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First published in The Spider magazine, March 1938

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version date: 2020-10-01
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The Spider, March 1938, with "Corpse Without a Coffin"

In the back of the girl's car lay the damning dead man. But Ed Race who, as the Masked Marksman, could juggle hair-trigger .45's, also knew another trick—how to pistol-whip a gang of greedy gunmen and make a foot-loose corpse go home!

ED RACE was playing the Glenbold City Theater that week, and had stayed after his number was over, to see the rest of the show. That brought it close to midnight when he started for his hotel. It was pure coincidence that he happened to be passing the corner of Newmarket and South at the moment when the drunken cop stopped the girl in the sedan.

It all happened very fast. Afterward, Ed Race recalled that he had felt scornful when he saw the uniformed policeman step out of Montrose's Bar, and weave toward the curb to cross the street. The man was obviously still on duty, because he carried his nightstick; and he had had much more than he could gracefully hold.

It was just as the cop stepped off the curb that the girl swung her sedan into Newmarket from South Street. Ed, on the opposite side of Newmarket from Montrose's Bar, saw two things, simultaneously. A convertible coupe with a low license number was coming around the corner after the sedan; and the cop was staggering directly into the sedan's path.

The girl swerved sharply to the right to avoid the policeman, but he lurched forward, once more bringing himself into the glare of her headlights. This time the girl could not avoid him. There was a mechanical squeal, and a slithering of rubber tires against cement as she stepped down hard on the brake. Her car rocked to a stop with the front bumper crowding against the cop's shins.

He staggered, clawing at the radiator, and suddenly pulled his hand away as it touched the hot surface. He reached for one of the headlights, steadied himself for a moment, and cursed loudly and indecently. Then he started around to the side of the car, yelling, "So you'll run down a cop, will you? I'll learn you! Let's see your license!"

Ed Race got a glimpse of the girl's face now. It was white, frightened, panicky. But the overwhelming emotions coursing over her features could not obscure their natural beauty. It was a soft, youthful, unspoiled beauty, though now overcast by stark fear. Tousled hair showed over a high forehead, streaking, uncombed, down the nape of her neck. Her throat showed white against the background of some dark garment which she wore, fallen open now, unnoticed, to reveal a curve of small, firm breast.

Ed's interest changed to eager excitement, as he noticed that that garment was not a coat or dress, but a bathrobe! The girl's dreadful fear was not warranted by the nature of the incident, and her unconventional attire added to the incongruity of the whole thing.

ED's eyes swung for an instant to the convertible coupe which had come around the corner behind her. Then he stiffened, his nerves tingling. That coupe had stopped, too, and he could see two men in it. One was leaning over the wheel, watching the scene, while the other's head was bent out the open window. This second man's face was long, gaunt, with a hard, thin mouth. But the thing that quickened Ed Race's pulse was the sight of a gun barrel poking up just inside the window. The man was not aiming it, apparently did not intend to use it at that precise moment. But the gun was being held ready for something...

A thing like this was right up Ed Race's alley. On the vaudeville stage, he was an ace headliner, featured under the name of "The Masked Marksman—the Man Who Can Make Guns Talk." His acrobatic juggling act, in which he used hair-trigger .45 caliber revolvers, instead of dumbbells, always received top billing, and his income from his profession was large enough to have satisfied any normal man.

But the nervous energy within him required a stronger outlet than that. He had long ago adopted a sideline—that of criminology. And the two .45's which he always carried in his shoulder holsters had earned him a dreaded reputation in the underworlds of many cities. He held licenses to practice as a private detective in a dozen states, but never accepted a fee for the various services he had rendered in the past. And now he was intensely interested in this frightened girl, who wore only a bathrobe, and in the two armed men so obviously following her.

He started across the street toward her sedan.

The cop was at the girl's window now, bellowing at her. "What kind of a driver do you think you are, anyway? Suppose you'd run me down and killed me?"

Ed was across the street by this time, and close enough to hear her musical contralto voice, low-pitched and well-bred even under the stress of emotion. "But I tried to avoid you, officer. If you hadn't lurched into my path, I would have passed you. And, anyway, I stopped—"

"So it was my fault, huh?" snapped the cop. "Well, girlie, you got a nerve. You can tell that to the judge!"

The girl's hand went to her breast in an instinctive gesture of dismay. "You—you're not going to—"

"Yeah, you guessed it!" was the answer. "I'm gonna give you a ticket—reckless driving. Gimme your license!"

The girl began to stammer. "I—I'm sorry, officer, but I left the house in a hurry, and I forgot my bag—"

"So-o!" The cop's tone was laden with vindictive triumph. "You got no license, huh? That's just too bad. You can come to the station-house, then!"

Ed was on the other side of the car from the cop. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the two men in the convertible coupe, still watching. But he forgot about them in the excitement of a new discovery. He had approached the sedan from the rear, and now saw what the cop had not yet noticed.

A man's body was curled up on the floor of the sedan behind the girl's seat!

She was talking swiftly now, frantically. "Please, officer, don't stop me now. I—I'll give you my name and address. You can give me a ticket, and I promise to appear. I'm Janet Shelton—Fletcher Shelton's sister."

The cop's intoxicated haze was wearing off a bit, and he paused at mention of the name of Fletcher Shelton, his lips pursing into a nasty leer. "Oh, so you're the sister of that skunk of a reformer that's trying to clean the town up—the way he claims. Well, well—that cinches it, girlie. You just come along."

ED RACE had moved around to the cop's side of the car. He had seen that the man curled up in the rear of the car was dead. There was a small black bullet hole, clotted with blood, at the base of his neck. This girl, Janet Shelton, was transporting a murdered man. Whatever her purpose, Ed Race was sure that she was not guilty of murder. Ed was an excellent judge of human nature, and he had often staked his reputation, even his life, on the strength of his own judgment.

Fletcher Shelton's sister was in a spot. She had a murdered man in her car, and was being followed by two armed men. Now the cop was going to pull her in. Ed Race smiled tightly. He had read the local papers of Glenbold City, as he did of every town that he played. He knew that Fletcher Shelton was a starry-eyed reformer whose radio broadcasts had greatly embarrassed the grafting city administration. He knew that Glenbold City was in the hands of an unscrupulous ring of political racketeers who had imported thugs and gunmen and sworn them in as police—of which this cop was a glaring example.

Before he got around alongside that policeman, Ed had decided that the girl needed help—and was going to get it.

He tapped the cop on the shoulder, and said mildly, "Excuse me if I intrude, officer."

Janet Shelton's eyes widened in sudden hope, at his interference, but the look of frightened despair immediately returned.

The cop swung around, glared at Ed. "Huh? Who're you?"

"Just a passer-by," Ed said, still mildly. "I saw the whole incident. I shall be glad to testify—in the young lady's favor!"

The cop's eyebrows lowered, and he stepped closer to Ed. "Is that so!"

"Yes, officer. I shall testify that you were—and are—intoxicated, that you stepped directly in the path of her car. Now—" his tone became soothing—"why don't you forget the whole business? It's obvious that the young lady must have a license to drive a car. It will merely mean that she will have to produce it in court tomorrow. As for the reckless driving charge, that wouldn't hold water, after I testify. Now don't you think it better to drop the whole thing? If you take her in, you'll have to appear in night court, and the judge will certainly notice that you've had a few drinks."

Ed's arguments made no impression on the cop. He snarled, "Wise guy, huh? You'll testify against me, hey?" He raised his nightstick. "Not with a busted head, you won't testify!"

He started to bring the stick down in a vicious blow. But Ed Race side-stepped nimbly, and smashed a right hook to the cop's jaw. The policeman staggered under the blow, shook his head as if to clear it, and raised the club once more.

Ed's eyes were bleak, his mouth a tight thin line. He drove a hard left to the cop's middle, then brought up a right uppercut, with all the power of his hundred and ninety pounds, to the same spot on the other's jaw. This time Ed wasn't fooling, and there was an ominous crack as his bunched fist crashed home. The cops' head snapped back, and the nightstick flew from nerveless fingers. The man was literally lifted from his feet, and dropped to the ground like an inert meal sack. He was out.

Ed massaged his knuckles, and turned to the girl, smiled at the wide-open stare of her innocent blue eyes. She stammered, "T-thank you. I—I—"

Suddenly her eyes, swinging to the rear-vision mirror, caught sight of something in the street behind her car, and she uttered a startled, "Oh-h!"

ED swiveled in that direction, and tautened. The two men had come out of the convertible coupe, and were approaching them. The one from behind the driver's seat was stocky, with a red, almost cherubic face. He carried an automatic, dangling from the forefinger of his right hand, and was grinning. The gaunt man, who had sat beside the driver, was also carrying a gun.

Ed's eyes narrowed, as he faced them.

The cherubic man said, "You butt outa this, guy. You stepped into something too big for you. Now be a good boy and scram, before you put your foot in it. We'll take care of the copper. Get it?"

Ed's mild voice was deceptive. "If you gentlemen are detectives. I'm sure I can explain—"

The gaunt, sallow-faced fellow snarled. "You heard him. Scram!"

They still thought he was an ordinary passer-by who had tried to be a Galahad to a lady. Their guns were still hanging lax. They were supremely arrogant, confident that they could master him.

Ed Race acted with all of the lightning speed that had left his audiences stunned in theaters from coast to coast. In those theaters he was accustomed to bringing the house to its feet by doing a back somersault, then flipping a gun out of its holster and shooting out the flame of a candle thirty feet across the stage—almost before his feet touched the ground. Now he gave a similar exhibition—but in deadly earnest.

The girl was leaning from the window of her car, whispering to Ed, "Please, do as they say. You'll only get in trouble. They're killers. They'll kill you, and leave you in the gutter. Please go—"

Ed stopped her. "It's all right, Miss. Don't worry."

His eyes held those two men. They sensed the tautness of his poised body, sensed that they were not to have an easy time with him. The cherubic man, who appeared to be quicker-witted than his gaunt companion, began to raise his gun.

Ed Race's hands leaped up to his shoulder holsters with a speed that defied the eye. Abruptly, as if by magic, those two heavy .45's were leveled at the two men.

The cherubic one had his gun up, a startled expression on his face as he squeezed the trigger. But Ed's gun barked before the other's. The .45 emitted a deep-throated roar, bucked in Ed's hand, and belched flame. The slug smashed into the cherubic man's shoulder, spinning him around with the force of a sledgehammer, and deflecting his aim. His bullet went wild, and he fell sideways to the ground, beside the form of the unconscious cop.

The gaunt man snarled, his gun leaping up. Ed's second .45 roared and bucked, and he hit the gaunt man in exactly the same place as he had hit the other. It was cool, perfected shooting. The gaunt man uttered a cry deep in his throat, and staggered backward, holding his shoulder.

Then, from around the corner on South Street, there came the screech of a police car.

ED thought quickly. There was no use in his running away from this. His bullets were in those two fellows, and the cop could identify him. He had to remain in this town for a week, and he would be sure to be picked up. He might as well stay and face the music. But the girl should go. That dead man in her car was no joke. He turned to tell her to get away. Then a rueful grin twisted his lips. She was gone! He could see the tail-lights of her car turning the far corner, just as the police car swung into Newmarket behind him.

Shrugging, Ed reversed his guns, and handed them to the policeman who sprang from the squad car. "I shot those two mugs," he said. "It was self-defense, as you can see from their guns."

The driver of the squad car came out and stood beside his companion, and they looked down at the wounded men. Then both pursed their lips, and whistled, simultaneously.

"Boy!" said the one who had Ed's guns. "You must be a streak of lightning with a gun. This skinny guy is Sid Gaynor. That's funny, too. Gaynor has killed plenty of men in this town—and it's always self-defense. Now the tables are turned. He's met a guy who can dish it out faster than he can!"

Ed Race asked, "Who's the other?"

Both policemen grew serious. "That one, mister, is the one that's going to be a very swift pain in the neck to you. That is Nick Foldiss!"

"Who's Nick Foldiss?"

The officer laughed. "Stranger in town, eh? Well, in case you really don't know, he's the son of Garth Foldiss. Also, in case you don't know, Garth Foldiss owns this town—and runs it."

Ed said quietly, "Looks bad for me, eh?"

The cop whom he had knocked out had begun to stir, and now he sat up, holding his jaw. "It looks worse than that for you, guy! Assaulting an officer, too. Take him in, Spurgeon," he said to the officer from the squad car, "and watch him. He's dangerous!"

THE varied crowd of shyster lawyers, bail bondsmen, runners, and morbid curiosity seekers, who infest the night courts of every city, filled the benches of the Newbold City night court. They stirred with interest as Judge Frazer rapped his gavel and said, "Next case!"

The clerk picked up a complaint form from the top of the pile on his desk and called out, "Number One-thousand-seven-hundred sixty-three. People against Ed Race. Complaint, City Patrolman Felix Nedeen, Badge Number Ninety-seven."

The grilled door at the right of the courtroom opened, and Patrolman Felix Nedeen entered, with his hand on Ed Race's shoulder. Nedeen was holding a wet compress to his jaw where Ed had smashed him, and casting venomous glances at Ed. He led his prisoner in front of the bench, and a young deputy assistant district attorney stepped forward to glance at the complaint.

Judge Frazer looked quizzically at Ed, sizing up his five-foot-eight of supple litheness, his keen eyes, and the touch of a smile on his lips. He frowned. "What's the charge here?"

The young D. A. read the complaint, "Resisting an officer in the performance of his duties; assaulting an officer; carrying concealed weapons; assault with deadly weapons, with intent to kill."

The judge said, "Hm, there are still a few more sections of the Criminal Code that you haven't broken, young man. How do you plead?"

The D.A. interrupted. "Excuse me, Your Honor. I notice that the two last charges—carrying concealed weapons, and assault with intent to kill—have been stricken out. There's a note here from the complaint clerk that the two men, who were shot by this defendant, have made a statement in the hospital that it was a mistake, that they thought he was a holdup man and fired at him first. They do not wish to make any charges against him."

Ed Races' eyes narrowed, as he heard this. As he had figured the set-up, Nick Foldiss and Sid Gaynor, the two gunmen, must have been following the girl in the interests of Garth Foldiss, the boss of the city. In that event, what could have been simpler than to throw the book at Ed Race, send him to trial on every charge they could work up? There was something wrong here. He said nothing, listening to the D. A. continue.

"As for the charge of carrying concealed weapons, it now appears that the defendant has a private detective's license to operate in the state, and also a permit to carry a gun. Therefore, the only charges remaining are those preferred by Patrolman Nedeen here, who claims to have been assaulted by the defendant."

The D.A. was a young man of perhaps twenty-seven, with close-cropped black hair, and small, shrewd eyes. He looked to Ed to be the type of young politician who has obtained his job by hanging around political clubs and currying the favor of the boss. In that case, he would be working for the boss. Ed had shot Nick Foldiss, the boss's son. And he couldn't understand why they were so easy with him, why the D. A. was actually speaking almost sneeringly of the assault charge preferred by Nedeen.

Judge Frazer glanced at the patrolman. "You claim that this defendant attacked you while you were attempting to make an arrest?"

Nedeen nodded. The liquor had worn off by this time, leaving him mean and ugly. "Yes, Your Honor. This girl in the sedan almost ran me down, and she didn't have no license. I was going to take her in, when this man interfered—"

He stopped, trailing off uncertainly, as he saw that the judge was not listening to him, but was looking down toward the door at the other end of the courtroom.

Ed looked too, and became more and more puzzled. A murmur went up from the crowd in the seats. Ed could hear the whispers, "It's Garth Foldiss, himself!"

THE man who had entered was huge. He must have been all of six feet, and thick in the waist, with a red, animal-strong face. Deep, intense eyes stared out from under heavy-bushed brows. It was easy for Ed to see how Garth Foldiss had been able to make himself the political boss of Glenbold City. Given time, there was no question but that the man could extend his power to embrace the state.

The judge wavered a moment, apparently waiting to see what Garth Foldiss would do. The boss came slowly down the aisle, his eyes fixed upon Ed, studying him.

Ed had half-turned to face him, and he thought that it was too bad for that girl, Janet Shelton, if she was attempting to pit her feeble innocence against the stark ruthlessness that shone in Garth Foldiss's eyes. That was no job for a woman to try.

Foldiss came up alongside Ed, facing the bench. "If it please the court," he said in his deep booming voice, "I understand that this defendant is charged with resisting an officer in the performance of his duty—namely, the arrest of a young lady who this officer claims almost ran him down?"

Judge Frazer asked hesitantly, almost timidly, "What is your interest in this case, Mr. Foldiss?"

Foldiss laughed deep in his chest. "My son and another man were shot by this defendant in a mistaken argument. I understand that Officer Nedeen here states that there was a young lady whom he attempted to arrest. I appear here merely as an amicus curiae—a friend of the court—in the interests of justice. I do not wish to see this defendant punished for something that was not his fault. If I may have five minutes alone with the defendant and the complaining officer, I think I can straighten out the whole situation."

The judge nodded reluctantly. It was apparent that he did not relish Foldiss's overbearing manner, nor his attempt to run the court in this way. But there was little that he could do. Foldiss controlled the city council, and the mayor's office, and there had been instances where judges who had not toed the mark had found themselves facing impeachment proceedings. Everybody knew that Foldiss was in the habit of striding up and down the aisles of the city council room, ordering the city councilors how to vote. It would be simple for him to trump up some charge against Judge Frazer, and force through impeachment proceedings.

The judge said, "Very well. You may talk to the defendant and the complaining officer. I will call the case again in five minutes."

FOLDISS grinned, and took Ed Race by the arm, led him to a corner, out of earshot of the court clerk. He motioned to Officer Nedeen to wait. Ed faced him coldly, waiting.

"You're Ed Race, the Masked Marksman—the one who's appearing at the Glenbold Theater, aren't you?" Foldiss began.

Ed nodded. "That's right." He hid the puzzlement in his eyes. It was apparent that Foldiss wanted something from him.

"Okay. You shot my son, Nick; but he tells me it was a mistake."

"It wasn't a mistake," Ed told him. "Your son and that gunman with him knew I wasn't a hold-up man. They wanted to get to the girl—Miss Shelton. I wouldn't let them."

Foldiss brows contracted. "Now look here, Race, don't make it hard for yourself. I can get you out of this jam. But I can also sink you in so deep you'll rot in jail. Take your choice."

Ed considered him a moment. "What do you want me to do?"

Foldiss's lips wreathed in a smile. "That's better. What I want you to do is fair enough. You just take a plea of guilty to simple assault against this cop, and I'll get the judge to give you a suspended sentence. You can walk out of here a free man."

Ed Race grinned thinly. "No thanks, Mr. Foldiss. I'm not having any, thank you."

Foldiss glowered at him. "I'm willing to give you a break. You could get a year for resisting an officer; and you could get two years for attacking an officer. If you stay stubborn, I'll see that Frazer gives you the limit."

"That's fine, Mr. Foldiss," Ed said. "And you could also have your son and his friend, Sid Gaynor, come over here and sign the complaint for the other two charges. That would add another five years, wouldn't it?" He smiled sourly.

Foldiss gazed at him intently, chewing his lower lip. "Now look here, Race, why not be reasonable? You're only piling up trouble for yourself this way."

"I don't think so," Ed said.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that for some reason, you don't want any mention made in court, of the girl, Janet Shelton—or of what she was carrying in that car of hers," said Ed "I'm thinking that you'll get me out of this without my having to plead guilty."

Foldiss' face had frozen into a noncommittal mask as Ed spoke. He whistled, very low. "So-o—you know all about that? And I thought from what Nick and Sid Gaynor told me, that you were just a passer-by that got mixed into the thing!" He lowered his voice. "What's your game, Race? Are you out to buck me?"

Ed shrugged. "No game, Foldiss. And I don't like you or your dirty crew. I'm going to enter a plea of 'not guilty.' I'm going to hire the best lawyers in the state to handle this case. I'm going to get to the bottom of it."

The big, red-faced political boss seemed about to have a stroke. He spluttered, half raised a fist as if to strike Ed, then thought better of it. He swung abruptly away from Ed, and went over to Officer Felix Nedeen, buttonholed him in a corner, and talked confidentially in a low voice. Nedeen listened, at first sullenly, then with a sudden, bright, malicious glow in his mean eyes. At last, he nodded eagerly.

Foldiss smiled, and looked up toward the door at the far end of the courtroom. A thin little runt of a man, with big ears and an oversized coat, was standing out there. Foldiss nodded to this man, almost imperceptibly, and the man smirked, turned and hurried out.

Now Foldiss led Officer Nedeen to the bench, and waited till the current case had been disposed of. Then he said, "Your Honor, Officer Nedeen has a statement to make in the matter of the case of the People against Ed Race." He walked around beside the bench, and motioned to the young D. A., who also approached.

The three of them whispered for several moments, and then Judge Frazer shrugged. "All right, Mr. Foldiss, but it doesn't look right—"

Foldiss laughed his booming laugh. "Don't worry, Judge." He stepped back, and took a seat in the first row of chairs. The D. A. motioned Nedeen and Ed Race before the judge, and Frazer said, "All right, officer. You have a statement to make?"

Nedeen looked viciously at Ed, and began to talk in a low voice. "I wish to withdraw the complaint against this defendant, as I believe that any blow he may have struck was done by accident. Since Mr. Race is a well-known vaudeville actor, and holds a private detective's license, I do not wish to embarrass him. I therefore wish to withdraw the complaint."

Nedeen's words were certainly friendly enough, but there was a little triumphant smirk around the corners of his lips, and a sardonic gleam in his eyes, that Ed did not like. He was startled at Nedeen's sudden change of front, and he suspected that something sinister lay behind it. But he could not very well insist on being held.

Judge Frazer said shortly, "In view of the withdrawal of this complaint, and with the consent of the district attorney, I discharge the defendant. You may go, Mr. Race!"

Ed smiled. "Thank you, sir," he said. Then to Nedeen, "May I have my guns back, please?"

Nedeen started. "Your—guns?" He seemed puzzled as to what to do, and his glance went to Foldiss, still seated among the spectators, as if for guidance.

Foldiss sprang up, whispered in Nedeen's ear, and the policeman grinned. "Sure, Mr. Race. Just a minute. I'll get 'em for you."

Ed stepped aside to make room for the next case, and Nedeen went into the complaint-room, came out after a minute or two with the two well polished .45's. Ed took them from him, and spun the barrels from force of habit, as he slipped them back into the shoulder holsters. Suddenly a tingle went up Ed's spine. His practiced fingers had detected that the barrels spun too easily. The weight of the cartridges was lacking from them.

Nedeen had unloaded both guns before giving them to him!

ED allowed no trace of the discovery to show in his face. The motion of holstering the guns was completed smoothly, and he nodded to the young D. A., glanced carelessly at Foldiss, who had seated himself as if to watch the further court proceedings.

Ed's lips quirked in a humorous smile. He turned to the complaining cop. "Come on, Nedeen. No hard feelings. I'll buy you a drink."

Nedeen started to walk down the aisle with him out of force of habit. "That's okay, Race." Then suddenly something seemed to occur to him, and he started to draw away. "Never mind, Race. Skip it. I'll be seeing you. I gotta go back in the complaint-room—"

Ed gripped his arm, walking close to him. "Oh, come on. You know you like a drink—and you're off duty now."

Nedeen was embarrassed by the eyes of the spectators upon them as they walked up the aisle. He tried to pull away, but Ed held him closely, propelling him toward the door. They were out of the courtroom now, in the foyer. The broad double-doors leading to the street were facing them, and Ed could see a car pulled out outside, directly opposite the entrance. It seemed to be waiting.

He kept his grip on Nedeen fairly dragging him toward that door. Nedeen's face grew white. "Nix, Race. Go ahead. I gotta stay—"

"I wouldn't think of it," Ed protested.

They were outside now, and Nedeen was struggling almost frantically.

Ed Race was laughing grimly. There were three men in the car across the street, and the barrel of a submachine gun was poking out of the rear window, pointing at them. Ed had known that something like this was scheduled to happen, when he found that his guns were unloaded. He had extra cartridges in his pocket, and could have loaded them before coming out. But he had seen the holstered service revolver in Nedeen's Sam Browne belt, and he had figured that it would do just as well. But he had not counted on a submachine gun.

Now the wicked-looking snout of the weapon was all the way out of the window, and Ed could distinguish, behind it, the pinched features of the little man with the big ears, to whom Foldiss had signaled, inside the courtroom.

That man had orders to cut down Ed Race, and he wasn't going to stop merely because a policeman was with him!

Nedeen realized what was going to happen. He uttered a choked cry, and tried desperately to pull away. But Ed's muscular fingers tightened on his arm, swung him around for a shield. At the same time, Ed yanked the service revolver from Nedeen's holster.

It was at that instant that the submachine gun began to chatter. Simultaneously, with the deadly staccato rattle of the tommy-gun, a girl's scream sounded, shrill and clear from down the street.

That scream only registered subconsciously with Ed Race, for his every faculty was focused upon the business in hand. What he did, in the next split-second, was what he was used to doing daily on the stage, for the benefit of a paying audience. However, when he had done it on the stage, a false move or misstep would have resulted only in the spoiling of the act. Now, the slightest mistake meant death.

That machine gun was stuttering, sending a creeping hail of splattering lead against the steps of the court—a hail that moved swiftly upward to where it would smash into the bodies of Ed Race and Patrolman Nedeen.

Ed had Nedeen's service revolver in his hand. He straight-armed the patrolman, so that Nedeen went toppling backward off the steps to one side, and out of the path of the machine gun swath. Ed, himself, leaped in the other direction, landing lithely on his feet on the right-hand side of the steps. As he landed, he snapped a single shot at the face of the big-eared man behind the tommy-gun.

That face seemed suddenly to explode, as Ed's slug smashed it. The marching lead from the muzzle of the submachine gun wavered, trickled off into nothingness, and the silence was abruptly oppressive.

Two swift revolver shots came from the second of the three men in the car, both clanging ineffectually into the masonry of the courthouse. Ed fired again, at the flashes, and scored a hit. A man's quick scream sounded, swiftly choking to a gurgle. Then the driver of the death-car gave up. He clashed gears in his panicky, frightened hurry to get away from that deadly accurate shooting of Ed Race's. The sedan lurched away, sped down the street.

In the courthouse there was a frenzy of pandemonium. White faces peered out, but no one ventured into the street.

ED saw a second car swinging down toward him, and instinctively raised his gun. But he lowered it at once when he saw that the girl, Janet Shelton, was behind the wheel. She was still in her bathrobe, her hair disarranged, but she looked sweet, innocent and frightened.

She motioned urgently to Ed, who ran across to the curb and leaped on the running board. She threw him a quick half-smile.

Ed glanced hastily into the rear of the car. The body of the murdered man was gone. She must have disposed of it, somehow.

She said swiftly, "I had to come back and see what they did to you. I saw Crumpit and those others waiting in the car, but I thought they were only going to follow you. I didn't think they meant to get rid of you that way, too!"

She was racing the car on, as she spoke, and Ed, glancing behind, saw that Officer Nedeen lay on the pavement where he had pushed him. Nedeen was on hands and knees, watching them, uncertainly. Ed had saved his life, but he was sure that Nedeen would have shot him then, if he'd had a gun.

In the doorway of the courthouse, a crowd was surging out; the giant figure of Garth Foldiss was in the lead. Foldiss raised his gun at Ed.

Ed merely lifted Nedeen's service .38, hanging on to the careening car with one hand. Garth Foldiss hastily leaped backward into the crowd behind him, without firing. Ed grinned, and turned to see where the girl was heading.

She swung around the corner on two wheels, and Ed hung on, grimly. Ahead, he could now see the tail-lights of the fleeing car which had attacked him at the courthouse. He bent low, so that his head was on a level with the window.

"Follow that sedan," he told the girl. "But stay behind, so he won't notice us."

The girl nodded, facing forward. "Are you all right out there?"

Ed laughed harshly. "Don't worry about me—I can hang on. I've been in plenty tougher spots!" He looked at her.

"And all because of me!" the girl exclaimed, expertly veering the car into Glenbold Boulevard after the fleeing sedan. It was almost three o'clock in the morning, and the traffic lights weren't working any more. The car ahead was picking up speed, increasing the distance between them. But the boulevard was wide, straight as an arrow, and it was easy to keep the sedan in sight.

The girl increased their speed.

Ed bent down again, asked, "Where did you get rid of the—er—body? There was a body, wasn't there?"

Janet Shelton started, perceptibly. Her hands wavered on the wheel, and the car swerved, but she got it under control again, keeping her eyes on the tail-lights ahead.

"You saw that body—and yet you helped me? I might have been the one who murdered him. You might have been compounding a murder by helping me get away from that drunken policeman!"

Ed laughed. "Not you, Miss Shelton. I'm a pretty good judge of human nature. You didn't murder anybody!"

"Who—who are you?"

For answer, Ed pointed to the marquee of the Glenbold Theater, which they were passing. "That's me—the name on the top line."

The girl's eyes flicked over to the marquee, read the electric-light letters, now dark, but legible in the light of a street-lamp—


THE cold winter wind was whistling past, cutting against Ed's face as he hung on to the speeding car. But he didn't mind. He was oblivious of it as the girl, staring straight ahead after the car she was following, began to talk, speaking loudly enough to be heard by Ed, out on the running-board.

"My brother, Fletcher Shelton, is fighting the crooked politicians in this city, tooth and nail," she said. "Garth Foldiss has been out to get him for a long time. Tonight Foldiss played his trump card. When I got home, I found the body of that dead man in my brother's den. He was just a nobody, a little bookmaker, working for Garth Foldiss. But they had shot him with my brother's gun. Then they struck my brother on the head, leaving him there, unconscious, to be found next to the body." The girl paused, breathing agitatedly.

"When I found them all there, I was panic-stricken. It looked just as if Fletcher had really shot this man, and then fallen against his own desk in the struggle, striking his head against a corner. They wouldn't have dared to kill my brother outright, because he has too large a following in Glenbold now, and such a murder would have aroused public sentiment. But, this way, they had him framed perfectly. They could try him in their own courts, railroading him for murder."

She paused, paying attention to the wheel, as the car ahead turned right off Glenbold Boulevard, and headed north, along the Waterford Turnpike.

Ed said, "Stop a minute." She pulled up, and he ran around, got into the seat behind her. "Go ahead," he ordered. "You can stay far behind now. We won't lose him on this road."

She nodded, got the car going again, and Ed set about loading his two .45's.

"There isn't much more to tell," the girl went on. "I was panic-stricken when I saw Fletcher lying beside the dead man. All I could think of was that the police would be coming soon, and Garth Foldiss's scheme would work. I tried to revive Fletcher. He opened his eyes, but was groggy, and still only semi-conscious. The only thing I could think of was to remove that body. It hadn't bled much, and I forced myself to carry it out into my car. Just as I got the body in, I heard a police car coming. I started to drive away, and Nick Foldiss, in that convertible coupe, came along. He and Gaynor must have recognized me, guessed what I was doing. They followed me. You know the rest."

Ed nodded. "Poor kid. You're bucking a tough outfit here. What did you finally do with the body?"

"I drove away, as you were shooting down Foldiss and Gaynor," said the girl. "I drove out toward Waterford, where Fletcher and I have a summer cottage. I put the body in that cottage, then went out and phoned Fletcher. The police had gone, only finding Fletcher at the house, and not the murdered man. Fletcher was better by this time, and I told him what I'd done with the dead body. He said he'd attend to it, and I got back in the car and drove to night court to see what would happen to you."

Ed was silent a while, as they drove out on the Waterford Turnpike, following the sedan of the gunmen. Then he said, "You should know, of course, that your phone must have been tapped, if you're up against a crowd like Foldiss's. That means that you were overheard when you told your brother Fletcher what you'd done with the dead body."

Janet Shelton gasped. "I hadn't thought of that! Then they must know—"

"Certainly. Where did you say this cottage was?"

"Near Waterford..." Her voice slowly trailed off as she realized that they were on the Waterford Turnpike now—that car ahead was racing toward Waterford.

"That's right," Ed said in reply to her unspoken thought. "They've probably found the place already. They probably rigged a trap, and lay in wait for your brother to get there. It would make no difference to them if he were arrested for the murder at your home, or at the cottage."

A little moan escaped from Janet Shelton's throat. "Then—then all my work was for nothing. That gruesome work of carrying the body, driving with it in the car..." Her knuckles were white against the wheel. "What will I do? They'll be merciless with Fletcher—"

"I'll tell you what we're going to try!" Ed said, coming to a quick decision. "There's no time to explain. Just do as I say. Speed up, and catch that sedan!"

SHE obeyed him unquestioningly. Her speedometer flew around the dial from sixty to seventy, to seventy-five, until the needle hovered around eighty.

The gunman in the car ahead must have been in a state of nervous funk. With his two dead accomplices in the sedan, he hadn't paid much attention to the back road. Now Ed saw him pick up speed as their two powerful headlights crept up on him. But it was too late. They were almost abreast of him.

Ed cried, "Pass him, and force him toward the ditch. Try to make him stop. Think you can do it?"

Janet Shelton's lips were pressed hard together. "I can do anything now!" she managed to gasp, and swung past the sedan, pulling the wheel over sharply toward the right.

There was a squeal of brakes from the other car, and the gunman driver swung almost toward the ditch to avoid her. Ed Race was out of the sedan almost before it had stopped, poking the .38 against the gunman's cheek.

"Take it easy now, and come out of there," he ordered.

The gunman had no fight in him. He had not even attempted to use his own gun, which had been kept handily on the seat next to him. The bloody bodies of the machine-gunner and his mate, in the rear of the car, still lay there to testify to the deadliness of Ed Race's shooting, and this fellow had no stomach to trade lead with Ed.

He stepped out of the car, his hands high in the air.

Janet Shelton came around beside Ed, and stared at the prisoner.

"Glone!" she exclaimed. "You—you..." Her voice choked upon itself in indignation.

The gunman, Glone, lowered his eyes before hers.

Janet turned to Ed. "This man was working for my brother as an investigator, taking his pay. And now he turns up driving a murder-car for Garth Foldiss! He—he's betrayed Fletcher!"

Ed Race said softly, "A rat, eh?"

Glone lifted his glance, met the cold contempt in Ed's eyes. Something there frightened him. He stammered, "I—I couldn't help it, mister. There's no use bucking Garth Foldiss's outfit. I wouldn't of lasted a day."

"That's too bad," Ed said softly. "Because you're not going to last any longer this way." He raised the .38. "I'm going to give you what a rat deserves!"

Glone shrieked, "No! God, no!"

Janet Shelton exclaimed, "You're not going to—"

Ed Race nodded inexorably. He was bluffing. He had never killed a man in cold blood in his life. But Glone could not tell that he was bluffing. The wretched gunman saw only the cold, steely glint in Ed's eyes, the hard line of his lips.

Glone screamed, "No, no, mister. Hold it! I can tell you plenty. I'll spill the works." His voice shrilled in a desperate effort to head off the tightening trigger finger of Ed's right hand. "I saw the guy bumped in Shelton's house. I can tell you who did it. I can lay it on the line for you! Please give me a chance!"

Ed sighed imperceptibly. He had been afraid that he would have to back down on his bluff. "Who murdered that man?" he asked hoarsely.

"Garth Foldiss did it himself," cried Glone. "I let him in the house. I went there to make a phony report to Fletcher Shelton, and I let Garth in, the back way, with this bookie. Foldiss wanted to knock the bookie off anyway, for a double-cross. He figured it would be a swell stunt to lay it on to Shelton. While I was talking to Shelton, Foldiss came in and smacked him on the head, then called in the bookie, and shot him in the back of the head. Then we both scrammed—"

Ed's eyes were gleaming with triumph. He pulled out a small notebook, and a fountain-pen, thrust them at Glone. "Write that all down!" he ordered.

Glone wrote.

He had just finished signing his name when a pair of powerful headlights came blasting down at them from the direction of Glenbold City. A car screamed to a stop alongside, and Garth Foldiss, with two men piled out. He pointed at Ed.

"Burn him down!"

THE two men had naked guns. They were shooting almost as they came out of the car. The bark of Ed's .38 mingled with the roar of their guns. The night was split by deafening detonations. Ed was shooting coolly, carefully, accurately. The two men were shooting fast, hoping to accomplish with a hail of lead what they might not be able to do with careful sharpshooting. Their slugs smashed into the car in a vicious staccato tattoo.

Ed thrust Janet Shelton out of the way, as he fired. A scream sounded from Glone, beside him, but Ed wasn't looking. He was squinting into the hail of lead, firing at the faces behind those barking guns. He saw the two gunmen go down with holes drilled accurately in the center of their foreheads, each the replica of the other.

Now he swung the .38 toward Garth Foldiss, who had stepped behind his car for protection. Foldiss was peering out from the back, gun in hand, looking for an opportunity to shoot.

Ed laughed tauntingly. "Got to do your own shooting now, Foldiss—but not in the back. Come on out!"

Foldiss didn't come out. He fired hastily, and pulled his head back. The shot went wild, and Ed pulled the trigger of the .38. There was only an empty click.

Suddenly, wild, triumphant laughter burst from Garth Foldiss. "Your gun's empty, Race! That's Nedeen's gun. And your own .45's are empty. I told Nedeen to unload them before he gave them to you! I'm coming out now, Race. I'm going to shoot you down like a dog—and that Shelton girl, too! Then I'm going to the cottage, and notify the cops. They'll come and find Fletcher Shelton with the murdered bookie. It's all worked out, anyway!"

Garth Foldiss came stalking out from behind the car, supremely confident, the gun dangling from his hand. He was enjoying this a lot. His lips curled in a sneer. "Can you take it, Race?"

Janet Shelton uttered a whimpering cry, raised a hand to her breast. Her bathrobe had fallen open in front again, but she forgot everything in the sudden thought that this man, who had tried so hard to help her, was going to die without a chance.

Garth Foldiss advanced slowly, trying to prolong the moment of vindictive triumph. "Well Race—can you take it?"

"Yes," Ed said mildly. "But can you?"

And suddenly his lithe body snapped into electrifying action. He bent at the knees, swerved, and threw himself into a back-somersault like the ones he did on the stage every day. Ed flipped away from where Janet Shelton was standing, and Garth Foldiss raised his gun, eyes narrowing in bewilderment at the swiftly moving lines of Ed's somersaulting body. He tried to aim the gun, pressing the trigger. But he never had a chance to fire.

For Ed Race's two forty-fives were out in his hands, and he was shooting even as he rolled—just as he did on the stage. On the stage, he had to put out the flames of a row of candles thirty feet away while he did his back-somersault. This was much easier. A man's body is easier to hit than a candle.

Garth Foldiss uttered a long, piercing shriek, and went down with two heavy, smashing .45 caliber slugs in his heart. The shriek died in his throat, his feet kicked convulsively—and he was dead.

ED RACE got up from the ground, holstered his guns, dusted himself off, and grinned at Janet Shelton. He stepped over to where the gunman, Glone, lay with his head against the car. The first fusillade had got him. He had just signed the confession in time.

Ed stepped over to Janet Shelton and put an arm around her shoulders. She was shivering. He gently wrapped her bathrobe around her, and helped her to her car. "We'll leave this carrion here for a while. With this confession of Glone's—" he took the notebook from her trembling fingers—"we shouldn't have any difficulty in clearing your brother."

She stopped shivering. In the car she looked up at him. A tender smile played at her lips. "I—I must come and see you in the theater sometime," she said. "Your act must be very good."

"Do that," Ed told her. "I'll send you a couple of passes."

Suddenly she cried—happily.

Ed Race drove through the night, smiling.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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