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Non sibi sed omnibus
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When Blond Otto The Hangman and his Nazi aides told Murdoch that he would soon join the dead Kerrigan and Klaw, he waited until he did—then added the roar of a dead man's weapon to the blazing guns of his ghostly pals!
THE door opened a bare twelve inches, allowing a mixed odor of garlic, tequila, stale cigarette smoke and perspiration to waft out into the dark alley. A Mexican in a checkered jacket and a broad-brimmed hat thrust his head out and said, "Ps-st!"
Stephen Klaw, feeling his way along the smelly alley, stopped short. His hands were dug deep in his coat pockets.
A rat scurried away somewhere in the darkness, making a slimy, slithering sound. Not far away, a church bell was tolling the midnight hour; while high in the sky a patrol plane's motors whined their defiance of the black and moonless heavens. But here in the alley there was no other sign of life than the scurrying rat and the Mexican's sibilant whisper.
There was the dull glint of metal in the Mexican's hand. He was holding a gun close to his side as he peered into the darkness, trying to discern the figure of Stephen Klaw.
Klaw had become motionless against the grimy wall, almost directly opposite the doorway. He waited just a second or two, and then he said softly, "Aqui."
The Mexican jumped as if he had been shot.
Klaw chuckled. Then he spoke very low, in English. "Is this where Enrico Morales lives?"
The Mexican hesitated. Then he said, "Excuse, Señor, please. Will you permit that I look at your face? A flashlight for a moment, no?"
"For a moment, yes," Klaw replied. "But put that gun away first. It would be too bad if you tried to use it. I've got you covered."
"But yes, Señor. Indeed, yes!" The Mexican very carefully slipped the gun into a pocket of his tight-fitting trousers.
Klaw took his left hand from his coat pocket, produced a small pencil flashlight from an inner pocket, and directed a subdued beam of light upward into his own face for a fraction of a minute. Then he clicked the light off.
"Ah!" said the Mexican. "A thousand pardons, Señor. But you comprehend that great caution is required in this transaction."
"Sure," said Steve.
"And now, if it pleases the Señor to give the password?"
"Busco unas ratas," said Klaw. "I seek rats."
"Bueno!" said the Mexican. He flung the door wide open, and moved to one side. "Enter, Señor!"
Stephen Klaw took a single step forward. And then he saw the trap into which he was walking.
There was just a dim light within the room, hardly enough to distinguish objects very clearly. They were counting, no doubt, on his eyes being momentarily blinded by the change from pitch darkness to light. But Klaw needed only to glimpse the vague shape of the machine-gun on the tripod at the far side of the room, and the woman bending over it, with her hand on the trip, and a Mexican beside her, holding the long, snaking cartridge belt.
STEPHEN KLAW'S reactions were the instinctive reflexes of the seasoned fighting man. He flung himself to one side of the open doorway as the machine-gun burst into wicked, chattering life. Tracer bullets smashed into the opposite wall of the alley. Plaster chipped, and hot lead ricochetted. For thirty seconds, the alley was filled with the deadly, staccato orchestration. Then the chatter ceased as suddenly as it had begun. The tracer bullets must have shown the woman at the machine-gun that she had missed. The dancing thunder echoed up and down the alley, and then there was silence.
The church bell had ceased to toll. The powerful whine of the patrol plane was gone. Even the rat had scampered off.
In the darkness of the alley, Klaw rested on one knee, close beside the doorway. Both automatics were in his hands now. He made no sound. His breathing was noiseless. He did not move.
Inside the house, no one moved either. The light had been doused by some one in there.
Time ticked away. There was no sound or hint of movement, within or without. It was a contest of nerves.
And then, faintly, a foot scraped in the alley—behind Stephen Klaw! Some one had stolen out from the other side of the house, and had crept around to the mouth of the alley.
Whoever was there must have realized that he had given himself away, for almost immediately, a revolver began to blast. Orange flashes of flame stabbed the darkness, and bullets screamed.
But Klaw, too, had begun to shoot, whirling and firing simultaneously with the scraping sound of that foot in the alley. He used both guns, bracketing the orange flashes, then swinging the muzzles together to center upon the spot where he knew the killer stood. He rose to his full height as he fired, hugging the wall with his back, disdainful for the moment of possible attack from the open doorway behind him.
It was a deadly duel in the dark, and it ended as abruptly as it had begun. A scream sounded at the mouth of the alley, high above the blasting thunder of the gunfire, and the orange flashes ceased. The slugs stopped their screech. Klaw made out the figure of a man falling forward. He stopped shooting. Instinctively, he had counted his shots. It was important, in a battle, to know how many cartridges remained. He knew that he had three left in each automatic. Six shots with which to tackle the machine-gun which was still inside there, pointing at the open doorway.
He stood quite still, with his back to the wall, both guns ready. The dead man at the mouth of the alley did not move. Neither did Steve.
AFTER a moment, there was a faint slither of movement from within the house. "Pedro!" a woman's voice called softly. "Es muerte el Americano!" Her voice was remarkably soft, hardly the voice of a woman who had just tried to cut a man down in cold blood with a machine-gun. But the question she had asked in Spanish was bloodthirsty enough.
Still hugging the wall, Steve muffled his voice and said, "Si. Es muerte."
"Bien acabado!" Well done!—she exclaimed, and came hurrying out, clicking on a flashlight.
Stephen Klaw placed the muzzle of his gun against her ribs.
"Hold still, sister."
She stopped stock still, and a gasp escaped her lips. Her face showed white in the darkness, and her eyes glittered. It was impossible to tell if she was young or old, beautiful or ugly. But there was a faint and mysterious aroma of perfume about her, almost exotic in its flavor; and her body was long and slim.
"You—you said the American was dead!" she whispered, in English.
Klaw chuckled. "Maybe I exaggerated a little. I'm not quite dead. But Pedro is. Too bad."
He reached over and took the flashlight out of her unresisting hand, and turned its beam up into her face—and sucked in his breath, sharply! The flashlight revealed a face of almost unbelievable beauty. Great coils of black hair lay piled upon her head. Her eyes were dark, deep pools of mystery, as black as her hair. She wore a black lace mantilla which set like ebony against the flawless whiteness of her curving throat.
"How could anyone as beautiful as you be so bloodthirsty?"
She stood straight and unmoving, with the muzzle of the gun against her ribs. Her eyes flashed with a strange, hard light of hatred as her gaze locked with Klaw's in the dark.
"'Bloodthirsty?'" she repeated huskily. "You do not know how I hate you. One death is not enough for you. If I could, I would kill you a dozen times over!"
Steve looked puzzled. "Why do you hate me like that? We've never met before, have we?"
Her lips curled scornfully. "But we shall meet again!" Then she deliberately turned her back on him. "Shoot me. Let us see how well you make war on women!" Then she bent low, and began to run lithely down the alley, away from the open doorway.
Klaw's face was grim. His finger was curled around the trigger of his automatic. But he couldn't bring himself to shoot. In that single moment, the woman's slender, black-clad figure merged with the night and disappeared into it; and she was gone—almost soundlessly.
Klaw smiled wryly in the dark. He didn't attempt to pursue her. It would have been useless. Besides he was already swinging the beam of the flashlight into the house. He remembered having seen a second Mexican, feeding the belt into the machine gun. One of them lay dead in the alley. Was the other still in there?
OUTSIDE, there were sounds of men shouting, and women babbling. Some one was blowing a whistle. The denizens of all the surrounding alleys were calling back and forth, asking each other what was happening, hazarding wild guesses as to the cause of the shooting. But it was significant that no one came into the alley, no other door opened. These people knew better than to poke their noses into violence and death in these days of wartime espionage. Here in this sleepy little Mexican town five miles below the border, they had seen much of intrigue and mystery—and death in the last couple of years. And they were frightened.
But the shrill whistle that sounded not far off was a different matter. That was the whistle of the policia. Soon they would be here, the Mexican police. Before they arrived, Stephen Klaw had to finish the job he had come to do.
Reckless now of the chance that the second Mexican might be lying in wait for him, he sprang into the room.
A curtain jerked spasmodically, and a gun barked behind it. A slug tore through its folds and whistled close to Steve's ear. Klaw dove for the curtain and tore it aside, keeping his automatic thrust forward, his finger curled around the trigger. He yanked hard, and the curtain ripped at the top and came tumbling down upon the head of the man behind it. The man squealed like a frightened rat, and Steve smashed the barrel of his automatic down on his head. He hit hard, in order to overcome the cushioning afforded by the swirling curtain. The man buckled at the knees, and went down.
Steve had dropped the flashlight in order to yank the curtain. It lay on the floor, its fall softened by the resilient casing around it, and its light lanced along the boards. He snatched it up again, and stepped over the motionless figure of the Mexican, still entangled in the heavy drapery. He entered the second room, and glanced swiftly around.
In the rear wall of this inner room, there was an open window, testifying with mute eloquence of the method of Pedro in stealing out for his unsuccessful flanking attack. But it was not upon this that Steve's gaze lingered. He stared at the cot over at the left, on which lay a man. The other was trussed up with dozens of thick strands of rattan-rope. Half a dozen twisted strands of the rope were tied into his mouth as a gag, cutting cruelly into the corners of his lips.
He was old and emaciated, this bound prisoner. His hair was white and his skin wrinkled, and the blue veins stood out like cords in his bound and straining forearms. Blue, pain-wracked eyes peered up into Klaw's flashlight. He wore only a pair of torn and faded trousers, otherwise he was naked to the waist; and his skin was cut and bruised by blows, and seared with fire.
A cold pulse of anger stirred within Stephen Klaw as he saw the torture to which the old man had been subjected. He stepped to the side of the cot, laid down the flashlight and the automatic, and proceeded with swift fingers to undo the gag between the old man's teeth.
"Take it easy, Mr. Morales," he said. "I'll have you out of this in a minute—"
HE got the gag off, and started on the rattan ropes which bound Morales' arms at his sides. The old man had been watching with eyes that shone wide and urgent in the bright flashlight. He moved his stiff jaw sideways as if to limber it, and then he spoke with painful haste, each word costing him an effort which seemed to cut through him like a knife. His breath came in tortured gasps.
"Do not bother, Señor Klaw—do not bother—with the other—ropes. It is of no use. I will be dead—before I am free of them. Listen carefully. I should be dead now, but I have forced myself to remain alive—hoping that you would come in time..."
He paused, gathering strength.
Klaw's eyes softened. He placed a hand gently under the old man's head. "Go on, Mr. Morales," he said. There was a deep and reverent respect in his voice; for Stephen Klaw saw and recognized the fighting heart within the breast of old Enrico Morales.
"Listen to me carefully," the old man gasped. "The name of the man you seek who holds a knife to the throat of your country—and of mine—who knows what it was before; but now, he is known only as Blond Otto."
"Ah!" said Stephen Klaw. His eyes flickered. The name on the old man's lips stirred a restless chord of memory within his mind. "I think I know the one you mean. Blond Otto the Hangman!"
"That is the one!" Morales gasped eagerly. "Since the last war he has lived in Mexico, posing as an American oil man. He speaks English as well as you; he has built slowly and carefully for this day. He has an army of agents, money, arms, everything. He will strike somewhere soon. You—must—stop him..."
Morales' voice trailed away, and his eyes began to close. Klaw supported him with one arm, his whole attention centered on the old man. At that moment, if those who had tried for his life before had returned, Klaw might have been easy prey. He bent close. "What about Otto the Hangman?" he demanded. "What is he planning?"
Morales' eyes flickered open. He was barely conscious. But that iron will of his kept him alive for yet another moment. "You must go to New York. There is one there by the name of Skopa—a little man with a little soul, who has taken the gold of Blond Otto. Skopa will talk. He does not know much—but enough to... perhaps help you..."
Once more, Morales' voice died away almost to a whisper.
Klaw bent closer. "How will I find this Skopa?" he demanded.
"Telephone... Quincy 2-4142..."
A dreadful spasm of pain took possession of the old man's body. His neck arched high, the veins standing out in his temples like ugly cords; then he uttered a tortured gasp, and went limp.
Very slowly, Stephen Klaw laid him back on the cot. He got to his feet, picking up the gun and the flashlight. His lips became tight as he looked down upon the face of the dead man. Morales had kept himself alive by a sheer, brave effort of will—until he had passed on the word which would transfer his burden to the younger shoulders of Stephen Klaw... and it was as much due to his indomitable courage as to Steve's own efforts that the F.B.I. now had the information it wanted.
THE injured Mexican was stirring once more, his head encased in the folds of the curtain. Steve's eyes smoldered as he stepped up to the squirming figure and pulled the drape off the fellow's head. He lit the oil lamp on the table.
The man looked up at him with bleary eyes, and touched the back of his head. "What's your name, bud?" Steve asked him.
"Who was the woman?"
"Come out of it," Steve said. "You know whom I mean."
The Mexican's eyes veiled. "I know of no woman."
Steve grunted. "How would you like to take a bullet in the guts, my friend?" He jerked his head toward the still figure of Señor Morales, on the cot. "After seeing him, I'd cheerfully give it to you."
The man leered up at him. "You Americanos do not kill in cold blood."
Klaw's eyes narrowed. "Better watch that accent—you're no Mexican."
"Go to the devil!" the other said.
Klaw kept the light in his eyes. He smiled tightly. "You're a German spy. I'll turn you over to the Mexican police. Mexico is at war with Germany. You know what that means, don't you? It means the gallows!"
The fellow raised himself up on one elbow. "Go to the devil!" he repeated. "Let the policia come. I do not fear them."
Klaw looked quizzically at him. There was something wrong here. He could see in the other's eyes that he was not one to face death bravely, or stoically. And yet—he was not afraid of the consequences of arrest by the Mexican police.
The heavy tread of the policia was close by, now. Steve heard them swing into the alley. He shrugged resignedly. "I hoped you'd talk," he said. "Now it's too late."
The other merely leered up into the light. "We shall see for whom it is too late!" he whispered malevolently.
A moment later, the police swept into the shack.
There were half a dozen of them, natty in their blue uniforms, and wearing the new steel helmets which had been issued by the governor of the province. Each had a short carbine in his hand, and the sergeant had a powerful electric torch which he flashed into the room, bathing both Stephen Klaw and the prostrate man in its blinding light.
Steve had pocketed his gun. "United States Federal Bureau of Investigation," he said to the sergeant, showing his wallet. "I am here by special permission of His Excellency, the Governor of the Province. Here is the letter of authority issued by him. I ask you to arrest this man, who is a German spy."
"But certainly, Señor," said the sergeant. He made a motion with his hand to his men, and they spread out in a circle, around Steve, leveling their carbines.
STEVE blinked. He glanced around. He was surrounded by a circle of threatening muzzles, all pointing at himself. He turned and looked into the light which the sergeant held. "Look here, Sergeant, you don't understand—"
"I understand well enough," the sergeant barked. "Be still!" He went over and bent beside the injured man, and helped him to his feet. "You are all right, Hedrik?" he asked, switching from Spanish to German.
"Yes, I'm all right, Ritter," the other replied, also in German, "merely a bad knock on the head. This one—" jerking a thumb at Klaw "fights like the very devil. He killed Hans in the alley."
"Yes, I saw," said the sergeant, whom Hedrik had addressed as Ritter. "But what about Carola? What happened to her?"
"This one got her at the point of a gun, but she escaped. Leave it to Carola. She's clever!"
The sergeant grunted, and turned to Steve. "Herr Klaw, you know of course, that you are about to die?"
Steve scowled. "Just let me get this straight before I kick off. Your name is Ritter?"
The sergeant bowed, in precise military fashion, from the hips. "Captain Ritter von Reichenthal, at your service. It was a simple matter to arrange this meeting. My men and I overpowered the police patrol, and took their places. We did so, in order that any disturbance which might arise here when you arrived would never be reported to the jefe."
"I see!" Klaw said grimly. "And we thought that the reports of the efficiency of the German spy system south of the border were exaggerated!" He looked around at the ring of steel which encircled him, and smiled bitterly. His gaze sought the bogus sergeant of policia once more. "What about that woman—Carola? Who is she?"
A strange and secretive look came into the eyes of Captain Ritter von Reichenthal. "We will not speak of her!" he said shortly.
"Not even to one who is about to die?"
Von Reichenthal waved impatiently. He uttered a word of guttural command to his men, and they swung out of the circle, into a line. Their carbines, cocked, centered upon Stephen Klaw, fingers on triggers, ready for the order to fire. And then Ritter von Reichenthal was watching him, narrow-eyed and calculating. "You are a brave man, Herr Klaw?"
"What's eating you?" Steve wanted to know.
THE German shrugged. "Even a brave man does not wish to die uselessly, like a rat in a vermin-infested alley in a cheap Mexican town."
Steve smiled. "What would you know about what a brave man wishes?"
Von Reichenthal flushed. "I pass by your insult. I can afford to overlook it. I will state my proposition. You, Herr Klaw, are a member of the so-called Suicide Squad, not so?"
Steve was silent.
"You have two partners—Kerrigan and Murdoch."
Von Reichenthal's eyes were glowing with eagerness. "You may buy your life, Herr Klaw, in exchange for theirs. Kerrigan and Murdoch are in Mexico—perhaps not far from here, waiting for word from you. We, of the German Secret Service, know that much. Tell us where they are, and you may walk out of here a free man!"
Steve grinned at him.
Von Reichenthal's mouth thinned to a grim line. "You please to jest with me, eh? Very well. Prepare to die, Herr Klaw. Kneel!"
"I'll take it standing up," Stephen Klaw said.
Every muscle of his body was taut as a bowstring, his brain keen and quick and alive, and ready for last-minute action. In his pockets were two automatics...
There was no chance, of course, of his coming out of this alive. The odds were too great, even considering the element of surprise. There were six of the soldiers with carbines, besides von Reichenthal with a heavy Luger in his hand. Hedrik had picked up his revolver from the floor. Eight against one. Klaw would take some of them with him, certainly. But he knew well enough that this was the end.
He had often pictured to himself the end when it would finally come—and this was inescapably it. Fighting against odds was the task of the F.B.I.'s Suicide Squad, by definition. Only one thing was lacking, and that was the presence of Johnny Kerrigan and Dan Murdoch.
Originally, there had been a total of five in the Suicide Squad. Then one day there had been a job from which only four returned. Then there were only three.
Tonight, as Stephen Klaw stood facing those carbines, he knew that tomorrow there would be only two—and maybe the next day one—or none.
Von Reichenthal bit his lip in vexation. Steve knew well enough that the German had not expected him to talk, to betray his partners. But the captain might have entertained a faint hope that Klaw would weaken at the last moment, would in some way try to bargain for his life. He was disappointed, and angry. He raised a hand to his troop.
"Ready!" he barked. "Aim..."
THAT was the last word which the Herr Captain Ritter von Reichenthal ever spoke upon this earth. His voice was drowned out by the sudden blasting thunder of smashing gunfire from the direction of the doorway. Like a pair of grim, avenging gods from another world, two tall men had suddenly appeared there out of the night which shrouded the alley, each with a pair of heavy revolvers. Shoulder to shoulder they stood there, guns blasting, grinning, yet never moving.
Dan Murdoch, tall and dark-haired and dark-eyed, handsome and debonair; Johnny Kerrigan, red-haired and powerfully built, with the shoulders of a stevedore and the forearms of Vulcan; these were the partners of Stephen Klaw—the other two-thirds of the Suicide Squad.
Where one goes, the other two are not far away! That was the slogan of the Suicide Squad—Von Reichenthal may have known it. Now he was learning just how true it was, but the lesson would be of no value to him. Von Reichenthal was dead before the driving slugs had smashed his body back across the room, into the wall.
At the same moment that Kerrigan and Murdoch had begun to shoot, Stephen Klaw's two automatics came out of his pockets, spitting death with swift peppery barks. The rain of lead smashed into the soldiers with their carbines, and the room thundered, and the walls trembled, and death laughed high and loud above the storm of gunfire.
The fusillade from the guns of the Suicide Squad lasted barely seconds; but when the thunder ceased, not a man of the troop remained on his feet. Three or four were wounded, the others dead—including Hedrik.
Kerrigan and Murdoch stepped into the room, across the shambles, and grinned at Stephen Klaw.
He grinned back at them. "Hi, Mopes," he said.
Johnny Kerrigan winked at Dan Murdoch. "It's a good thing we got here, Shrimp," he said to Steve. "Another minute, and we'd have had to bring flowers!"
Dan Murdoch's eyes were twinkling. "My, my," he said. "It's getting so, we hate to let you go out by yourself at night. How did you make out? What's our score?"
"I saw Morales," Klaw gestured. "Come over here," he said quietly. "Take a look." He showed them the tortured and emaciated body upon the cot in the inner room.
"Morales!" exclaimed Murdoch.
"Damn them!" growled Johnny Kerrigan. "Look what they did to him!"
DAN MURDOCH swallowed hard. "Anyway, we paid off for him. Wherever he is now, Enrico Morales will know that we evened the score. We got every damned one of them!"
"Not every one," Steve said slowly. "I'm afraid I let the worst one get away—a woman."
"A woman?" Johnny repeated.
"She's the most beautiful thing this side of hell—and the most dangerous. You ought to see her handle a machine-gun!" He jerked his thumb toward the tripod, which was lying on its side on the floor. "And she really hates our guts!"
"Who is she?" Johnny demanded.
"All I know is that her name is Carola. And something tells me we'll run into her again. If we do, don't let her beauty fool you."
Several of the wounded men were groaning with pain, trying to extricate themselves from the welter of bodies on the floor. Outside, men and women were shouting once more. This time, the neighborhood seemed to be fully aroused. Running feet were pounding out in the alley, and whistles were blowing.
"Let's get out of here," Steve said suddenly. "Morales lived long enough to give us a lead. We don't want to stay and explain to the Mexican police."
"Okay," said Kerrigan. "Let's be going!" He doused the kerosene lamp, and plunged the room in darkness. They felt their way to the window in the rear, and climbed out, one at a time. They hurried down to the mouth of this rear alley, swung left into another one, and soon lost themselves in the night. All about them, the town seemed to have been electrified into life. Dark shapes flitted past them, and men threw swift questions to them in hurried Spanish, which they answered in the same language. In a few minutes they reached the Plaza, and Kerrigan led the way to a little side street where they had left their car. Five minutes later, big Johnny was tooling the auto north along the Pan American Highway toward the United States border.
"Remember this number, Mopes," Stephen Klaw said. "Quincy 2- 4142. It's the key to Blond Otto! According to Morales, Blond Otto is in New York. And a little rat by the name of Skopa is the one we need to contact."
"Skopa!" exclaimed Johnny Kerrigan, whose memory was encyclopedic. "That must be Armand Skopa. Hungarian. Did little espionage jobs for the Hungarian consulate up to the time of Pearl Harbor, and then dropped out of sight. He's wanted for murder of a waitress in one of those Hungarian dives on Fourteenth Street. He's a vicious little beggar. His specialty is the knife. Always in the back."
"Hm," Dan Murdoch said dreamily. "Sounds like an unpleasant character. Personally, I'd rather meet Steve's mysterious woman. She intrigues me—"
Dan Murdoch broke off abruptly as Johnny Kerrigan slammed on the brakes and the car screeched to a halt. In the road ahead, limned in the headlights, they had glimpsed the figure of a woman, with thumb upraised to hitch a ride. The car slid past her about fifty feet, and looking through the rear window, they saw her running to come up to them.
"Well, I'll be damned!" said Stephen Klaw.
Murdoch, seated beside him in the rear, looked at him questioningly.
Klaw grinned. "Speak of the devil!" he said.
Murdoch's eyes widened. "You mean—"
"I mean that you've got your chance to meet our mystery baby. There she is, boys—believe it or not!"
DAN MURDOCH whistled through his teeth. He was about to say something, when the woman came abreast of the car. She was no longer wearing the black mantilla about her shoulders, but she was as beautiful as ever. Her face was flushed, as if from excitement or exertion, and she was breathing fast.
"Excuse me," she said, peering into the driver's seat at Johnny Kerrigan. "I'm an American. I—wonder if you'd give me a lift to the border. I was coming home from Tia Juana, and my car broke down."
"Why sure," Johnny Kerrigan said. "It'll be a pleasure to take you to the border. Hop right in!"
The woman went around to the other side, and Johnny reached over and threw open the door. She climbed in, cast only a quick glance at Klaw and Murdoch, and seated herself. Johnny started the car at once.
In the rear, Stephen Klaw watched the woman's back, with a sardonic smile on his lips. It was the height of irony that this woman, whom he had allowed to escape once, should thus have delivered herself into their hands. True, they could not make an arrest on Mexican territory. But now that they had her in the car, they could keep her in it until they crossed the border.
Steve leaned forward, and tapped her on the shoulder. "Hello," he said.
The woman turned around, and looked him full in the face. He saw now that she was much younger than he had thought she was. Her black hair was disarranged, no longer coiled high on her head, but hanging loose, as if it had come undone from strenuous exertion of some kind. But her eyes as she turned to look at Steve were just as black, and their meaning as deeply hidden as it had been when she had faced him in the alley.
Steve watched her like a hawk, waiting for the start of surprise which should be coming when she recognized him. But he was disappointed. No flicker of recognition showed in her face, no gasp of alarm came from her lips. Instead, she merely nodded and said, "Hello."
Steve blinked. She was indeed a marvelous actress, this mysterious Carola. And she must have supreme control of herself, to have avoided making some betraying gesture.
"This is Mr. Murdoch," Steve said pleasantly. "And the big red-headed hairy ape at your side is Johnny Kerrigan." He paused, then added drily, "As for me, I guess I don't need to introduce myself. You and I have already met."
THE woman nodded to Murdoch, smiled at Kerrigan, and then turned a puzzled glance upon Steve. "You say we've met before? I don't recall it. My name is Anita Zogchinski." She smiled, with just the right touch of embarrassment. "I suppose I should say, Countess Zogchinski. You see, I've only been married a week. I married Count Ladislas Zogchinski, a Polish nobleman. He came here right after the blitzkrieg in Poland. He was wounded in the siege of Warsaw, and hasn't been able to go back to fight for his country as yet—"
"Sure, sure," said Steve. "And will you tell us if it was this Count Zogchinski who taught you how to use a machine gun?"
She turned all the way around, and looked squarely at Steve. "I'm sorry, Mr. Klaw, but I really don't know what you're talking about—"
"Naturally not," Steve said suavely. "I suppose you never heard of such a thing as a machine gun—or of Enrico Morales, or of Captain Ritter von Reichenthal!"
"Why no, I don't think I have—"
Johnny Kerrigan was slowing up as they reached the Mexican customs shed at the border. The Mexican guard nodded to them to pass on, without even making a cursory examination of their car, when Johnny showed the special F.B.I. pass, countersigned by the President of the United States. At the American gate they had no trouble either, and in a moment they were rolling along on United States soil.
Stephen Klaw took a deep breath. "All right, Countess Anita Zogchinski, alias Carola!" he said. "I arrest you in the name of the Government of the United States of America, on a charge of espionage. If it turns out that you're telling the truth about being a native American, the charge will be amended to treason!"
"Treason!" she exclaimed. "There—there must be some mistake. You—you called me Carola. That's my sister's name."
Steve's eyes twinkled. "I suppose you're going to tell us now that you have a twin sister named Carola?"
"Exactly. Carola Corbey is my twin sister. I was Anita Corbey before I was married."
"Tut, tut, Lady," said Dan Murdoch. "Can't you do better than that?"
"But it's true."
"And where would this twin sister be at this time?" Steve asked softly.
"She's ill. We were both in an automobile accident several months ago, and though we weren't injured physically, something happened to Carola. She—she had a nervous breakdown, and she's been under treatment by the famous psychologist, Doctor Anton Frejus. We've been staying at his convalescent home, just outside of Las Vegas. I came down with Carola, and I've been with her all the time. It was just today that Doctor Frejus suggested that I take a little time off, and run down into Mexico—"
"Now wait," Steve groaned. "You're going too fast for me. I'm almost beginning to believe you, and that would be pretty bad. I'll swear you sound as if you're telling the truth!"
"It is the truth. Here, let me show you—"
She opened a small locket which hung about her neck, and held it for Steve to look at.
Steve said, "Ouch!" and glanced at Dan Murdoch. Dan shook his head in perplexity. The locket contained a picture of two girls. They were so much alike that it was impossible to tell one from the other—even when side by side, as in the photograph.
"It could be trick photography," Murdoch murmured.
Steve raised his eyes from the locket, to the girl's face. As he looked into her eyes, he could have sworn that he was looking into the eyes of the woman who had aimed the machine gun at him only a short while ago; and who had said so passionately that she hated him, and would like to see him die a dozen deaths.
The girl closed the locket. "But I don't understand," she said bewilderedly. "You—you say that Carola is guilty of espionage, and treason? Carola is in Doctor Frejus's convalescent home, I tell you. She couldn't possibly have been in Mexico tonight!"
"We'll soon find out!" Steve said grimly.
Johnny Kerrigan, at the wheel, said, "Just give me directions for getting to this convalescent home, sister!"
"Turn left on Highway Eleven," she said. "And then left again when we come to the Houston Parkway. It's a half mile off the Parkway."
DOCTOR FREJUS'S convalescent home was a handsome stone structure, set in a beautifully landscaped estate. A gray- haired woman attendant in a spotless white uniform came out upon the portico as the car pulled up the driveway. She stepped over to the car and peered in, and clucked in motherly fashion when she saw the girl.
"I'm so glad you've come back, my dear," she said. "We were all so worried about you. You shouldn't have gone away alone. You know Doctor Frejus doesn't think it safe. It was good of these gentlemen to bring you back." She turned to Johnny Kerrigan. "I am Doctor Langstrom, the chief assistant to Doctor Frejus. It was really a shock to us to find that Carola had gone off by herself, taking our station wagon."
"Carola?" Johnny repeated sharply.
"But I'm not Carola, Mrs. Langstrom," the girl said swiftly. "I'm Anita."
Mrs. Langstrom gave her a queer look. "Whatever you say, my dear. But come in quickly. The night is so chilly, and you have only your dress on—"
"Do you mind if we all go in?" Steve asked.
Mrs. Langstrom hesitated. "Well, perhaps it would be for the best. Doctor Frejus will want to thank you personally for bringing our patient back."
"But I'm not your patient!" the girl exclaimed angrily. "Don't you understand?"
"Of course, my dear," said Mrs. Langstrom. She helped her out of the car. The girl shook her hand off, impatiently. "I can walk by myself—" she began angrily.
She stopped abruptly as Stephen Klaw came up on her other side, and took her other arm.
"Allow me," Steve said grinning. "I'd like to stay close to you—till we find out just who you are!"
The girl's face flushed, but she made no further protest. Kerrigan and Murdoch brought up the rear as they entered the building.
Doctor Frejus's reception room was on the ground floor. He was a portly, bald-headed man of about fifty, with a pair of keen blue eyes. He came over and patted the girl's hand. "My dear, you shouldn't have gone off by yourself."
She snatched her hand away from him. "Will you and Mrs. Langstrom both stop making fools of yourselves? Can't you understand that I'm not Carola? What has happened to Carola? Where is she?"
Doctor Frejus looked pained. "Please—don't worry about anything, my dear. Just let Mrs. Langstrom take you upstairs—"
"If you don't mind," Steve interrupted, "we'd just like the young lady to stay here with us—till we get a few things cleared up." As he spoke he flashed his wallet on the doctor, with his F.B.I. identification card.
Frejus raised his eyebrows. "F.B.I.? But why are you interested in this young lady?"
"What about her sister? Which is Carola, and which is Anita?"
"Ah!" said Doctor Frejus. "Perhaps we could talk in private? In my office?"
"Sure," said Steve. He glanced at Dan Murdoch, who nodded.
DOCTOR FREJUS led the way into his office. Johnny Kerrigan and Stephen Klaw followed, leaving Murdoch with Mrs. Langstrom and the girl. Once inside, Frejus shut the door, turned, his glance resting on the two men with a professional intentness.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I think I had better tell you the truth in this case. Ethically, I may be wrong, for you understand that these matters are professional secrets. But I feel that under the circumstances I am free to talk to you." He paused, then said slowly, "You see, gentlemen, the fact is—there is no Carola!"
"Ah!" said Steve. "And this girl is the Countess Anita Zogchinski?"
"That is her name. I have been treating her for a very complicated mental ailment. She did have a twin sister, who was killed in an automobile accident. But Anita believes that her sister is still alive. It is a very serious mental delusion, which may become aggravated in time, if the proper care and treatment is not given. We try to humor her as much as possible, but it is a very difficult situation. Sometimes she becomes almost violent in her demands to see Carola."
"Now look here," Steve said abruptly. "If what you tell us is true, then it was this girl, Anita, who helped to lay a trap for us over the border. It's she who is tied up with one of the deadliest espionage cliques that ever operated in America. It will be our duty to place her under arrest—"
"Good heavens!" Frejus threw up his hands in horror. "That might be fatal to her. It might snap the thin thread that marks the dividing line in her mind between sanity and madness!"
"I'm sorry," said Steve. "There's nothing else we can do—"
He was interrupted by a scream from outside, immediately followed by a crash. Steve and Johnny reached the door together. In the reception room, they saw Dan Murdoch standing before the door of one of the washrooms, pounding on the panel with his fist, and cursing in a low, methodical voice.
"I couldn't go in there with her," he said, "so I let Mrs. Langstrom take her in. Better get around to the outside. I think she's making a break."
Steve and Johnny went racing out to the front entrance, but it was so dark out on the grounds that they couldn't see a thing. They hurried around to the side of the house under the bathroom window. The window was open, and there was a light. Johnny gave Steve a boost up, and he drew himself up to the sill, then climbed in. Anita—or Carola—was not there. But Mrs. Langstrom was groggily picking herself up from the floor. There was a cut in her scalp, and the blood was oozing down along her temple.
"She—she hit me with something from her bag!" Mrs. Langstrom gasped.
Steve made a wry face. He helped her to her feet, and unlocked the door for Murdoch. Then he called down to Kerrigan, "Come on up, Johnny. Our canary is gone!"
THE Director of the F.B.I. was pacing up and down his office. Every once in a while he would throw a scowl at Johnny Kerrigan and Stephen Klaw.
"The one fault I have to find with you boys is that you go chivalrous on me at the strangest times!"
Steve squirmed in his chair, but didn't say anything.
The Director suddenly smiled. "It's all right, Steve. Don't look so crestfallen. In your place down there in Mexico, I don't think I'd have brought myself to shoot that woman when she ran away, either. But you shouldn't have lost her. And now you've got to locate her. She's certainly tied up with Blond Otto. Carola or Anita, she'll be a part of whatever Otto has up his sleeve. Otto has the strings of the entire German espionage system in his hands, and if he succeeds in disappearing we'll never know who the Axis agents in this country were. After the war they can just fade back into their former occupations, and go forever unpunished!"
Stephen Klaw stood up. "Murdoch's in New York, sir, working on the Skopa angle. I think Johnny and I ought to go there, too. There's no use our roaming the country in search of that Carola girl—"
"Quite right, Steve. Wherever she is, we'll find her eventually. I've put her on the emergency wanted list, with every field office in the country. And I have that convalescent home of Doctor Frejus under constant observation. We know now that there were two sisters, named Carola and Anita Corbey, and that Anita married a man who called himself Count Ladislas Zogchinski. We also know that Zogchinski has made frequent trips to Mexico, and that he must have been working with Blond Otto. The Polish legation tells us that there is no Zogchinski among the rolls of Polish nobility, so we know that this Count Ladislas Zogchinski must have been an impostor."
"Which all brings us back to the only real lead we have," Steve said. "The lead that Morales kept himself alive to give us."
The Director nodded. "Skopa, of course. Murdoch reports by phone that he hasn't been able to make contact yet. Better hop a plane, you two, and join him there."
Steve and Johnny arose to go. The chief stopped them at the door. "And remember this—we want Blond Otto. We have confidential information that a submarine will try to pick him up somewhere along the coast, and take him back to Germany. We mustn't let him leave!"
Johnny Kerrigan grunted. "If some one will only point him out to us!"
The Director smiled. "That's your job. If we had his description, it would be easy to pick him up. But all we know about him is that he's probably blond, because of his name. We can't go around arresting every blond man in America!"
In the taxi to the airport ten minutes later, Steve and Johnny found themselves looking at every blond-haired man in the street, and wondering if he was Blond Otto. When they boarded the plane, Johnny said, "This is the screwiest business we ever handled, Shrimp. Especially with that girl. Whoever she is, I'd hate to—"
He stopped, swallowed hard, and blinked. Then he nudged Steve violently with his elbow. Up front, in the first seat of the plane, sat a girl. She was talking animatedly, in low tones, with the man at her side. "Shrimp!" Johnny whispered hoarsely. "Do you see what I see?"
"I see it," said Steve. "But I don't believe it."
THE girl was Anita—or Carola. There was no doubt of that. Her profile was turned toward them as she talked to the man beside her, and they had an excellent view of the chiseled perfection of her features. She was wearing a heavy fur coat this time, and one of the new military hats with a long visor, trimmed with fur that matched her coat. Underneath the hat, her abundance of black hair was piled high, with wisps showing at the sides. The man to whom she was talking was thin, with a receding chin and sparse, dun-colored hair. He seemed nervous, and kept looking out of the plane window constantly, as if anxious for them to take off.
Johnny Kerrigan scowled, and took a step down the aisle toward the girl, but Steve stopped him.
"Take it easy, Johnny," he said. "As long as she stays on the plane, she can't get away—except by jumping!"
Kerrigan grinned, and slipped into the seat alongside of Steve. The girl kept on talking to her companion, never once looking back at her fellow-passengers. Five minutes later, they got the signal from the control tower, and took off.
The plane was full to capacity, and most of the seats were occupied by men in uniform. They had been up almost an hour, when the dark-haired girl rose from her seat and started to make her way toward the rear. Steve and Johnny immediately buried their heads in their newspapers. Steve was burning to let her look at him, and note her reaction. But he decided that it would be better to remain unnoticed if possible, and tail her and her companion in New York.
The girl did not even glance in their direction when she passed up the aisle. Steve turned his head, and followed her progress. In the bright daylight, she looked much younger than she had looked the night before. She was hardly more than twenty- five or twenty-six. And she certainly didn't seem to be the kind of woman who would train a machine gun on a man and pull the trip with intent to kill. He frowned in perplexity.
Johnny Kerrigan chuckled. "I'd sure like to know if that dame really has a twin sister, or not. If Frejus was telling the truth, she's just plain nuts. But if she was telling the truth, how the devil are we going to know which is which? With two models like that running around loose, we'll be ending up in the nut house!"
"You ought to be thankful," Steve grinned, "that she isn't triplets!"
WHEN the plane taxied in at the LaGuardia Airport in New York, Johnny and Steve managed to be the first ones out, and hurried across to the administration building and got a taxicab.
"Hold still right here," Steve ordered the driver, showing him his F.B.I. card. "We have a little tailing job to do."
Johnny Kerrigan loitered on the runway, keeping an eye on the passengers, and when he saw the girl coming out with her companion, he hurried into the cab, and they pulled up about fifty feet. Through the rear window they watched their quarry get into another cab.
"Okay," Johnny said to the driver, as he made a note of the other taxi number. "Keep on that cab's tail—like glue!"
The cab they were following swung south to Northern Boulevard, then west toward Manhattan. It crossed the Queensboro Bridge, headed across Sixtieth Street, and stopped for a traffic light at Third Avenue. Johnny and Steve, in the cab behind, were speculating on where the trail would lead, when they saw the door of the other taxi open, and the dark-haired girl get out. She slammed the door and set off at a swift walk up Third Avenue, without turning her head.
"They're splitting!" Steve exclaimed. "I'll take the girl. You follow the man, Johnny!"
Steve opened the door and sprang out, just as the traffic light changed, and the cab ahead moved forward. Steve waved to Johnny, and hurried off up Third Avenue in pursuit of the girl.
She walked two or three blocks north, at a fast pace, without looking behind. Steve kept about fifty feet to the rear, hugging the building line. Suddenly, in the middle of a block, the girl stopped. Steve ducked into a doorway, just as she whirled around to look behind. Steve waited just a moment, then poked his head out. He was just in time to see her disappearing into the doorway of the building in front of which she had stopped. He hurried a little, and came abreast of the house.
It was an old, four-story building, with stores on the street floor, and tenement flats above. On the left hand side of the entrance there was a bar and grille, and on the right side there was a bird store. Steve pushed the entrance door open, and stepped into the hallway of the house. The sudden change from the light in the street to the comparative darkness of the hallway almost blinded him for an instant, but he stopped short just inside the doorway as the beam of a flashlight flared full in his face, and a gun muzzle was thrust against his ribs.
"Stand still, Stephen Klaw!"
Steve blinked into the light. "Hello, Carola," he said. "Fancy meeting you here!"
"You fool!" she said. "Did you think I hadn't noticed you on the plane? I was hoping it would be you who followed me, and not that partner of yours. I want the satisfaction of killing you. And this time, when I pull the trigger, I shall not miss!"
"Just tell me one thing before you shoot," Steve asked earnestly. "Are there two of you, or just one?"
She laughed bitterly. "Sometimes I don't know, myself."
"Are you Carola? Or Anita?"
"I am both. Sometimes I am Carola, sometimes Anita."
"Well, who are you now?"
"Perhaps when you are dead," she said savagely, "you will know more about such things!" She thrust the revolver muzzle into his ribs. "Walk down the hall slowly."
Steve stared into the bright eye of the flashlight. "If you're going to shoot, why not do it right here? Why walk down the hall?"
"Because I want to take you into a lighted room. I want you to see my face when I shoot you. I want you to know just what it means to be shot down in cold blood!"
HE moved down the hall, with her close behind, the muzzle of the gun in his spine, the flashlight bathing him. At the rear of the hall, she ordered, "Go down the cellar stairs!"
Steve pulled open the cellar door. The flashlight from behind him showed a bare and barren cellar, with a furnace and a coal bin, and nothing much else. As he descended slowly, the girl behind him began to speak in a slow, monotonous voice, as if she were repeating something learned a long time ago by rote.
"Do you remember Gaston Zambetta, whom you killed in Valparaiso? Of course you do. You are a killer, and you remember all those men who have died at your hand. I have waited a long time for this moment of revenge, Stephen Klaw. Gaston Zambetta was my father. Now you know why I hate you!"
"Ah!" said Steve, over his shoulder. "Then your name isn't Corbey at all? That was a fairy tale you told me about yourself and your sister? And about Count Ladislas Zogchinski? What about Blond Otto?"
"Through Berlin I was put in touch with him. I undertook to work with him, if he would help me to accomplish my revenge. And at last it has come!" She laughed. "Your man, Murdoch, traced the telephone number that Morales gave you. He is watching the house where Skopa lives, hoping to trap Blond Otto there. But the thing he doesn't know—and the thing that Morales didn't know—is that Skopa is Blond Otto!"
"Ah!" said Stephen Klaw.
"So you see," she whispered, "my revenge will be complete. The man who was on the plane with me is a poor fool whom I used as a tool—Ladislas Zogchinski. He will lead your friend Kerrigan a merry chase through the city, while Murdoch watches the house where he expects to trap Blond Otto. But Blond Otto will trap him instead! The moment we learned that you had engaged reservations on the plane, we made our plans. Did you think it was coincidence that I was on that plane too?"
She thrust the gun harder into Steve's spine. "Go down those stairs! And remember that I am behind you."
Slowly, Steve began to descend. Behind him, he heard her take one step, then another. The light was still bathing him, throwing its eerie glare down into the cellar. Steve tensed. He could almost sense that the woman's finger was tightening on the trigger, that in a moment she would send a slug into his spine. He waited for a fraction of a second more, timing himself with instinctive accuracy; and then he suddenly leaped forward, straight out into the air!
Behind him, he heard the spiteful crack of the woman's gun as she fired. He couldn't have timed his jump better if he had been able to read her mind.
THE bullet whined past him as he hurtled through the air. He landed on the cellar floor on his feet, bending his knees with the resiliency of a cat to take up the shock of the landing. A second shot cracked, and the bullet ploughed into the cement floor at his feet. Above him, he heard the woman's scream of hate and balked vengeance, as she fired a third time.
Steve's hands were already in his pockets, gripping his two automatics. He had the muzzles angling upward, and he had only to pull the triggers to fire through the cloth of his pockets and send a hail of slugs into her body.
But once again, as at that squalid hovel in Mexico, something indefinable stayed his hand. Inherently, Stephen Klaw was one who admired and appreciated the ultimate things in life. Perhaps it was her beauty, perhaps the justness—from her point of view—of her hatred of him. Even at the cost of his life, Stephen Klaw hesitated.
And then the hand of fate intervened. Carola in her eagerness leaned too far forward on the top step in order to aim better, and lost her balance. She uttered a sharp, startled cry, and toppled forward, coming down the stairs in a tangle of arms and legs, the gun flying out of her grasp. Three times her head struck the edge of the stairs in that ghastly fall, and as she landed on the concrete cellar floor there was a wicked thud, and she lay still, almost at Stephen Klaw's feet, with her head twisted at a strange and unnatural angle. Her neck had been broken—
Stephen Klaw stood looking down at the broken body of the beautiful woman who had planned his destruction so carefully—only to be defeated by her own vengefulness. Suddenly, his eyes narrowed, as he glimpsed a small packet which had dropped from her bodice as she fell. He stooped and picked it up. It consisted of half a dozen sheets of the thinnest onion- skin paper, upon which were traced a series of complicated designs and figures.
Klaw studied them under the light for a moment, and gasped. He recognized them as a complete set of plans of the newest tank which had been put in production for the army—the General Lafayette. It was a tank which not a dozen men in the country knew about, for it was being built for a specific attack purpose, and its construction would give away the neat large-scale United Nations attack on the global front. Advance information regarding them, would enable the enemy not only to prepare against them—but would also tell the leaders of the Axis from what quarter to expect attack!
STEPHEN KLAW left without waiting for the police. He found his way out through the rear door of the cellar, and five minutes later he was in a telephone booth, urgently phoning the New York Field Office of the F.B.I. In his haste, the few seconds he had to wait seemed as many hours.
"Prentice?" he said to the Agent at the other end. "What's the address of that Quincy phone number that Dan Murdoch is casing? Give it to me quick, and don't ask any questions!"
"The Savonarola Apartments," Prentice told him. "On West End Avenue. Apartment 9C. What's up?"
"They're about to reverse the trap on Dan," Steve said.
He hung up and dashed out and got a taxi. Ten minutes later, he was piling out at the corner of the block on which the Savonarola Apartments were located. He didn't waste time reconnoitering the place. Prentice had given him the apartment number—9C. He knew where he had to go, but he wanted to make sure, first, that Murdoch wasn't on the outside. He didn't see Murdoch—but his eyes widened when he spotted Johnny Kerrigan getting out of a taxicab right in front of the Savonarola. He came running up to the cab, just in time to see Johnny hauling out a wilted man, by a wilted collar. The other was the man they had been tailing—Ladislas Zogchinski.
Johnny saw Steve coming, and grinned. "This bird kept riding around town without getting anywhere, so it dawned on me he was giving me a runaround. You know I don't like runarounds, Steve, so I got into his cab and had a little session with him, and he opened up and told me where to find Skopa—"
Johnny's face clouded as Steve told him what he'd learned and ended with, "I'm afraid that Dan is up there—in a jam."
"Well, what are we waiting for?" Johnny growled. He lifted his prisoner up by the collar. "Just to keep you safe, friend," he said, and tapped him on the jaw. The man went limp, and Johnny dropped him back on to the floor of the cab. He winked at the driver. "Just keep a watch on our friend, will you? I doubt if he'll start coming to, but if he should, just tap him again with a monkey wrench!"
The driver grinned. "For the F.B.I.—it'll be a pleasure!"
THE elevator boy took a set of passkeys from his pocket, and handed them over. "This key will open the door," he said. "But you want to watch yourself. I always thought there was something fishy about that joint. There's a lot of men always go in there, but I never see many of them come out. They must use the service elevator. It's rented in the name of a Mr. Skopa, but I never see him. And the super tells me the rent is always paid in cash, not by check. It's sent here by messenger boy—"
"When you see the super," Kerrigan said drily, "tell him he'll have an apartment to rent from the first of next month!"
At the ninth, Johnny and Steve left the elevator, telling the boy to get his cage down to the main floor, and not to come up unless he got a three-five signal ring.
"If you get that ring from this floor," Johnny told him, "come up. But if you get any other ring, it'll mean we're dead. In that case, you scram out to the nearest phone, and call the F.B.I. Tell them to send a riot car over, and to shoot to kill!"
They moved down the corridor to Nine C, and stopped before the door.
"If Dan is in there," said Johnny Kerrigan, "he certainly isn't making much fuss!" He took out both his heavy revolvers.
Steve Klaw stepped up close with the passkey, inserted it in the lock, and turned, slowly and carefully. Then he twisted the knob, and thrust the door wide open, with a swift shove. Johnny Kerrigan, with both revolvers pointing ahead of him, went through the open doorway like an avalanche. Klaw followed, drawing both automatics.
They both stopped short just inside the foyer, their eyes narrowing. There were only three people in the living room. One was Doctor Frejus, the other was Mrs. Langstrom, his assistant at the Frejus Convalescent Home. But it was the third person at whom they both stared, unbelievingly. It was a woman. She was sitting upright in a straight-backed chair, and her upper body was tightly bound in an ugly-looking, white strait-jacket, tightened to the cruelest limit.
Looking at her face, Steve sucked his breath in, sharply; because she was a dead ringer for that other beautiful woman whom he had just left for dead with a broken neck, in the cellar of that house on Third Avenue. There was a vicious gag in her mouth, making it impossible for her to speak, but her eyes were brilliantly alive with an urgency which would not be denied.
Doctor Frejus's mouth dropped open at sight of Kerrigan and Klaw. Mrs. Langstrom uttered a little gasp of surprise. Immediately, however, Doctor Frejus recovered control of himself, and a broad smile lit up his gaunt face. He took a step forward.
"Mr. Klaw! And Mr. Kerrigan! This is indeed a surprise!"
Stephen Klaw moved into the room, and went swiftly to the other doors, peering into each of the other rooms, making sure that there was no one else in the apartment. Then he returned to the living room. Johnny Kerrigan had remained at his post, covering Doctor Frejus and Mrs. Langstrom.
"Really, gentlemen," said Doctor Frejus, with a hurt expression, "your guns are unnecessary. I am sure you don't suspect me of any crime—"
"Let's skip the honey and oil," Steve Klaw said drily. "Where's Dan Murdoch?"
"Murdoch? I'm sure I haven't seen him—"
Frejus's eyes became veiled and cunning. "But Mr. Klaw—"
"Never mind that line. We know Dan Murdoch came up here. What are you and Mrs. Langstrom doing here?"
"We only came to find poor Anita, here. We were informed that she had come to this place, and we flew up to take her back with us to Texas. But she became violent, and we were compelled to place her in a strait-jacket."
"Sure, sure," said Steve. "And what about the other one—Carola?"
"But I told you, Mr. Klaw, that there is no other one. Carola died many months ago."
Klaw gestured impatiently. He strode over and grasped hold of Frejus's lapels, in one hand. "Are you going to tell us where Dan Murdoch is?"
The other did not answer.
Klaw thrust Frejus savagely back into a corner, and swung around. Johnny Kerrigan was already working at the fastenings of the strait-jacket which bound Anita Zogchinski. As soon as he got it loose, he helped her out of it, and removed the gag. For a few moments she was numb from lack of circulation, but she managed to speak.
"Your friend, Murdoch, has walked into a trap! I've—just found out that—Carola—has been working with these spies. It was she who arranged the trap for Murdoch. And—and I understood that she had arranged for your deaths—"
"She did," Steve said drily. "But something slipped."
Anita's eyes widened. "What—what happened to her?"
Klaw put a hand on her shoulder. "Your sister is dead!" he said softly.
Anita buried her head in her hands. She sat that way for a moment, then raised her eyes to Steve's. "Perhaps it is better that way. I—I was raised here in America. Gaston Zambetta was my father, but I bore no ill-will to those who had brought him to justice, for I knew the kind of work he had been engaged in. But Carola was different. She was brought up in Italy, and she imbibed Fascist doctrines since she was a baby. She—she held it against me that I didn't want to work against those who—killed father. When she heard of our father's death, she swore vengeance on the Suicide Squad, and she has worked with Blond Otto for that one purpose, ever since!"
"What about Frejus here?"
Anita's eyes flashed fire. "Frejus and Mrs. Langstrom are agents of Blond Otto. They've been feeding me drugs, so that I'd feel weak and ill, ever since that auto accident. They told me that Carola had been killed in that accident, but she wasn't. They were only nursing me along, so that when the proper time came, they could blame whatever Carola did, on me. I never suspected a thing till I got here. I heard the plans of Blond Otto, and tried to get away, but they caught me and gagged me and put me in that terrible strait-jacket!"
"Then you know what's happened to Dan Murdoch?" Klaw asked eagerly.
She nodded. "Skopa had been posing as a weak rat, ready to squeal. But in reality, he's nothing of the sort. He's really the Hangman!"
"Yes." said Stephen Klaw. "I know that. It proves that you're telling the truth."
"Murdoch came here an hour ago," she hurried on. "They had me in the strait-jacket in the next room, and I heard everything that went on, but I was gagged, and couldn't warn Murdoch. Skopa told Murdoch that he would take him to the secret hiding place of Blond Otto, and Murdoch rose to the bait. He went with Skopa."
"I don't know."
JOHNNY KERRIGAN swung on Frejus. "You're going to talk, Doc! You're going to tell us where to find Murdoch!" His eyes were blazing as he strode toward Frejus, and the man cowered back from him.
"I swear to you I don't know! I was never taken into Blond Otto's confidence."
Kerrigan smiled coldly, and seized him by the throat. His two great hands contracted on the man's windpipe.
But Anita exclaimed, "It's true, Mr. Kerrigan, he doesn't know any more than I do. I heard them talking. They never told Frejus much. They wouldn't trust him with the secret of Blond Otto's real hiding place!"
Slowly, Johnny Kerrigan's mighty hands relaxed their grip on the purple-faced man's throat. Frejus sank down to the floor, gasping for breath. Mrs. Langstrom sat, white-faced, like a frozen image.
Johnny Kerrigan looked hopelessly at Stephen Klaw. "We're at a dead end, Shrimp. Dan is walking into a death trap, and we're helpless to spring him out of it!"
Klaw was biting his nether lip. "Try to think of everything that happened while you were listening in the next room," he urged Anita. "Maybe some little thing that took place will give us a clue."
"There was nothing much," Anita said slowly, "except for one telephone call from Carola. It was before Murdoch came. From what Blond Otto said at this end, it seems that Carola has obtained possession of certain information about the new General Lafayette tanks, being manufactured for the American army. There are half a dozen German tank officers in Blond Otto's secret hiding place, who have been smuggled into this country. Carola will give them the information, and they will return to Germany to assume command of special tank-destroyer units. With the special knowledge gained from Carola, they expect to develop new methods of combating the General Lafayettes."
Steve looked thoughtful. In his pocket were the plans which had fallen from the bodice of Carola when she landed at the foot of those cellar steps. These then, were the plans which were to instruct Blond Otto's men!
Anita said, "I wasn't able to hear everything, but I gathered that Carola was leading you and Mr. Kerrigan into a trap, and was then coming to meet Blond Otto and give the lecture to the tank men. Blond Otto said that he had changed his secret headquarters, and that he would have one of his men meet Carola in front of Grand Central Station, and conduct her to the headquarters—"
"Hold everything!" shouted Stephen Klaw, his eyes glittering. His gaze met that of Johnny Kerrigan, and there was suppressed excitement in the look of both of them. Steve swung back to Anita. "You say that Blond Otto is sending a man to meet Carola and conduct her to the secret headquarters—"
She nodded. "At ten o'clock—she was to bring the plans—"
Steve glanced swiftly at his watch. It was nine-forty-five. He snatched out the tank plans and thrust them into Anita's hand. "Blond Otto doesn't know yet that your sister is dead. You are going to be Carola tonight!"
AT the stroke of ten, the lithe, beautiful figure of Anita Zogchinski stood at the curb in front of Grand Central Station. Even Stephen Klaw, watching her, could not be absolutely sure which one of the two it was who lay dead and undiscovered in the cellar of that squalid house on Third Avenue. That one had said that she was Carola; this one said that she was Anita. But suppose they both had lied? Suppose they both were enlisted in the ranks of Blond Otto—suppose that Anita was playing an elaborate hoax which would lead Johnny Kerrigan and Stephen Klaw to their deaths!
Neither Kerrigan nor Klaw cared much, either way. They knew only that Dan Murdoch was in a trap, and that they must reach him somehow. If at the price of their own lives—well, that was part of the game; a game they played for the highest stakes imaginable.
It was at one minute and six seconds after ten o'clock by Kerrigan's wrist watch when they saw the hansom cab draw up at the curb in front of the spot where Anita stood. One man alone sat in the enclosed section underneath, while the coachman up above sat smartly erect, in his tall top hat.
"Well, I'll be damned!" said Johnny Kerrigan. "Blond Otto certainly sends for his women in style!"
Hansom cabs are no novelty to New Yorkers who frequent Central Park, for there, in that spot of beauty amid the man-made forest of tall buildings, has been preserved one of the delightful old customs of nineteenth century New York. But many people often turn to look at these vehicles, and it was eloquent testimony to the cunning shrewdness of Blond Otto that he should have dared to send such a conspicuous conveyance to conduct Carola to his secret rendezvous—by its very daring, the act dispelled suspicion.
For Kerrigan and Klaw, however, it made the task of tailing a bit easier. They had no difficulty in following the hansom on its leisurely course across town, and up Fifth Avenue. In fact, their cab driver was put to it to keep his taxi down to the comparative snail's pace.
And then Johnny Kerrigan swore abruptly, as he realized Blond Otto's strategy. At one of the transverse cuts which conducted traffic across town through the park, the hansom turned off, with the tailing cab a hundred feet behind. On the long straightaway, the creeping cab would be a dead giveaway to the hansom's occupants, that they were being followed—Blond Otto had chosen his vehicle even more shrewdly than Kerrigan and Klaw had guessed!
At Johnny's orders, the cab driver fell even farther behind. Halfway through the park, the road turned in a sharp curve; and when they came around the curve, they glimpsed the hansom once more. It was Stephen Klaw who first realized that the vehicle was empty!
They sent their cab urgently alongside, and both men sprang out of the taxi and called to the coachman. Steve showed his F.B.I. card. "The man and woman you were driving—where are they?"
THE coachman's face whitened. "They paid me off, and jumped out, just as we rounded the curve back there. They said they wanted to stroll through the park—"
Neither Johnny or Steve waited to hear any more. Grimly, they set off at a swift run, back toward that spot. Their eyes were bleak and hard as they ran. They had been tricked—whether with or without Anita's consent, they didn't know. But the fact remained that if they lost Anita they lost their only chance of locating the headquarters of Blond Otto, and of springing Dan Murdoch from the Nazi's trap.
They reached the curve in the road, and stopped, looking around hopelessly. On either side, the high wall of the transverse precluded the possibility that Anita or her companion could have climbed up into the park. But set into the wall of the transverse there were three doors, which, they knew, led to the storage chambers of the City Park Department. It was here that the Park Department stored the tractors and implements used for keeping the grounds in order. But of late, due to the curtailment of machinery manufacture, two of the underground storerooms had been abandoned.
Johnny tried one of the doors, and Steve the other. They were both locked.
"The chances are ten to one," Johnny said, "that they've—"
Just then, Steve grasped Kerrigan's arm. "Take a look, Mope!"
Another hansom was coming down the transverse. There were two men in it, and one of them was leaning out in order to speak to the coachman. In response to the order, the coachman began to rein in the horse.
"Let's duck, Shrimp!" exclaimed Johnny. They streaked for the third door, that of the storeroom still in use, pushed it open, and slipped inside, just as the hansom cab came to a stop. Holding the door open a crack, Steve saw the two men alight, pay off the coachman, and stand there until the hansom pulled out of sight. Then one of them looked up and down to make sure there were no other vehicles approaching, while the other stepped up to one of the two doors, and inserted a key. He opened the door without difficulty, called to the other gutturally, and his companion hurried over to join him. The two men slipped inside.
But Kerrigan and Klaw were already streaking out of their hiding place. They hit the door just as it was closing, and their combined weight sent it slamming inward, throwing both of the strange men in a heap on the floor. Klaw drew his gun.
Johnny turned and swung the door shut, locking it from the inside, while Steve knelt down and removed the two men's belts and bound their arms tightly with them, then gagged them with their handkerchiefs and neckties.
That done, the two of them studied the store room.
"I'm thinking," Johnny said, "that we shouldn't have hit these two guys so hard. If they're Blond Otto's men, on their way to a meeting in the secret headquarters, they know how to get in. But they'll be in no condition to talk for a while—"
Steve was feeling along the walls, and Johnny joined him. It was Johnny who discovered that the innocent looking electric-lamp cord hanging from the ceiling was really the switch they sought. He yanked hard on it, and it descended a couple of inches. At the same time, a section of one wall swung open noiselessly, on well- oiled hinges.
They approached the opening revealed by the moving panel. There was a narrow corridor beyond it, and Steve led the way, with Johnny close behind. The corridor turned sharply at the end of about ten feet, and they saw that light was reflected from somewhere around the turn. They moved forward, then made the turn, and stopped, staring up into a vaulted chamber,
It was a strange sight that met their gaze.
DAN MURDOCH was seated on a bench, twiddling his thumbs. Behind him stood a small blond man with a sub-machine gun in the crook of his arm. At one end of the room there was a blackboard, and at the other there were two long benches facing the blackboard. Upon the benches were seated a dozen men, watching Anita draw figures on the blackboard.
She was copying them from the plans which Steve had given her, and her face was set and desperate.
The blond man, looking down sardonically at Murdoch, was speaking. "As soon as Carola is finished with the lecture, Mr. Murdoch, we shall have the pleasure of wiping you out. It will comfort you in your last moments, to know that your two partners are already dead, and that these men who are listening to this lecture will be back in Germany within two weeks, with the latest secrets of your newest tanks in their heads, prepared to wipe them out when they appear upon the battlefield!"
But Anita, at the blackboard suddenly exclaimed, "No, no! I won't let it happen!" Abruptly, she began to tear up the plans. She tore them to bits, and scattered them in the air.
Blond Otto scowled. "Carola! Have you gone mad? What does this mean?"
She was glorious in her defiance as she stood before the blackboard, her dark eyes flashing. And Murdoch's eyes, too, lit up with sudden exhilaration.
"I think, Shrimp," Johnny Kerrigan called loudly from the doorway, "that this is our entrance cue!"
And the two of them stepped into the room, still shoulder to shoulder.
Blond Otto heard that stentorian voice of Johnny Kerrigan's. He uttered a cry of rage, and swung the muzzle of the machine-gun toward the doorway.
Johnny Kerrigan and Stephen Klaw grinned with pleasure, and each of them fired once. The two slugs almost met in the center of Blond Otto's forehead.
The shots were still re-echoing in the room as the men seated on the benches sprang up, drawing weapons from their pockets. But Dan Murdoch, moving now with the swift and deadly litheness of a panther, had leaped forward and caught the machine gun from the already-dead hands of Blond Otto. He swung it to cover those Nazi tank experts, and they—losing all interest in a losing fight—hastily raised their hands in the air.
Murdoch turned and winked at Steve and Johnny. "Come in, you guys. You're the most welcome ghosts I've seen. Blond Otto had you both nicely butchered, and on ice. I never thought I'd enjoy another drink with you two, again!"
Johnny grinned. "Speaking of drinks, you do get a good idea once in a while."
Stephen Klaw went over to Anita, who was leaning against the blackboard, weak from the reaction of the last few fiery moments. He smiled, and took her arm. "We'll drink to you, Anita," he told her softly. "To the bravest girl we've met!"
She smiled, and swallowed hard. "Coming from the Suicide Squad," she said, "that's the sweetest compliment I've ever heard!"
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