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First published in The Spider, March 1942

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The Spider, March 1942, with "The Masked Marksman's Command Performance"

What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable body?
The answer, we'll bet, would be something like the meeting be-
tween Ed Race, the Masked Marksman—and the Suicide Squad!

"PARDON me!" said the tall man. "So clumsy of me. This train is lurching so—"

"It's all right," Ed Race said, as the train swung around a curve once more, throwing them all together again in the narrow corridor. "I don't mind being bumped into. I don't even mind having my foot stepped on. But I do mind having my pocket picked!"

He seized hold of the tall man's wrist, and twisted it hard.

The train was speeding through the night along the flat coastal plain of the Carolinas, bound from Miami to New York. Ed, returning from an engagement at the Seabright Theatre in Miami, was due to open at the Clyde, in New York, tomorrow evening. His Masked Marksman number had been advertised there for weeks in advance.

Ed had gone to the club car for a midnight snack. He never could sleep on a train anyway, and he had whiled away an hour in there, talking with the steward, and with another passenger also a night owl apparently. Now, on his way back to his own car, these two had been waiting in the corridor of the compartment Pullman—the tall dark one, handsome and lithe; and the smaller one, who looked more like a youngster running away from college to enlist, than like the accomplice of a pickpocket.

Ed Race liked the looks of both these fellows. Their eyes were keen, shrewd—and apparently honest. But there was no doubt that the tall one had deliberately feigned bumping into him, and had lifted Ed's wallet from his inside breast pocket. The man had done it quite skillfully. No ordinary person would have detected the theft. But Ed Race, in addition to being a star headliner on the Partages Vaudeville Circuit, had made a hobby of studying criminology. The two heavy hair-trigger .45 revolvers which he carried in his twin shoulder holsters had often sung their deep- throated symphonies in battles with criminals, as well as in the phenomenal Masked Marksman routine which he performed on the stage, from coast to coast.

He was a little bit surprised now, and disgusted with himself, because he hadn't tagged these two as criminals. At first glance, they had appeared likable enough chaps.

Nevertheless, he twisted the tall man's wrist hard enough to make him drop the wallet.

Ed swooped down and picked it up, keeping his eyes on both of them.

The tall man did not appear frightened or worried at the thought of having been caught in the act of committing a misdemeanor. He said gloomily to his companion, "I muffed it, Steve! What do you know about that? I must be losing my touch!"

The gray eyes of the little fellow flickered. He didn't seem angry at his pal's bungling. "It was the train, Dan," he said, consolingly. "You can't expect to do a job like that, when the train dances all around the track."

Ed looked at them in puzzled fashion. He had never heard crooks talk like that. "See here, you fellows," he said. "I ought to turn you in for this. But I'm going to forget it. Scram. You both should be ashamed of yourselves. A couple of nice chaps like you, ought to be able to make an honest living—instead of being common thieves!"

The tall dark one, who had been addressed as Dan by his companion, flushed angrily. Then he immediately smiled. "It's darned white of you to let us go, mister." He jerked his head at his companion, and they both crowded close against Ed. "But we want to see what's inside that wallet!"

Steve, the smaller one, took a small automatic pistol from the right hand pocket of his coat. He held it at his side, and smiled significantly at Ed.

"Do we make ourselves plain?" he asked softly.

Ed Race understood now, that these two men were far more dangerous than they seemed. If they were criminals, then they belonged in the highest brackets of underworld society.

Why they should want his wallet so badly, he couldn't understand. True, he carried several hundred dollars in it. But to men like these, that kind of money should be only chicken feed. What he did understand very clearly though, was that he wasn't going to let himself be held up by them, or anybody else.

THE corridor in which they were standing was narrow. Since this was an all-compartment car, the corridor was on the left side, with the doors of the compartments on the right. The people in those rooms were no doubt asleep.

Ed looked at the gun in Steve's hand. Then he deliberately put the wallet in his side coat pocket.

Steve sighed. He snicked the safety catch off his automatic. The tall one reached for Ed's arm.

"Sorry, pal—"

Ed Race smiled grimly. He took a swift step backward and threw himself into a back flip. He had done that back flip a thousand times, on the stages of theatres in every city in the country. It was part of the routine of his Masked Marksman number. In that act, he juggled six .45 hair-trigger revolvers, like the ones now resting in his shoulder holsters. When he had all six of them high in the air, he would go into a back flip, come out of it and catch the revolvers two at the time, as they came down. And as he caught them, he would fire each at a row of candles thirty feet across the stage. In ten years, he had never missed one of those candles.

True, the corridor here was much narrower than the stage of a theatre, and the train was swaying from side to side. Also, it would hardly be possible for the little one to miss, with that automatic of his. Ed had performed this same trick many a time in the past—off the stage—when his life hung in the balance. But even as he went into the flip, he realized that these two men were not of a calibre to be confused by the trick. Nevertheless, he meant to go through with it.

The few moments that he was in the air seemed like hours, for he expected at any moment to hear the spiteful bark of that automatic, and to feel the jar of a slug.

But no shot came. If they were waiting for him to land before shooting, then they had an unpleasant surprise in store for themselves!

Ed's face was grim as he came to his feet in the narrow corridor, fifteen feet away from the two men. He was facing them now, with his two revolvers in his hands. That draw of his, which he performed daily on the stage, had not lost one iota of its blinding swiftness.

He thrust the heavy muzzles out at the two men, who had been running toward him, the smaller one in the lead. They both stopped short.

Ed's two revolvers covered them, and the automatic of the one called Steve covered him, in turn.

The three of them stood that way, like a tableau of stone.

Ed could have fired both his revolvers as he came to his feet, and cut those two men down. But he knew also, that Steve could have shot, just as easily. Therefore, he held his fire.

"Well," he said, "what do we do now?"

He saw the faces of the two men relax into smiles. They were both looking at him with genuine admiration.

"That was a neat stunt you just pulled!" said the tall, dark one. "I never saw anything as neat as that—except once, in a vaudeville theatre."

"Thanks," Ed said drily.

"It'll be a shame to kill you," said the little one. "It's too bad you're a spy. I didn't think a Nazi would have the guts to do what you just did."

"Nazi!" exclaimed Ed. "You're calling me a Nazi spy?"

"That's right," said Steve. "You're von Bernhoff."

"And you're crazy!" Ed told him. Then his eyes flickered. "Ah! I get it! You're trying to squirm out of this, by claiming you thought I was a spy! You're just a couple of pickpockets, trying to squeeze out of a tough spot!"

The tall dark one made a wry face. "And you're just a Nazi spy, trying to hand out a stiff bluff."

Ed grinned. He wiggled the two revolvers. "When you have two things like these in your hands, my friend, it's no bluff!"

Steve grinned right back at him, and wiggled the automatic. "This is no bluff, either, pal."

ED was puzzled. The more he saw of these fellows, the more he felt it was ridiculous to tag them as cheap crooks. But the fact remained that they had tried to pick his pocket. Ordinarily, a pickpocket, when caught, will whine. These men, however, were very far from whining.

"Well, we can't stand here all night," Ed said. "The train will be pulling into Richmond pretty soon."

"We mean to see the inside of that wallet!" Steve told him tightly.

"Sorry," said Ed. "You can't get it."

He saw a peculiar gleam in the eyes of the two men.

"Oh, yes we can!" said the tall dark one. Then he added gently, speaking to some one behind Ed, "Take him gently, Johnny. He's not a bad fellow!"

Ed said disgustedly, "Now listen, if you think you can pull a moth-eaten one like that—" He stopped abruptly, as he felt the chill touch of cold steel against the back of his neck.

"This," said a deep bass voice behind him, "is a thing that shoots. It's thirty-eight calibre—more than a third of an inch. Imagine the kind of hole it'll make in the back of your head if I shoot!"

Ed Race stood very still. He did not lower his revolvers. He saw the grim smiles of amusement on the faces of Steve and Dan.

"So there are three of you!" he said. "Three husky men, all thieves. Well, you've picked the wrong victim this time. Observe, gentlemen, that the two revolvers I'm holding have hair triggers. Observe how my fingers are curled around these triggers. If I should be shot from behind—or if I should even be jarred, say by a blow on the head—my fingers would contract by reflex action. These two revolvers would go off. Notice that they are pointing at your stomachs, gentlemen. Notice also, that they are forty-five calibre—almost a half inch in diameter. Can you imagine what nasty holes would be in your stomachs if your friend behind me should do anything rash?"

Steve and Dan studied him for a moment, with a new sort of respect.

"I believe he means it!" Steve murmured.

"I'll be damned!" said Dan.

"It's a deadlock!!" said the deep voice behind Ed.

"I have an idea!" exclaimed the tall, dark one, suddenly. He looked at Ed. "See here, von Bernhoff—"

"Don't call me von Bernhoff," Ed said coldly.

"I'll call you whatever I like," Dan told him. "Whatever your name is, I have a proposition to make to you. There are three of us, and only one of you. If we start shooting, you'll surely die. And at least one of us will be alive—to get your wallet. Now that doesn't sound fair to me. We despise all you slimy Nazi spies. But when we meet a man with guts, we like to give him a fighting chance—a sporting chance."

"It sounds like a bunch of bellywash," Ed said. "But go ahead. What's your proposition?"

"We'll make this an even fight," Dan offered. "Two of us will get out of this car. We'll lock the doors at both ends from the inside. My friends will go, and I'll be left here alone with you. Each of us with two guns, in his hand. We'll shoot it out, one to one. If you win, you can get off this train, and no one will stop you. If I win—" he shrugged—"that's the chance you have to take."

"I don't get it," Ed said. "I think you're sincere about that proposition. I can see it in your eyes. But I don't understand why you're willing to shoot it out for the contents of my wallet. I only have three or four hundred dollars in it—"

"Don't act stupid!" the tall, dark one said impatiently. "We know you're the cleverest man in the German Secret Service. And you know damned well why we want that wallet!"

Ed's eyes narrowed. With the cold muzzle of the gun at the back of his neck, and with his own two revolvers centered on Dan and Steve, he spoke slowly and thoughtfully.

"Are you chaps trying to tell me that you're in the U.S. Secret Service?"

"F.B.I." said Steve.

"Just to keep the record straight," Dan added, and raised his hand to his inner coat pocket. Ed made no objection. He watched him like a hawk as he withdrew an identification card case and flipped it open. Ed looked at the card which was exposed, under a cellophane cover. It had a picture of Dan, stamped with the seal of the Department of Justice. The card read:

The bearer, Daniel Murdoch, is a Special Agent
of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, of the
United States Department of Justice.

"Well, I'll be damned!" said Ed.

Slowly, he lowered his two revolvers. Then he crossed his arms and slid them into their holsters.

Immediately, the cold muzzle was removed from the back of his neck.

"Looks like a truce!" said the deep bass voice behind him.

Ed turned around to get a look at the fellow who had been covering him. He saw a big man, powerfully built, with the shoulders of a stevedore, and hair that was as red as a ripe carrot.

The big man bowed. "Johnny Kerrigan, at your service, Herr von Bernhoff," he said.

"Go to hell!" Ed said hotly. "I'm not von Bernhoff—"

He stopped abruptly, as a sudden light of understanding gleamed in his eyes. "Johnny Kerrigan!" He turned around to face the tall, dark one. "Dan Murdoch!" Then he glanced at the little one, who looked like a kid that had run away from college to enlist. "Then you must be Stephen Klaw!"

Steve grinned. "You've got the names right!"

"The Suicide Squad!" Ed exclaimed. "Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw! I've heard about you fellows. No wonder I couldn't bring myself to believe that you were cheap sneak thieves!"

"Thanks for the compliment," Dan Murdoch said drily. "And we find it hard to believe that a guy with guts like yours is a Nazi spy."

"But dammit I tell you I'm not!" Ed told him hotly. "Where did you get the idea that I'm a Nazi spy?"

"We were tipped off," Johnny Kerrigan boomed.

"By whom?"

"By a dame. Greta Frisch. Ever hear of her?"

"Sorry," said Ed. "I never heard the name." He saw that all three of them were watching him keenly. "Am I supposed to know this Greta Frisch?"

Dan Murdoch grinned. "You sure are! She worked for your spy organization. She's just turned against the Nazis. We arrested her in Miami yesterday, and she broke down and gave us the whole story. This train is supposed to be carrying two special freight cars with the first batch of the new high explosive we're making for the Air Force. The two cars that were hooked on at Jacksonville. Well, Greta told us that you were going to board the train, and give a signal, somewhere between Jacksonville and Richmond, and that a hidden plane which would be stalking the train, would dive bomb it—after you jumped off."

Ed looked at them queerly. "And you thought I was von Bernhoff?"

"We still think so!" Steve Klaw grinned. "Greta told us you were going to ignite a powder, that you're carrying in your wallet. It will make a flare, which will guide the plane to this train. She described you to us. Five-foot-ten, gray eyes, tan overcoat, brown slouch hat. She even told us you were wearing that tan-and-gray striped necktie!"

"Not only that," Dan Murdoch interrupted, "but when I picked your pocket I felt those holstered revolvers. That cinched it."

"You see," Johnny Kerrigan explained, "we figured we'd take that powder out of your wallet, and substitute some bicarbonate of soda for it. Then, when you tried to make the flare, nothing would happen, and we'd grab you in the act. We figure you've got some accomplice on board the train, and that you'll all try to leave before the plane attacks."

"Now let me get this right," said Ed. "Is my real name supposed to be von Bernhoff?"

"Right," said Stephen Klaw. "And you're traveling under a false name—Alex Wheeler."

Ed shook his head. He had heard much about Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw. They were called the Suicide Squad, among those who knew the inside of things that happened in the F.B.I. Three more daring and clever agents did not exist in the service of any country in the world.

"Boys," he said quietly, "you're knocking at the wrong door. I'm not von Bernhoff. This Greta Frisch has given you a song and dance. She described me, because she wanted you to concentrate on some one else, while the real von Bernhoff does his stuff. Here. I'll prove it to you." He took his wallet out of his pocket, and handed it to Dan Murdoch. "See for yourself!"

Murdoch took the wallet. He opened it, and thumbed through the cards. He let a low whistle escape him. He held up a couple of the cards. One of them was an automobile operator's license, issued in the name of Alex Wheeler! Another was a membership card in the defunct German-American Bund, also in the name of Alex Wheeler. And then, he carefully drew out a small glassine envelope, containing a white powder!

Murdoch scowled at Ed Race. "So, my dear von Bernhoff," he said, "this is the end!"

ED'S forehead was creased in perplexity. Suddenly he snapped his fingers. "I get it now! I gave my suit to the train valet to press, this evening. I forgot to take the wallet out. Some one must have changed the papers in it!"

"Hah!" said Johnny Kerrigan. "You'll have to do better than that. Come on in here!"

He opened the door of one of the compartments, and Ed saw a beautiful blonde woman seated inside. She looked up as the door opened, and a smile appeared upon her full, sensuous lips.

"Otto!" she exclaimed, looking straight at Ed.

Johnny Kerrigan said to her, "Greta Frisch, do you know this man?"

"Why of course," she replied. "This is Otto von Bernhoff."

"You switched papers on me!" Ed exclaimed. "Tell them where the real von Bernhoff is!"

Her blue eyes opened wide. "You are the real von Bernhoff—and I am betraying you. I am sick of working for Germany. I will become an American citizen!"

Ed turned desperately to Dan Murdoch. "She's lying, Murdoch. If what you've told me is true, the real von Bernhoff is at liberty on the train at this moment, and he'll signal that plane. This train will be destroyed. You've got to believe me!"

"Indeed!" Dan Murdoch said. "And in that case, who would you be?"

"You've heard of the Masked Marksman?" Ed asked swiftly.

"Of course. He's the guy that does the phenomenal gun-juggling and marksmanship act—"

"That's right. Well, I'm the Masked Marksman."

"I've seen the act," Johnny Kerrigan said. "It's a wow. But you're not the guy. You're von Bernhoff—"

"You saw the back flip I just did," Ed interrupted, addressing himself to Murdoch and Klaw. "Remember seeing it on the stage?"

"Yes," Klaw said thoughtfully. "But that doesn't prove you're the Masked Marksman. He wore a mask—"

"That's right," Ed said. "I always wear a mask. My name is Race. Ed Race."

Greta Frisch began to laugh. "It will do you no good, Otto. Your geese is cooked—"

Ed swung away from her, to face Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw. "Look here—I don't mind being called von Bernhoff, or anything else. I don't care what happens to me. But I don't want to see this train dive-bombed." He took deep breath. "Suppose I prove to you that I'm Ed Race?"

"How?" Steve Klaw demanded concisely.

Ed brushed past Greta Frisch, and raised the window blind. He pointed ahead, to the lights of a local station which they were approaching. It was manifest that the train was not going to stop at this station, for it was tearing ahead at full speed.

"See that station ahead?" he demanded. "We'll be passing it in two minutes. See that string of lights over at the far end, past the local tracks?"

"Yes," said Dan Murdoch, somewhat guardedly.

"They're fifty feet away from this track, aren't they?"


"Could any of you three hit all of those lights as the train flashes past—with a forty-five?"

"No!" Stephen Klaw answered promptly and frankly. "That's impossible. Maybe with a Garand rifle—but not with a revolver. Not even the best marksman in the world would do that—"

"The Masked Marksman can do it!" Ed said.

They were already streaking into the station, and the first of that string of lights was coming abreast of the locomotive up ahead.

"Will you trust me with guns in my hand?" Ed asked swiftly.

"Go ahead!" Dan Murdoch said suddenly, from behind him. "I'll keep you covered. But go ahead. I have a hunch—"

"Thanks!" Ed whispered.

Hardly had the word left his lips, than his two hands crossed and uncrossed over his chest, and the two heavy .45's were out. The motion was so fast that Dan Murdoch and his two companions blinked.

With another swift, powerful motion, Ed smashed out the window glass with the barrel of one of the weapons. Their car was just coming abreast of the row of lights.

HE didn't seem to aim. He just threw down both guns and fired them simultaneously. His actions appeared easy and nonchalant. In reality, however, he was so tautly strung that every nerve and fibre of his body was a-tingle. He knew he couldn't afford to miss. He must convince these three hard-bitten fighting men that he was the Masked Marksman; not von Bernhoff.

Both guns began to thunder in unison. They bucked and roared in Ed's hands, as the train raced past that row of lights. And with each swift double explosion, two of those bulbs were shattered into blackness. Down the line the shots clicked, with the military precision of a parade review. And as the train flashed past the station, every last one of those lights was extinguished!

Ed Race drew a deep breath into his lungs, and lowered his empty, smoking revolvers. He looked at Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw.

"Well?" he said.

"My aunt's Sunday hat!" whispered Stephen Klaw. "I've never seen shooting like that!"

"By God," said Dan Murdoch, "a guy who can shoot like that—can't be a Nazi!"

Johnny Kerrigan grunted. "The people in that town must be thinking they've had a blitzkrieg!"

As the train sped along, never reducing its pace, the wind whipped into the compartment through the open window, mingled with cinders and soot. Suddenly, from somewhere in the rear, there was a flashing explosion, and a flare brightened the sky for hundreds of yards in every direction. It was far down at the rear of the train, somewhere near the observation car. But the train did not leave that flare behind. It travelled right along with it.

"There's the signal!" Steve Klaw exclaimed. "He's ignited that powder, on the rear platform of the observation car!"

"That means the plane will be diving in a couple of minutes!" Steve Klaw said tightly.

From her seat, Greta Frisch sprang up, with a sudden deathly pallor upon her face.

"Let me out!" she screamed. "I do not want to die—"

Dan Murdoch gripped her wrist. "Not so fast, sister," he said grimly. "You were playing your own game with us right along, weren't you? This man isn't von Bernhoff, is he? You put us on to him, only so that the real von Bernhoff would be free to do his work tonight. That's true—isn't it?"

"No, no," she screamed. "Let me get off—"

"Let's all stay and be bombed!" said Johnny Kerrigan.

"Suits me," said Ed Race, his eyes fixed on the woman.

She stared from one to the other of them, with dawning fear and terror. "You—you are not going to get off? We will all be killed!"

"That's right, sister," said Dan Murdoch.

Her face assumed a greenish tint as she saw that they meant it.

"No, no! I will tell you everything. It is true. I changed the wallets. The real von Bernhoff is in the club car. A thin man—"

Ed Race snapped his fingers. "That's the chap I was talking to in the club car!"

High above the rumble of the train, they heard the drone of an airplane engine.

"There's the bomber!" said Dan Murdoch. "He won't dive for a couple of minutes, yet. He'll want to give von Bernhoff time to get off. Let's go!"

Stephen Klaw and Johnny Kerrigan swung out into the corridor with him. Forgotten was Greta Frisch.

"Hey!" yelled Ed Race. "I'm coming, too—"

All four of them raced down to the rear end door of the Pullman. Ed swiftly reloaded his guns as he ran.

"We're going up on the roof," Murdoch said. "We'll see if we can't give that bomber what-for!"

Suddenly, there was a screaming whistle, as some one pulled the emergency bell cord, in one of the rear cars. The engineer up front responded instantly, and the train ground to screeching stop.

"It's von Bernhoff!" Klaw said. "He's stopped the train so the bomber can have an easy target—and so he can get off!"

THEY scrambled out on to the vestibule, and Johnny Kerrigan yanked the lever which opened the door. Then, as one man, they swung on Ed Race. Almost in chorus they said, "Race, we apologize. You're a right guy. So long."

Then Johnny Kerrigan cupped his hands, and Dan Murdoch climbed up, reaching the roof, and scrambling up on top.

"Nix," said Ed. "I'm going up there with you. You need a good marksman—"

"Sorry," said Klaw. "Your job is to get out there and grab von Bernhoff. He'll probably have a couple more accomplices. That job will be dangerous enough. Now scram. This is war, and these are orders!"

"Very good, sir!" Ed said, saluting.

He leaped down to the darkness of the roadbed.

"See you in hell, Race!" Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw called after him.

Ed grinned. "That's a date, you lugs!" he called back.

He saw that they had all reached the roof of the car, and were standing upright, with their guns in their hands. High above, the plane, a weird specter in the night sky, was wheeling into a power dive. It began to come down, its motor roaring.

Ed turned away from that sight. Whatever happened, he knew his job was elsewhere. The darkness was being eerily illuminated by the flare powder at the rear. By its light, he saw three dark shapes running away from the train, then start to climb the embankment.

Ed grinned tightly.

"Stop!" he shouted.

But his voice was hardly audible above the screaming of that diving plane, and the thundering guns of the Suicide Squad, on the roof of the car.

Coolly, Ed lined up his two revolvers. Those three fleeing figures were an easy target for him. He fired once with his right hand revolver, and twice with the left hand one.

The two men and one woman fell prone on the slope of the embankment, like tenpins, their legs shot out from under them. Deliberately, Ed had aimed at their knees. He wanted them alive.

Then he swung around and raised his head. Only seconds had elapsed, but the plane was already down to five hundred feet. In the light of the flare, he could see the bomb rack underneath it, and he could clearly see the pilot's head in the cockpit. The pilot was leaning forward, apparently with his hand on the bomb release.

On the roof of the car, Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw were firing, carefully, coolly, and the windshield was cracked but not splintered. They were directly in front of the nose of the plane, and therefore couldn't get a shot at the pilot from the side, which offered a little more possibility.

Ed Race raised his revolvers, and joined in the fight. Passengers were streaming out of the train, in huddled confusion, running away from the strafing attack. But those four—Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw on the roof of the car, and Ed Race on the ground—did not give an inch.

The plane was down to three hundred now, and the bomb would be released in an instant. Its nose was pointing directly downward, and Ed sighted his revolvers for that impossible target. He fired four times, and he didn't know which of the four shots hit. But suddenly there was an earth-shattering explosion, and all the heavens seemed to close upon themselves in a blinding tornado of crashing light and sound. The train rocked on its tracks, and Ed Race was thrown off his feet. Bits of metal and shreds of airplane wings and motor catapulted in all directions.

Those bullets in the nose had detonated the bomb. Its driving, explosive force had been expended far enough from its intended target so that the fragments which reached the ground were only those which fell, after the explosion. They did little damage.

Ed Race got to his feet, feeling slightly drunk. He looked around. There was no longer any plane in the air. The pilot and his vehicle of death had been obliterated by their own cargo.

Ed saw Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw picking themselves up from the ground, where they had been hurled. They saw him, and grinned.

Ed grinned back at them. "If this is hell," he said, "it's not so bad. Glad to see you lugs again."

Stephen Klaw spoke for the three of them. "Same here!" he said. "It's not so bad at that!"


Roy Glashan's Library
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