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First published in The Spider, February 1943

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version date: 2021-10-06
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The Spider, February 1943, with "Reserved Seats—For Murder"

As the final curtain fell on Ed Race's most sensational performance, Ed was forced into the audience to watch his own encore and see the "Masked Marksman" roll 'em in the aisles—dead!

ED RACE finished his last encore, and took four curtain-calls amid a storm of applause which shook the rafters of the old-fashioned Orange City Theatre. That last encore had been a wow. He had fired thirty-six shots—six from each of the hair-triggered forty-fives—at a circle drawn upon a sheet of plywood at the other end of the stage. He had fired them over his shoulder with the aid of a bit of looking-glass. And when he had fired the last shot, the circular piece of plywood had fallen out of the big board—a perfect circle, six inches in diameter. In order to do the trick, each slug had to overlap the hole made by the preceding one, and each slug had to hit right on the narrow crayon line.

Shooting like that always brought down the house, and this audience, vacationing in the warm Florida sunshine, was no exception.

Still twirling two of the empty hair-trigger forty-fives, Ed bowed himself off the stage into the wings. And just as the curtain came down, he felt something hard poked into his back, and a voice behind him whispered:

"Don't turn around, mug, or there'll be one more shot fired in this act—right into your spine!"

For a second, Ed couldn't believe that he had heard aright. It wasn't possible that anyone should be trying to hold him up backstage, for there must be fully forty or fifty persons back here, including performers and stage-hands. But then he glanced around out of the corner of his eye, and realized that the impossible was happening.

Lined up against a bare wall of the wings, with their hands in the air and their faces to the wall, were all the actors and stage-hands and mechanics. Seven or eight masked men with sub-machine guns were standing around. One of them was covering the captives, while the others seemed to be waiting for a signal to go out on the stage.

It was a holdup!

The voice behind him said sharply, "Don't try anything, bo. We know your guns are empty. You haven't got a chance!"

"You're crazy!" Ed exclaimed over his shoulder. "Do you think you can get away with a mass holdup like this?"

The man behind him chuckled. "Just watch us, Mister!" Then the voice was raised, in an order to the masked men with the sub-machine guns: "Go to it, you lugs! Remember your lines. This is the biggest act that ever played in this house!"

Immediately, six of the masked men moved out on to the stage, marching in single file, like well-trained soldiers.

Still incredulous that this could really be happening, Ed watched those six men deploy on the stage. Two of them moved over to the center of the stage, and one remained at each end. The remaining two stepped down off the stage and moved up the aisles toward the rear. They carried their sub-machine guns under the arms, and walked calmly to the exits, then turned and stood guard.

The lights were still on all over the house, just as they had been for Ed Race's Masked Marksman act. The audience watched the masked men, under the impression that this was some clever stunt in connection with Ed's number.

WHEN all the masked men had taken their stations, Ed Race felt the pressure of the gun in his spine relax. The man behind him whispered, "Better not try to interfere, guy—or you'll end up with a drum-full of slugs in your belly!" Then the fellow stepped past Ed and moved out on to the stage.

When Ed Race got a glimpse of that man, his heart skipped a beat. While the other gunmen were wearing masks which covered their entire face, this one wore only a half-mask, exactly similar to the one Ed himself was wearing. The man was about five-foot-eight, just about Ed's height and build, and he was fair-haired, just as Ed was. To the audience out front, it must seem as if the Masked Marksman himself were stepping out from the wings again!

As the man moved out on to the stage, Ed noted that he had a scar on the right side of his chin. It was an old scar, and barely noticeable from a distance. Otherwise, there was nothing to indicate that he was not the Masked Marksman—even to the two forty-fives which he carried.

Ed took an involuntary step forward, but the snout of a sub-machine gun was thrust into his side. He saw that two of the gunmen had remained in the wings to cover the stage-help. One of them was pointing his rapid-firer at those lined up against the wall, while the other was concentrating exclusively on Ed. This one grinned at him and said:

"Hold everything sucker!" The fellow had his finger curled around the trip of the machine gun, and his eyes glittered through the twin holes of his mask.

Ed stood still.

The leader of the bandits, with his two guns in his hands, was now standing close to the doused footlights. He raised his voice, and spoke to the audience. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are now going to ask you for a contribution. Everybody contributes to something these days, and you are going to us." His voice was strong, his tone self-assured and confident. He spoke well, each word sharp and clear-cut, and his voice sounded amazingly like Ed's voice. To all intents and purposes, it was the Masked Marksman himself, addressing his audience.

"You people are down here for the winter vacation, and you have plenty of money," he went on, unhurriedly. "We figure that the average vacationist in Florida carries twenty-five or thirty dollars in his wallet when he goes out of an evening. There are fifteen hundred of you in this house, and fifteen hundred times twenty-five dollars equals thirty-seven thousand dollars. That's the amount of money we expect to collect from you. In case you don't think we mean business, we'll show you how sadly mistaken you are!"

He motioned to the men at either end of the stage, and they deliberately swung their sub-machine guns around to cover the first row of the orchestra. Then, at another signal from him, they calmly pulled the trips and sent a hail of slugs into the bodies of the occupants of the front seats!

The bursts lasted barely ten seconds, and the crashing drum-fire echoed and reechoed through the house like the rolling thunder of an electrical storm. Then they swept their muzzles in a murderous line across the entire span of the first four rows, and when they stopped shooting, the bodies lay bloody and writhing in those seats. It was deliberate, cold-blooded massacre; but it accomplished its vicious purpose. The rest of the audience sat stunned, motionless, like graven images.

The leader on the stage smiled underneath his half-mask. He waited till the echoing thunder of the gunfire died away, and then he spoke again. "You see, ladies and gentlemen, we figure we'll have to kill someone before we convince you that we mean business, and they can't hang us more than once anyway—if they catch us. So we might as well do it first, and save time. Believe me, anyone who tries to stand up will be shot in a second!"

Ed Race, standing in the wings, felt a surge of hot anger rush over him. "Damn you!" he shouted, and started to leap forward.

The man who was covering him raised the barrel of the sub-machine gun and brought it down on the back of his head. A wave of unconsciousness surged over him, and he blacked out completely...

SLOWLY, with dreadfully painful effort, Ed moved a hand. Out of the depths of black unconsciousness he fought back to a reeling, agonized awareness. It was like climbing uphill on a slimy, slippery slope, out of a pit of darkness toward a feeble ray of light somewhere up above. He didn't have to try to recall what had happened; he was all too aware of it. Indelibly etched upon his brain was the picture of those bloody bodies of the innocents in the front row of the theater.

Ed tried to open his eyes, but stabbing flares of pain shot through his head. Vaguely, he wondered why those bandits hadn't killed him, too. They must have had a reason. He was soon to learn that reason, but at the moment he couldn't fathom it. He wanted to know where he was; how he had got here. For he could feel the soft wetness of mother earth beneath his body, and a gentle rain falling like a curtain of soothing coolness. He was no longer in the theatre. He must have been carried out by the bandits. But why?

The question kept drumming like a Congo drum inside his throbbing head as he pushed up to his knees and turned his face upward toward the rain. He suddenly realized that he was holding something in each hand, and when he looked down he discovered that they were guns. Had he retained his grip on them throughout the period of unconsciousness?

It didn't seem likely. He raised the two weapons, and he knew immediately that they were not his. The masked bandit with the scar on his chin must have left these two guns with him. Swiftly he examined each gun in turn. Two shots had been fired from each. Why?

He put a hand to his face, and touched the mask, still in its place, covering eyes and nose. And then, with a sudden chilling sense of swift intuition, he thrust a hand into one of his pockets. It encountered the crispness of paper money—a pocketful of it. He pulled the bills out, and stared at them. There were one's, two's and ten's—money which undoubtedly had been taken from the audience of the Orange City Theatre.

There was money in his other coat pocket, and in his trouser pockets.

Ed Race let his breath exhale in a long, low whistle. Gone now was his consciousness of pain; gone was the agony of his head; gone now was everything but the utter, total realization of the vicious crime for which some one was trying to frame him!

He stood up unsteadily to his full height, and looked about him. The first thing he saw was that the dirt road upon which he stood ran closely parallel to a railroad. Barely ten feet separated it from the roadbed, and a tall water-tower loomed leanly in the night.

His attention was then drawn sharply away, to the overturned car which lay in the ditch on its side. It was an old black car. He moved over to it warily, holding the two guns ready.

Its left wheels hung high in the air, and the front one was still spinning just a bit—indicating that the car must only recently have been abandoned.

Ed reeled a bit with dizziness, but he managed to climb up on the top side of the car, and peer down into it through the broken glass of the twisted front door. There was no one in there. But a small pile of bills lay in one corner of the upended back seat.

Ed didn't try to climb inside the car. He got down. And just as he reached the ground, he glimpsed a pair of headlights topping a rise, far away. The headlights rushed forward, as if the car were being driven at breakneck speed, coming down the dirt road toward him. Behind it came another pair of headlights.

Swiftly, Ed ducked down into the ditch, and ran along it for fifty feet. He had seen a conduit which ran under the railroad roadbed, and he made for it now as fast as he could. He reached it and slid in only a moment before the leading car came abreast of the wrecked automobile. The two cars screamed to a stop when they saw the wreck. And men piled out of the cars, carrying revolvers, shotguns, and rifles.

Ed's pulses leaped as he caught a single quick glimpse of the leader, passing momentarily in front of the headlights. It was the man with the scar on his chin! The leader of the bandits was now the leader of the pursuers!

ED knew instinctively that this was the man, even before he saw him walk or heard him talk. But the fellow no longer had that scar on his chin. It must have been painted on, for the bloody performance. Ed waited breathlessly, listening to those men calling to each other as they examined the wreck. The leader climbed up and looked into it. "Nobody here," he called down to the others.

"What'll we do now, Everett?" someone asked. "Which way do we look? Where do you think those murderous hounds went?"

In his dark hiding-place, Ed Race's mind fastened hungrily upon that name. At least he could now put a handle to the cunning fiend who had framed him. The name meant a good deal to him, but only in an abstract way. Everett. He knew that Simon Everett was the manager of the Orange City Theatre. Ed Race had never met the man, because he had never played this theatre before. It had only recently been taken into the Partages Circuit. But he had heard that Simon Everett, in addition to managing the theatre, was also the sheriff.

Everett climbed down off the wrecked car, and issued swift orders. "Spread out along the road-bed," he ordered. "It looks to me as if those killers must have hopped a train!"

"By golly, Everett," someone exclaimed, "I think you've got something there! The Miami Special just went through a few minutes ago. It stops here for water. They could have hopped it easy!"

Ed pulled his head in as the men spread out. He waited, silent and motionless, while they moved along the railroad tracks. Then someone shouted: "Hey, look! Here's some more of the money! Right alongside of the track. One of them murderers must have dropped it as they climbed aboard!"

There was a rush of feet toward that spot, and then a jumbled sound of voices as all the men talked together.

Finally, one voice—that of Simon Everett—rose above the others, authoritatively. "That settles it. Now we're sure they hopped the train. We don't have to search the countryside any more. We'll wire ahead. That gang can't escape. Let's be going, boys!"

Ed's blood boiled as he heard the men trooping back to the cars. He wanted to crawl out of his hiding-place and get his two hands around Everett's throat and throttle the truth out of him. But he dared not move. He then heard Everett issue further orders:

"I'll take Clark and Smathers in my car, and we'll cruise down a ways, just in case any of them didn't make the train and are skulking around. You others, go back to town and wire ahead for the Miami Special to be stopped and searched at Daytona!"

"Okay, Everett," one of the men said. "But it's two damned bad that the Masked Marksman got away. Why, that rat must have been planning the thing for months. I'd just like to get my hands on him!"

"Me, too!" another growled.

"If we had caught him," a third man added, "he'd never have lived to stand trial!"

Ed risked peering out, and saw Everett and two other men climbing into the first car, while the others piled into the second one. The second car turned around, maneuvering tightly in the narrow road in order to make the about-face. Then the two cars moved off in opposite directions. The headlights faded away.

Ed crawled out of the conduit, with mud and slime all over his face and hands and clothes. He slipped the two guns into the two holsters under his arms, and took the mask off his face. Grimly, he stood in the road, sizing up the situation as best he could.

One thing was certain in Ed Race's mind. The murder gang hadn't hopped that train at all!

Everett had deliberately left Ed here to be found with the wrecked car. Even the money had been planted along the railroad tracks to point to the train as the means of escape. It added up to a single alarming truth—the rest of the gang was hiding out in the immediate vicinity!

ED RACE moved warily down the dirt road. His head throbbed, and he could feel the blood, warm and sticky, on his skull and down along his neck where it had trickled. His hair was matted and tangled, and he was sure he must present a terrifying appearance. If any car came along, the occupants would never stop.

Ed trudged along for about a quarter of a mile, keeping a sharp eye out for the first hint of an approaching headlight. He came to a crossroad, and stopped. There were no direction signs here, but the crossroad ran under the railroad tracks. He stood there for a moment, trying to decide which way to go. He had no idea where he was—and he didn't know what he might run into, no matter what direction he took. On a chance, he decided to swing off to the right, under the railroad bridge.

He had hardly taken a half-dozen steps in that direction when he knew he had walked into a trap. It had been so dark in there under the trestle, that he hadn't noticed the dark bulk of the car parked there. But now its headlamps burst into fiery brilliance, bathing him in light.

Almost simultaneously with the snapping on of the headlights, a gun barked, and then a sub-machine gun began to stutter. They were intent upon taking him dead, and not alive. The hail of slugs swept the road to the accompaniment of the machine-gun's vicious clatter.

But Ed Race went into motion at the first flick of light, even before the bark of the gun. Daily on the stage, he performed a series of acrobatic marksmanship stunts which thrilled audiences from coast to coast. Among those stunts was the routine where he juggled six of the heavy forty-fives in the air, threw himself into a back somersault, and came to his feet to catch the descending guns two at a time, and fire them in turn at a row of candles thirty feet across the stage.

Never in ten years had he failed to catch those guns, nor had he ever missed a candle-flame. Now he repeated that performance—with variations, and with his life in the balance.

What those men in the car thought, it was hard to tell. But their guns were too slow to follow the swift motion of Ed Race's tautly balanced body. They had no doubt expected to drop him like a cold bunny. Any man suddenly blinded by a pair of powerful headlights will naturally freeze for an instant, unable to coordinate his muscular reactions with the impulses from his brain cells. But Ed Race was a veteran campaigner in the war against crime. Too often his life had hung in the balance of swift and deadly action.

Ed Race was much more than a clever and skillful vaudeville entertainer. Long ago he had discovered that the applause of nationwide audiences on the Partages Circuit were not enough to make life interesting for him. The nervous energy which boiled within him had demanded some other outlet. He had accordingly adopted a hobby—the study of criminology. He held licenses to operate as a private detective in a dozen states, and he was never happier than when he had a chance to employ his two forty-fives in a good fight.

So, being used to danger and to the path of peril, his reflex action when those two headlights hit him was perhaps a fraction of a second swifter than that of any other man. He faced right, and threw himself into a forward somersault that carried him off the road, close up against the side wall of the tunnel. And when he came to his feet, both those guns were in his hands.

The sweeping hail of slugs was still biting the road where he had been an instant ago, and he had a fleeting glimpse of a man leaning far out of the car window, with the sub-machine gun. Only a single fleeting glance, and then his finger closed on the trigger of the right-hand gun, and a single slug smashed into that man's forehead. It was a bigger target than a candle-flame at thirty feet, and he was just as cool as when he was on the stage.

At the same time that he fired the right-hand gun, he pumped two shots from the left-hand gun into the headlight. The smashing sound of the breaking headlight glass was drowned by the thunder of guns. Suddenly, the lights went out, the tunnel was plunged in darkness, and the heavy echo of the gunfire drummed through the tunnel. Then, mingling with those echoes, came the sound of the auto's motor being accelerated, and the dark bulk of the car leaped forward.

Ed's eyes were grim and bleak in the dark. He sent a single slug into the front left-hand tire, and the car, just swinging into second speed, slewed violently over to the left, screeched across the road, and smashed into the opposite wall of the tunnel.

Someone screamed inside the car, and the scream was immediately drowned by the thunderous crash of metal against stone masonry as the whole left side of the hood accordioned into the tonneau. The back door of the car was thrown violently open, and a man leaped out. Ed got a swift glimpse of Everett. "Stop!" he shouted. But Everett ducked low, threw himself behind the car, and then ran, hugging the wall of the tunnel.

Ed called out, "Stop—or I'll shoot!" Everett kept on running, and Ed's lips tightened. His finger closed around the trigger for the shot that would knock the man down. But just then there was a terrific explosion from the wrecked car, and a great jet of livid flame swept up through the tunnel, blinding Ed and spoiling his aim.

ED dropped to the ground, hugging his wall, as bits of torn and twisted metal sliced through the air, and hot flame enveloped what was left of the car. He lay still until the flying, jagged chunks of metal ceased to rain down upon him, then he got shakily to his feet.

Everett had disappeared into the dark countryside. He had made good his escape under cover of that holocaust.

The intense fire in the tunnel made it unbearable, and Ed moved out into the open. Just as he got out of the tunnel, he saw a new pair of headlights approaching. He stiffened. If this was another posse car, there'd be another battle to fight. Bleakly, he saw what the future would mean for him. Day by day he would have to spend hiding, prepared ever to fight for his life.

He stepped swiftly off the road, dropping into the ditch, and waited for the approaching car to come closer. It stopped perhaps fifty feet from the tunnel where the wreckage was blazing. A girl got out.

From where he lay in the ditch, Ed watched that girl closely. She was young; not more than seventeen or eighteen. She was wearing the usual costume of vacationers in Florida—a halter and a pair of shorts. Her legs flashed long and lithe as she ran toward the flaming wreck in the tunnel.

She stopped when she was within ten feet of the tunnel, unable to go any closer because of the unbearable heat. She stood there indecisively, biting her lip, her hands clenched into fists. Now, with the reflection of the firelight on her face, Ed saw that she was both youthful and pretty. But she was strongly affected by the sight of that flaming wreck, for she must have guessed that there were men inside the car. She probably thought that they had been trapped within it, and had been burned alive.

She turned away from that terrible sight, evidently intending to use her car to get help. But just then, Ed raised himself from the ditch, and she saw him, his battered and grimy face. To her it must have seemed that he was one of the victims, escaped from the blazing wreck. She uttered a little cry of pity, and ran toward him.

"Oh, you poor man!" she exclaimed. She jumped down into the ditch, and helped him up to the road. Ed let her do it, but he did not lean on her too heavily.

"Is—is anyone else alive in there?" she asked.


"Let's hurry, then. I'll get you home. Mother and I can take care of you. We both took First Aid courses—"

"Thanks," Ed mumbled, and let her help him toward the car. Halfway toward it, he heard a man's voice, and he stiffened. "Who's that—"

The girl laughed. "It's just my radio. It's the news announcer."

Ed smiled. "I guess I'm a bit jumpy."

"It's no wonder—after an accident like that. How did it happen?" Then she added hastily, "No, never mind, don't tell me about it now. You need rest and quiet. That's the first rule of First Aid."

She helped him into the car, and then went around and got behind the wheel. She turned the car around in the narrow road, and got it going. Her headlights picked up the path ahead, and Ed watched tensely, wondering if Simon Everett were still around, or if he had already made off for the secret hiding place of his gang.

The girl talked swiftly, inconsequentially as she drove—in a manifest effort to take Ed's mind off the wreck. "My name is Anne Wendover. We come from New York. Mother and I love Florida. We manage to get down every year. This year we're renting the old Everett home."

"Everett?" Ed repeated sharply. "You mean Simon Everett?"

SHE nodded, keeping her eyes on the road ahead. "Yes. He's the manager of the theatre in town, and he was recently chosen sheriff, so he moved into Orange City, and rented us his old farmhouse at a nominal price. It's out in the country here, about twenty-five miles from town, and he couldn't get the gas to commute, so he moved into the hotel right next to the theatre. The house is tremendous—about fourteen rooms, and there are lots of outbuildings, and ten acres of orange groves. We only use a small part of the house, the rest is closed up. So you see, we have scads of room, and you can stay with us as long as you want—"

Ed threw her a suspicious glance. "How did you happen to be driving out here tonight?" he asked in a casual voice. "These are pretty lonely roads. Isn't it a bit dangerous—"

"Well, mother didn't like the idea of my going out alone, but she's upstairs in bed with a terrible headache, and she had used the last bit of aspirin yesterday; so I said I'd go in to the general store at Two-Forks, which is only five miles from the house. I got the aspirin and was on the way home when I heard the explosions. It must have been the tires in the wrecked car that I heard. I turned in toward the railroad to see what had happened, and found the flaming wreck." She was silent a moment, then she added, "You know, it's funny, but those tires popping sounded just like gunshots!"

Ed gave her another suspicious look.

Most people who have never heard the bark of a forty-five are under the impression that a blow-out sounds like a gunshot—until they hear the real thing. He wondered if the girl were quite as innocent as she looked.

She started to speak again, but Ed put a hand on her arm. The news announcer had switched from war news to local items:

"We have just received a flash on the Orange City Theatre atrocity. Sheriff Everett has established that the murderous gang led by the Masked Marksman fled on the Miami Special, abandoning their car on the Marsh Road, which parallels the railway. The sheriff, with two men, is still patrolling the countryside on the chance that one or more of the bandits may have been left behind. But there is every hope that most of the gang will be captured when the Miami Special pulls into Daytona. The populace is seething with rage. The Masked Marksman is the ringleader..."

Anne Wendover's face was white and set as the announcer's voice droned on. She spoke with a depth of feeling which convinced Ed that she was not playing any game of duplicity. "I—I think that Masked Marksman deserves no mercy. No punishment would be too terrible for him. Did you hear about what the Masked Marksman and his band of killers did at the theatre?"

"I saw it," Ed said quietly.

"You—saw it?" She turned to look at him, her eyes widening. "You were in the audience?"

"I was on the stage."

"Are you one of the actors?"


"Really? I saw the show day before yesterday. I—I little thought a thing like that would happen. But tell me—which one are you? Which is your act?"

"I'm the Masked Marksman," Ed said.

THE car jerked as Anne Wendover's foot jammed spasmodically down on the accelerator. The wheel slewed under hand, and the car would have left the road if Ed hadn't grabbed the wheel and straightened it out. Anne was breathing hard, her face suddenly flushed as she stepped down on the brake and brought the car to a halt at the side of the road.

She stared at Ed. "You—that murderous brute—"

Ed smiled wryly. "Do I look like a murderous brute? Do I look like a vicious killer who would shoot down innocent people?"

"I—I don't know—"

Swiftly, Ed talked to her, telling her everything that had happened, telling her about Everett, and the fight in the tunnel. Through it all she listened tensely, her eyes never leaving his face. At last he finished, and looked at her. "That's all there is to tell," he said slowly. "You needn't be afraid of me. I won't harm you. If you don't believe me, I can't blame you. I'll just step out of the car and you can go on home. You have nothing to fear from me."

She didn't answer, but just sat there, staring at him.

Ed nodded grimly. "All right, Anne. I see you don't believe me. I'll be going." He opened the door. "Thanks for the lift, anyway."

"Wait!" she said.

He stopped, with one foot out of the car. "Yes?"

Her voice was husky. "I—I believe you. Yes, yes I do. You can't be the cold-blooded butcher they've made you out to be." She stretched out a slim hand and touched his sleeve. "Let me help you. Let me work with you to prove your innocence!"

Ed smiled. "Thanks, Anne." He slid back into the seat, and closed the door. "Just take me home, give me a chance to wash up and clean the blood off my clothes, and then I'll be off. I have work to do tonight!"

She drove for ten minutes more, then swung off into a side road. "We have to take a detour to get to the house," she explained. "It's much shorter by the footpath, but we couldn't make it in the car." Then she added impulsively, "What are you going to do, Ed? How are you going to prove your innocence? The cards seem to be stacked against you. I believe you—but the rest of the world would laugh at me as a foolish, immature girl. They—they wouldn't give you a chance to tell your story. They'd shoot you like a mad dog!"

Ed nodded. "I've got to find the hiding-place of that gang. I've got to tackle them—"


"Single-handed! That's the only way. I have friends in New York, yes—friends who'd stand by me through thick and thin. But they can't help me down here. When it's discovered that the gang isn't on that Miami train, the hue-and-cry will be raised throughout this part of the country!"

"You can stay with us as long as you like!" Anne said impulsively. "I'll explain to mother. Here we are now—"

She swung into a clearing in front of a large old, rambling house. The ground floor was a-light, but the blinds were drawn. Ed could see that the house was surrounded by old orchards, heavy with fruit. There were half a dozen old outbuildings, and the house itself had an old-fashioned porch which stretched along the entire front.

"Stay here," Anne said. "I'll go in and tell mother. It'll be better than bringing you in, looking the way you do."

Ed nodded, and Anne switched off the motor and the headlights, and got out of the car.

She went up on the porch, calling out, "Mother! It's I!" She pulled open the front door, and Ed saw her jump back, uttering a cry of fright.

He tensed. Just inside the door, he saw a man with a sub-machine gun under his arm. The fellow pointed the gun at Anne and said, "Come in, sister, come in!"

THE gunman pulled the door open wider, and Ed got a glimpse of the room within. He saw four or five other men in there, and among them the familiar figure of Simon Everett. Everett must have taken the short-cut and beat them here.

Ed saw Anne standing stiffly at the door. "Who—who are you?" she asked huskily.

The man with the gun laughed. "Can't you guess, sister?"

"You—you're the theatre bandits!"

"That's right, sister. And if you've heard about that, you know we don't mind using these guns."

"What—what have you done with my mother?"

"She's safe enough for the time being. We're gonna hole up in this place for a while, and use you and your mother for a front. If you pull a boner, your mother gets it—" he drew a finger significantly across his throat—"in the neck. If your mother pulls a boner, you get it in the neck!"

From inside, the sharp, irate voice of Simon Everett growled, "Snap out of it, Fritz. Are you going to talk to her all night? Get her in here!"

"Okay," said Fritz. He motioned with the muzzle of the sub-machine gun. "Inside, sister!"

Ed Race had not been idle. He had noiselessly opened the door of the car, and stepped out on the far side, thanking his stars that Anne had turned off the headlights. He moved in a crouch till he reached the porch, then climbed the rail swiftly, yet careful not to allow the old boards to creak. He inched along the wall until he was close to the open doorway. He could now see Anne's face as she stood there, hesitating to obey the gunman's command to step inside.

Anne saw Ed out of the corner of her eye, but gave no sign of it. Ed had both the revolvers in his hands now. He had added up the chances and found them bad, but he was going to try, anyway. For he knew that Everett and his gang would never leave Anne or her mother alive when they finally got ready to quit this hiding place. He silently stepped around into the open doorway in front of Anne, and directly facing the killer with the submachine gun.

His figure, appearing out of the night with quiet suddenness must have been like an apparition from the dead. The gunman's eyes snapped wide open, but before he could pull the trip of the machine-gun, Ed put a slug between his eyes.

Even as the gunman went hurtling backward with the bullet between his eyes, Ed let go of both guns, and dived for the machine-gun which the killer had dropped from nerveless hands. Ed got hold of it, and out of the corner of his eye he saw the muzzles of the vicious machine guns swing toward the doorway where he stood. He knew that Anne was directly behind him. He leaped backward, gripping the sub-machine gun, and put out a hand and sent Anne spinning off the porch. Then he sprang sideways just as the first wave of lead swept out.

HE reached one of the windows fronting on the porch, and using the barrel of the rapid-firer as a club he smashed the glass with a single swipe. Then he ripped the shade away, and thrust the snout of the gun through the break in the glass. He saw the startled faces of the men in that room as they swung toward the new attack. His lips were tight and hard as he pulled the trip and let the machine-gun buck and clatter in his grip.

Without mercy for those killers, he swept the muzzle in a short arc, and the hot slugs cut a wide swath across the room, mowing those men down like chaff. He stopped only when none was left standing, and then he released his grip on the trip, and the hot gun became silent, and the smell of cordite was strong in the air, and the groans of wounded men were like the sounds that might arise from purgatory.

Grimly, Ed moved down the porch toward the still-open door. He saw Anne Wendover coming to her feet from where he had thrust her. She came up and joined him, and together they walked into that room of the dying and dead.

Simon Everett lay on his back, with both legs twisted at an unnatural angle. Ed's scythe of machine-gun slugs had cut across his knees like a knife through butter. Two more men were still alive, writhing in agony. The others were dead.

Ed knelt beside one of the wounded men. This one had a line of slugs across his stomach, and he was bleeding fast to death. His voice was weak, and there was blood at his lips, but his eyes seemed to be begging something of Ed. "Don't let me die—without making my peace—"

Ed nodded. He looked at Anne. "Go upstairs and find your mother. Bring down First Aid equipment. We'll try to keep him alive for the last rites he's asking for."

He saw a phone in a corner of the room, and went to it. It took him almost ten minutes to convince the authorities at Orange City that he wasn't a crackbrained crank. He even had to move the wounded man painfully over to the phone and let him speak into it, before the police were convinced.

By that time, Anne was down with her mother, whom she had found locked in an upper bedroom. The two women gave the wounded men First Aid, with Ed's assistance. When it came Simon Everett's turn, he snarled at them like a beast at bay, but he let them fix crude splints for his legs.

When the police arrived, they at first wanted to put handcuffs on Ed Race, but they quickly changed their minds when they heard the dying man's confession. And when Everett was finally carted away in an ambulance on the first leg of his journey to trial and a hangman's noose, Ed Race turned to Anne Wendover.

"You can't stay here tonight," he said gently. "Not with all this. Come into town with me. You can put up at my hotel, till the place is cleaned up."

Mrs. Wendover shuddered. "I never want to see this place again!"

Ed nodded gravely. He looked at Anne. "Some day I'm going to thank you properly—for believing in me."

"You don't have to thank me," Anne said. "You've already repaid me—by saving mother and myself from these killers. They'd never have let us live. It was your shooting that beat them."

Ed smiled. "Your faith, and my shooting. It was an unbeatable combination, Anne!"


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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