Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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First published in The Spider, October 1934

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version date: 2020-10-01
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The Spider, October 1934, with "Cue for a Corpse "

Ed Race, vaudeville juggler and high-speed private detective, wasn't accustomed to finding corpses jammed into his wardrobe trunk. But even a dead body, unknown and unidentified, can lead a man into sinister, twisting paths where death lurks, waiting in the shadows...

ED RACE seemed to be one of those men who attract adventure. For example, there was the business of his finding the body of the naked Samoan.

The Samoan had been a young man, not more than nineteen or twenty. He had been dead about a day, and he was beginning to smell a little. There was nothing about him to indicate his nationality, and Ed didn't know when he first saw him that he was a Samoan. However, he could tell from the dusky color of the skin, from the wide nose, thick lips, and high cheekbones, that he was a native of the South Pacific.

The discovery took place in Ed's dressing room at the Ogden Theatre in Ogdensville. Ed was booked there for a full week; his act was headlined under the name of "The Masked Marksman."

The routine of the act consisted of juggling tricks with six heavy forty-five-caliber revolvers. The high spot of the performance came when Ed, juggling three of them at a time, would fire each in turn, shooting out the flames of a row of candles thirty feet across the stage.

"The Masked Marksman" had no competition in the vaudeville circuits of the country. Few of the public knew the identity of the performer who accomplished the almost impossible feats of targetry on the stage; even fewer knew that he pursued a sideline as a hobby—the hobby being that of private detection, with his office in his hat. He held licenses as a private investigator in a half-dozen states, but he preferred to remain an amateur in crime and a professional on the stage.

However, amateur or professional, Ed's experience had never before included the finding of the naked body of a dead man in a trunk in his dressing room.

He was alone, and the first thing he did was to lock the door. He didn't want any of the hangers-on to walk in on him and get hysterical. Then he proceeded to examine the trunk, and he made an important discovery. The trunk, the same make and style as his, was not his own. The lock had opened to his key.

The body was curled up inside it, the man's head being between his legs. Ed didn't touch the body. He closed the lid, shutting out a little of the odor, and examined the outside. The label pasted on the top was his own, but the tag tied to one of the handles read:

Consigned via Western Valley Railroad
To: Doctor Elias Licto,
No. 12 Church Street,
Ogdensville, California.

There was no sender's name or address.

What had happened was self-evident—the baggage-man somewhere along the line had made a mistake and switched tags, and Ed had got the trunk meant for Doctor Licto. Therefore, Doctor Licto must have got Ed's trunk.

Ed allowed his muscular, lanky form to relax in the chair before the dressing table. He lighted a cigarette while he thought the situation over. Manifestly, it might be considered a tactless procedure by this Doctor Licto, if Ed visited him and told him that he had the good doctor's trunk and knew its contents. The thing to do was to notify the police. They would, no doubt, be quite interested. The quick inspection that Ed had made had showed him that the death of the naked man was due to a cracked skull.

Ed allowed the smoke of his cigarette to trickle slowly out of his nostrils. His eyes got that faraway expression they always assumed when crime came to perch on his doorstep.

Through his door came the muted tones of a xylophone being played on the stage. That would be the Peterman Brothers, the act which immediately preceded his. They had just started, which gave him a good fifteen minutes to dope things out.

However, it seemed that he was not to be permitted even that length of time, for almost immediately there came a timid, almost furtive knock at the door.

Ed threw a glance at the trunk to make sure there was nothing about it to betray its extraordinary contents, arose, and unlocked the door. The man who came in was only about half Ed's size, very emaciated, with eyes sunk deep in his head, with his head held cocked to one side like a bird's. The man seemed very nervous, and his hands kept moving around swiftly as if there were no place for them to rest. His eyes flew to the trunk as Ed closed the door, and skipped back to his host.

He smiled ingratiatingly, showing white, even, sharp-pointed teeth. "The señor have not yet discovair then there's one meestake about those tronk, no?"

Ed tried to look dumb. "Mistake? What do you mean? Who are you?"

THE visitor executed a neat little pirouette ending in a deep bow from the waist. "Permit me, señor. I am the Doctor Elias Licto, to whom thees tronk, he belong. You have not open it yet?"

"I saw the tag on it," Ed said noncommittally. "If that's yours, then you must have mine."

"But yes," Licto replied eagerly. "Eef you weel allow me to remove these, my tronk, I shall be delight' to send back your own."

"Go ahead, take it." Ed was watching him closely.

The other started to thank him profusely. "My expressmen—"

"Just a minute!" Ed stopped him. "Maybe you ought to show me some proof that you're Doctor Licto. You know how these things are. Anybody could come in and say he was Doctor Licto. Not that I doubt you—"

"But, of course, señor!" The little man nodded his bird-like head repeatedly. "Those proof you shall have!"

His quick-moving hands fluttered around among his clothes, executed a couple of lightning-like passes, and came to rest suddenly, each holding a small automatic trained on Ed's stomach. "These, my fran', ees all the proof I have. Regretfully, I mus' use force. Turn yourself aroun', please!"

Ed Race carefully took the cigarette out of his mouth, turned around slowly. Those two guns were too steady. He was facing the door now, could hear the swift intake of the little man's breath as he came closer. Ed knew what was going to happen—he was going to get one swell wallop on the back of his head, and while he was in the land of sweet dreams, the little man would have the trunk moved out of the room.

From outside, the sound of the xylophones grew louder, burst into a swelling crescendo. The end of the Peterman Brothers' first number. Two more, then an encore; ten minutes more.

Ed felt the little man's breath hot on his neck. He would be raising his gun now, butt first, ready for the blow.

And then Ed executed one of those brilliant, swift-moving coups that he was famous for on the stage. He dropped to one knee, resting his weight on his outstretched fingertips, while he lashed out backwards with his other foot. His heel struck bone, brought a cry of pain. Ed rolled away just as the little man tumbled to the floor, pain in his eyes.

The visitor was spry, though. He swung his guns around from his awkward position on the floor. But it was no good. Ed's hand already contained a heavy forty-five, one of the six that he used on the stage, the one that he generally carried on his person. It had come out of the shoulder-holster with such blinding suddenness that the little man didn't know what it was even when the barrel caught him in the temple. Afterward he surely didn't know, for he keeled right over and lay very still.

Ed got up, dusted off his trousers. Lucky, he thought, that he could go on for his number in his street clothes; otherwise he'd be stuck, with nothing in the trunk but a corpse.

He put a practiced hand to the little man's heart and felt the beat. He was alive, but a trifle the worse for wear. Then Ed picked up the two guns, pocketed them, and went through the pockets.

He found a passport in the name of Santander Cordiba, and the picture on the passport was the likeness of the little man. There was little else except for a letter. It was addressed to "Señor D. Santander Cordiba, Island of Tutuila, Samoa, Province of New Zealand." It was from a firm of diamond dealers in New York City, and it offered Señor Cordiba the sum of seventy-five thousand dollars in cash on delivery of the "Pearl of Samoa, if, as, and when recovered."

Ed stuffed the passport and the letter into his own pocket, dragged the unconscious form of Señor Cordiba over to the bed, and handcuffed him to the post. He got the handcuffs out of the little black overnight bag which stood on his dressing table. He seldom went anywhere without that bag. It contained, besides the handcuffs, a number of gadgets of Ed's own devising which he had found very useful since he began to delve into crime.

Through his door he heard a ripple of applause in the house—the end of the Peterman act. And almost at the same time the assistant manager knocked at his door: "Two minutes, Mr. Race!"

ED called out, "Okay," and went to the door, snatching up from the dressing table the little black mask he wore during the act. He had no particular reason for concealing his identity in this way, but the booking agent who handled him had originally suggested the mask as a means of titillating the public fancy, and it had been so successful that he had continued to use it.

He cast a last glance over the room, grinned at the heavy-breathing, still unconscious Señor Cordiba, and went out.

Just off the stage, most of the artists were gathered, watching the xylophonists. Norma Maitland, whose full-bodied contralto voice Ed always took pleasure in hearing, was there, and a half dozen others. As Ed had guessed, the doorman was also there. Señor Cordiba would have had little if any difficulty in removing the trunk from the theatre.

The Petermans were giving a second encore, tapping their way skillfully through the closing bars of The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze to the accompaniment of Jerry Peterman's melodious tenor. They finished, took their last bow, and backed into the wings.

The little cardboard signs in the frames at either side of the stage slid down to reveal the name "The Masked Marksman." The spotlight for the Petermans clicked off, and the big dome under the roof blazed up, lighting the entire house. Ed always gave his performance with the lights on over the house.

Norma Maitland nudged his elbow as he adjusted the mask over his face. "Look at the man in the orchestra box, Ed. He—scares me."

Ed laughed, patted her arm. "Probably the local banker out for a big time."

The tempo of the music changed. Ed stepped out and bowed, straightened to a light ripple of applause. He walked to the table in the center of the stage on which the big revolvers were laid out. Beyond the table, at the other end of the stage, stood a tall wooden horse with twelve lighted candles.

Ed picked up three of the forty-fives, stepped to the footlights; the music ceased as he began to juggle. This was child's play to him, a feeling-out of the audience. He could think of other things while his hands and fingers worked mechanically, synchronizing perfectly with every muscle of his body. His mind now was on the corpse in the trunk, on the genial, murderous Señor Cordiba. Why, he wondered, should anybody ship a dead body in a trunk? The answer to that could be the obvious one—to get rid of it. But why, again, should Señor Santander Cordiba go to the extent of posing as Doctor Licto, of making violent gunplay, in order to get possession of the body?

The music speeded up, and Ed mechanically went on with the routine of the act, placing his left hand behind his back and juggling the three guns with one hand. Next would come the complete somersault while they were all three in the air.

Ed remembered what Norma had said to him, and his eye strayed to the box she had indicated. The man who sat there was not particularly terrifying. He had a little goatee, a waxed moustache; he was tall, hair carefully slicked back. His head was thin, long, his mouth a slash of red between moustache and beard. Norma's instinct was usually right. And with corpses in trunks...

The orchestra leader tapped with his baton, and the music swung into a lilting rhythm. Automatically Ed sent the three guns high into the air, back-flipped, came to his feet, and caught them, one after the other. The music crashed to a close, almost drowned by the applause.

When he straightened to go on with the act, he frowned. The man in the box had arisen and was making his way out. Was there any significance in it?

Ed went on with the routine. Twelve minutes more. At the last, when he snuffed the candles unerringly with the heavy slugs from the forty-fives, he brought down the house. He bowed his way into the wings, turned and tapped Norma Maitland encouragingly on the shoulder. She was on next. "Go to it, girlie," he told her.

While the curtain was going up again, and the house was darkening, she turned a troubled face up to him. "It's funny, Ed, how I felt about that man. He went out soon after you started—"

"Forget it." Ed gave her a little shove out onto the stage, and hurried back toward his room. The doorman, still in the wings, grinned at him.

"Great stuff, Mr. Race. I wish I could shoot like that!"

"I wish," Ed surprised him by replying, "that you would stick by the entrance instead of hanging around here!"

Ed made his way backstage, tried the door of his room. It was unlocked. He had left it locked. He snaked his gun out, shoved the door wide open, and stopped stock still in the doorway. His eyes narrowed as he stepped in, closed the door behind him.

The trunk was gone. Señor Santander Cordiba was still there. But Señor Cordiba was quite dead...

HE lay sprawled on the floor at the foot of the bed, and there was a pool of blood around his head. Somebody had bashed it in for him. He was still warm, as Ed knelt and touched his gory face.

Ed stood up swiftly, surveyed the room. It was a small room, and there was no place for anybody to hide in it. Whoever had taken the trunk and finished off Señor Cordiba was gone. Ed wasted no time there, but made for the door, went out into the little corridor off the stage-entrance. The police must be notified now. He regretted that he hadn't done it before. There would be complications now. He would have a hard time convincing the local Sherlocks that he wasn't responsible for Cordiba's death. They'd certainly give him the ha-ha if he tried to convince them that a trunk with a dead man in it had vanished from the room.

The phone was in a booth. Ed stepped into it, lifted the receiver and started to insert a nickel. But he didn't put the nickel in. Instead he slowly hung up the receiver. For something hard was boring into his back, and a low, smooth voice was saying, "May I suggest that you do not make that call, Mr. Race?"

Ed turned his head slightly, saw the tall gentleman with the goatee who had left the box in the orchestra. He was smiling slightly now, and his red lips were parted to show a pointed tongue. There were two other men behind him, and they completely filled the narrow corridor outside the phone booth.

"If you will be so good as to step out—backward," said the goateed gentleman.

Ed complied. "Have I the pleasure of meeting Doctor Elias Licto?" he asked.

The gentleman with the goatee nodded. "That is my name, sir. Though it may be a doubtful pleasure for you—unless you comply with a request I'll make."

Doctor Licto motioned to the two men with him. "You, Gomez, remove Mr. Race's weapon. I believe he carries it in a shoulder holster. And you, Sardo, go to the door and see if the way is clear."

Both Gomez and Sardo were little men, like the deceased Señor Cordiba. They were swarthy, with black, lusterless eyes. They might almost have been twins, except that Gomez was a bit stouter-paunched than Sardo.

Sardo nodded, backed away toward the door, peered out into the alley alongside the theatre. Gomez reached up and yanked out the big forty-five, looked at it admiringly, and put it in his coat pocket. He himself was holding a small automatic with a silencer. Doctor Licto was still behind Ed, poking a gun into his back.

"Now," said Doctor Licto, "we will go out, if you please." He emphasized his order with additional pressure of the gun in Ed's back, and Ed went out after Gomez, with the doctor bringing up the rear. The last thing he heard as he stepped into the alley was Norma Maitland's voice taking the low notes of Home on the Range.

It was night outside, and Ed could distinguish the form of Sardo getting into the driver's seat of an undertaker's truck that stood at the curb just opposite the mouth of the alley.

Gomez got into the rear, and Ed climbed in with Doctor Licto's gun still at his back. These men were no novices, for they took precautions. As Ed scrambled in, any idea he might have had of making a swift play for freedom was dissipated, for Gomez knelt inside the truck and clicked a flashlight full on him.

Licto followed him in. The trunk they had taken from the dressing room was inside, and Gomez sat on it, dangling his automatic in one hand while he kept the flash on Ed's face with the other.

Licto closed the rear door, called out, "All right, Sardo."

The gears meshed; the truck moved.

Ed blinked and said quietly, "This may turn out to be very embarrassing for you, Doctor Licto. I hate being snatched."

"A thousand pardons, sir," came Licto's oily voice. "You must forgive me. There is one thing I wish from you, and then I can put an end to this inconvenience for you."

"What is that?" Ed asked. He knew that Licto was not fool enough to leave alive a man who could testify about the death of Cordiba and about the body in the trunk. But he was feeling his way.

The truck came to an abrupt halt. Doctor Licto said, "We will discuss that in my house, sir. If you will please step out now—"

He opened the door, stepped down, and waited for Ed. The truck had pulled up in a rear driveway of a private house.

Ed shrugged and stepped out. Licto nudged him with the gun. "That way, please. Up those back steps."

THEY went up the back steps, and the door was opened from within by another swarthy man the same size as Gomez and Sardo. Doctor Licto said, "We will go directly to the laboratory, Miguel."

The swarthy man said nothing, but turned and led the way up a flight of stairs. Gomez and Sardo came after them, carrying the trunk. At the head of the stairs was an open door through which Ed saw the interior of a superbly equipped operating room. There was an operating table at one wall, and instrument cabinets lined the others.

Miguel preceded them in, and after Ed and Doctor Licto, Gomez and Sardo carried the trunk in, brought it up close to the operating table, as if they knew just what they had to do.

Licto faced Ed with the gun in his hand. He was not smiling anymore. "I will now make my request. I wish you to give me the letter which you took from the person of Señor Cordiba."

"Sorry," Ed lied. "I tore it up and threw it away."

"That, sir," the doctor purred, "is too bad for you—unless you can remember the name and address of the firm."

"I have a terrible memory, Doc. I couldn't recall it on a bet."

Licto stared at him attentively for a long time. He said softly, "No doubt your memory can be spurred, Mr. Race. I have various means, not all of them pleasant. I am sure a sensible man like you would prefer to mention such a little thing as a name and address rather than have things done to him—things that are really painful, you know."

Ed shrugged. "Looks like I'm not sensible, Doc."

"All right!" Licto snapped. "We will continue this conversation later. Now you must excuse me." He glanced toward the trunk. "I have some work to do." He ordered the two men who had brought the trunk in, "Gomez! Sardo! Conduct Mr. Race to my office and remain there with him till I am through. You, Miguel, will help me here."

Gomez and Sardo each took a grip on one of Ed's arms, led him out of the room. Each held a silenced automatic against his ribs.

Licto called after them, "Be careful. Do not let him escape. I will hold you both personally responsible."

The office was down the hall, at the front of the house. Gomez and Sardo sidled in after Ed, took positions on either side of the door. The room was small; it contained a glass-topped mahogany desk, a swivel-chair behind the desk, and another chair alongside it. The walls were lined with bookcases.

Ed walked over to the window and looked out. The street was dark, but he could discern that they were in a residential section; the street was a quiet one with widely-spaced private houses, large trees in front of them.

Gomez stirred uneasily, moved his gun a little forward. "Come back from the window!" he ordered. "Or I shoot!"

Ed grinned, walked back to the desk and sat on the glass top facing his two captors. "What's the boss doing in there with the corpse?" he asked. "What's he want that trunk for?"

Gomez cast a startled side glance at Sardo, then eyed Ed. "You know w'at es een the tronk?"

"Sure. Why's the boss want the corpse?"

Gomez looked again at Sardo, who nodded his head lugubriously. "You know, then. That is too bad."

Ed sighed. "I get the idea. I know—so I die. No?"

"Yes," they chimed in chorus.

"Well, well. I guess I'll have to write my will." He started to put his hand in his pocket, but Gomez took a step nearer, his fist tightening on the automatic. "No, no! No tricks. Keep the hands out!"

"Okay, okay. Just wanted a cigarette."

"Nevair mind. Just sit still."

Ed's hand played around on the desk top behind him, felt an inkwell. Gomez and Sardo couldn't see what he was doing because his body screened the inkwell. He gripped it a moment in his long, powerful fingers, and flipped it from the glass top of the desk. It rose in a swift arc, straight for Gomez' head, spattering ink in a far-flung spray. For an instant, Gomez and Sardo were surprised, and in that second Ed went backward, feet in the air, and did a back-flip over the desk. He smashed into the swivel-chair behind the desk, pulled it over with him to the floor just as the automatics of both the two captors spatted furiously. Slugs crashed into the wall over his head, accompanied by oaths from the two men.

Ed crept under the desk, saw a pair of legs, and yanked at them. They were Sardo's. Sardo cried out and toppled over. Ed tangled with him, rolled over and over on the floor. Gomez was dancing over them looking for an opening. Ed twisted savagely on Sardo's wrist, and the little man dropped his gun. Ed snatched it, sprang up and away just in time to avoid a wicked blow that Gomez had aimed at his head.

GOMEZ tried to swing after him, but Ed gripped the sleeve of his coat, pulled hard, brought Gomez' head within reach, and brought down the automatic hard. Gomez sighed, and gave up, sprawled on the floor, dropping his gun. Sardo clawed for it, but Ed swung once more, and Sardo became quite useless.

Ed got to his feet and brushed off his trousers. He wondered how many more times tonight he would have to brush off his trousers.

The two little men lay very quiet.

Ed went to the desk, opened the drawers, inspected the papers he found there. One of these papers interested him greatly. It was a cablegram dated a week previous from the island of Samoa. It read as follows:




Then there was another paper, a yellow Marconigram from the S.S. Queen of the Pacific, en route from New Zealand to San Francisco. It was also from Miguel.


The Marconigram was dated the day before yesterday. Ed knew that the Queen of the Pacific had arrived at Frisco the day before, for he had come to Ogdensville on the train with a couple of people from her. That explained the trunk incident. The ship had docked, the trunk had been piled on with Ed's, and the mistake had been made by the baggage-man.

But why should Miguel have shipped Doctor Licto the body of the Samoan? Evidently he had killed him in his search for the pearl. But why not dump it over the side?

Suddenly, Ed snapped his fingers as a great light broke. He stuffed the two cables in his pocket, stepped over the bodies of Gomez and Sardo, and stole down the corridor toward the laboratory. The fight in the office had not caused interference from down the corridor. Evidently Doctor Licto and Miguel were very busy and were confident that two armed men were more than a match for Race.

Ed tried the door, found it open, and stepped in, one of the silenced guns in his hand.

Licto was dressed in an operating robe, and Miguel wore a smock. The doctor held a bloody scalpel, with which he had been carving the body of the dead Samoan. They had put him up on the operating table, and he looked gruesome enough, curled up into the position he had been in while in the trunk, his abdomen sliced open. The place looked like an abattoir.

Doctor Licto grunted, "Have to kill him?" over his shoulder. Then, as Ed kept silent, he turned, gasped in astonishment. He dropped the scalpel, but clutched tightly at something he had in his other hand.

Miguel frowned too, snarled, took a crouching step toward Ed, but stopped when he saw the muzzle of the gun staring at him. Licto said, "It appears that you are a very surprising young man."

"Thanks for the compliment," Ed grinned. "Now, hold everything."

HE stepped to the telephone in the corner, lifted the receiver, and asked for police headquarters. When he got the connection, he asked to have the homicide squad sent over.

"Homicide squad!" the desk man at headquarters snorted. "What do you think this is—Frisco? We ain't got a homicide squad! What is it, a murder?"

"Something like that. If you have no homicide squad, send over a bunch of cops—and a wagon—the morgue wagon—and the coroner!"

Ed hung up, grinned at Licto. "How's the dissecting, Doc? You going in for vivisection?"

Licto was wiping blood from his gown. "I regret now that I didn't have you killed at once. I underestimated you."

Miguel was getting out of his smock, seeming to have difficulty getting it over his head. He finally got out of it, shed it, and his hand came clear holding a gun. Ed's eye caught the gun, and he fired a fraction of a second before Miguel.

Miguel seemed to be greatly astonished. His mouth fell open, his eyes widened, and he staggered backward. Blood from the hole in his chest pumped out in little spurts of red. His fingers relaxed, the gun fell to the floor, and Miguel followed it there; twitched, groaned, and was silent.

Doctor Licto looked on unmoved, still holding his left hand clenched over some object.

In a few minutes there was the sound of a siren outside, the screeching of brakes, loud voices, heavy feet on the stairs. A half-dozen uniformed men burst into the room, led by a stout individual in plainclothes.

The stout man puffed a moment, looked the room over, announced, "I'm Chief Broderick. What the hell's happened here?"

Ed explained tersely, while Licto stood impassive.

Broderick couldn't get it. "But what's the idea?" he protested. "Why did this Miguel ship the dead body? An' why did that dead guy back there in the theatre want to get hold of the trunk?"

"The way I figure it," Ed continued, his eyes on Licto, "the Samoan was a diver employed by some pearler out there. He found this pearl, tried to get away with it by swallowing it. Cordiba tried to get him away, but Licto's man, Miguel, was wise to the stunt, followed them, and searched the cabins. When he couldn't find the pearl, he figured that the Samoan had swallowed it, so he just killed the Samoan and shipped his body to Licto."

Ed stepped over, gripped Licto's wrist, twisted, and the doctor's hand opened under the pressure. A blood-stained, round object fell to the floor.

"There's the pearl, Chief!" Ed said.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
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