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First published in The Spider, June 1938

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version date: 2020-10-01
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The Spider, June 1938, with "Death Books the Show"

Ed Race, the Masked Marksman, had performed many stage-miracles with his blazing .45s, but nothing to equal the time when he teamed up with a girl acrobat to beat a murder-magician who had slated them for a slaying skit—in the role of certain corpses!

THE telephone call for Tom Kirby came about five minutes after Ed Race had finished his number at the Clyde Theater. Ed was in his dressing room, changing to street clothes. He heard Boiling, the assistant stage manager, come past his door and knock at the door of Kirby's dressing room.

"Call for you, Tom," Boiling called out. "On the pay telephone behind the property room."

Ed Race heard Kirby's reply, heard the acrobat come out of his room and go to answer the call. At the moment, he attached no special significance to it. He finished dressing and packed away four of the six heavy revolvers he used in his own act. The other two he placed in the holsters under his arms. He never went out without those two .45 calibre revolvers—they had become as much a part of him as his necktie. The last act of the vaudeville show was on now, and Ed could hear the fast tempo of the orchestra as it kept time to the twin xylophones of the Peterman Brothers out on the stage. He was about to go out into the wings and take a look at the crack xylophonists, when there was a quick knock at the door, and it was pushed open almost at once.

Tom Kirby came in like a gale of wind. Ed looked at him keenly, saw that the acrobat was breathing hard. His face was dead white, his lips trembling. His eyes were lit up with a queer mad light.

Kirby left the door open and gripped Ed Race by the arm. "Look here, Ed, I want to borrow one of your guns!"

He pushed past him to the small leather case on the dressing table, which was still open, revealing the four beautiful, hair-trigger revolvers.

"Hey! Wait a minute, Tom," Ed said. "You were all right a minute ago, and then you got that telephone call. Now you want a gun. You haven't a license—"

"I have! Here..." With trembling fingers, Tom Kirby pulled a wallet out of his pocket, exhibited his license to carry a gun. "But I haven't the time to go home and get my own. I—I'm in a hurry."

Ed watched him with narrow eyes. "What's the idea? Want to kill someone?"

Tom Kirby had one of the revolvers out of the box. He spun the barrel to see if it was loaded, then turned to face Ed. "You're damned right I do! I'm going to kill that rat, Carlos Esquibar! By God, I don't care if I burn for it!"

Kirby pushed toward the door, but Ed Race planted himself in front of the angry acrobat. "You're mad, Tom! You aren't going to commit murder!"

Kirby gave him a short, hard laugh. "Call it murder if you like. That oily Portugee got my daughter to run away with him, didn't he? He talked her into quitting the act, leaving me, and marrying him. I lost track of her for two years—then I heard of them in New Orleans. If I hadn't sent her money, he'd have made her go on the streets!"

ED RACE listened sympathetically. Tom Kirby hadn't been the same ever since the day his daughter, Ellen, eloped with Carlos the Magician. Tom had made a trouper of Ellen, had taught her all the tricks of a big-time vaudeville acrobatic team. Her mother had been dead for many years, and Tom Kirby had been both a father and mother to Ellen. Then Carlos the Magician had come along, had fascinated the eighteen-year-old girl with his smile and his big talk, and she had eloped with him.

Everybody knew Carlos' record. Two convictions on vice charges; a short term in Atlanta on a lottery charge; before that, a round dozen of prohibition and drug arrests. But Ellen Kirby, blind to all that, had gone with Carlos Esquibar—yielding to the fascination that this man of forty knew only too well how to exert upon an impressionable girl of eighteen.

Ed's sympathy was all for Tom Kirby. He knew what his friend had gone through, thinking, in the long hours of the night, about his only daughter and the man who had wrecked her life.

Tom Kirby tried to get past him through the door. He was not trembling so much now, but there was a cold resolution in his eyes that Ed recognized well enough. "I swore I'd kill that Portugee, Ed, and I'm going to do it. I've had a private detective agency on the lookout for him for a year. And just now I got a call from one of their operatives. He's spotted Esquibar, with another man, standing outside Gallipoli's Restaurant, on Broadway!"

Ed Race blocked the doorway. "If you think I'm letting you go out with that gun, Tom, to deliberately commit murder, you're crazy. Let me handle it," he pleaded. "I'll go and talk to Esquibar, make him tell me where Ellen is. Maybe I can talk him into giving her a divorce—"

Tom Kirby grunted, waving the gun. "Like hell you will, Ed. That Portugee won't take his claws out of Ellen. He'll never let her go, till he's dead—and I'm going to attend to that. Get out of my way, Ed!" He rushed at Ed Race, thrusting at him with his shoulder.

Ed said regretfully, "I hate to do this, Tom, but it's the only way to save you from the chair!" With that, he brought up his knotted right fist in a short, well-timed uppercut that rocked Kirby on his heels, snapping his head back.

Tom Kirby's breath escaped with a long-drawn out whoosh, and his eyes became glazed. Ed had struck with the intention of knocking the acrobat out, and he had accomplished it. Kirby's knees buckled under him, and Ed caught him as he fell. Luckily, he had not pulled back the hammer of the revolver, and it didn't go off.

Ed lowered him gently to the floor, took the revolver out of his hand and put it back in the case. He locked the case. Then, with his eyes reflecting a bleak light, he stepped over Kirby and out into the corridor.

He saw Boiling, the assistant manager, and called to him, quickly explaining what had happened. Everybody in the theater knew about Ellen, and Boiling understood readily. "Take care of him," Ed told the assistant manager urgently. "And don't let him get away. Have a couple of the boys sit on him if necessary."

Boiling nodded. "Leave it to me, Ed. But what you going to do about it?"

"I'm going to talk to Esquibar!" Ed said grimly.

HE went outside and flagged a cab, drove up to Forty-eighth and Broadway. Gallipoli's Restaurant was just off Broadway, two doors down, on the opposite side of the street. Ed had his eye on the flashy plate-glass front of the eating-place as he paid off the taxi driver, and he didn't see Inspector MacSpain until the dour old inspector tapped him on the shoulder.

"What's the rush, Ed?" MacSpain demanded jocularly. "You got an appointment to kill a man?"

Ed turned and grinned at his friend. MacSpain was past fifty, but lithe and in excellent condition. His hair was all white, but the sparkle in his eyes indicated that his mind was as keen as a whip.

He looked shrewdly at Ed Race. "You generally eat at the Longmont Restaurant after the show, Ed. What brings you up this way tonight?"

Ed said hastily, "I've got to meet a man, Mac. Sorry, but I can't stay now. Drop in at the Longmont tomorrow, and I'll buy a drink—if you're off duty."

MacSpain grinned. "Okay, Ed. I'm browsing around the district tonight. May run into you later. There's a tip-off that a bundle of phony money is due to be put out pretty soon, and the Treasury people have asked us to spot any known passers. If you see any nineteen-thirty-six twenties with a Lincoln head, be careful. They were made from stolen plates, and are almost as good as the real stuff. The only flaw is a crack in the lower left-hand corner of the plate. It hardly shows up."

Ed nodded. "I'll be careful, Mac. See you tomorrow."

He left the inspector and hurried down Forty-eighth. He took a couple of steps, then stopped short. Carlos Esquibar was standing on his side of the street, with another man. They were both tensely watching someone or something inside of Gallipoli's Restaurant, directly opposite.

Ed faded into a doorway and kept his eyes on them. He remembered Carlos the Magician very well. The tall, sallow-faced Portuguese had not changed in the last few years. He was wearing a tan, belted topcoat, and a grey felt hat with a sloping brim. The other man was standing on the far side of Carlos, and Ed couldn't see him distinctly, but he could tell that the fellow was much shorter than Esquibar, and broad-shouldered.

It had been Ed Race's intention to find Esquibar and talk to him like a Dutch uncle. But now, seeing the tense, watchfulness of these two men, and noting that they both kept their hands in their coat pockets, Ed decided to wait a while.

He looked down the street past them, seeking the operative from the detective agency, who had phoned in to Tom Kirby. But he couldn't spot the man. He assumed that the operative would be well concealed.

Ed's forehead creased thoughtfully. Carlos and his stocky companion were up to something. They were interested in the restaurant across the street. Ed went back to the corner, crossed over, and strolled past the restaurant. It had begun to drizzle, and he pulled down his hat, turned up his coat collar. The chances were against Carlos recognizing him as he passed the lighted restaurant.

He slowed up as he passed the plate-glass window, peered in to see what was holding the interest of the Portuguese. Then his eyes suddenly narrowed. He recognized Ellen Kirby, sitting at a table near the window. She was alone, and apparently finishing a meal, for there was a cup of coffee and a small piece of pie before her.

Upon a sudden impulse, Ed turned in to Gallipoli's. He walked into the lighted restaurant and selected a table at the other end of the dining room from Ellen Kirby, but so placed that he had a view of the street.

HE ordered a cup of coffee, and studied Ellen Kirby. She would be twenty-one now. But she had lost none of her slim beauty, none of the lithe grace which had won the admiration of vaudeville audiences. Still, her face was a bit pinched, and Ed could see that there was tragedy in her eyes. She finished her coffee and pie and picked up the check. Her shoulders were sagging a bit as she put on her coat, and her step was listless as she made her way to the cashier's desk.

Ed Race threw a swift glance out the window. He saw Carlos Esquibar and his friend walking swiftly eastward, away from the restaurant.

He frowned thoughtfully, trying to figure the play. Ellen must still be living with Esquibar. Why, then, was Carlos following her? And if he was following her, why was he suddenly going away just as Ellen would be coming out?

Ed swung his eyes back to the cashier's desk and saw that Ellen was in some kind of trouble. The cashier, a fat man with a drooping mustache, was waving a bill at her, and talking fast, in a high-pitched, angry voice.

"Thisa money iss no good! She's a phony! You stay here. I call a cop!"

The cashier reached over and gripped Ellen's wrist, then tapped a bell on the counter to summon Signor Gallipoli from the rear office.

Several of the patrons in the place turned to stare at the scene, and Ed Race got to his feet, went swiftly to the desk.

Ellen Kirby was standing there, with her wrist still in the grip of the cashier. Her face was frighteningly white, and she uttered a little gasp when she saw Ed Race. But she said nothing.

Ed said easily to the cashier, "What's that—a phony?"

The cashier glared at Ellen, waved the bill in the air. "She's a crook. She give me a phony twenty dollar!"

Ed said, "Huh. Let's see it."

He took the bill, looked closely at it. Sure enough, there was a minute crack running diagonally down the lower left-hand side of the bill. He raised the bill to the light, as if to look through it, and at the same time put his left hand casually in his trousers pocket. Ellen Kirby, still in the grip of the cashier, watched him with lackluster eyes.

Signor Gallipoli came puffing from the back of the store. He knew Ed Race, as did most of the businessmen along Broadway. Ed Race was the Masked Marksman, of vaudeville fame. He was billed from coast to coast on the far-flung Partages Circuit, as "The Man Who Can Make Guns Talk." His startling feats of well-nigh incredible marksmanship on the stage, with those six heavy .45 calibre hair-trigger revolvers, always left his audiences breathless with wonder.

But his restless nervous energy did not allow him to rest on the adulation of the crowd, or to be content with the enormous salary he drew down. The breath of excitement and danger was as necessary to him as were cigarettes to the average man. He had therefore, many years before, adopted a side-line—the profession of criminology. He held licenses to operate as a private detective in a dozen states; and he had as many friends in the police departments of scores of cities as he had enemies in the underworld. There was more than one occasion when he had befriended the businessmen of Broadway. Only a month ago they had tendered him a dinner and a gold watch. Gallipoli beamed at him, then scowled at Ellen Kirby, and turned inquiringly to the cashier, who explained volubly in Greek that she had offered him a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill—one which they had only today been warned against by the authorities.

Gallipoli said, "Hah! We catch the passer!" He glared at Ellen. "Wait till Inspector MacSpain get you in headquarters! You tell him who is your boss—no?"

Ellen looked helplessly at Ed, then said to Gallipoli, "But I didn't know—"

"Hah!" Gallipoli snorted. "Never does the passer know! Always is it a mistake! Call the police!"

"Wait a minute," Ed said mildly. "You don't want to go off half-cocked, Gallipoli. Better be sure this bill is a counterfeit before you have her arrested. She could sue you for damages, you know."

Gallipoli frowned and took the bill from Ed's hand. The cashier leaned forward eagerly, but not neglecting to keep his grip on Ellen's wrist. He began to spout Greek to his boss again, and pointed to the lower left-hand corner. Suddenly, he stammered, faltered, and grew red in the face. There was no crack in the lower left-hand corner!

Gallipoli studied the bill carefully, on both sides. His bushy eyebrows began to draw down ominously. He threw the bill on the counter and began to curse the cashier in fluent, stinging Greek. The cashier cringed under the verbal lashing. Ed Race stood by, without a trace of expression on his poker face. Ellen Kirby threw him a quick, grateful glance.

"That was fast work, Ed," she whispered.

Ed Race acknowledged her thanks with a short nod. He was busy with his left hand in his jacket pocket, stuffing the counterfeit twenty-dollar bill into the open package of cigarettes there.

Gallipoli was profusely apologizing, and thrusting the change of the twenty into Ellen's hands. The cashier was silent but still staring at the bill with a troubled expression, mingled with doubt. Whatever he thought, he kept quiet for fear of Gallipoli's anger.

ED piloted Ellen Kirby out of the dining room but put a hand on her arm while they were still in the vestibule.

"Tell me all about it now, Ellen," he said. "Carlos is out there with a friend."

She started, visibly. "Carlos! I—I thought he had gone! That man with him"—she shuddered—"is Franconi."

Ed raised his eyebrows. "Franconi? Who's he?"

She was trembling now, and there was the faintest trace of tears in her eyes. Ed put a heavy hand on her shoulder, steadied her. "Chin up, Ellen. You're in trouble, and I want to help you. Tell me about it. How come you're passing the queer?"

She looked up at him with wide, honest eyes. "I give you my word, Ed, I didn't know it was counterfeit. Carlos and I came into New York yesterday, from New Orleans. We—we took an apartment on Fifty-first Street. This man Franconi came and talked with Carlos almost all day, and Carlos made me stay in the bedroom while they talked. We—we hadn't eaten all day, because we had no money for food. Then Carlos came in, gave me the twenty-dollar bill, and told me to go to Gallipoli's and order a meal, and bring him back some sandwiches. He said he had to go somewhere with Franconi. He brought me here and left me, saying he'd meet me back at the apartment in a half-hour."

Ed saw that Ellen was on the verge of hysteria. He put an arm around her shoulders. "Why didn't you go to your father?" he asked her gently. "Tom would gladly help you, take you back. You don't have to stay with Carlos—"

Her chin came up.

"I made a mistake, Ed. I was a foolish kid, I suppose. But I'm not going to come crying on anybody's shoulder. I married Carlos, and I'm going to face it out. I—I couldn't go back to Dad, whipped—the way I am!"

A steely glint came into Ed Race's eyes. "All right, Ellen. You're a trouper, kid, and I'm not going to let you down.

"Carlos must have this batch of counterfeit money. He gave you the twenty to try out, to see if it would go through. The rat—he didn't care if you were caught passing it!"

Ellen said, "I've taken about enough from him. I'm going back and have it out. If he's handling this counterfeit money with Franconi, I'll—I'll turn him in!"

Ed thought swiftly. There were other ways to get at Carlos. He could tip off MacSpain, and the inspector could raid Carlos' apartment. But would he find the counterfeit money there? Perhaps Carlos didn't have it in the apartment. The raid would fall through, and Carlos would go free for lack of proof against him.

"Do you think you could locate the money?" he asked Ellen quickly.

"I'll try!" Her eyes were shining with sudden resolve now. "I've begged Carlos to let me have a divorce, but he only laughs at me. He says if I try to get one, he'll fight me through the courts—frame me, if he has to. He says he'll make my name a laughingstock all over the nation." She breathed deeply. "But if he's arrested and convicted for this, I could—could get a divorce."

Ed made up his mind. "All right, Ellen. It's the only way to do it. You go back. I'll follow you. Tell Carlos everything went off all right here. Tell him they took the bill without question. Show him the change to prove it. Then, if he goes out again, you search that apartment with a fine-tooth comb. See if you can find his hiding place. Locate that counterfeit money, and I'll get MacSpain to come in. That'll be better than his raiding cold, because it'll put you in the position of aiding the law. The other way, they'd look at you as an accessory!"

He gave her a few final instructions, and let her go out first. In a minute or two he followed her. He looked back to see the cashier watching him from inside. No doubt the man was wondering what they had been talking about, was becoming suspicious all over again. But Ed shrugged. He didn't care anymore what the cashier thought.

He had too many other things to figure. He hoped that Inspector MacSpain had not remained at the corner, for he didn't want any interference now. For Ellen's sake, he wanted to see this through without the intervention of the law, until he could get her clear of the whole thing.

And he hoped desperately that Boiling, the assistant manager of the Clyde Theater, had been able to keep Tom Kirby from going off on his lone manhunt. Ellen's father could ruin everything by butting in at the wrong moment.

ED got out into the street, and saw Ellen walking east, under a street lamp. His eyes quartered the block, and he caught sight of two shadowy figures in a doorway halfway up the block. That would be Carlos and his friend Franconi. Now Ed understood their action in walking away from Gallipoli's at the psychological moment. In the event that the counterfeit was discovered and Ellen caught, they didn't want to be too close to the restaurant when it happened. Their caution had worked out perfectly thus far, for they had been unable to see what transpired at the cashier's desk.

He fell in behind Ellen, keeping about two hundred feet behind her.

Ellen turned the corner at Sixth Avenue, and her two shadowers followed, crossing the street. Ed kept a good distance behind. She had given him the address of the apartment on Fifty-first Street, and he wasn't afraid of losing her. It was something else that worried him. Tom Kirby had told him that there was a detective agency operative shadowing Carlos, and Ed wanted to find that man.

It was not until they reached Fiftieth Street that Ed saw him. He was on the opposite side of Sixth Avenue, on the same side as Carlos and Franconi. Ed had seen him a block or so south, but hadn't been sure, because there were a number of other pedestrians out in the rain. Now Ed was sure, because the man had stuck all along.

Ed struck out diagonally across Sixth Avenue toward the operative, and the man saw him coming, elaborately turning to look into a pawnshop window.

Ed came up to him, and said, "Hello, Gerson!"

He knew the man. He worked for a shady outfit, known as the Red Star Agency, and Ed made a mental note to reprimand Tom Kirby for using such a disreputable firm. Gerson affected surprise. "Why, hello, Mr. Race! How's tricks?"

Ed could see that Gerson was throwing a nervous glance up the street at Carlos and Franconi, who were already turning into Fifty-first.

"It's all right, Gerson," Ed said. "I'm taking over. Kirby sent me instead of coming himself."

Gerson looked suspicious. "But Kirby said he'd be right over, when I phoned him—"

"I said I'm taking over," Ed told him coldly. "Do you want to argue?"

"No, no!" Gerson said hastily. He dropped his eyes. "It's okay with me, Mr. Race. I know you're a friend of Kirby's. That's his daughter, that just went around the corner—"

"Scram!" said Ed.

Gerson shrugged and slouched off.

Ed hurried around into Fifty-first Street. There was no sign of either Ellen Kirby, or of Carlos and Franconi. The address which Ellen had given him was a four-story brownstone about a third of the way up the block. Third floor front, she had said.

Ed walked past the house, looked up. There was no light in the third floor front, but he thought he saw a face at the window for a moment. The face disappeared at once, and the shade was pulled down. Then a light went on.

Ed was troubled. If Carlos had spotted him, there would be trouble. The Portuguese would be on guard, might even harm Ellen. Ed had told her that he would remain outside until he saw Carlos and the other come out, then he would follow them while she searched the apartment.

He waited ten minutes, and the longer he waited the surer he was that Carlos had spotted him. He began to have troubled thoughts of what the Portuguese and his friend might be doing to Ellen. Carlos the Magician had once worked the circus sideshows, but in the last few years no respectable midway would have him. He had opened booths in various cities, and had used his magic shows as a cover for numerous criminal enterprises. Carlos was a man without a conscience, and without compunction. If he suspected that Ellen Kirby was trying to get the goods on him, he would be equal to killing her.

His thoughts swept back over the years to the time when Ellen, a little girl in pigtails, had first joined her father's acrobatic act. He remembered how she would swing from a low trapeze, close to the stage, hanging by her hands; how she would reach down with her bare feet, pick up a kewpie doll in those agile toes of hers, and then throw it with her feet to her father, who hung head down from the next trapeze. That number had been a knockout, and the Kirbys had toured America with it.

Now that demure little girl, who had won the love of every audience she appeared before, was upstairs with two criminals, one of whom was her husband!

Ed could wait no longer. He unbuttoned his topcoat, so as to have better access to his two shoulder holsters, and entered the dimly lit vestibule. There were only two or three names on the bells, and the name of Esquibar was not among them.

He started up the stairs, moving swiftly yet quietly. He reached the third-floor landing and paused a moment. There was no light at all on this floor, and he waited to accustom his eyes to the darkness. Four doors faced him, two at the rear, two at the front. From the position of the light he had seen in the window, he knew that the left-hand door at the front was the one he wanted. He began to move slowly toward it, and suddenly his blood was chilled by a pain-wracked moan that came from behind that door.

That was Ellen Kirby! He knew her voice, in spite of the agony that twisted her tones. He leaped for the door, his face tight and grim. He turned the knob, not expecting it to open. But it did. It gave under his pressure, and he pushed the door wide open.

At the same instant, something hard bored into his back. A voice behind him said, "Stand still, sucker!"

Ed Race, the blood running swift in his veins, stood rigid, with the gun at his back, and stared into the lighted apartment revealed by the open door.

IT was a combination dining-and-living room, with one of those old-fashioned round dining-room tables in the center. Upon this table stood an electric iron, plugged into the wall. The iron was glowing hot.

Beside the table, Ellen Kirby sat, strapped into a chair, arms twisted behind her. She had been secured with the straps from two valises which lay open and empty at the far side of the room. Ellen's shoes and stockings had been ripped off, and lay on the floor beside the chair. There were half a dozen large red blisters on her feet, where the hot iron had been applied. Her face was white, colorless, and her eyes stared at Ed with a deep, bottomless hopelessness.

Directly behind her, and sheltered by her body, stood Carlos the Magician, grinning at Ed Race. He had a gun in his hand, and was pointing it at Ed over Ellen's shoulder. "Come in, Senor Race," he said tauntingly.

Ed tensed, every fiber of his body ready to uncoil in sudden blinding action. Franconi, behind, nudged him with the gun. "Go ahead, sucker."

Ed Race went into the room, and Franconi kicked the door shut. Ed stood there and stared over Ellen's head at the sallow, smirking countenance of Carlos Esquibar. He said slowly, "I'm going to kill you for that, Carlos!" He jerked his head toward Ellen Kirby's blistered feet.

Esquibar showed perfect, white teeth in a grin. "Thees time, Senor Race, you weel not keel no one. Observe—I am behind Ellen. My friend is behind you. Do not try to draw those so-dangerous guns of yours, for I will surely shoot Ellen in the spine if you do. You do not weesh to see your best friend's daughter shot in the spine, no?"

Franconi laughed, behind Ed. "I guess you walked in, sucker. Carlos knew what he was talking about when he said you'd come up—alone!"

Ed said nothing. He measured his chances. He had often been in just as tight a spot. He knew that he could kick Franconi in the shin, and go into a back somersault as he did every night on the stage. He knew that, while his body was in whirling motion, these men would not be able to hit him, even in this small room. And finally, he knew that he could draw his two revolvers before he landed back on his feet, and shoot Franconi and Esquibar to death. He had done that trick every night on the stage for years, and was letter perfect in it—with the added difficulty of having to hit the flame of a candle at the other end of the stage, instead of the much easier target of a bulky man.

But he also realized that Esquibar fully intended to shoot Ellen the moment he started. Esquibar and Franconi would never have dared to buck him, even with naked guns, if they hadn't had Ellen there. Ellen's presence changed the picture.

Ed shrugged. "You win, Esquibar," he said flatly. "What do you want?"

Esquibar looked a little relieved. "We question my dear wife," he explained. "She have come in but two or three minutes before us, and she have somewhere hidden a so-valuable package of money. We cannot find it. We wish her to tell, but she is—what you call—stubborn!"

Ed said to her, "Tell them, Ellen."

She shook her head defiantly, even while she winced from the agony of her burned feet. "No! No!"

Esquibar shrugged. "Then we must proceed. You, Senor Race! You will take from your shoulder holsters your two guns, and put them on the floor. But remember—you will hold them with only two fingers while you put them down. Should you grab one in your whole hand, I will place a bullet in Ellen's spine!"

"Yeah," Franconi chimed in, nudging him with the gun. "And I'll blast you!"

Ed Race's eyes were suddenly narrowed and calculating. He opened his jacket, and very gingerly and carefully pulled out one of the guns, holding it between thumb and forefinger. Franconi moved over a little to one side, so he could see, and Carlos tensed, holding his gun muzzle between Ellen's shoulder blades.

Slowly, Ed put the gun down on the floor and shoved it over toward Carlos. Then he did the same with the second one. Both heavy revolvers came to rest near the chair in which Ellen sat. Carlos' eyes were glittering.

"So! The great and dangerous Ed Race is now disarmed. His teeth are drawn—he is no longer dangerous!"

Franconi stepped back a pace and kept Ed covered. "Get to work, Carlos," he muttered. "We want that dough."

Carlos said, "Ah, yes!" He stepped to the table and lifted the hot iron, tapped a thumb to it. "She will speak, I promise!"

Ellen's eyes were wide, fixed on that iron. She moaned, "Why did you give up your guns, Ed? They'll kill us both now. They'll never let us out of here alive once they get the money!"

Ed spoke to her in a flat, soft voice. "Do you remember that trapeze act you did when you were a kid—with your dad? That's why I gave up my guns."

CARLOS had holstered his own gun now, and he was coming around at the side of Ellen's chair, carrying the hot iron. He reached over and tore the dress from her breast, exposing the soft, white skin. "This time, Ellen dear," he snarled, "we try here. You can stand this maybe not so good as the feet—eh?"

Ellen Kirby didn't hear him. Her eyes were fixed, staring in sudden comprehension of what Ed Race had just said. His words had carried no significance for Carlos or Franconi. But to her they evoked memories—memories and a deep meaning.

Her eyes darted down to the two revolvers on the floor. Ed had given them up, in order to save her from being shot. But now, Carlos was not behind her with a gun. What Ed Race wanted was clear to her.

Carlos had one hand on her shoulder, and the other was bringing the sizzling iron toward the white skin of her breast. Ellen squirmed, as if trying to draw away from the searing heat. In reality she had slouched farther down in the chair. Her bare toes touched one of Ed's two guns. Neither Franconi nor Carlos noticed that, for Carlos' lustful eyes were on the iron, while Franconi kept his gaze glued to Ed.

With the same skill that she had used years before in picking up a kewpie doll while swinging from a trapeze, Ellen Kirby got her toes around Ed's gun, and lifted it. She made a convulsive motion with her body just as the hot iron touched her breast. She screamed, but she did not lose her presence of mind. She kicked the gun toward Ed Race.

Franconi had taken his eyes from Ed for the instant that Ellen screamed. The revolver went sailing through the air, but Ellen hadn't thrown it straight. It would pass four or five feet from where Ed stood. He bent his knees, leaped cleanly into the air after it.

Franconi cursed, and swung his gun around. But Ed Race already had his hand on the revolver. He let himself go through the air, throwing his body into a forward somersault.

Franconi shouted a mad curse and fired, but his slug gouged the wall at least two seconds after Ed had left that spot.

Ed's forward dive carried him into Carlos, whom he knocked backward. Carlos fell, tangled with the hot iron, and shrieked with pain and fear as the heated metal seared his flesh.

Ed was on the floor, his body twisting in a lightning motion.

Franconi fired again, but his shot was wild and frantic. It smashed the windowpane, sending a tinkling shower of glass down into the street. He didn't fire again. Ed Race shot once, from the crouch he had come into on the floor, and a huge black hole appeared on Franconi's forehead.

Ed didn't even wait to see where his slug had gone. He was too old a hand at this to worry whether or not he'd missed. He knew where he had hit Franconi.

He swiveled in time to see Carlos with his gun out, bringing it down into line with Ellen's bound figure. Ed's lips were a thin, tight, remorseless line as he touched the hair-trigger, sending a bullet straight into the white teeth of the Portuguese.

The heavy .45 calibre slug tore the top of Carlos' head off. The room resounded with the thunderous vibrations of the shooting.

Then Ed Race got to his feet, walked steadily over to Ellen's chair, began to unbuckle the straps. At the same time, the door from the corridor opened, and Inspector MacSpain barged in with his gun drawn.

MACSPAIN stopped short, gazing at the two bodies. "Holy mackerel, Ed," he exclaimed, "you worked fast! I followed you from the restaurant, and I gave you five minutes after you came up here. I guess it was four minutes too much!"

Ed grinned at him sourly. "Thanks for the escort, Mac. How come?"

MacSpain shrugged. "I passed Gallipoli's again, just as you came out. Gallipoli, himself, ran out and began to jabber about counterfeit money and such, and he pointed to you. I saw you were following a girl, and someone else was following her too, so I tagged along."

Ed Race nodded somberly. "Okay, Mac. You can tell your federal friends that they needn't worry about the counterfeit money anymore. I think we've cleaned that up." He glanced at Ellen.

She had shut her eyes to keep out the sight of the two dead men. A .45 calibre revolver will make a man very messy at close range. She touched the blister on her breast and winced. "The—the money is all here, and the plates, too. They were in those bags."

MacSpain asked her eagerly, "But where are they now?"

She looked at Ed. "I hid the money and the plates—in the only place I could think of. I put them on top of the dumbwaiter and sent it to the roof!"

Ed grinned at her. "Good girl!" He went into the bathroom, and found a tube of salve. He came back and put some of it on her burns, while MacSpain pulled up the dumbwaiter and found the stacks of counterfeit money, as well as the plates.

"There's a reward for this," he said dubiously.

Ed smiled. "Half and half, Mac. Half to you, half to Miss Kirby."

"And you, Ellen," he said sternly, "go back to your dad. There's a spot waiting for you in that vaudeville act of his. From the way you slung me that revolver, you ought to be back in electric lights in no time."

She looked at him for a long minute, then suddenly covered her face with her hands, and great sobs wracked her body. Ed put an arm around her.

MacSpain winked at him over her shoulder. Then he looked around the room at Carlos and Franconi. "Why did you have to kill them so dead?" he asked.

Ed winked back solemnly. "I had to be sure Ellen would be a widow," he said.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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