiar to him. He recalled that she had been in the newspapers on numerous occasions. Her maiden name had been Georgette Ross, and she had been a sort of madcap debutante a couple of years ago. The papers usually had a good time recording her pranks. Then she had married the millionaire, Roger Vaughn, and had gone on leading a careless and expensive life. Ed remembered hearing one of the gossip columnists on the radio report that Georgette was now separated from her husband. It was quite believable that she would pose in the nude for a Spanish painter. She was bound by no conventions. But he couldn't imagine her trying to steal the picture later.

He remembered vividly now, the moment when he had rounded the corner and seen her struggling in the car with the stocky man whose black hair came down over his forehead. There was no doubt that she had been kidnaped—either for ransom, or for the purpose of getting that portrait, which they must also have believed she had stolen. San Toro must have tried to get the purse, just to make sure she hadn't hidden it in there. Or, perhaps, he had merely wanted to get his card back. That card might be valuable later.

The cab stopped in front of the apartment house where Joe Griscomb lived, and just then the radio switched from music to a news announcer: "... Ed Race, a vaudeville actor, wanted for complicity in the murder of Detective Griscomb... police are working on the case..."


ED let the radio go on. He told the driver to wait, and took the self-service elevator up to the fourth floor. The door of 4-C was unlocked. Under the bell there was a neatly typed card bearing the name, "Griscomb." Ed could hear Mary Griscomb in the foyer, talking on the telephone. Her voice was choked with emotion.

"Is—is he—dead? Please tell me... I can't believe it... Ed Race? God, no. Ed was Joe's friend... you're sure, Sergeant Morrison? All right—I—I'll come right downtown..."

Ed heard her hang up and utter a choked sob. He pushed the door open and stepped into the foyer.

Mary Griscomb was standing, white-faced and taut, at the telephone table. She had been married only three weeks—and now she was getting the news which policemen's wives live constantly in dread of hearing. Her eyes widened at sight of Ed Race, and her hands clenched. "You!" she said. Ed came in slowly.

"Yes, Mary. It's I. They—told you about Joe?"

"They—told me."

"They said I killed him?"

"They said you—are responsible. Morrison has a witness—who heard you order the machine-gunner to shoot Joe down!"

Ed came a little closer to her. "Mary, do you believe that? Do you believe I had anything to do with killing Joe?"

Her breast was heaving, and her fingernails were biting into the palms of her clenched hands. She was making a terrible effort to control herself.

For a long tense, minute, she looked straight into Ed's eyes, looked deep and searchingly, with all the poignant discernment of a bereaved woman. At last she took a deep breath.

"No, Ed," she whispered. "I—don't—believe it!"

Ed breathed a deep sigh. Gently he took her arm, and led her to a seat in the living room. Then he told her the whole story of how Joe Griscomb had died—omitting nothing. She listened, dry-eyed, tense, every fibre of her trembling. When he was done, she closed her eyes, sat that way for a long minute. Then she opened them, and looked straight at him.

"What are you going to do, Ed?"

"I'm going to find that black-haired man. I'm going to find where they've taken Georgette Vaughn. I'm going to get the goods on San Toro, and prove he's the brains behind the conspiracy—whatever its purpose!"

"But—but how can you do all that—with the police on your trail?"

"I'll do it, all right! It'll be hard. With MacSpain away on his vacation, there's no one I can go to, in the department. I can't ask anyone else to take a chance on being involved with me. Mac would do it, without my asking twice. But now—I'll have to work alone."

"Not alone, Ed," Mary Griscomb whisperer. "I'm going with you. I'm going to help you find Joe's murderer!" She stood up, and there was fire in her eyes. "I'm sure Joe would want me to do it—rather than go down to the morgue and look helplessly at his body. I'm sure that's the way a policeman's wife should act!"

Ed pressed her hand. "Good girl!"

Together they went downstairs.


CHAPTER IV. — PENTHOUSE TRAP

THERE was no longer a crowd in front of the Lawrence Galleries. The body of Joe Griscomb had been removed from around the corner, and only one uniformed policeman stood on guard in front of the Gallery entrance.

Ed told the cab driver to stop a little further up the block, and pointed out to Mary Griscomb the apartment house across the street, where Señor de San Toro had said he resided.

They got out, telling the cab driver to wait again, and walked swiftly toward the building. It was a small, remodeled house, with two flats on a floor. The names in the bells indicated that San Toro lived in an apartment on the first floor.

Mary followed Ed upstairs, and he carefully tried the door. It was locked. He whispered instructions to Mary, and she nodded understanding. He backed against the wall, out of sight of anyone opening from within, and Mary knocked diffidently on the door.

There was no answer, and she knocked again.

This time there was the sound of movement from within, and a muffled voice demanded, "Well? Who?"

"It—it's about the picture," Mary said, through the door. "I must see you at once, Señor San Toro."

There was a grumbled response, and the door came open a crack.

Mary bent and peered through the crack; and whispered, "There's no chain. Ed."

"Good!" Ed said. He came out from alongside the wall, and hurled his weight at the door.

Surprisingly, it gave easily before his onslaught, as if the party on the other side had taken the precaution to step out of the way.

Too late, Ed knew he had thrust himself into a trap. He went hurtling into the hallway, and some one clicked a switch, and the light went on.

Detective Sergeant Morrison's gleeful voice said, "All right, Race, I knew you'd show up here sooner or later. Get your mitts up!"

A bitter feeling of failure throbbed through Ed Race's pulse, even as he went stumbling forward down the length of the hall. He should have known better than to come here. Morrison had outguessed him. He had expected to find only San Toro, and perhaps some of his murderous friends here. Instead, he found that Morrison had been lying in wait for him. And where he would have been eager to shoot it out with San Toro and his friends, he could not shoot at Morrison. If he allowed himself to be captured now, San Toro would have the field all to himself. With Georgette Vaughn in his hands, the wily Spaniard could proceed to frame a perfect case against Ed, and at the same time accomplish his own ends without hindrance.

Ed had trained himself to think clearly and accurately while in violent motion. It had been necessary to acquire this facility, because both accuracy of judgment and of marksmanship were demanded in the act which he performed daily in the theatre. When he went into a back or forward somersault on the stage, he had to keep his mind clear in order to enable him to judge distances to a hair's breadth—so that when he came out of the somersault, he could place his shots exactly where he wanted them.

Now, as he stumbled ahead, he sent his powerfully muscled body into a forward somersault. Morrison's shout was still ringing in his ears, and he knew that Morrison's service revolver was trained on him, and would probably begin to blast within another second. But he also knew that he must take this chance in order to escape—that if he did not make a break for freedom now, he'd never have another opportunity. So he kept going forward, into the somersault.


MORRISON yelled, "Hey!" and pulled the trigger of his revolver. The first shot went high, as it usually did when anyone fired at the Masked Marksman in motion. That trick somersault always fooled them. But Morrison was a crack shot, and he couldn't fail to miss on the second or third try. Ed hoped only that he would not be hit in a fatal spot. The hall was a long one, and there was ample time for Morrison to fire twice or three times more before Ed could reach the doorway at the far end. Of course, he could have drawn his own gun and killed the detective sergeant with a single shot. But that was a thing he would not allow himself to do.

He executed three forward somersaults which brought him up to the door, expecting each moment to hear the explosion of the detective's gun, and to feel the hot slug bury itself in his body. But no more shots came. He heard the sounds of a scuffle, and as he came to his feet he saw that Mary Griscomb had leaped upon Morrison, and had wrapped both arms around the detective's body, pinning his hands to his sides.

Morrison was struggling viciously, but Mary Griscomb held on with the grip of desperation, and she managed to gasp, "Keep going, Ed! I'll—hold—him!"

Ed's eyes were shining with admiration. "Nice going, Mary!" he called back, and leaped into the next room. He heard the two of them struggling in the hall as he raised one of the windows, and scrambled down the fire escape. In a moment he was out in the street, and was climbing into his taxicab.

"Uptown," he ordered. "Greymont Towers, on Fifty-seventh Street!"

Just as the cab completed its U turn and started north, Ed looked back out of the rear window, and saw Morrison come barging into the street, waving his gun. He shouted after the cab, but Ed's driver didn't see him, and turned the next corner, unconcernedly.

"Make it snappy," Ed told him. "I'm in a hurry. It's worth five dollars extra for me to get there in ten minutes.

"Right!" the driver said enthusiastically, and stepped on the gas.

The cabby thought he was just earning an easy five, but in reality he was pulling away from the squad car in which Morrison had started to give chase. Without knowing it, the driver was doing an excellent job of showing his heels to the law.

When they reached the Greymont Towers, Ed saw that the clock showed seven-sixty. With the extra five he had promised the driver, it made a total of twelve-sixty. He gave the man fifteen dollars, and told him to wait, with the flag up.

"Mister," said the cabby, "at this rate I'll wait for you till Hitler gets to America!"

Ed nodded, and hurried away from the cab, to the entrance of the Greymont Towers. It was impossible for him to put into so many words the reasons for coming here. Partly, it was cold logic, but to a greater extent it was a combination of hunch and character analysis. From what he had seen of Señor Felipe de San Toro, he judged that old Spanish rogue to be a man of great cleverness and of cool daring. He had seen how de San Toro had invented a story on the spur of the moment, in order to put Ed at a disadvantage. And he now had a glimmering of the depths of the conspiracy which he was sure de San Toro had fathered. Therefore, he was morally certain that the Spaniard would continue to act in a daring and original manner. If he was wrong, he would have to give up and take his medicine—primarily consisting of one whale of a beating at the hands of Morrison, down in the third- degree room.

Ed stepped into the beautiful stone entrance of the Greymont Towers, and almost bumped into a uniformed doorman.

"What floor for Georgette Vaughn?" Ed demanded.

He had expected that the doorman would be frigid, and refuse him admittance. Instead, the fellow nodded respectfully, and said, "Mrs. Vaughn occupies the penthouse, sir. Follow me to the penthouse elevator."


CHAPTER V. — ED'S MASTERPIECE

ED began to feel a little trickle of premonition as he followed the doorman across the lobby. The fellow was certainly acting out of character. He had never seen a flunky in so swanky an establishment who had not acted superciliously, and who offered to usher a visitor up without announcing him from the foyer.

"It's a self-service elevator, sir," the man told him, holding open the door of the cage. "Just go in, and press the penthouse button."

"Yeah?" said Ed. "Don't you have to announce me?"

"Oh, no, sir," the man smiled eagerly—almost too eagerly. "Mrs. Vaughn is expecting you."

"Expecting me? Do you know my name?"

"Why certainly, sir. You are Mr. Edward Race. I was told to send you right up if you arrived."

"You don't say!" Ed murmured.

The doorman seized the door, ready to swing it shut as soon as Ed entered the cage.

Ed ducked low, grasped the man's arm, and then pivoted on his heel. He got the fellow's arm over his shoulder, and heaved. The doorman went flying over Ed's head, and landed square in the cage, on his hands and knees. He uttered a shrill curse, and scrambled to his feet, with blood pouring from his nose. But Ed slammed the door shut, and nodded in satisfaction.

Upon stepping toward the cage, the door itself had been open, so that he had not been able to observe it. But he had seen a stout staple in the jamb—a staple which should never have been present in the door of an elevator. Now he saw that there was a stout padlock hanging by a hook on the door. He slipped the padlock over the staple on the doorjamb, and clamped it shut, just as the doorman inside hurled himself against the door.

"Lemme out!" the fellow yelled.

Ed grinned. "Just press the penthouse button," he called.

He waited, watching the indicator. Nothing happened. He nodded to himself. That elevator cage had been fixed so that it wouldn't work. The power must have been disconnected, so that it could neither rise nor drop. Once inside that cage, with the padlock securely fastened on the outside, Ed would have been a helpless prisoner until it suited his captors' fancy to release him—or turn him over to the custody of the police.

The doorman inside kept banging against the metal door, and Ed let him. He walked across the lobby to the main elevator. There was a little service closet alongside the elevator shaft, also with a padlock on it. Ed tried the lock, but it would not open. He took out one of his revolvers and fired a single shot into the staple. The explosion reverberated throughout the lobby, and must have sounded to the tenants in the building like the backfire of a huge truck. But the staple flew off, and the door of the closet swung open. Ed looked in, and grinned.

The real doorman of the Greymont Towers, and the elevator boy, were lying in there, trussed up, with gags stuffed into their mouths. They stared up at him in fright.

Ed smiled at them. "I'll just leave the door open, so you can get some air, boys," he said. "I haven't the time to untie you now. Wait'll I get down again."

He left them there, and stepped into the main elevator shaft. He slid the door shut, and pulled over the lever. This elevator worked all right, and the cage shot straight up to the penthouse.

Ed hunched his shoulders forward, so that the twin forty-fives in his holsters leaned out, ready to be grasped and drawn instantly. He opened the door and stepped out on to the roof.

The Vaughn penthouse was ablaze with light.

Ed hurried up the paved walk, between two small plots of smooth lawn, and stopped at the front door. The Venetian blinds were drawn all the way down, so he couldn't see inside the two windows facing on the lawn, but he could hear the sound of voices within, particularly the accented voice of Señor Felipe de San Toro. He couldn't distinguish what was being said, however.

Suddenly, above the sound of those voices, he heard a woman's scream. It wasn't a scream of pain or agony—but one of protest, perhaps of terror.


ED waited no longer. He put his hand on the knob, tried the door and found it locked. He turned his gun down on the lock, stepped back, and fired four times into it. The powerful sledgehammer blows of those forty-fives literally thrust the whole door backward tearing the tongue of the lock from the slot. Ed kicked the door wide, and sprang inside. He crossed the foyer in a single bound, and burst into the living room.

His hunch had been right! With the clever daring of the super crook, Señor Felipe de San Toro y Moroja had chosen the home of Georgette Vaughn in which to hold her prisoner. Technically, no one could call it kidnaping to bring a captive to her own home!

Georgette Vaughn was in a straight-backed chair in the center of the room. The black-haired man who had dragged her into the fleeing car had hold of one of her arms, and Juan had hold of the other. Juan had his coat off, and a bandage around his shoulder, where Ed had shot him. Behind the chair stood Señor San Toro, with a gun in his hand. They had taken off Georgette's jacket and skirt and blouse, and she was clad only in a pink slip. San Toro had her jacket in his hand, and had been slitting it open with a kitchen knife, which he dropped at Ed's precipitate entrance, in favor of a gun.

The black-haired man, who was holding on to Georgette's left arm, reached into a shoulder holster for a gun, but San Toro's cold, calm voice interposed.

"It weel not be necessary, Manuel. Have no fear. Señor Race weel not shoot us!"

Ed had both revolvers in his hands, one trained on Manuel, the other on Juan. By a quick, sure movement, he could have shot San Toro, too. But he saw what the wily Spaniard meant when he said there was nothing to fear. San Toro had placed the muzzle of his own gun at the back of Georgette Vaughn's neck, and was holding it with his finger curled around the trigger.

"Observe," he said dispassionately, "where I hold this gun, Señor Race. Eet ees true that you are what-you-call, wizard weeth those rai-volv-air. But observe too, that I can pull thees trigger weethout effort. Should you begin to shoot, the so- beautiful Madam Vaughn mus' die!"

"I see," Ed said slowly. Georgette Vaughn had ceased struggling with the two men who held her. She was staring with wide eyes at Ed Race.

"Please—shoot!" she begged. "I—don't want to live any more!"

Ed studied the four of them with narrowed eyes. "These men have been blackmailing you?" he asked her.

"Yes. Manuel here, is a painter. He painted a portrait of me—just a head. I—never posed for the nude. But he painted another nude, and then put my face on it, and they put it up for sale at Lawrence's. They—they wanted me to pay fifty thousand dollars for it, because if Roger, my husband, had ever seen it, he'd surely have divorced me."

"I see," said Ed. "And then, when you refused to pay, along came the Señor San Toro, and told you he'd help you, eh? Told you he'd arrange it so you could go in there and steal the picture?"

"Yes, yes. That's right."

"But San Toro and these mugs just wanted you to get yourself in deeper. They had a detective stationed there, figuring he'd catch you, and then Lawrence could refuse to prosecute—provided you bought the picture you'd tried to steal!"


SAN TORO smiled thinly. "You 'ave thee vairy sharp mind, Señor Race. You 'ave guess' the plan. But now—you can guess that which weel 'appen to Madam Vaughn—onless we can find thee picture w'ich she 'ave taken. We search 'er clothes. Eet mus' be 'ere. Eef not—then eet mus' be in 'er purse—which you 'ave."

"But the picture is right there in the Lawrence Galleries," Ed said, keeping his guns high and level, waiting for the main chance. If ever San Toro should withdraw that muzzle from Georgette's neck for only a fraction of a second...

San Toro laughed. "That picture which is now there, eet ees a duplicate, which my Manuel 'ave made. I replaced eet, while you argue weeth those dumb detective Morrison. Thus, you 'ave been made to seem a liar!"

"Not bad," Ed said. "Now suppose you give Mrs. Vaughn her clothes again. We're all through playing games. I'm starting to shoot in exactly thirty seconds!"

San Toro shook his head. "Spanish gentlemen and American gentlemen do not endanger a ladee's life. You weel not shoot. On the contraree—you weel 'elp us to find thee painting!"

"Oh, what's the use!" Georgette Vaughn exclaimed. "I give up. It's in the lining of my skirt. I had a false pocket made, and slipped it in there. Now—you can have the portrait, and show it to my husband. I—I'm too tired to fight—"

Juan let go of her arm, and pounced on the skirt. He ripped the lining away, and drew out the small canvas.

"Oho! Now you shall pay—"

"Here goes!" Ed exclaimed, and fired.

San Toro had been so overcome by excitement that he had leaned forward past Georgette's chair, and his gun hand had pushed out forward just an inch or two. It was enough for Ed, and San Toro's wrist crumpled under the blast. Manuel and Juan stood frozen, not daring to move.

Suddenly, Georgette Vaughn uttered a cry. "Behind you—"

Ed heard a foot scrape at his back, and went into a split- second somersault just as a shot crashed from a doorway to the rear. He came to his feet, glimpsing the thin and emaciated face of Westley Lawrence in the doorway. Ed fired while he was himself still a blur of motion, and he didn't bother to look in Lawrence's direction any more, because he knew that he had aimed for the man's forehead, and he always hit exactly where he aimed.

He swung on one knee, his gun thundering in the room as Juan and Manuel began pumping shots at him.

There was a cool, hard smile on Ed's face as he triggered those two guns of his, shooting carefully, accurately, with no more emotion in his eyes than if he had been shooting at a row of candles on the stage of the Clyde Theatre. These men were not only thieves, they were murderers. They had cold-bloodedly machine-gunned a young cop. Ed felt like an executioner as he pumped lead into the hearts of those two men.

He straightened to his feet, with the walls still sending back the echoing reverberations of his thunderous gunfire.

Georgette Vaughn sprang to her feet, then reeled and would have fallen, if Ed hadn't caught her.

"Get your clothes on," he growled. "This is no time to faint or to have the heebie-jeebies. There'll be cops here in a minute."


HIS prophecy was pretty accurate as to time. It was only about ninety seconds before the front door banged open, and Detective Sergeant Morrison barged in, with Mary Griscomb at his side, and a couple of plainclothesmen at his back.

Ed tautened, but he relaxed when he saw that Morrison was putting his gun away instead of turning it on him.

Mary Griscomb smiled. She had hold of Morrison's elbow.

"I made him promise not to blow up till he could hear your story, Ed," she said. "I'm just holding on to his arm for insurance. He had to promise, or I wouldn't have told him your plan."

"Swell kid!" Ed praised.

He saw that Georgette Vaughn had got her clothes on, after a fashion, and let her tell her story to Morrison. The wounded San Toro stared impassively, while she talked, then he shrugged his shoulders.

"I 'ave lose!" he said. "Eet seem that I am too smart for mysel'!"

Detective Sergeant Morrison scratched his head, and looked shamefaced.

"Well, I'll be damned! You were telling the truth all the time, Race!" He stuck his hand out. "I apologize."

Ed nodded somberly, and took his hand. Then he turned to where Mary Griscomb had gone into a corner by herself. Now that the tension was over, she was sobbing quietly, with her head on the shoulder of Georgette Vaughn.

Morrison sighed. "Damned lousy—the life of a cop's wife!"

"I'm thinking the same!" Ed Race said.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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