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First published in The Spider magazine, June 1935

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version date: 2019-08-11
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The Spider, June 1935, with "Murder in the Spotlight"

That bright spotlight revealed to breathless audiences the magic skill of Ed Race, gun-juggler extraordinary. But it also made him a target for a gun that wasn't juggled—that was trained on him with Death's own fateful accuracy...

WHEN Ed Race returned to the Longmont Hotel after taking his usual morning constitutional, the clerk at the desk handed him his key, a telephone message, and a white envelope on which his name was neatly typed. The telephone message said that Mr. Partages, the owner of the Clyde Theater, would call on Ed in person in a half hour.

"Mr. Partages just called a few minutes ago, sir," the clerk explained. "I told him you always came back from your walk at about ten o'clock, and he said to be sure you waited for him—that it's important."

Ed thanked the clerk. In the elevator, on the way up to his room he slit the white envelope—and whistled softly. In it, as he found by removing them, were five one thousand dollar bills.

The elevator operator turned at the whistle, saw the money, and grinned broadly.

"Looks like you're in the dough, Mr. Race."

Ed grunted. "This is as much of a surprise to me as it is to you, Al."

While speaking, he pulled out of the envelope a small slip of paper, upon which a message had been carefully typed. The message read:

It's better to be a live vaudeville juggler than a stiff corpse. Take a tip from us and don't accept the job Partages is going to offer you in the Clyde Theater. The enclosed chicken feed should compensate you for not taking the job. Be smart. If you should take Partages' job, you won't have a chance to enjoy the five grand.

Ed stuffed the note in his pocket together with the bills, stepped into the corridor and walked toward his room. A surge of pleasurable excitement overtook him. For two weeks now, ever since the death of Jake Landor, the boss of the Midwest Vaudeville Circuit, he had had nothing to do but mark time until the new owners of the Circuit could arrange his booking.

He was a professional juggler, but not one of the common garden variety. He juggled neither apples nor bright red balls. His playthings on the stage were six heavy, hair-trigger .45 caliber revolvers similar to the two which he carried in his armpit holsters at this moment.

In addition to juggling the guns, he accomplished almost incredible feats of marksmanship with them. His performance was a beautiful, rhythmic symphony embodying supreme coordination of muscle, mind and eye. He was billed throughout the country as The Masked Marksman—and wherever he appeared he never failed to pack the house.

Any other man might have been completely satisfied with such a unique position in the vaudeville world. But not Ed Race. He had long ago discovered that just as other men needed food and drink to sustain life, he himself required thrills, excitement and danger. So he had turned to the investigation of crime as a hobby. Now he had licenses to operate as a private detective in a dozen states—had he ever felt like retiring from the stage he could, he knew, have made a very comfortable living from his hobby.

Now, though it was not quite clear what this was all about, he felt confident things were going to start happening. Nobody puts five thousand dollars in an envelope without meaning business.

THE note had put him on his guard; when he stepped into his room, his right hand was close to his left shoulder holster. He closed the door behind him, and his eyes swept the room with a quick, searching glance.

Nobody was in it. But he noted one thing. The little black bag on his dresser was not in quite the same position as when he had left an hour ago. He opened it, studied the four heavy revolvers inside, swathed in chamois. These, with the two he carried, constituted the important props of his juggling act. All six weapons received the loving care the owner of a racing stable would have bestowed upon a favorite thoroughbred.

Ed unwrapped one of the revolvers, broke it, and removed the cartridges from the chamber. His eyes narrowed as he saw that each shell had been tampered with—filed down, and the powder removed. They were no more than blank cartridges.

Stormy-eyed, he proceeded to reload the guns from a supply of cartridges in his trunk. He had just finished with the last when he heard a scraping noise from the bathroom, the door of which was closed. Gripping more tightly the revolver in his hand, he sprang across the room, yanked open the bathroom door, twisting to one side as he did so, and leveled the gun at his hip.

But he didn't shoot.

Slowly his mouth twisted into a wry smile, and he said, "For the love of Pete, Halloran. I never thought you'd let anybody do that to you!"

Halloran, the house detective, was in the bathtub. But he had all his clothes on, and his hands were tied behind his back. Nor did he answer, because one of his socks had been stuffed in his mouth, and tied in place with a handkerchief. He had been trying to maneuver himself over the side of the tub.

Ed put his gun away, and entered the room. Standing beside the tub, he burst out laughing. "Halloran," he managed to gasp out, "this is classic. I wish I had a camera!"

The house detective gurgled behind his gag, and his eyes glared expressively as Ed, still laughing, stooped and helped him out of the tub, then untied his wrists and the gag.

"So somebody gave you a sock in the mouth, huh! I bet it tastes bitter."

Halloran rubbed his wrists, glowered, then sat down and started to put on his sock and shoe.

"Maybe it's funny to you, Race," he growled, "but if I ever see the palooka that done this to me, I'll twist him so he'll be able to put his whole foot in his mouth!"

Ed asked innocently, "You mean to tell me that it took just one palooka to put you in that bathtub? You surprise me, Halloran."

The house detective finished lacing his shoe, and stood up. "He had me covered the minute I came in," he explained. "He was holding one of your guns in his hand. What could I do?"

Ed grew suddenly serious. "Tell me about it, Halloran."

"Well, I just happened to be up here on the fifth floor, and I turned the corridor and seen this bird going into your room. All I got a glimpse of was his back, and I didn't think anything suspicious about it, just figured he was calling on you. Then when I got down stairs, I saw your key in the box, so I knew you hadn't come back yet. Get me?"

"That was very clever, Halloran," Ed told him. "You have the makings of a real detective."

HALLORAN didn't spot the sarcasm. He went on pridefully. "So up I came again, and burst in here. And there was this bird, standing right by the dresser, holding onto your gun, and it just happened to be pointing straight at me! This guy was tall and skinny, with dark hair and mean eyes. And he says to me, 'Just come inside, dick, and close the door behind you, quiet.' So that's what I done. And the monkey tied me up and flung me in the bathtub!"

Ed said sympathetically, "It's a hell of a note, Halloran, when people go around attacking peaceful, defenseless house detectives. Suppose you scram now, and if you see the mean bird that tied you up, be sure to call a cop."

He propelled the detective toward the door.

Halloran looked at him dazedly. "Ain't you going to report this? That bird was going through your room!"

"If you don't mind, I'd rather not report it. As long as it is over, let's forget about it. The only thing hurt was your pride. And at that you ought to be thankful this chap didn't turn on the water when he put you in the tub. Imagine how it would have felt to get a bath!"

With the door closed behind Halloran, Ed thoughtfully took the note from his pocket, together with the five one thousand dollar bills. As he started to read the note again, the telephone rang. The clerk downstairs informed him that Mr. Leon Partages and two other gentlemen were at the desk.

Ed said, "Send them up," and put both note and money back in his pocket. Also he replaced the four revolvers in the small black bag on the dresser, and closed it. Moments later there was a knock, and he opened the door to admit the visitors. Leon Partages, with whom he shook hands, was short and fat, but there was a stubborn set to his chin which accounted for the tremendous success he had made in the theater business.

In a short, clipped manner the theater man said: "Hello, Race. Hello, hello. I want you to meet Mr. Westerman, my general manager, and Charlie Barrett my lawyer. Close that door, and let's get down to business."

Ed nodded to the others. Barrett he knew by sight. He closed the door, found chairs for the three men and sat, himself, on the bed.

Westerman perched on the edge of his chair, took out and adjusted a pair of shell rimmed glasses, and produced an envelope, which he handed over to Partages. "There you are, sir. This is what you wanted to show Mr. Race."

Charlie Barrett, who was entirely bald and looked like a politician, leaned back in his chair, crossed his legs and lit an expensive cigar. He seemed entirely at ease.

Partages took the envelope, hesitated, cleared his throat, then said: "Look, Ed, before I show you this, I got a proposition to make. I want you to put on your juggling act for the opening number at the Clyde Theater this afternoon. Your regular salary with the Midwest Vaudeville Circuit has been five hundred dollars a week; I'll give you a thousand a week."

"What's the catch?" Ed asked.

Partages leaned forward eagerly. "You're right. There is a catch. Here, take a look at this."

HE extracted a sheet of paper from the envelope Westerman had given him, and handed it over. It was a neatly typed message, addressed to Leon Partages. It read:

The Clyde Theater represents an investment of a lot of money. You would lose plenty if you had to close up. If you are willing to pay ten per cent of your proceeds each week, we will permit you to continue to operate. Otherwise, the first actor who appears upon the stage at each performance will be killed. If you are willing to pay this percentage, you may insert an ad in the Business Opportunity column of the Times. Let it read, "I will take a ten per cent partner in my vaudeville enterprises." If you insert the ad, you will receive instructions as to how to make your payments. If the insertion does not appear by Saturday, the first performer who appears in the Monday's matinée performance will die.

There was no signature.

Ed Race handed the letter back to Partages. He said thoughtfully, "This is Tuesday. I take it you didn't insert the ad?"

Partages shook his head violently. Westerman spread his hands out in a gesture of appeal. "How could we accept, Mr. Race? They would spread the system to every theater in the city if they succeeded with us."

Charlie Barrett, the lawyer, said nothing. He tilted his head, blew smoke rings at the ceiling.

"All right." Ed stirred impatiently. "You didn't insert the ad. So what happened yesterday?"

Partages stood up suddenly, began pacing up and down the room. "They kept their threat! You know Stackney and Vines—the acrobatic team?"

Ed nodded.

"Well, Stackney was the first to appear on the stage at yesterday's show. Their number opened the bill." He stopped in front of Ed, shook a pudgy forefinger in his face. "Stackney was shot through the heart by somebody in the audience with a silenced rifle!"

Westerman added: "We kept it a secret. The police didn't give out any information to the reporters. The audience didn't know Stackney had been shot. They just thought he fainted."

"I get it," Ed said. "Now you want me to go on instead of Stackney this afternoon, and be number two. Is that it?"

"Look, Ed," Partages urged appealingly, "you're the logical man to do it. You're lightning with those guns of yours, and you always go on with the whole house lighted up. There'll be plainclothes men sitting in the aisle seats in every single row. Nobody with a large package will be admitted. There'll be danger, yes—but I know you, and I know damn well you'll do it!"

Ed sighed. "I guess you're right, Partages. I'll do it."

Partages wheezed a deep breath of relief. "I was sure you would." He smacked his right fist into his left palm. "Now I can fight these dirty murdering leeches. Look, Ed, I brought Charlie Barrett along to draw an agreement. I'm going to pay you a thousand a week. But if anything should happen to you, this agreement is going to provide to take care of any dependents you may have, for the rest of their lives. Leon Partages knows how to take care of people who do him a good turn!"

Charlie Barrett took the cigar out of his mouth, bounced to his feet, and said, "Yes, Mr. Race, it's a most liberal agreement. I had my secretary draw a rough draft. Here it is." He took a document from his vest pocket. "Suppose you look it over, and if it meets with your approval, I'll have it typed formally. You—"

A knock sounded at the door.

BARRETT stopped talking. Westerman inched even further forward on his chair. Partages said in a low whisper, "Who's that?"

Ed shrugged. "The best way to find out is to ask." He raised his voice. "Yes?"

"It's me—Halloran. Lemme in, quick. I got to see you important!"

Ed motioned to Barrett, who was nearest the door. "It's the house detective. He had a tussle with someone here in my room a little while ago. Better let him in before he rouses the whole hotel."

Barrett went to the door, slipped the catch. Halloran came stumbling in propelled by someone from behind. His hands were in the air, and his face was red with rage.

The man who had pushed him in stepped in also, kicked the door shut with his heel, and stood with his back against it. He was holding a Thompson sub machine gun in the crook of his elbow and the nasty little snout of it moved in a slow half circle, covering everybody in the room.

Halloran said sheepishly, "This is the same guy who tied me up in the bathroom. He was hiding out in five-nineteen, and he got the drop on me again. He made me knock on your door and say what I did say."

The man who held the machine gun was very tall, and wore a felt hat that sat low on his thin, long head. His eyes were small, set close together, and had a nasty glint. He was standing slightly behind Halloran, protected by the house detective's body.

Ed's hand was half raised to his shoulder holster, but there was no use pulling a revolver in the face of that machine gun, especially since he would have to shoot through Halloran. But his eyes were bleak as he sat, rigid, on the bed.

Westerman's mouth was open, and he perched so precariously on the edge of his chair that it looked as if he would fall off at any moment. Barrett had started back at the sight of the machine gun, and his face was white.

Partages alone looked unfazed by the threat of the situation.

"Damn you," he exploded violently, "so you're one of the murderers that killed Stackney! You—you—" His anger caused him to stutter helplessly.

The tall man swung the machine gun toward him and said in an even, dangerous voice, "Cut it, fat guy! You want a bellyful of slugs?"

Barrett, who was close to Partages, put a hand on his shoulder. "Take it easy, Leon," he soothed. "Let's see what he wants."

Partages subsided, though he continued to glare viciously at the intruder.

The tall man smiled thinly. "That's better. Which one of you is Ed Race? That's the guy I'm after!"

Westerman, who was near the bed, started to point toward Ed.

Ed knew what was coming. The moment he was identified, a stream of slugs would pour into his body. They didn't intend to let him appear on the stage of the Clyde Theater that afternoon.

And so he acted now with the synchronized speed which his years of practice on the stage had developed to perfection. His right toe shot out, caught the rung of Westerman's chair, and pushed hard. Westerman, who had been sitting on the edge of his chair, went crashing to the floor, an expression of terrified surprise on his face.

THE tall man's attention was deflected for an instant. And that instant was enough for Ed to send his heels high in the air, complete a somersault on the bed, and drop behind it at the far side.

The room rocked to the explosion of his heavy .45. The tall man was literally smashed backward against the door, the tommy- gun dropping from his hands. With a slug in his forehead, he was dead on his feet.

Ed heaved a sigh of relief as he climbed back over the bed. The shooting had been a little too close for comfort.

Barrett said sharply, "My God, Race, a man who can shoot like you is wasting his time on the stage!"

Westerman was scrambling to his feet, stammering, "M-my g- glasses—they're b-broken." He picked up the empty rims of his spectacles, looked at them sorrowfully. "They cost ten dollars!"

Partages exclaimed, "To hell with your glasses!" Then he turned to Ed. "Look, Ed, this guy you just knocked off isn't the boss. They'll surely make another try at the theater. Are you still willing to go on with it?"

Ed smiled bleakly. He said softly, "You couldn't keep me away from it now, Mr. Partages. What time does the matinee show open?"

AT two-twenty-five p. m. there was an air of tense expectancy about the Clyde Theater. Ed Race stood in the wings while the orchestra moved into the closing chords of the overture.

Several of the other actors waited there with him, among them Norma Maitland and the Peterman Brothers, who had appeared on many bills with Ed. Jerry Peterman, the small, sandy haired xylophonist, put a hand on Ed's sleeve and said very low, "Good luck, old man."

Ed nodded, thanking him with his eyes.

Westerman came up breathlessly, talking very loud so as to be heard above the crashing notes of the orchestra. "Everything is set, Mr. Race. The house is full of police. They'll be on the watch for the first suspicious movement in the audience. I myself will be up in the mezzanine box. I don't think there'll be a chance for anyone to get at you."

Ed grinned. "Anyway, I'll have half a chance." He tapped his chest, "Partages' bulletproof vest ought to give me some protection."

Norma Maitland, who was second on the bill after Ed, put her small hand on his arm and looked up into his face. Her eyes were wet. She could no longer restrain the tears. "Ed," she whispered in a husky, choked voice. "Be careful."

He patted her shoulder. "Don't get weepy, Norma. I'm hard to kill."

The little cardboard signs in the frames on either side of the stage slid down to reveal the sign: The Masked Marksman. The big dome light under the roof remained brilliantly lit as Ed adjusted the small mask over his face and stepped out onto the stage.

The tempo of the music changed. Ed bowed, straightened as the applause rose in volume, and walked to the table in the center of the stage on which four of his big revolvers were laid out. The other two were still in his shoulder holsters.

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 .45s, stepped to the footlights. The music ceased as he began to juggle. There was a strange stillness over the entire house. It was as if the audience sensed that there was something unusual about the situation—that death was in the air.

ED bowed gracefully, his eyes scanning the audience. All he could make out was a sea of heads. He felt strangely calm, even in the thought that at any moment now, from somewhere in that packed house, might come a wicked spat and the whine of a bullet. Stackney had been shot through the heart. If he were attacked, would the assailant aim for the heart again? Or the attacker might assume that he had a bulletproof vest; in which case...

Even thoughts like these, however, failed to disturb the routine of his act. Once more he sent the three revolvers into the air, turning slightly to the left this time, to face the candles at the far end of the stage. The routine called for him to snuff those candles one after the other by firing the revolvers in rotation as they came down into his hands.

He was now facing toward the boxes, and looking up toward where Westerman had said he would be. The mezzanine box was empty.

About to complete his half turn toward the candles, his eye caught a slight motion of the curtain in that mezzanine box. The juggling of the three revolvers was child's play; he had often done it with his eyes closed. Now he watched that curtain keenly, delaying the moment when he would start firing at the candles. The orchestra leader was plainly nonplused. At this point the firing should have started.

But Ed's eyes were on those curtains at the rear of the box.

Slowly they parted and a small, black, ungainly looking object came into view. He stiffened as he recognized it for what it was—the silenced muzzle of a rifle.

It was trained directly at his head. Whoever was behind it no doubt knew about the bulletproof vest.

He caught one of the three revolvers as it came down into his hands, let the others fall to the floor, and went into a quick back somersault just as the weapon half hidden by the curtains up there bucked and spatted.

A slug whined across the stage and buried itself in the floorboards.

Ed's somersault had saved him. He landed lithely on his feet, his heavy revolver rising with a sure, swift motion. The big .45 roared its deep-throated message of death just as a second shot was fired down at him.

Having kept his body constantly in motion, he was a difficult target. The second shot also missed him.

But his own went home. The curtains twisted as someone gripped them hard, and a body fell through into the box.

In motion at once, Ed leaped down into the orchestra pit, climbed over the low railing and raced over the stairway to the box.

The whole house was in pandemonium. Plainclothes men were arising from various seats, drawing revolvers, flourishing them, calling to people to be quiet. The orchestra played on discordantly, disconnectedly, the leader automatically waving his baton while his eyes followed Ed.

Ed was the first to reach the upper landing of the mezzanine floor. Behind him came Partages, who had been in the wings. Though fat, Partages was running fast; he had outdistanced the officer on guard alongside him.

Ed, making for the box, stumbled over an inert body on the floor. Not the man he had shot: he had seen that man fall into the box.

He stooped beside the body, Partages and the officer standing above him.

IT was Westerman. The theater manager stirred dazedly, opened his eyes. "Somebody—slugged me—before I got—in the box," he whispered.

Ed sprang up, leaped through the curtains. On the box floor, still gripping the silenced rifle, lay the baldheaded, stocky form of Charlie Barrett. He was dead. Ed's slug had fairly ripped away the left side of his face.

"My Gawd," Partages exclaimed, wheezing. "Charlie Barrett! Imagine—it was him all the time, trying to shake me down!"

Ed, bleak-eyed, turned away from the bloody spectacle, out of the enclosure.

"Hey," Partages demanded, "where are you goin'?"

Ed motioned toward the excited sea of faces below. "The show has to go on," he told Partages. "I'm going down and finish my number."


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Administered by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.