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EMILE C. TEPPERMAN

TOP BILLING FOR MURDER

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First published in The Spider, July 1938

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version date: 2020-10-01
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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The Spider, July 1938, with "Top Billing for Murder"



Ten thousand dollars was what "Lucky" Linsey planned to collect from a corpse's check—until Ed Race, the Masked Marksman, horned in and canceled that check in hot lead!




ED RACE thought nothing of it when young Jerry Talmadge asked him for a ten-dollar check in exchange for ten dollars cash. "I want to send it back home to mother," Jerry explained, "and I haven't got a checking account of my own."

"Okay, kid," Ed told him, smiling. "I'm glad to see you're settling down and thinking of your mother for a change. She's a grand old lady. If you quit trying to buck Lucky Linsey's roulette wheel, you'll have a lot more to send her."

Talmadge grumbled like a spoiled child. "Look, Ed, do I have to listen to a lecture in return for a favor? I'm old enough to know what I'm doing."

Ed shrugged. "All right. Only I thought I'd mention it. I hear you've been going over the hurdles at Linsey's place recently." He sat down and wrote the check, and Talmadge gave him the ten dollars.

That was Monday. On Thursday, Ed got the phone call from Mary Talmadge, Jerry's pretty little sister—the other half of the exhibition dance team of Talmadge and Talmadge. The call came in at the Clyde Theater, where Ed Race was rehearsing a new routine for his Masked Marksman act.

Mary sounded worried and frightened. "Ed, I've got to see you. It's about Jerry. He—he didn't show up last night, and I had to work at the Fountain Club with a substitute partner. I'm afraid he's in trouble."

Ed Race's hand tightened on the phone. His thoughts flew back to the ugly rumors he had heard in the last few days, about Jerry Talmadge's terrific losses to "Lucky" Linsey. "What kind of trouble, Mary?" he asked tightly.

"I—I don't know. I've called every place in town where he might be, but no one's seen him."

"Have you called the Club Linsey?"

"Yes. But the place hasn't opened yet. There wasn't anyone there but the cleaning people."

Ed glanced at his watch. "I'll be through with rehearsal in ten minutes. Where are you now?"

"I'm phoning from Miller's Theatrical Agency—on Forty-ninth, you know."

"Okay. Meet me at my bank in fifteen minutes. I have to get some cash. Then I'll buy you a drink, and we can talk about Jerry."


ED finished the rehearsal in a preoccupied manner. He was worrying about Jerry Talmadge. Both Jerry and his sister were only a couple of kids who had been precipitated into the big Broadway money through the fortunate chance of winning a dancing contest back in their home state. Ed knew their mother, Lisette Talmadge, who had played the vaudeville circuits ten years ago, when Ed himself was just starting on his vaudeville headline career as the Masked Marksman—"The Man Who Can Make Guns Talk." That was the way he was billed on the Partages Circuits, from coast to coast, and it was no exaggeration. His marvelous feats of marksmanship with the six heavy .45 caliber revolvers, which were the props of his number, always left the audience literally breathless with amazement.

The most sensational routine of the act was the spot where he juggled all six of the guns, keeping them in the air, catching them one by one as they came down—firing each, when it came into his hand, at a row of candles thirty feet across the stage. People had been known to come night after night to his performance, in the hope of seeing him miss once. They were always disappointed.

As the highest paid one-man vaudeville act in the country, Ed Race had accumulated plenty of money, which he treated as carelessly as possible. He refused to be bothered with investments, and generally kept ten or fifteen thousand dollars on deposit. Anyone in the show business who was up against it financially could always count on Ed Race to have ready cash.

But Ed Race needed more than this measure of success to make life interesting. In order to provide an outlet for his surplus of nervous energy, he had found himself an avocation—criminology. He held licenses to operate as a private detective in a dozen states, and his uncanny ability with guns had often been at the service of friends in trouble—but without charge. Ed Race was as much feared and hated in the underworld as the Masked Marksman was admired by theater audiences.

He had promised Lisette Talmadge that he would look after her two kids till they got dry behind the ears in the Big Town, and now he was afraid that he had fallen down on that promise.

He rushed through the rehearsal, got into his street clothes, and slipped into his twin shoulder holsters two of the .45's without which he never went out.


IT was just inside the stage entrance that he saw Baldy Donovan. Baldy was peering furtively back toward the door, which was open, affording a view of Forty-sixth Street, and of the corner a few feet east. When he saw Ed Race, Baldy Donovan came hurrying over to him, motioning him away from the door.

"Gawd, Ed," he breathed, "I took an awful chance coming here!"

Ed raised his eyebrows. "You in a jam again, Baldy?" Two months ago he had helped Donovan to clear himself of a burglary charge. Baldy was a two-time loser already, and if he had been convicted he would have been put away for life.

Baldy kept looking out the door, and talking so fast that he slurred his words. "My Gawd, no, Eddie, I ain't in no jam. It's you that's in a jam!"

"Me? What did I do now—"

Donovan motioned impatiently with his hand. "Don't kid around about this, Eddie. I only picked up the dope this morning. The finger is on you, Eddie!"

Ed Race knew that the reformed safe-man didn't scare easily. If he was scared now, there must be something to it.

Baldy hurried on. "Somebody has hired Sammy Heller to knock you off. They're paying him five C's for the job, which is a damn good price. That cokey has been known to pop a guy for fifty bucks."

Ed's eyes narrowed. "Sammy Heller, eh? Who hired him?"

Baldy Donovan spread his hands in a futile gesture. "I couldn't get that, Eddie. All I know is, that Sammy Heller has been around in a couple of bars, asking about your habits, and when you rehearse, and where you eat. And he told Smitty, the barman at Groton's place that he was in the money because he was getting five hundred for a job today."

Ed put an affectionate hand on Donovan's shoulder. "You're a good egg, Baldy. You're taking your life in your hands to tip me off."

The ex-yegg shuffled his feet embarrassedly. "Hell! Didn't you go to bat for me? I'd be some heel if I let you walk out in the street without warning that Sammy Heller was on the prowl for you!"

"Thanks, Baldy," Ed said sincerely. "I'll be careful."

Baldy hung back as Ed started for the door. "I better not be seen coming out with you. Now for God's sake, keep your eyes peeled. Heller knows you're poison with a gun yourself. He'll try to get you in the back."

Ed nodded, and started out. He hunched his shoulders slightly forward, to bring the butts of the two .45's into easier gripping position. He was wondering who had put the finger on him. True, he had made plenty of enemies in the past. But he couldn't think of anyone at this time to whom his life could be worth five hundred dollars. Ed might have notified the police to pick up Sammy Heller. But there were two things against that. First, he couldn't violate a confidence of Baldy Donovan. Baldy would forever be marked in the underworld as a stoolie. Secondly, even if he had Heller picked up, there was nothing to prove that he intended to commit murder.

Ed stepped out into the street, threw a quick glance in both directions, and started for Broadway. Forty-sixth was an east-bound express street, in which parking was prohibited; so he didn't have to worry about a slug in the back from a parked car. But traffic was moving east with him, and there was always the danger of Heller's driving up alongside him and letting go. Ed felt prickles in his spine until he turned into Broadway. Here the crowd was thicker, and even Heller would hesitate to blaze away.

It was only two blocks to the Citizen's Deposit National Bank. Mary Talmadge was already there, waiting for him, her face clouded with worry. When he saw her, Ed forgot about Sammy Heller and Baldy's warning. She was a slim, lithe young thing, with clear-blue innocent eyes that had not yet been clouded by the worldly sophistication of Broadway.

"Ed, if anything has happened to Jerry, I'll never be able to face mother," she said. "Jerry's been—well, a little wild lately. He—oh, Ed, he may even be dead!"

Ed Race put an arm around her, and patted her shoulder. "Chin up, kid. Jerry's old enough to take care of himself. Just because he didn't come home last night doesn't mean anything. A chap has a right to stay out once in a while." He said it, but didn't really mean it. He was terribly afraid that Mary was right.

With trembling hands she took an envelope out of her purse. "Here's a letter I found in Jerry's room. It was all stamped, and ready to mail to mother. It shows that Jerry intended to come back."

Ed glanced through it quickly. It was a short note. Jerry sent his love, said everything was okay, and then finished, "Next week is Aunt Nora's birthday, so I am sending you a check for ten dollars. Buy something she needs, and give it to her with my love. The last cash I sent you was lost in the mail, so I'm going to ask Ed Race for a check, and that should be safer..."

"You see," Mary Talmadge said, "Jerry just wrote the letter and then left it unsealed until he could get the check. He intended to come back—"

Ed said grimly, "He got the check. I gave it to him. But that was on Monday. You say he was back Tuesday night. Why didn't he mail it?"

Mary looked up at him miserably. "What'll we do, Ed? Shall I notify the Missing Persons Bu—Look out!"

Her warning came too late. Ed abruptly sensed someone standing close behind him. He started to turn, and felt something hard jammed against his right side.

A voice said, "Hello, Race. I hate to do this. But business is business. Get in that car at the curb—you and the dame."


ED glanced sideways, and saw the pinched features and pinpoint eyes of Sammy Heller. The man was a cocaine addict. He could act and look utterly normal, but no one could guess what fires of hell were raging inside that doped-up brain. Heller was grinning in a most friendly fashion, and no one in the passing crowds suspected that he was holding a gun in Ed's back.

Mary Talmadge knew what was happening. She could see the mad readiness to murder in Heller's face, and she dared not utter a sound for fear that he would shoot at once.

Heller said pleasantly, "Don't start nothing, Race. I'd give it to the dame, just as easy." He jerked his head toward a sedan which had pulled in at the curb, driven by a sallow-faced Spick. "Get going."

Ed Race was taut, his muscles bunched and ready for action. He had been in tighter places in his life, and had fought his way out of them. Heller knew that. Heller had seen him perform on the stage, no doubt, observing how the Masked Marksman could go into a blindingly swift back somersault, and come out of it, shooting, with both .45's from his shoulder holsters. That was a feature number of Ed's act. And Heller, with the devilish ingenuity of his drug-stimulated brain, had chosen this moment, when he was with Mary Talmadge, to make his play. Ed would have taken a chance on smashing back with his elbow at Heller's gun, and then drawing his own gun while he flipped back in a somersault. But that man in the car might open fire, and Mary would surely get the slug.

His mouth became a thin, hard line. "All right, Mary," he said. "Let's do what Sammy says."

Moving very carefully, he took her arm and led her to the car. Heller came close behind him, following them into the rear seat. At Heller's direction, Ed sat at the far end, Mary in the middle, and Sammy on her right. No sooner were they in, then the car leaped forward.

Heller brought the gun out of his pocket, held it pointing at Mary. He grinned. "No hard feelings, Race. But the dame gets it the first minute you start to go for your guns."

Ed asked him mildly, "Don't you want me to give you my guns?"

Heller snickered. "Not a chance, Race. You keep your mitts on your lap where I can see them. I take no chances on you getting your paws near them cannons!"

The driver apparently knew exactly where to go. He wound expertly out of the Broadway traffic, and in ten minutes they were on the Henry Hudson Parkway, which runs north along the Hudson River edge, toward Van Cortlandt Park and the wide reaches of Westchester County.

Ed said, "If this is a bump-off, Sammy, why drag the girl into it? Let her out."

Sammy Heller looked really pained. "Geez, Race, I wish I could accommodate you. But you know how a twist will talk." He sighed regretfully. "I hate to do two jobs for the price of one. But in this business, we got to protect ourself."

Mary Talmadge was sitting between them, staring straight ahead, hands tightly clenched in her lap. Ed could see that she was thinking not so much of the quick death that was rolling toward her with each revolution of the wheels of the car—but of her mother at home, and how Lisette would take the news.

Ed himself was thinking hard. They were whizzing past Van Cortlandt Park, and out into the Saw Mill Road. There would be plenty of lonely spots around here where murder could be committed. Ed said to Heller, "Five hundred dollars is very little money for a job like this, Sammy. You can't be making much profit."

Sammy Heller shrugged. He kept the gun trained on Mary. "What the hell, Race, I've done jobs for a hell of a lot less. I made them ante up heavy for you, because there ain't many torpedoes in New York would tackle a guy with your rep."

"Who's paying you, Sammy?"

Heller only grinned. "Look, Race, how could I build up a good business if I blabbed about things like that? Them things is confidential between my clients and me. But I'm makin' a good profit on the job. The car is hot, so it don't cost nothin'. An my client is payin' Manuel there to drive it, so that don't come outa my end."

Manuel turned his head and looked back at them over his shoulder, smiling to show two rows of perfectly white teeth. "I t'ink you spikking to moch anyhow, Sammy. Thees, she's no tea-party."

Sammy Heller scowled. "Pipe down, Spick!" he growled. "You pay attention to your driving. That's where we turn—right up the road!"

Manuel lapsed into silence. A hundred feet farther, he swung off sharply to the right, into a dirt road that led up a hill toward an old, abandoned farmhouse.

Sammy Heller chuckled. "I got a regular system, Race. I own a acre of land up here. I bring all my jobs here, and bury 'em right on the spot. Saves the cops the trouble of finding the bodies."

Ed said, "You're quite a businessman, Sammy. Could I offer you a grand to cross your client?"

Sammy shook his head. "If you ain't got the dough on you, I could never trust you to pay off. And if you have got it on you, I'll get it off you anyway."

Ed glanced down slantwise at Mary Talmadge. He saw that she was holding herself together with a tremendous effort. He could understand how she felt, being inexorably faced with death within a matter of minutes.


MANUEL had stopped the car a hundred feet from the abandoned farmhouse. He got out and walked across to a patch of ground that was set off by a low chicken fence. In a cold, matter-of-fact manner he picked up a spade and began to turn up a small square of earth.

Sammy Heller suddenly lost all his geniality. He snarled, "All right, Race. Out!" He got up and turned so that he was facing both Ed and Mary. He kept his gun on them, while out of his left hand coat pocket he brought out a pistol with a silencer screwed to the barrel. It was with this latter weapon that he was going to do the killing.

Ed's eyes burned into Heller's. He dared not try anything now, for Heller would surely send a bullet into Mary's body in these close quarters. Ed leaned over and pulled back the handle of the door, so that it swung open. Then he bent and got out, backward, at Heller's direction.

"So I can see your hands!" Heller told him.

Ed stood just outside the car, in a half-crouch, while Mary climbed out. As soon as Mary was on the ground, he knew Heller would shoot. He saw the gunman inside the car tense, and his knuckles whiten on the silenced gun.

Ed didn't wait for Mary to get both feet on the ground. He lurched to one side, and gave her a hard shove that sent her sprawling to the right. At the same time, he dived to the left in a head-on somersault. They were both going in opposite directions now, and he counted on a split-instant of delay while Heller's brain settled on which one to shoot at first. Or, would the gunman fire both guns at the same time?

Ed didn't know how good Heller was. He, himself, could hit two targets at the same time, firing with both guns simultaneously. But there were few men alive besides himself who could do that. He gambled on Heller's not being one of them.

Ed's steel-springed body coiled into a ball, and he bent his head forward, landing smoothly on the back of his neck, rolling forward to come to his feet in as graceful and perfectly timed a somersault as anyone had ever seen on the stage. He heard two loud reports from Heller's guns, and felt the dirt kick up alongside him as he rolled.

He felt a surge of joy. Heller was firing both guns at him, ignoring Mary Talmadge for the moment. But Ed's body was a confusing, moving target, and Heller was shooting too fast. Those two shots were the only ones he got in, because, when Ed came to his feet facing the car, he had both big hair-trigger .45's miraculously in his hands—and both were roaring out their deep-toned messages of death.

The two, thundering slugs smashed the lead into Heller's body, one in the right shoulder, the other above the left elbow. Heller gurgled a half-screech, and dropped both guns as his body was literally flattened against the upholstery of the car by the savage force of the heavy-caliber bullets. It happened that quickly.

Ed swung easily toward where Manuel had dropped his spade in favor of a short-muzzled gun. But when Manuel saw Ed's still smoking revolvers turn their snouts toward him, he didn't want to fight it out. He bent low, and ran as fast as he could.

Ed shouted after him, "Stop! I'll shoot—"

Manuel yelled with terror, and kept running. Ed's lips tightened grimly, and he raised his right hand revolver for a snap-shot at Manuel's legs. But at that instant Talmadge picked herself up from the ground where Ed had flung her, and got directly in the line of fire.

With a low curse Ed held his finger away from the hair-trigger. Mary never knew how near she had come to death in that moment. Ed shouted to her, "Out of the way, Mary!"

She was dazed, but understood, and dropped to the ground. It was too late. Manuel had disappeared over a rise.

Ed Race shrugged, and holstered his revolvers. "Plenty of time to get that rat," he said. He went over and helped Mary Talmadge to her feet. "Take it easy, kid. Don't let the reaction get you."

She looked up at him with a forced smile. "D-don't worry about me, Ed."

"Good girl!" Ed gave her a squeeze, and led her back to the car. Sammy Heller was unconscious, bleeding like a pig. Ed tore off the gunman's coat and shirt, and made a crude bandage for his shoulder and arm.

"What are you going to do with him?" Mary asked.

"We'll take him along," Ed told her grimly. "When he comes to, he'll talk—or he doesn't get medical treatment!"

Mary's eyes opened wide. "You—you mean—you're not taking him to a hospital?"

"No!" Ed picked up Heller's two guns, wrapped them carefully in a handkerchief, and stowed them in a pocket of the car. "That'll be evidence, all right. I bet he's done all his killings with these two toys. Don't worry about him, Mary. Rats like this one seem to survive anything—but the electric chair. And he has to be made to talk. I want to know who paid him to gun me; and where Jerry is!"

"You think he knows that, too?"

"I'm sure of it. I'm convinced that this little stunt is connected somehow with Jerry's disappearance."

They both got in the front seat, and Ed turned the car around, drove it down the hill and on to the parkway, heading south toward the city.


TWENTY minutes' fast driving brought them back to Broadway and Forty-eighth, in front of the Citizens' Deposit National Bank. Ed took out one of his revolvers and gave it to Mary. "Put that in your purse, if it'll fit. Watch Heller. If he comes to, and starts yelling, don't be afraid to sock him. I don't want the police to get him till I've talked to him. I'm going in the bank. Remember."

He left her with the revolver, and strode in to the Citizens' Deposit. Lavery, one of the vice-presidents, saw the urgency in his face when he demanded to see his canceled checks at once. In two minutes he had the batch of them, and was thumbing through, with Lavery watching curiously.

Ed uttered a quick exclamation, and flipped one of the checks out of the bundle. He held it before Lavery's eyes. It was made out to Jerry Talmadge, and dated last Monday. But it was for ten thousand dollars!

"You see anything wrong with that check, Lavery?" he asked.

The vice-president took it, examined it closely. Suddenly his face became white.

"Good Lord, Mr. Race! It—it's been raised! I can see it now. It's a beautiful piece of work. No wonder the teller passed it." He turned the check over. "And besides, it came through the Federal Reserve—deposited in the Fourth National, in the regular way. Our man wouldn't suspect anything—wouldn't think of examining it closely."

"Even when it's for ten thousand dollars?"

Lavery raised his shoulders deprecatingly. "This is New York, Race—and it's Broadway. We clear checks every day for ten times this amount. Ten thousand isn't such a large sum—in a bank."

Ed took the check from him, examined the endorsement. It was duly endorsed by Jerry Talmadge, and underneath Jerry's name was plainly written, "For deposit only, to account of Mutual Enterprises, Inc."

Lavery was already on the phone, talking to the cashier of the Fourth National, and making notes on a pad. Finally, he said into the instrument, "Thanks. I guess you're stuck. If we get a lead, I'll let you know. Better notify the Bankers' Protective."

He hung up and turned to Ed. "The cashier over at the Fourth National says that this Mutual Enterprises was a dormant account, opened about a year ago by a man named Bart Kelver. It carried a small balance, but was never used until day before yesterday, when this ten-thousand-dollar check was deposited. The check cleared this morning, and at ten o'clock Bart Kelver came in and closed out the entire account, drawing the ten thousand in cash."

Ed said tightly, "Do they know who this Bart Kelver is?"

Lavery shook his head. "The account was opened in the ordinary way, and they required references. Kelver gave them the name of Manny Morgan, whose letter is on file recommending Kelver. Morgan is one of their depositors, who is in the loan business—"

Ed laughed harshly. "That's what the bank thinks. I know Manny Morgan. He's a bookie. And I know where to find him!"

Ed arose. "Thanks, Lavery. I'll see what I can dig up on this."

The vice-president looked up at him worriedly. "This isn't your headache, of course. The Fourth National is the one that's stuck, because they guaranteed the prior signatures automatically when they forwarded the check through the Federal Reserve. But we're also liable, because of our negligence in passing the raised check. But if you can lay your hands on this Kelver party—or whoever is behind him—and get back the ten thousand, I'm sure the Bankers' Protective would consider itself deeply in your debt."

"Maybe I can," Ed told him. "I've got another interest in this. Yesterday, a very nice kid—the one who endorsed that check—disappeared. This morning, I came within two seconds of being murdered."

Lavery's eyes opened wide. "Murdered!"

Ed nodded. "Don't you see? If I were dead, there would never be anybody to question that raised check. They'd have gotten away with ten grand—and without any fuss!"

He left Lavery staring after him, and strode out to the car. Mary Talmadge was waiting for him impatiently, in the back seat, keeping watch over the still unconscious Heller. Ed glanced down at the gunman's body, and frowned. "Wait here, Mary. I'll be back in two minutes."


HE left her, walked down Broadway to Forty-seventh, and went into a cigar store. A short, stocky man was in the phone booth, writing something on a sheet of paper. Ed pushed the door of the booth open, and heard the stocky man say, "That's Sister Susie in the second at Jamaica, ten to win and ten to show. Right, Mr. Marklewicz. Thanks for the business. I'll take care of it for you."

The man hung up and said, "Hello, Ed. Ain't seen you for weeks. Want to give me a bet?"

Ed took him and led him into the rear of the store. "Look, Manny, I want some information. I want it quick, and I want it straight."

Manny Morgan took one look at his tense face, and said, "Sure, Ed. Anything you want to know—for you."

"This is something the cops will be asking you about in a little while, too."

Manny Morgan's eyes narrowed. "The cops couldn't get a thing from me, Ed. I'd never talk to them in a million years. You know what my life would be worth here on Broadway if I stooled. If you want to know anything, you got to gimme your word that you don't pass it on to the cops. Otherwise—no soap."

Ed said impatiently, "All right, Manny, I give you my word. Now this is what I want to know. About a year ago you gave a reference to a man named Bart Kelver, who wanted to open an account in your bank."

Manny Morgan's forehead creased in thought. "Bart Kelver? I don't remember..." Suddenly, he snapped his fingers. "Sure! That was..." He broke off abruptly, gave Ed Race a queer look. "Say, Ed, what's in back of it?"

"So far, Manny, it's only forgery and attempted murder. Maybe it'll be actual murder before it's over."

Morgan lowered his voice. "Look, Ed, I wouldn't mix in this if I was you. This is dynamite."

"I'll say it is!" Ed told him. "I was almost taken for a ride this morning."

Morgan whistled. "Holy mackerel! You! What's Linsey got against you?"

Ed Race gripped the bookmaker's shoulder. "Did you say Linsey?"

Manny Morgan nodded. "Believe me, Ed, I wouldn't open up to anyone but you. That Bart Kelver—it's just a stooge name for one of Linsey's accounts. He's got a couple dozen accounts like that, all over town. He gets friends to recommend them, so he wouldn't be tied up with them. He always keeps a couple of these accounts in reserve, in case he gets a strange sucker at his wheels, who drops a lot of dough. Then if the sucker squawks later, it can't be tied to Linsey."

Ed said slowly, "Then there isn't any Bart Kelver?"

"Sure. Kelver's probably one of Linsey's gorillas. He's got accounts and safety boxes in all their names."

"Thanks, Manny," Ed said. "You don't need to worry. I won't talk to the police about this. If I get Linsey, it won't be by using your information."

"That's why I opened up to you, Ed. I know you're a right guy. And Linsey hasn't got any business tangling with a guy like you."

Ed left Morgan and strode out of the cigar store. He hurried back to the car, and Mary Talmadge's eyes sought his eagerly. "Any news of Jerry, Ed?"

Ed glanced down at Heller, saw that the gunman was still out. The bandages weren't bleeding. If gangrene didn't set in, he'd be all right.

"I think I know where Jerry is," Ed told her. "I want you to stay right here and watch Heller. I don't know how long I'll be gone. If I don't come down in twenty minutes, I want you to call the traffic cop from the corner and turn Heller over. Also, tell the cop that I've gone over to the Club Linsey, and that there may be trouble there. Tell him to notify Inspector MacSpain."

Mary Talmadge clutched at his sleeve. "Ed! You're going into some terrible danger, and all because of Jerry—"

"I'll be all right!" he told her grimly.


HE left her, went to the corner and crossed Broadway toward a low three-story building on the other side of the street. There was an electric sign across the face of the building. It wasn't working now, wouldn't be turned on until the evening. But the lettering could be easily read, nevertheless—Club Linsey.

The ground floor was an elaborate restaurant with a four-dollar floor show. Upstairs were the private gaming-rooms run by Lucky Linsey, as well as his office. Ed looked up, caught the quick shifting of a face in one of the windows of the second floor. He had to look down again in order to dodge traffic across Broadway, and when he raised his eyes again, the face was gone. Ed's mouth tightened. He had been under observation all the time that the car had been parked there in front of the bank.

He plowed through the crowds in the street, entered the wide lobby of the restaurant, and turned left to a private elevator which gave access to the upper floors. A heavy-set, thick-jowled man ran the elevator. He was standing in the open doorway of the cage, watching Ed with a blank expression on his unemotional face. His features did not move, except for his thick lips, which were sliding a toothpick from right to left, then back again from left to right.

Ed said to him tightly, "I'm going up to see Linsey, Butch. Do you want to take me up, or do I have to take you?"

Butch took the toothpick out of his mouth. "Hell, there won't be no trouble goin' up, Race. Mr. Linsey's expectin' you!"

Ed's eyes narrowed. But he asked no questions. He let Butch step into the cage, then followed him. Butch sent the elevator up to the next floor, brought it to a stop at the landing. Before he could slide the door open, Ed said sharply, "Butch!"

The big man turned around. "Yeah?"

Ed said, "Sorry. I got to have my back-trail clear," and he hit Butch on the point of the jaw with all he had.

The man's eyes popped. He let a feeble grunt escape from his sagging mouth, and slid gently down along the wall to rest on the floor. Ed bent down and took a gun out of the man's shoulder holster, put it in his own empty left-hand one, to replace the gun he had given Mary Talmadge. Then he opened the cage door and stepped out onto the second floor.

There was nobody in the corridor. Lucky Linsey's private office was directly opposite the elevator. Farther down the hall were the gambling-rooms, but these were deserted at this early hour of the day. Later, when the night life of the city woke up, those rooms and this corridor would be full of men and women, and hurrying waiters. The drone of the croupiers' voices would be clearly audible out here. Now, however, all was quiet.

Ed crossed the hall, and pushed open the door of Linsey's office with his left hand. His right was close to his shoulder holster.

He walked into the room. There had been voices a moment ago, but now there was sudden silence.

Lucky Linsey sat a broad streamlined modernistic desk facing the door. A thin little wisp of a man sat at his left. A tall, gaunt man with hunched shoulders was standing at Linsey's right. A door at the right was ajar, revealing another room, where someone was moving about.


ED RACE kicked the corridor door shut behind him. He knew the little man at Linsey's left. He kept his eyes locked with Linsey's, but he spoke to this one. "So Scribbler Harris is writing paper again! Scribbler, you scribbled yourself into a ten-year pen stretch when you raised that check of mine!"

Linsey didn't say a word. He was a well-set-up man of forty. Immaculately dressed in a pin-stripe blue suit, with shirt, tie and handkerchief to match, he sat with his well-manicured hands on the desk, and his black eyes burned into Ed's. But the gaunt man with the hunched shoulders stirred, and his hand rose a little toward his armpit. It was only then that Linsey spoke, in a flat, unemotional, gambler's voice. "Take it easy, Kelver."

The man stopped the upward movement of his hand.

But Ed had heard that name. He tensed. This was the one who had deposited the raised check in the Fourth National.

Scribbler Harris whined, "I don't know what you're talking about, Race. I never raised no check of yours—"

Linsey said, "Shut up, Harris!"

The old forger lapsed into silence.

Ed kept his eyes on the gambler. "Linsey," he said softly, "I'll give you two minutes to produce Jerry Talmadge—alive."

Linsey kept his hands on the table. "You're a fool, Race. You'll gain nothing by using those guns of yours—except a murder rap. You broke in here. There are no weapons in sight."

Ed Race said, "Fifty seconds gone. Seventy seconds to go."

Linsey said, "We don't know a thing about it. The Talmadge kid lost ten grand here, and gave us your check for that amount—"

"That's a lie," Ed told him. "Jerry Talmadge may be wild, but he's not a crook. And he didn't have the skill to raise that check. He dropped the ten-dollar check at your tables, and you saw your chance to clean up. And you hired Sammy Heller to take me for a ride, so there'd be no one left to squawk." He looked up at the electric wall clock above Linsey's head. "Ten seconds to go."

Scribbler Harris was shivering. Kelver shifted surreptitiously, his hand traveling another inch toward his armpit. Five seconds ticked off in utter silence.

Then Linsey said, with no change of expression on his gambler's face, "You win, Race. I'll get you Talmadge." He raised his voice. "Mac! Bring the Talmadge kid in. Understand?"

A man in the next room answered, "I get you, boss!"

In a moment, the man appeared in the doorway connecting with the next room. He was holding Jerry Talmadge up in front of him. Jerry's mouth was taped, and his hands tied behind him. And the man who held him was shoving a gun out in front of Jerry's body, pointing at Ed Race.

Linsey said quickly, "Give it to him, Mac!"

Ed Race dropped to the floor. Mac's gun thundered, and a slug whined over Ed's head. Ed rolled over twice, and came to his knees with his .45 belching thunder. His first shot, fired while he was still practically in motion, shaved the tip of Jerry Talmadge's ear and smashed into Mac's face. Kelver's gun was out, but Ed threw himself forward and shot from his prone position. The slug took Kelver in the throat, and literally carried off the top of his head.

Scribbler Harris was under the desk yelling for mercy, and Lucky Linsey was standing up, with his hands raised in the air. He was saying something, but Ed couldn't hear him because the thunder of the gunfire was still reverberating in the room.

Ed kept him covered, and went over and pulled the tape off Jerry Talmadge's mouth. It came off with a ripping noise, and Jerry winced. He twisted his lips to get the circulation going, then said, "God, Ed, I was slated for the ash heap. Sammy Heller was scheduled to take me for a ride when he finished with you. This was the pay-off. Kelver brought up the ten thousand to split with Linsey and Harris. I think you'll find the money in his pocket."

Ed said, "You damn fool kid, will you quit gambling?"

"I will, Ed," Jerry said earnestly. "I'll never so much as put a nickel in a slot machine!"

Ed went to the window and looked out on Broadway. In front of the bank, Mary Talmadge was excitedly talking to a policeman, and pointing up to the window. He smiled. "Mary didn't wait twenty minutes. The Marines will be here soon." He looked at Scribbler Harris, who was crawling out from under the desk, then at Lucky Linsey. "I guess your luck has run out Linsey. If Heller doesn't talk, Harris here, certainly will. How's that?"

Linsey shrugged. "I should have known better than to pick you for a sucker, Race. The thing that hurts is that Sammy Heller took me to a shooting gallery and knocked off a whole row of candles with a gun, to prove to me he could take you!"

Ed grinned at him. "The trouble is," he told Linsey, "that the candles didn't do somersaults while he was popping at them!" He laughed now.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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