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First published in The Spider, October 1943

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version date: 2020-06-30
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The Spider, October 1943, with "Death's Dress Rehearsal"

The lunchroom waitress who wore an evening gown decorated with bloodstains tried to match gunplay with Ed Race, the notorious Masked Marksman, and led him on a homicidal game of murder tag—in which he was It!

ED RACE was always a pushover for mystery and danger. So when he walked into the Waterside Lunch Room, and saw the redheaded girl behind the counter, with that wide smear of fresh blood across the front of her dainty white apron, life became at once more interesting.

He sat down on a counter stool, noting that he was the only customer. The redheaded girl came over, giving him a quick, keen scrutiny.

"What'll you have?" she asked.

Ed smiled, not looking at the crimson smear across her apron. "A cup of coffee," he said. "Without blood in it."

The girl's face grew tight and strained. "What do you mean?"

Ed's glance dropped significantly to the tell-tale smear. It ran from her left shoulder diagonally across her chest. It looked like someone had wiped a bloody hand across the apron.

She must not have been aware of the blood for when she saw it she uttered a startled exclamation. Her green eyes darkened. Her lips tightened. She brought one hand out from underneath the apron, gripping a small, stubby-barreled automatic pistol.

She pointed the pistol at Ed and clicked the safety catch off with her thumb.

"Come behind the counter," she said. "And don't get the idea that I won't shoot."

Ed had seen the gun coming out from behind the apron in ample time to have drawn one of his own two heavy forty-fives from their shoulder holsters, and fired.

Guns were Ed Race's business. On the far-flung stages of the Partages coast-to-coast Theatre Circuit he was billed as The Masked Marksman—The Man Who Can Make Guns Talk. On the stage his gun-act made people hold their breath.

But he didn't want to draw and fire and kill this girl, or even seriously injure her. He liked the combination of her red hair and sea-green eyes. So he didn't move when her gun came out.

"Well," she asked. "Do you come back here—or do I pull the trigger?"

"Anything to oblige a lady," Ed said. He got off the stool, put one foot up on the counter and vaulted over. He landed very close to her. She swung a little, thrusting the stubby barrel of the pistol against his chest.

Ed's eyes narrowed as he saw something which the counter had hidden from him. The girl was wearing the white apron over an evening gown which came down to her ankles with a swirling fullness and almost hid her silver-and-satin dancing pumps.

"That's a strange costume to work in," he said. "A red evening gown and a bloodstained apron."

"Never mind," she said coldly. "You know what I want. Give it to me."

"I'm afraid I haven't got whatever it is you want," Ed told her.

Her green eyes flashed angry lights.

"You'd better have it," she told him savagely. "For your own sake! Put your hands up. Turn around. I'm going to search you."

Ed shrugged and turned around, keeping his hands in the air.

With his back to the girl, he could hear a swift swirl of motion behind him and he guessed what was about to take place. The girl couldn't chance his grabbing the pistol while she searched him. Therefore, she intended to knock him out first and then go through his pockets.

Ed Race decided that this had gone far enough. He was appearing for a full week under star billing at the Waterside Theatre and he didn't want to be laid up with a cracked skull.

He went into a forward somersault in the narrow space behind the counter. It was a trick he did on the stage six days a week. On the stage, when he came out of the somersault, he would have the two revolvers drawn from their shoulder holsters and would be shooting at twelve playing-cards suspended from toy-balloons over the stage.

Now, twisting around to face the girl, he had both guns in his hands—but he held his fire.

The girl had stumbled forward, off balance, when her down-swinging blow with the clubbed automatic missed Ed's skull. She sprawled on the floor. The pistol flew from her hand into a box of peeled potatoes under the steam table.

WHEN she saw Ed's guns, she uttered a startled exclamation, hoisted herself up to her feet. Then she turned and darted into the narrow space behind the counter, toward the swing door which led into the kitchen. The long red dress swished around her shapely ankles as she pushed the swinging door open.

Ed called out, "Stop!" but she only glanced back and darted on through the kitchen.

Swearing softly under his breath, Ed ran after her. The swinging door was just completing its return arc when he reached it. He holstered his guns, punched it open again and raced into the kitchen. He was just in time to catch a glimpse of the redheaded girl at the back door. She was hurrying out into a dark alley beyond.

Ed shouted. She turned her head for a moment, then darted on, disappeared into the darkness of the alley. Suddenly a bright silver-and-satin slipper went flying off her foot. Ed heard her cry of consternation. For an instant, he thought she might stop for the slipper, but then he heard the uneven patter of her feet—one shod, and the other unshod—running on in the dark.

Ed leaped forward to pursue her—and tripped over something on the kitchen floor, fell headlong on his face and hands. Even as he fell, he heard the swift, irregular patter of the girl's feet fading outside and knew he'd never be able to catch her.

He got to his feet, wiping kitchen grease from his hands and clothes, and turned around to see what had tripped him.

The body of a man lay on the floor on its face. There was a neat bullet hole in the back of the head. The corpse wore a white jacket and a white apron.

Ed kneeled beside the body, put the back of his hand against its cheek. The body was still warm. About forty, the corpse had heavy features and a flat nose, close-cropped brown hair.

Ed noted that the bullet hole was small, probably made by a twenty-two—the same calibre as the stubby-barreled automatic pistol which now lay in the potato box out front.

He straightened up and crossed the kitchen to the back-alley door, picked up the silver-and-satin slipper. He looked inside the shoe and saw the name of the store—Terpsichore Outfitters, Stage Building, New York City. The size was 4 1/2A, and the serial number was F25327. The style number was 203.

Ed raised his eyebrows. It was a little strange that a redheaded girl in a town seventeen hundred miles from New York should buy her shoes there.

He slipped the shoe back in his pocket, peered out into the alley and saw that it was dark and quiet. He turned back inside, stepped over the body and pushed open the swinging door. The thing to do at this point was to notify the police. Ed was in a strange town. He didn't want to get off on the wrong foot with the law at the very beginning of a murder case.

This encounter with murder was no new experience for Ed Race. Long ago, he had found that his excess nervous energy demanded other outlets than those afforded by his gun-juggling and marksmanship act. He needed the quickening presence of danger and swift action. So he had adopted a hobby—the study of criminology.

He held licenses to operate as a private detective in a dozen states, and the two heavy forty-five calibre hair trigger revolvers in his shoulder holsters had seen almost as much service in the pursuit of his hobby as they had seen on the stage.

BUT even though he had a hunch, somehow, that the red-headed girl wasn't guilty, he knew that he had to notify the police. He pushed through into the lunchroom and came out behind the counter. Another customer had entered while Ed had been engaged in the kitchen.

He was seated at the counter, a very tall, very skinny man with a long and bony face and a pair of shrewd, small black eyes. He had his hat pushed far back on his head. He looked impatient.

"Well!" he said to Ed. "It's about time!"

"For what?" Ed prompted.

"About time you showed up—or the girl. Where's the girl?"

"What girl?" Ed asked, innocently.

"Quit stalling," said the stranger. "I'm Brant."

"How are you?" said Ed.

"It ain't a question of how I am," Brant told him sourly. "All I want to know, is—have you got it, or haven't you?"

Ed frowned. "Got what?" This was the same question the girl had asked him.

Brant gave him a mildly disgusted look. "Maybe I'm in the wrong place. Where's Red?"

"Red?" Ed thought for a second, then decided to take a chance. "She isn't here," he said. "She had to leave in a hurry."

"Did she leave the dough with you?"

"Sure," Ed went whole hog now.

"Ah! That's good!" Brant exclaimed. "I knew she wouldn't cross me up this time. She can't afford to."

He picked up a brief case from the next seat, put it on the counter. "Here's the stuff," he said, patting the leather. "I said I'd bring it, and here it is." He slid the zipper open. "Hand over the dough and I'll give you what's in here. Five grand on the line."

"You have to let me see what's in the brief case first," Ed objected, playing out the game with the bluff cards he held.

Brant gave him a shrewd look. "You a lawyer?"


"Friend of Red's?"

"Sort of."

"You got the five grand?"

"Would I be here if I didn't?"

Brant grinned. "All right. That's all I wanted to know." He put his hand in the brief case and pulled out a small revolver. He stopped grinning. His eyes became sharp and deadly. He thrust the gun forward, resting his elbow on the counter. The muzzle pointed at Ed's stomach. "Hand over the five grand!"

"Hey!" Ed exclaimed, in mock surprise. "What is this—a holdup?"

"Don't waste words," Brant said in a dangerous voice. "Take out the five grand and put it on the counter."

"Now wait a minute," Ed said. "I haven't got the money on me."

Brant sighed. The gun muzzle centered just above Ed's belt buckle.

"Well," Brant said, "I guess it won't be too disagreeable to kill you. Only I'd rather not get the money all bloody. However—"

"Take it easy," Ed said quickly. "I'll get it."

Brant's eyes flickered. "That's better. Where is it?"

"Right here behind the counter. Hidden in the potato box."

"Ah!" said Brant. "Quite cautious, aren't you?"

"Aren't you going to give me what's in the brief case?" Ed asked.

"Hell, no," Brant said.

"But you promised Red you would!"

"Sure. What's a promise between friends? Now get that dough out of the potato box and hand it over."

Ed said, "I just wanted to make sure what kind of rat you were."

He moved over behind the counter and bent down and put his hand into the potato box. He peered around, saw that Brant's gun was still pointed at him. There was a deadly look in Brant's eyes. He intended to get the money and then shoot Ed.

Ed's hand, moving around in the potato box, encountered the stubby-barreled automatic the redheaded girl had lost in there. He gripped the butt, brought the pistol out of the box, swung around, and fired.

THE gun barked sharply. A small black hole appeared in the exact center of Mr. Brant's forehead. In matters of marksmanship, Ed Race was a perfectionist.

Brant was jerked backward by the bullet. His gun dropped to the counter. He seemed to sit upright on the stool for an instant as if wondering what to do next; and then he slumped sideways, slid off the stool onto the floor and lay quite still.

Ed grimaced, and picked up a dish towel, wiped the gun barrel carefully, removing both his own fingerprints and those of the redheaded girl. Then he dropped the automatic back into the potato box. He stepped back to the counter, turned the brief case around and peered inside it. It contained only a single item—a long manila envelope which lay in there in majestic solitude.

Using a paper napkin to hold the brief case without leaving prints, Ed drew out the manila envelope. It was sealed, and there was no address written on it, but in the upper left hand corner was printed:


It was the kind of envelope banks give to their safe deposit customers for the purpose of keeping securities or clipped coupons.

Ed didn't stop to open the envelope and examine its contents. He stuffed it in his pocket and vaulted the counter. Then he hurriedly stepped out the front door into the street. It was 2 A.M. by his wrist watch. He turned and walked swiftly away toward his hotel.

With a corpse in the kitchen and a corpse in the lunchroom and a silver-and-satin slipper and a mysterious manila envelope in his pocket, he didn't want to meet any inquisitive policemen at the moment.

He was beginning to feel the pangs of hunger, for he hadn't succeeded in getting the coffee and cake he had originally started out for. He had always made it a habit to take a walk after the show, and stop in somewhere for a snack. But tonight, with two corpses behind him, Ed decided to pass up the coffee.

He went directly to his hotel room. Once inside, he took out the manila envelope and the silver-and-satin slipper and placed them on the dresser. Then he got a pencil, and inserted it under one end of the envelope flap. He rolled it gently, carefully, inch-by-inch under the flap all the way across the length of the envelope, until he got the flap open without tearing it. In this way it would be possible to seal the envelope up again with paste, without anyone being the wiser.

The letter consisted of one sheet of legal paper, carefully typewritten, and reading as follows:

I, Steve Manioukis, being duly sworn, do hereby depose and say that Gilbert Saxon is innocent of the crime for which he has been convicted and sentenced to die in the electric chair on the twelfth day of August, 1943.

I further depose and say that the said crime for which Gilbert Saxon was convicted was really committed by me, Steve Manioukis; that it was I, and only I, who, on the 25th day of June, 1943, did enter the premises of District Attorney John Darlington, and did thereupon fire four bullets into the head of the said District Attorney John Darlington, killing him immediately.

I further depose that I was paid the sum of seven thousand dollars for committing the aforementioned crime, and that the person who paid me the money was Alexander Brewer.

I further depose that, upon the advice and direction of the aforementioned Alexander Brewer, I did use a pistol which had belonged to Gilbert Saxon, and that I left the said pistol at the scene of the crime, with the intent of framing the said Gilbert Saxon for the murder of John Darlington.

I further depose that, upon receiving the sum of seven thousand dollars from Alexander Brewer, I purchased the Waterside Lunch Room, of which I am now the proprietor.

I am making this confession of my own free will, for reasons best known to myself. When this confession is turned over to the proper parties, I shall no longer be in Waterside. I am quite sure that no one will ever be able to find me. My purpose in making this confession is to free an innocent man—Gilbert Saxon—and to place the guilt where it really belongs—with Alexander Brewer.

Signed: Steve Manioukis.

ED RACE read the weird confession with increasing bewilderment. He had, of course, heard of the murder of District Attorney Darlington and of the arrest of a young lawyer named Gilbert Saxon, who had been involved in a fierce feud with Darlington. But the disclosure that the dead man in the kitchen of the Waterside Lunch Room was the real murderer was something of a sensational stinger.

Underneath the confession was a notary's signature, which Ed glanced at only casually—till he saw the name of the notary. Then he sat up.

It read as follows:

Sworn to before me this tenth day of August, 1943.

Felix Brant

Notary Public

My commission expires

December 1946.

Felix Brant—the notary who had witnessed the confession of Steve Manioukis—was the man whom Ed Race had shot in the Waterside Lunch Room.

And Brant had come to sell the confession to the redheaded girl for five thousand dollars. But he had been just as willing to double-cross her and take the five thousand without the confession.

Now Ed Race had it. Today was the tenth of August, and tomorrow an innocent young man named Gilbert Saxon was going to die in the electric chair for a crime he had not committed.

The questions raced one after another through Ed's mind. Why had the redheaded girl wanted to buy the confession? She had evidently mistaken Ed Race for Felix Brant. She, too, had tried a little double-crossing. She had attempted to get the confession without paying the five thousand dollars which she had apparently promised for it.

And then there was another little question which bothered Ed a good deal. Who killed Steve Manioukis? The evidence pointed to the redheaded girl, of course. But Ed's hunch told him there might be another answer.

Any way he looked at it, he figured there were two things he had to do right now. He had to trace the redheaded girl and find out who she was. He had to turn this confession over to the district attorney as quickly as possible in order to save the life of an innocent man.

Ed picked up the phone and got the long distance operator. He put through a person-to-person call for Inspector MacSpain, his personal friend on the New York Police Force. Fifteen minutes later, he had his man.

"Mac," he said, "would you do a bit of investigating for me?"

"This better be good, Eddie," MacSpain growled. "Waking me up at three o'clock in the morning—"

"It's good, Mac. Look—I want the name of a redheaded girl who bought a pair of silver-and-satin slippers from the Terpsichore Outfitters in the Stage Building. Size 4 1/2A, Serial Number F25327, Style Number 203."

"Listen here, Eddie," MacSpain barked. "If you're waking me up at this hour because you've suddenly gone nuts over a dame—"

"I am going nuts," Ed told him. "But not in the way you think. This is murder, Mac. And the whackiest set-up you ever heard of. If I don't find out who that girl is, I may make a wrong move."

"Murder again, eh!" said MacSpain. "You and murder travel together." He paused, sighed. "Okay, Eddie, I'll get the dope for you. First thing in the morning."

"Call me at the Waterside Theatre, Mac. I'll be rehearsing there all morning."

"Good-by, Eddie," MacSpain told him. "And watch yourself. Don't forget you're in a strange town."

Ed hung up and sat thoughtfully for a moment. Then he got the telephone book, looked up the number of the District Attorney's office and called it. The phone rang at the other end for about five minutes before a sleepy voice answered.

"Waterside District Attorney's Office. Slawson speaking."

"Look here," Ed said. "I've got some very important information—"

"Call back in the morning," Slawson interrupted. "I'm just here for emergency night calls."

"This is an emergency," Ed exclaimed. "It's a matter of life and death. I've got to talk to the D.A."

"Now listen, mister," Slawson said gruffly. "We got a new district attorney here since Mr. Darlington was murdered, and he's plenty tough. I'm not waking him at this hour."

"Just give me his home phone number, and I'll call him."

"It's an unlisted number, and he'd know I gave it out. Nothing doing."

"But you've got to help me—"

"Nix. I'm not taking any chances with Mr. Brewer."

"Hey!" Ed shouted. "Wait a minute. Did you say—Brewer?"


"Alexander Brewer?"

"That's right. Alexander Brewer is the new district attorney. He was First Assistant, and he took over after Mr. Darlington was murdered."

"I see," Ed said. "Well, maybe you're right. It might be better if I didn't disturb Mr. Alexander Brewer tonight. Good-by, Mr. Slawson. And thanks very much. You've helped me—more than you know."

HE hung up, stuck the silver-and-satin slipper, together with Steve Manioukis' confession, into a drawer of the dresser, and very thoughtfully undressed, showered, and went to bed.

He awoke with a headache at nine o'clock and got to the theatre in a daze. All the time he kept picturing himself walking into the office of District Attorney Alexander Brewer and saying, "Mr. District Attorney, I have here a confession which incriminates you in the murder of the former District Attorney, John Darlington. No doubt you will want to take care of this at once, and free young Gilbert Saxon."

He could imagine just what action District Attorney Brewer would take.

He went through the rehearsal of his Masked Marksman number like an automaton. As a result he almost missed one of the candles in his final number. So preoccupied was he that the orchestra leader and the theatre manager both began to wonder if he was sick.

Constantly, as he went through the routine of his act, he kept listening for the sound of the phone in the wings, which would mean MacSpain's call coming through from New York.

But it didn't come at eleven, when they stopped rehearsing for a cup of coffee. Ed took the opportunity to inquire of the manager and of some of the local residents as to the political situation. He learned that there had been a hot political fight between Gilbert Saxon and John Darlington, that Darlington won the election for District Attorney.

Few people knew much about Gilbert Saxon. He had come to Waterside from another city a few years ago, was known to have a sister in the theatrical profession—probably a dancer or singer.

Ed's pulse stirred when he heard that. He remembered the silver-and-satin dancing slippers which the redheaded girl had worn last night. If he could only locate her...

The call from MacSpain came at eleven-forty-five.

"I've got the dope for you, Eddie," Mac said. "Those slippers were bought by a redheaded dancer named Eve Saxon. She tours the country doing a specialty fire dance. They know her well here in New York. She's on the road right now—and guess where she's playing?"

Ed said, "Waterside."

"Right the first time, Eddie," Mac told him. "She's dancing in a specialty number at the Bow-Tie Club."

"Thanks, Mac. I'll be seeing you on Broadway."

The bell rang just then for the rehearsal and Ed had to go back on stage. He kept thinking about young Gilbert Saxon in jail, awaiting execution tomorrow; and of his sister, desperately seeking to free him—desperately making a bargain with Felix Brant to buy the confession of Steve Manioukis.

She probably hadn't had the five thousand dollars and in her panic tried to get it without paying.

Surely she must have known that it would be folly to take the confession to District Attorney Brewer—the very man whom the confession implicated. What had she intended doing with it? Ed knew very well that it would be useless to call the governor. The governor would never consider a reprieve unless the recommendation came from the District Attorney.

After rehearsals Ed took a cab and went over to the Bow-Tie Club. It was closed, but there was some one in the office. In fact, there were two men there. One was tall, suave, with bushy eyebrows and the look of a man who liked power. The other was smaller, stockier. He gave Ed a quizzical look and demanded his business.

"My name is Race," Ed said. "I work at the Waterside Theatre this week. I was looking for the manager of this club."

"I'm the manager," said the stocky fellow. "Name of Givens. What can I do for you?

Before Ed could answer, the taller man arose and said, "I'm going, Givens. Call me tonight on that other thing."

"Yes, Mr. Brewer," said Givens.

Ed managed to cover his surprise pretty well. He took another look at the departing Mr. Brewer, and then when the door closed he said, "Is that the District Attorney?"

"You bet," said Givens. "Mr. Alexander Brewer. He owns this club."

"I see," Ed said. "Now, here's what I came for. I'd like to get the address of a young lady who dances here—a Miss Eve Saxon."

GIVENS seemed to freeze all over. He asked softly, "Would you mind telling me why you want to see Miss Saxon?"

"Some friends of hers in New York asked me to give her their regards when I hit Waterside," Ed said glibly.

"I'm sorry," Givens said, "but I don't know where she lives. You can see her here tonight."

"Thanks," Ed said. He got up and left.

At nine o'clock that evening he was back in the Bow-Tie Club, with a table close to the stage. He had tried to send his name in to Eve Saxon at the employee's entrance, but the doorman had come back and said that Miss Saxon wasn't seeing anybody today. So Ed was waiting now for her to appear for her dance number.

He noted that District Attorney Brewer was seated at a table not far from his own, looking sort of tense. In a few minutes he was joined by Givens, the manager of the club, and both men put their heads together. It was too early for the after-theatre crowd and the waiters were the only others around.

Pretty soon a piano player came in. Givens gave the order to rehearse Eve Saxon's number. Then he got up and walked over to Ed Race's table.

"You're the fellow who had greetings for Eve Saxon from New York, aren't you? Well, I'm sorry, but the club isn't officially open yet. You see, we're just going into rehearsal. Why don't you come back later?"

"Sorry," Ed said, "I can't. My own number goes on at ten-thirty. I have to be back at the theatre. Your doorman wouldn't let me in to see Eve Saxon, so I'll just wait here and see her when she comes out for rehearsal."

"I advise you to get out," Givens said.

"I'm not taking advice tonight," Ed said.

"Then I'll have you put out."

"I wouldn't," Ed told him. "This is a public place. The doors are open. You've got to serve the public. If you put me out I'll call a cop."

Givens turned on his heel without another word, went back to Brewer's table. The two men whispered and Brewer glanced over in Ed's direction.

He raised his hand and said, "Okay, start the rehearsal. Get Miss Saxon."

Eve Saxon danced out on the stage in the same red dress she had been wearing the night before. The moment he saw her—in spite of the makeup—Ed knew she hadn't slept all night.

Ed Race watched her with one eye, and watched Brewer and Givens with the other. He noted that the waiters and busboys had strangely disappeared. There was no one in the club right now except the four of them and the piano player.

Just as Eve Saxon finished her dance number, it came. Guns appeared in the hands of Brewer and Givens. Brewer raised his gun and leveled it at Eve Saxon. Givens swung and aimed at Ed Race.

Ed Race felt a strange exhilaration as he saw the two guns. This was the kind of game he could play. Even as the gun in Givens' hand swung toward him, Ed kicked over his table and threw himself backward in his chair, in a beautiful back somersault. He heard Givens' gun bark, but not Brewer's. He knew that Brewer was waiting for Eve Saxon to come to the dead stop at the end of her dance. Or else Brewer was waiting for Eve to hear the shot of Givens' gun and stop.

Givens' shot missed Ed by several feet: Ed's back flip was a thing which had confused better gunmen than he.

Ed came out of the somersault with both heavy revolvers out of their holsters and in his hands, just as he did on the stage.

BREWER'S gun was already spitting up at the stage where Eve Saxon was standing transfixed. Givens was trying another shot. But the two heavy slugs from Ed's powerful guns smashed into both men almost simultaneously, spoiling their aim and dropping them both.

Immediately, shouts arose from over the place and men came rushing in. When they arrived, they found the piano player hiding under the piano. Ed Race was up on the stage with Eve Saxon behind him.

Ed faced them, both guns aimed.

"Your boss is dead," he said. "I have a confession in my pocket that covers everything. If any of you rats would like to try for revenge—here I am."

None of the rats wanted anything of the kind. They just turned around and walked out. Ed waited a moment till he and the girl were alone and then he smiled. She was looking at him, wide-eyed. "Is—is it true what you said—that you have Steve Manioukis' confession?"

Ed nodded. "I didn't have it when you tried to take it from me last night. But I got it from the man whom you thought I was."

"Then—then it was you who shot Brant?"

"Right. But was it you who shot Manioukis?"

"No, no! I was told to go there to meet Brant. Manioukis failed to register for the draft and knew he was to be arrested. He wanted the money to get away. Brant made me the proposition. But when I got there I found Manioukis dead. Brewer must have got there first."

"But not till after Manioukis signed the confession," Ed told her. He reached into his pocket, took out the signed confession of Steve Manioukis. "Now that you're to have a new district attorney in Waterside, you won't have any difficulty getting quick action on your brother's reprieve."

She looked up at him. "Do you always appear just at the right time?"

Ed grinned. "I try to." He looked at his watch, and jumped. "Ten-fifteen! If I don't hurry, I won't appear at the right time. I have a show on at ten-thirty!"


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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