The Japs were planning a barbarous air raid on America—that much was known to Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw, the F.B.I.'s indomitable Suicide Squad. When, where and how this hellish blitzkrieg was to come, they were grimly determined to find out, even if that meant permitting the lovely, evil Madam Setti to lure them to the reincarnated Japanese Diva- King—who could command men to destroy themselves!
THE pretty Filipino girl in the starched white uniform stopped Stephen Klaw at the corner. She had a charming smile and a dimple in her left cheek.
"Contribution to the Red Cross, sir?" she asked.
"Sure," said Steve. He dug in his pocket for change, flipped her a quarter.
"Do you know what time it is?" he asked her.
The girl stiffened. "No," she said. "Do you?"
"It's time to strike!" said Stephen Klaw.
The girl's eyes flashed. "That's the code word the F.B.I. gave me. You must be Stephen Klaw!"
"That's right," he said. He dropped a coin into the contribution box, and she stepped close to him and pinned a Red Cross button on his lapel.
"It's the third house from the corner," she said swiftly. "Number Thirteen. He's waiting for you—in the top floor rear apartment. But it's no use. You'll never get to him. They've found out that you're coming. They've set a trap for you. I don't know exactly what, but they mean to kill you and Kerrigan and Murdoch!"
Stephen Klaw smiled. He nodded to her, as if thanking her for the button, and moved on. He did not even glance at Number Thirteen as he passed it. Nor did he seem to be interested in the motley conglomeration of faces which he passed on the street—Puerto Ricans, Filipinos, Haitians, Dominicans, half-castes and quarter-castes, with the blood of a dozen different races boiling hotly in their veins.
This was the so-called Spanish quarter of the city, a veritable rabbit-warren of intrigue, where treachery and sabotage made their beds side by side with murder and hate. A quarter of a million people lived here in this sprawling section half a mile square. Most of them were peaceable men and women, who wanted nothing better than to be allowed to live and work in the United States. But there were others—the agents of every Axis power—who moved boldly in this melting pot, secure in their anonymity; secure in their knowledge that to seek them here would be like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack.
Klaw walked a little farther down the block and paused beside a parked car, ostensibly to light a cigarette.
Johnny Kerrigan was seated at the wheel of the car, his head sunk on his powerful shoulders in an attitude of meditation. Actually he was peering into a small mirror which he held in the palm of his left hand. By using that mirror, he had been able to follow Stephen Klaw's progress up the street. He did not show by any sign that he was aware of Steve's existence.
Klaw lit his cigarette, took a deep puff. "The fat's in the fire, Johnny," he said. "They know we're coming to find Balbo. They've set a trap."
Johnny Kerrigan put the hand mirror away and turned around, grinning. "I never did like this hush-hush stuff, anyway!"
"Balbo is in Number Thirteen, top floor rear," Steve told him. "Suppose I take the front, you take the back, and let Dan come in through the roof. He can go in the house on the far corner, and work his way across the roofs."
"Sold," said Johnny. "Dan is down the street. I'll contact him. Give us ten minutes to get set, and then you go in. The three of us will try to meet inside Number Thirteen."
"Okay, mope," said Steve. "But remember, no Boy Scout stuff. Remember what the Chief said: One of us must get to Manuel Balbo tonight—at any cost!"
"Right!" said Johnny Kerrigan, starting the car. "See you in hell, Shrimp!"
"Not if I see you first!" Steve called after him.
HE watched the car pull down the block; saw the tall, spare figure of Dan Murdoch detach itself from the shadows and get in. He waited until the car disappeared around the corner. Then he dug both hands deep in his coat pockets, and started back toward Number Thirteen.
He saw that the Filipino girl was no longer at the corner. There were no police in evidence, for the two big fires along the docks had denuded the rest of the city of its uniformed force. Across the street, a fight was going on, between a wiry mulatto and a big Jamaican. A crowd had gathered round the two fighters across the street, but no one offered to interfere.
Elsewhere along the street, men and women were walking, talking and laughing. But underneath that surface gaiety, there was a sense of acute tension. These people were aware of the undercurrents of intrigue and treachery which crept through the district. They were afraid...
Steve's watch showed that five minutes of the allotted ten had passed. He was only four or five doors away from Number Thirteen, and he must not reach the front door for five minutes more. The success of their plan depended upon accurate timing. He stopped at the curb to watch the fight across the street.
As he turned, something whirred past his ear. A little Filipino boy, who had just started to run across to the opposite side, threw up his arms and screamed, then fell headlong in the gutter.
The boy had been only a few feet from Steve. Whatever it was that had whirred past Steve's ear, had struck that lad.
Stephen Klaw leaped toward the boy, and at the same moment, something else whizzed past him and buried itself in the boy's body. Steve swung around, drawing from his right-hand pocket the automatic he had been holding there. His eyes, narrowed and keen, swept back along the route which that missile must have taken; his glance rested on the first floor window of Number Nineteen, which was only three houses from the one toward which he had been going. The window was in darkness, but he spotted the shadowy figure which was visible, crouching against the sill, with a long tube at its mouth.
Steve fired almost at the same time that he saw the figure. His single shot blasted above the clamor which had risen in the street, and he saw the figure in the window topple backward. The tube fell out the window, dropped to the sidewalk almost at Steve's feet.
Steve stooped and snatched it up. He stuck it into his pocket, and swung toward the wounded boy. His eyes became bleak. That frail, skinny body was still and rigid.
Klaw had no doubt that those two poisoned darts which had done their work so swiftly had been meant for himself. The unfortunate lad had died from them, in a matter of seconds.
There was a milling crowd in the street now, and fierce eyes, smoldering with hate, were turned upon Stephen Klaw. A narrow- chested man with a mottled face pointed a finger at Klaw, and then at the dead boy. He shouted something in a strange, unintelligible language, but it was plain to see what he meant. He was telling the crowd that Klaw had killed the boy!
The crowd surged forward, but did not come too close, because of the automatic which Steve still held in his hand.
Just then, a big Haitian woman came running down the street. She pushed through the crowd, and dropped to her knees beside the pitiful, dead body. A long, unearthly wail escaped her as she threw herself across the limp figure.
The narrow-chested man shouted something else, and the crowd uttered a roar of rage. This time it surged forward purposefully. The narrow-chested man brandished a revolver, but did not take the lead.
Klaw's face was grim. His time was up. He had to get into Number Thirteen, and not even this must be allowed to stop him. He raised his automatic, and shot the narrow-chested man in the shoulder, and the fellow went hurtling back into the crowd, screaming.
That stopped the bloodthirsty crowd for a moment, and Steve took advantage of its hesitation. He turned and sprinted for Number Thirteen.
The mob, thinking that he was trying to make his escape out of the block, uttered a deep roar of rage, and started after him. Klaw smiled twistedly. He swung into the entrance of Number Thirteen, and slammed the door shut almost in the faces of the first of the pursuers.
There was a glass panel in the door. Steve grinned at them through the glass; he raised his automatic. Those in the forefront of the mob squealed with fright and backed away.
THE hall was lighted by a single bulb, but its illumination was sufficient for Steve to see the powerful figure of Johnny Kerrigan, approaching from the rear.
"Hi, Shrimp," said Johnny. "What gives?"
Steve jerked his thumb at the mob outside.
"I brought some company," he said.
"They sound like nice people," Kerrigan grinned. "Dan must be at the roof by this time. Let's go."
He started up the stairs, drawing his revolver.
Stephen Klaw fell in step beside him. They mounted the first flight without opposition. The bloodcurdling shouts of the mob in the street were growing ever louder, though. As they reached the second landing, a door at the front was kicked open, and a machine-gun began to stutter. The staccato chattering of that rapid-fire gun filled the whole house with its vicious patter. The stinging slugs swept high over the heads of Klaw and Kerrigan, then swung downward as the gunner in the front room adjusted his aim.
But the swift ambuscade did not catch Kerrigan and Klaw flatfooted. Their reaction was almost as swift as the first patter of sound from the machine-gun. The guns in their hands began to blast, hurling twin streams of lead to the doorway.
They didn't have to adjust their aim. Their guns fired neither too high nor too low.
Too often had their lives depended upon the accuracy of the first shot in a battle. They had learned to make that first shot count. And they had worked together so long that they didn't have to guess what the other would do, or hope that the other would do the right thing. Steve, who was on the left, took the left-hand half of the doorway, spacing his shots up and down its length; while Johnny did the same thing with the other half.
The deafening din of blasting guns shook the frail old house as if it were being rocked by a quake. And then, suddenly, the machine-gun faltered in its staccato music. There was a second of silence, and a single burst blasted high, the slugs smashing into the ceiling of the hall. Then there was a crash as the machine- gun clattered to the floor. The bulb which lit the corridor had been blasted out of existence, but even in the darkness, Steve and Johnny saw the shadowy bulk of the gunner's figure as he fell forward over his weapon.
Kerrigan and Klaw leaped forward, shoulder to shoulder down the hall. They reached the doorway at the same time. Within that room they saw two more figures, leaping forward to pick up the machine-gun. Kerrigan's thirty-eight and Klaw's lighter automatic spoke simultaneously, and there were no more enemies left in the room.
As the thunder and din of the echoing gunfire died away, Johnny Kerrigan brought out his flashlight and swung the beam down upon the bodies at their feet. All three dead men were small-boned, with small and dainty hands and black, oily hair. Their faces were long and narrow, yellow, with high narrow foreheads and small eyes.
"Japs!" said Johnny Kerrigan. "They were all supposed to have been rounded up!"
"There must be plenty more of them hiding out all over the city," Steve said. He swung around. "Let's go. Dan must be through the roof by this time. I wonder what he's running into—"
As if in answer to his question, a short series of gun blasts sounded from above.
Johnny and Steve went up the next flight of stairs like a pair of comets.
Like all other tenement houses in the district, this one was a crowded beehive of humanity, with six flats on each floor, and an unbelievable number of men, women and children jammed into each flat. But not a single one of them came out into the hallway. All the doors remained closed.
SOMEONE had put out the lights on the upper floors, and Johnny's flashlight, lancing up the stairs, showed nothing on the third floor landing. But the shots up above continued.
Kerrigan and Klaw reached the top floor landing unopposed, and the flashlight in Johnny's hand swept along the hall to reveal half a dozen little yellow men, crouching under the skylight, staring upward. Two of those little men had automatics. The other four had blowguns just like the one in Steve's pocket. They had the tubes at their lips, and were aiming up at the open skylight, as if waiting for a chance to send their deadly missiles winging on their way.
As Kerrigan and Klaw reached the landing, they saw a spurt of orange flame from above, accompanied by the roar of Dan Murdoch's revolver. One of the Japs screamed and toppled forward. At the same time, the other Japs swung to meet Kerrigan and Klaw. It was apparent that they had not expected an attack from below, for they had been sure that their little ambuscade on the first floor would effectively stop anyone coming in from the street.
The deadly blowguns lined up on Johnny and Steve, while the two Japs with revolvers opened a steady barrage toward the skylight, aimed at keeping Murdoch away from the opening.
Kerrigan and Klaw disdained to duck, or to scramble for safety. They stood shoulder to shoulder in the narrow corridor, guns in both hands, and pulled their triggers coolly and methodically. In their right-hand guns they had only two or three shots left, but there was a full load in each of their second guns. Kerrigan had dropped his flashlight, and it lay with its beam athwart the hall, casting a weird glow upon the ghastly battle.
The air was filled with thunder and the fumes of cordite. As if by unspoken agreement, Klaw took the dart-blowers, while Kerrigan aimed at the two Japs whose revolvers were blazing at the skylight.
Klaw's slugs smashed into those kneeling Japs with the tubes in their mouths, sending them crashing backward into their fellows; while Kerrigan's bullets found the gunmen with unerring accuracy.
Up above, Dan Murdoch was not to be kept from the skylight by the barrage. His long and supple figure came through the opening, both his guns blazing straight down as he jumped. He landed feet- first upon the last of the Japs, smashing the fellow to the floor. Then Dan came nimbly to his feet and faced Kerrigan and Klaw, who had ceased firing.
There was not a Jap left standing. The three G-men grinned at each other.
"Nice work, guys!" Dan Murdoch said.
Below, in the street, the angry roar of the mob surged up like an echo out of hell.
Dan Murdoch looked inquiringly at the other two.
Steve grinned thinly. "Just some nice people who want my scalp. Come on, let's get Balbo!"
He stepped across the dead Japs, and stopped in front of the door of the rear apartment. Johnny Kerrigan came and stood alongside him, playing his flashlight on the door. They both drew their breath in sharply.
The door was riddled by bullet holes.
"They played a machine-gun on it!" Dan Murdoch exclaimed.
Kerrigan kicked the door open, and strode into the room, followed by Klaw and Murdoch.
A man lay on the floor face down, his arms outflung. He was dead.
Beside the body, a little boy was squatting. He was no more than seven or eight, with dark hair just like the hair of the dead man. With one pudgy hand he was clutching the dead man's coat, and with the other he was holding a huge revolver which was so heavy that he could barely lift it. He was dry-eyed, but his youthful little face was tight and defiant.
HE PUT the heavy gun down on the floor when he saw the three white men in the doorway. Tears suddenly came streaming down his face.
"They—k-killed my dad!" he gulped. "Those J- Japs—killed my dad. They shot through the door!"
Johnny Kerrigan knelt beside the youngster, put an arm about his thin shoulders.
"Poor kid!" he said softly.
The boy held on tight with one hand to his dead father's coat. He looked up at Johnny. "Are you the men who were coming to meet him? Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw?"
Johnny nodded. "That's right, sonny. But the Japs got him first. I'm sorry, kid."
"What's your name, sonny?" Steve Klaw asked gently.
"Tony," said the boy. "Tony Balbo." He looked from one to the other of them. "Did—did you kill all those Japs who killed Dad? Did you?"
Steve nodded. "We paid off, Tony—in part. We'll pay off plenty more before we're through."
Johnny Kerrigan lifted the lad to his feet. "Come on, Tony. We've got to get you out of here. We'll have to leave your dad here till later."
The boy was sobbing as he stood up and fumbled with one hand under his blouse. He brought out a soiled scrap of paper, which he handed to Steve, together with three sheets of well-thumbed onion-skin.
"My dad wrote this when he looked out the window and saw that the Japs had the house surrounded. He told me, if anything happened to him, to give it to you with these diagrams."
Stephen Klaw took the papers. The three onion-skin sheets contained diagrams which were quite evidently charts of aeroplane flights, with maps of the territory covered. The other contained a hasty pencil scrawl.
Dan Murdoch, looking at the charts, exclaimed, "If those aren't the plans for projected air-raids on this city, I'll eat them!"
Stephen Klaw was already reading the hasty pencil scrawl on the fourth sheet:
To the F.B.I.—These are the Japanese plans for tonight. The hour is some time before dawn. God knows if I'll ever get these to you—it looks like they've got me. I'll never live till your three men get here. But I can still die trying to do my bit for the country that adopted me and gave me a chance to bring up my son. There are a thousand Japs circulating in this section of town—you can't tell them from Filipinos. They're all set for a big blow at the city when they get a signal. I don't know what the signal is, but the person who will give the signal is a woman. Her name is Madam Setti, but she goes by other names, too. You'll know her by the little red "S" tattooed on her left shoulder. She was once a geisha girl in Yokohama, and that's her mark. Look out for her. She's the most dangerous woman in the world.
STEPHEN KLAW gave the note to Kerrigan and Murdoch. While they read it, he went to the window which looked out on the back yard. He pulled aside the blind, which was tightly drawn, and peered into the night.
From far below, a shot sounded, and a bullet gouged into the lintel, less than a foot from his face.
Steve grimaced, but he did not back at once. He looked out to the west, where the sky was a deep crimson from the reflection of the conflagration along the river front. Those fires out there had been set with devilish cunning. They had spread so fast and furiously that it was taking the combined efforts of the fire and police departments to fight them. The rest of the city was left under the care of the air raid wardens and the auxiliary firemen, who had not yet been equipped with fire apparatus. In the event of a raid, or of sabotage in some other part of town, the result would be incalculably disastrous.
A second shot blasted from below, and the slug almost grazed Steve's ear. He stepped away from the window this time.
Kerrigan and Murdoch had laid the body of Manuel Balbo on the couch. Murdoch took the tablecloth off the table, and covered him with it. He turned to little Tony, who had taken hold of Johnny Kerrigan's hand.
"Your father was a brave man, Tony," he said. "You can always be proud of him."
Tony's eyes were fixed upon the still shape. "I'll be p- proud," he whispered through his tears. "Always!"
Then he turned, still holding tightly to Johnny Kerrigan's hand, and allowed himself to be led out into the hall.
STEVE KLAW had already stepped out into the corridor, picking his way among the bodies. It was he who, looking up toward the skylight, spotted the men with the blowguns, outlined against the sky above.
The gun in his hand jerked twice as he blasted at those dim shapes. One of them disappeared from the opening, while the other toppled down to land at Steve's feet.
Almost at once, other figures appeared up there, with guns. They must have thought to take the three silently, by surprise, as they came out of the room. But now that the element of surprise was gone, they preferred, apparently, to attack with guns.
Slugs smashed down into the hall, burying themselves in the bodies that lay there. But now, Stephen Klaw was no longer alone. Murdoch had leaped out beside him; and Johnny Kerrigan, thrusting little Tony back into the room, sprang out to join them.
Together, the three G-men blasted at those attackers on the roof, and once more the old house shook with the thunder of gunfire.
Another body came toppling down, and the attackers withdrew their heads. But they continued to snipe from a few feet back of the skylight opening, sending their shots into the front part of the hall, so that it would be impossible for the three to reach the head of the stairs.
Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw backed up into the room where Manuel Balbo's body lay. They looked at each other, then at little Tony. The same unspoken thought was in the minds of all three: whatever chances they might be willing to take for themselves, they must not expose the boy to further danger.
"We've got to clear the roof!" said Dan Murdoch. "We can't take the kid out through the street anyway—not with that mob waiting out there."
Johnny Kerrigan put his hand on Steve's shoulder. "You stay here with Tony, Shrimp. Dan and I will rush the roof. Then you and the kid follow."
"You can't make it," Steve said. "They'll cut you down!"
Murdoch shrugged. "They can't do more than kill us once for trying."
"Wait a minute!" Steve exclaimed. He switched off the light, and went over to the window. He pulled the blind aside.
"There's a fire escape here," he said over his shoulder. "The Japs are in the yard below, but they can't see up here with the light out. We can make it to the roof by the ladder, and take those birds up above in the flank."
"Nice thinking, Shrimp," Dan said. "Let's go—"
He stopped abruptly, as Steve raised a hand for silence.
"Some one's coming down the ladder!" Steve whispered. "The Japs had the same idea. They figure on taking us in the rear!"
As he spoke, he was slipping new clips into his automatics. Out in the hall, the sporadic shooting was still continuing. Johnny Kerrigan, standing in the doorway, was sending an occasional shot up into the skylight, to discourage the attackers from coming too close to the opening. Down below, the shouts of the angry mob were rising. They were getting up enough courage to storm the house now.
Klaw held the blind aside, his automatic ready, as the ghostly shapes came down the fire escape ladder from the roof. Within the room, the darkness was thick and silent. The only sound was the swift breathing of little Tony Balbo. Even the firing from the skylight had ceased, and the roar of the mob in the street was reduced to a dull and ominous grumble. It was as if they were all waiting for the result of this flank attack from the direction of the fire escape.
In the dark, Dan Murdoch stood at the doorway, watching the skylight. Klaw remained at the window, his eyes on the fire escape. Johnny Kerrigan thrust little Tony into a far corner, and then moved over into the center of the room. He cocked both his revolvers.
"All right, Steve," he said. "I have the window covered. Any time you're ready."
"Right! Another minute. There's a couple of them on the fire escape. Two or three more coming down. One machine-gun."
He kept his eye glued to the crack, holding the shade with one hand. Then he said abruptly: "Here goes."
He gave the shade a yank and sent it rattling upward, exposing the window. At the same time he swung to one side, out of Kerrigan's line of fire. He raised both his automatics, and began to pump shots through the glass. The pane shattered as both he and Johnny Kerrigan sent a hail of lead into the huddled group on the fire escape landing. The machine-gun out there began to stutter, and then became silent. A man screamed. A shadowy figure threw up its arms and went hurtling through the railing.
Simultaneously, Dan Murdoch began to shoot at the skylight, where the attackers had once more appeared. Bullets came smashing down from above, to gouge the floor at Murdoch's feet; but he stood there calmly, pumping shot after shot up into the opening.
The room reverberated with the continuous detonations, and the air became acrid with smoke. More men were streaming down the fire escape ladder to the attack, and the pile of bodies on the landing became high. But still they came, those little yellow men, grimly intent upon finishing these three. Klaw emptied one gun, and stopped to reload while Kerrigan covered him; then Klaw covered while Kerrigan loaded. But in the doorway, Murdoch had no one to spell him. His guns were empty, and a gruesome pile of dead lay almost at his feet. Now, as he reloaded swiftly, the attackers began to drop through the skylight. Two or three landed on the soft carpet of bodies which covered the floor before Murdoch could slip fresh shells into his weapon. He hurled the empty gun at the foremost of the attackers, hit him squarely in the face. Then he threw himself at the man and sent him careening back into his fellows.
Murdoch scrambled on the floor, searching the bodies there, until he found a revolver. He didn't know if it was loaded, but he raised it and fired into the seething mass above him. The gun bucked and roared as he pulled the trigger again and again, and the killers fell.
Directly above him, he saw other figures leaping down from the skylight into the battle, blasting away with their guns as they jumped. One of them landed alongside Murdoch, and thrust the muzzle of a gun against his ribs. This was the last of the attackers from the skylight. There were no more coming through. But one single shot from his gun would finish Murdoch as efficiently as a dozen. The firing inside was hot and heavy, and Dan knew that Kerrigan and Klaw must be hard-pressed, else one of them would have swung to his assistance by this time. He refused to call to them for help. He smashed a fist into his shadowy attacker's face, expecting at the same time to feel the driving impact of a slug in his ribs.
But the shot did not come. Instead, the man opened up his mouth and yelled, jerking away quickly. Murdoch's fist crashed into the man's face, and the fellow tripped against something directly behind him, and went over backward.
Tony Balbo's face was a white blob in the darkness, close to the floor. He peered up at Dan. "I bit him in the leg!" he said proudly. "It made him yell, and when you hit him, he tripped over me!"
Murdoch grinned broadly. "Good kid, Tony. You saved my life!"
The firing inside the room ceased suddenly, and Murdoch pulled little Tony in there. Kerrigan and Klaw were reloading their guns, grinning. Outside the window, there was a litter of dead bodies.
"We kind of discouraged them!" Johnny Kerrigan boomed.
The enemy had suffered frightful losses. Their dead lay thick in the hall and on the fire escape landing.
"They've either decided to give up," said Stephen Klaw, "or else they're reorganizing for another try."
He went to the window and pulled the blind down again. At the door, Dan Murdoch flipped the electric light switch. There was a click, but no light. The electric light bulb had been hit.
Johnny Kerrigan took out his flashlight and snapped it on. The beam of light sprayed across the room, and immediately there was a volley of shots from somewhere outside which smashed in through the blind.
Dan Murdoch swept little Tony Balbo out of the line of fire.
Klaw grinned. "It looks like they haven't given up."
"Personally," said Johnny Kerrigan, "I feel flattered. They're certainly throwing away a lot of man-power to get us."
"It's not us they want," Kerrigan grunted. His eyes swung to little Tony. "It's the message his dad left for us."
Now, the murmur of the mob rose in a rumbling roar of hatred from the street below. They heard the sound of crashing glass, and then there was a multitude of footsteps on the stairs, rushing upward in a charge of fury.
"Well, mopes," said Stephen Klaw, "this looks like it. How many rounds have you guys got left?"
Dan Murdoch grinned sheepishly and spread his empty hands. "I haven't got a gun," he said.
Johnny Kerrigan pulled a handful of loose cartridges out of his pocket, began stuffing them into the chambers of his revolvers.
"I have nine shells left," he said.
Klaw hefted his automatics. "I have one full clip, and three shots left in the other."
Dan Murdoch took the flashlight from Johnny Kerrigan, and darted out into the hall. He pawed around on the floor and came up with two revolvers, which had belonged to the attacking Japs. He broke them, squinted into the chambers, and nodded.
"Both almost full," he said. "I guess we can take a few of these punks with us!"
ALL three of them turned to look at little Tony Balbo. It was he that they were really worried about. As for themselves, they had long ago calculated that they were living on borrowed time, enjoying lives which they had forfeited many times in the past. Not for nothing were they known as the Suicide Squad. In the F.B.I. they never received a routine assignment, but were always held in reserve for those jobs for which the Director would ordinarily hesitate to ask for volunteers. They rated those missions from which it was not expected that they would return alive.
Originally, there had been five of them on the Suicide Squad, then four, now three. Every day that they went out on a new assignment, there was always the expectation that tomorrow there would be only two, or one—or none. But thus far, Death had seemed to be avoiding them—if only for the reason that they appeared to be seeking it. The legend of the Suicide Squad had grown to huge proportions among those legions of spies and saboteurs who worked for the enemies of America. Some said that the Suicide Squad was indestructible; others that they were lucky fighting fools who had gotten by thus far only because there is a special god who looks after madmen.
Nevertheless, the secret agents of the Axis in America had developed a healthy respect for the Suicide Squad—which accounted for the elaborate trap in which Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw now found themselves.
But they would not have had it otherwise. They were a trio of reckless, fighting hellions, with no regard for the value of their own lives. They lived only for today, and for the privilege of standing side by side in a battle where the odds were high against them. In that they gloried, and in that lay the reason for the fear in which they were held by their enemies.
But now it was different. Alone, these three might have rejoiced in the heavy odds they faced. That they had come unscathed through the attack they had just sustained, would have meant to them only that they had another chance to risk their lives. But now they had to consider the fact that a child's life was in their hands—plus the information contained in Manuel Balbo's message.
The house was rocking to the rushing feet of the mob. In another couple of minutes, the first of them would reach the top.
"All right, Steve," said Johnny Kerrigan. "Dan and I will stay here and serve them tea. You take Tony and try to make it down the fire escape. I doubt if you get through. But there's nothing else for it."
Klaw nodded somberly. There was nothing that any of them would have wanted more at this moment than to stand shoulder to shoulder, and to go down together, taking as many of their enemies with them as they could. But they realized that their duty demanded that they at least make the attempt to get Tony and the message through.
Klaw said, "See you in hell, mopes."
"See you in hell, Shrimp!"
Steve Klaw took Tony by the hand and turned toward the window.
THE first of the howling mob were already at the top landing. Kerrigan sprang to the doorway and sent three swift shots into the darkness. That stopped them for a moment.
"Get going, Shrimp!" Johnny called over his shoulder.
Out in the hallway there was a mingling of raucous yells as those behind urged the others up the stairs. But above that shouting, a new noise was heard—the creaking of a door.
Steve Klaw, already at the window, stopped short, with little Tony at his side. He swung around. That creaking had come from this room!
Both Murdoch and Kerrigan had heard it, too. Kerrigan slammed the corridor door shut, and turned around. All three of them stared at the wall of the room, where a panel was sliding open.
A woman stood revealed in that secret doorway.
She was a tall woman, with dark hair coiled high on her head. She wore a black gown, unrelieved except for a gleaming belt of silver around her narrow waist. Her face was thin and her eyes black, and she had a queer complexion which was neither white nor yellow, but which might have been classed as Eurasian.
She stood there in the doorway for a moment, completely at ease, completely poised, as if she had just come from a dinner party. Her eyes studied them as if she wished to engrave their faces indelibly upon her memory.
"Follow me," she said. "I can show you a way out!"
The mob was grumbling out in the hall, getting up its courage for a rush upon the closed door. But Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw paid it not the least attention. Their eyes were fixed on the woman.
"Who are you?" Stephen Klaw demanded.
She gave him a faint smile. "Does a name mean so much? When your lives are at stake, do you stop to ask whose help you are getting?"
There was just the faintest trace of accent in her speech; enough to brand her as foreign, but not sufficient to identify the country of her origin.
"Come quickly!" she urged. "If you wait, the mob will tear you apart!"
Johnny Kerrigan grinned. "Lady, we appreciate your interest. But we'd like to know which side you're on."
She stirred impatiently. "You fools! Do you think I'd show you this way out if I didn't want to help you?"
"Maybe," said Johnny. "Maybe you'd like to know what Manuel Balbo told us before he died."
Her black eyes flickered. "Did you find him—alive?"
Johnny chuckled. "We got a message from him, if that's what you want to know."
There was a pounding of feet out in the hall, accompanied by wild shouts. The crowd was rushing the door.
Dan Murdoch yanked the door open. A compact mass of armed men was within half a dozen feet of the room, leaping over the dead bodies of the Japs.
Kerrigan turned his gun on the mob, and emptied it into them. The crowd recoiled, then turned and fled. They reached the head of the stairs, but could not descend, because of the press of men behind them.
He slammed the door shut again.
"It's no use killing them," he said. "They have plenty more men. That's no haphazard mob. It's led by professional killers!"
"And," said the woman in the doorway, "you can't have much ammunition left. I advise you to come with me."
"You haven't told us your name yet," Steve reminded her.
She shrugged. "Call me Madam X, if you must have a name. And now, for the last time, will you come?" Her eyes swept to little Tony, who was pressing against Stephen Klaw. "Even if you don't care about yourselves, you have a boy there. Do you want him to perish too?"
That decided them. Steve glanced at Kerrigan and Murdoch. "What say, boys?"
"Why not?" Murdoch said. "The lady seems to be nicer company than that mob of howling fanatics outside."
"Thank you," said the woman. "This way!"
She turned and disappeared into the dark passage, and Steve Klaw stepped through after her.
"Watch this, mopes," he said over his shoulder. "Keep Tony between us. Who ever this dame is, I don't like her!"
Tony plucked at Steve's sleeve. "It's Madam Setti!" he whispered. "It's the woman my father was afraid of. I never saw her, but I'm sure!"
Johnny Kerrigan said, "This ought to be fun. Let's go!"
He pushed Tony ahead of him, after Steve, into the passage. Dan Murdoch waited only to send the last of his bullets through the already riddled door, with the idea of discouraging the mob for a few moments more. Then he followed the others.
The passage led down a steep bank of stairs. No sooner had Dan Murdoch stepped through, than the panel began to close. The woman, somewhere below, must have pressed a hidden switch which controlled the door. The stairs and the passage were thrown into absolute darkness.
Kerrigan produced his flashlight, and sent a beam lancing downward. It disclosed the woman, almost at the foot of the stairs, with Stephen Klaw right behind her, so close to her that he could reach out and seize her at the first display of treachery.
The woman waited till they had all joined her on the narrow landing. It seemed that there was only a blank wall here, but she pressed another button somewhere, and the wall swung away, revealing another passage, this one level. From its location, they judged that it led into the adjoining house.
They followed the woman through it, into a bare room, devoid of all furniture. She led them across, and opened a door into the hall.
"There you are," she said. "We're in the building next door. You can get out through the front door. They won't even be looking for you out there. They think you're still trapped in Balbo's room."
"Is this where you live?" Johnny Kerrigan asked as he looked around the empty room.
"I live across the hall," she said, after a moment's hesitation. She pointed to the door of one of the flats.
"H'm." Stephen Klaw looked her up and down. "You must be the best-dressed girl in the neighborhood."
"I just came home from a party," she told him. "I heard people talking in the street, and when I realized that you were trapped in the house next door, I remembered the secret passage."
"Wonderful!" said Dan Murdoch. "Isn't it remarkable that there should just happen to be a secret passage into that flat where we were?"
"Don't be a fool!" she said impatiently. "These houses are honeycombed with secret passages. They were built by bootleg gangs, twenty years ago. They've been unused for years, but everyone in the neighborhood knows about them." She gestured imperiously toward the stairs leading to the street. "Hurry! You still have time to escape with the boy before the mob realizes you're in here. Why don't you go?"
Steve Klaw's eyes locked with hers. "What about a look at your left shoulder blade, lady?" he asked.
She flushed. "What—what do you mean?"
"He means he wants to see if you have an S tattooed there," Johnny Kerrigan explained.
"I don't understand. If this is a joke, I think it's in poor taste. If this is your way of showing your gratitude for being given a way of escape, then you are not American gentlemen!"
"All right!" Steve Klaw said swiftly. "You win. But the next time we meet, I'm going to get a look at your left shoulder!"
He took little Tony's hand and started for the stairs.
The woman smiled. "Till the next time we meet then, Mr. G- man."
She turned and went to the door of the apartment which she had indicated as her own.
"Good-by!" she said softly, and went into the room.
Tony plucked at Steve Klaw's sleeve. "I'm afraid of that woman!" he whispered.
Klaw nodded. He glanced at Kerrigan and Murdoch. "What say, mopes?"
Murdoch's eyes were glistening in the semi-gloom. "I say she's got something cute figured out for us. She didn't do this out of friendship!"
"Right," Johnny said. "It looks to me like it might be a trick to get us out in the open. They don't know how short of ammunition we were. Maybe they figure it'll take too many more lives to get us, barricaded in that room. So they want us out in the street, where they can really cut us down."
Klaw said. "If they want us in the street, we'll go the other way."
Treading on tiptoe, he moved down the hall, toward the stairs which led to the roof. Through the flimsy partitions they could hear the shouting of the mob in the adjoining house, as it vented its rage and disappointment at finding its quarry gone.
Silently, the three made their way upward, with little Tony sticking close to Steve. At the top floor, they saw that the skylight was properly closed, as it should be in any self- respecting house.
"Those birds didn't come from this house," Dan Murdoch whispered.
Steve shook his head. "They must have come from Number Nineteen. That's where the first blowgun artist made his attack from. Take it easy now. There'll still be some of them on the roofs!"
"I'll check," said Johnny.
Steve handed him one of the automatics with a full clip, and Kerrigan climbed the ladder. He pushed the skylight open, and stuck his head out. Then he climbed up on the roof, being careful not to raise himself too high. After a moment, he stuck his head over the edge of the skylight. "Come on up!" he called softly.
They sent Tony first. Then Murdoch went, and Steve Klaw followed him. On the roof, they all crouched low.
A great red haze suffused the sky, and off to the west a mass of spurting flame and smoke formed a holocaust of conflagration. The fire at the river was out of control, apparently. Long, pale anti-aircraft lights probed into the sky from searchlight batteries, criss-crossing the firmament with their sensitive, probing fingers.
From the house next door, which they had quit, there emanated the wild cries of the bloodthirsty mob.
Quietly, Johnny Kerrigan led the way across the roof, in the opposite direction. He chuckled. "They certainly aren't expecting us up this way," he whispered. "They've withdrawn all their men from the roofs."
They worked over toward the front of the house, and peered over the cornice.
"The street lights are all out!" Dan Murdoch exclaimed.
"It's a blackout!" said Steve Klaw. He flung up an arm and pointed at the tall skyscrapers—gigantic ghosts to the south. There was not a light showing in any of them.
"The Japs are trying an air raid at last!" said Johnny Kerrigan. "This must be their zero hour!"
"Let's be going!" Dan Murdoch instructed. "It looks like we might be too late with our information already!"
THE Office of the First Interceptor Command was an inspiring picture of disciplined activity. As Dan Murdoch followed the orderly past the huge glass-enclosed Plotting Room, he saw the well-trained group of men and women volunteers at the Chart Table, with earphones on their heads. Occasionally, one of them would lean over the huge chart of the North-eastern Seaboard which occupied the entire table, and place a little colored marker with an arrow at a certain spot, in his or her assigned sector. Then another operator would place another arrow in an adjoining sector. At the same time, a man at a great blackboard at one side of the room would put down certain figures. Thus was plotted the position, direction, rate of speed and numbers of any unidentified airplanes within a five hundred miles radius.
Upstairs in the Staff Room to which Dan Murdoch was taken, a group of officers watched through glass windows every notation that was made in the chart room below, with protractors hovering above the scale maps spread out before them.
Major Flanagan, who was in charge of the staff, was pacing up and down beside his desk, keeping an eye on every one of the scale maps. He greeted Dan Murdoch warmly.
"How are you, Dan? Your Chief phoned me that you had contacted Balbo, and found him dead. But you got something there, anyway?"
Murdoch nodded. He handed over the onion-skin tracings.
"Johnny Kerrigan took Tony Balbo back to F.B.I. headquarters," he said.
"Steve Klaw remained back there outside Number Thirteen, watching the mob. He figured he might get a line on what's being planned."
The major spread the papers on his desk. His brow wrinkled as he studied them. "You've looked at these, Dan?" he asked.
"I have, sir." Murdoch, an ex-Marine aviator himself, knew how to read a chart as well as anyone. "There are three charts there. One covers Long Island, another Westchester, and the third is a chart of Western Connecticut. There are directional lines on each of them, indicating three possible channels for air raids, all converging on New York."
"Yes, I see," said Flanagan. "But look here, Dan—" he put his finger on the Westchester map—"the course of the planes as marked here seems to indicate that the inception point of the projected raid lies somewhere west of Poughkeepsie! It means that their planes will take off from within the United States!"
"Yes, sir," said Murdoch. "And the others are similar. The Connecticut map shows the inception of the attacking flight as being east of Hartford, while this Long Island map places the take-off near Patchogue."
"By God," said Major Flanagan, "these maps must be a hoax. All three of those points are within the jurisdiction of the First Interceptor Command, and I can personally vouch for the fact that there isn't a possibility of a hangar or a field from which they could take off, at any of those places. We've covered the countryside with a fine-tooth comb. I can tell you definitely that there are no planes hidden anywhere within five hundred miles of the city!"
Murdoch nodded somberly. "I'm sure you're right, sir. Yet I swear that an attack is going to be made along these lines."
"But how, man?"
Murdoch shrugged. "That's what we've got to find out."
Major Flanagan said earnestly, "We know that the enemy have scheduled an attack for some time before dawn tomorrow. It may be tonight, it may not be till dawn actually breaks. But in any event, we have night patrols scouting a thousand miles at sea. The Third and Fifth Destroyer Squadron are covering the sea approaches, using the most sensitive sound detectors ever built. We have two aircraft carriers supplementing the land-based patrols, and the carriers are accompanied by a full complement of cruisers and destroyers. I'll stake my life that it's virtually impossible for an attacking plane to reach the shores of the eastern seaboard tonight!"
Dan Murdoch bent over the maps.
While he studied them, Major Flanagan picked up his phones and issued swift orders for extra precautions to be taken in the neighborhood of the three points indicated on the maps.
He hung up, and turned to Murdoch. "If there are any hidden planes that we might have overlooked they'll be found now. But I'm sure there aren't!"
"And yet," Murdoch said thoughtfully, "there must be some explanation of these maps. Manuel Balbo knew what he was doing."
"Then the danger threatens in some way that we can't guess," Major Flanagan said. "It's up to us to find it out. Quick!"
Murdoch said, "I think I'll be going back to Steve. I'm sure the answer lies in that section."
"For God's sake, work fast!" Flanagan begged. "They may strike between now and dawn—any time."
"I'll do my best, sir," Murdoch said. "And so will Johnny and Steve."
"I'll give you a hundred men if you want them," Flanagan said. "A thousand. We'll mop up that whole section—"
Murdoch smiled wryly. "And most likely miss the devils who are planning this," he said. "There are thousands of innocent people in that section, as good Americans as you or I. They're the ones who'd be caught in a round-up, while the real conspirators would be clever enough to elude the net." He paused, a faraway look in his eyes. "I think our way is better. I have a hunch that Steve has his eye on the answer right now."
IN the darkness of the blacked-out city, Stephen Klaw stood at the curb, directly opposite Number Thirteen, watching the milling mob in the street. He had arranged with Dan and Johnny to contact him back here after they had completed their errands, then he had worked his way around to the front of Number Thirteen.
The mob still raged frenziedly inside that house, and none of them thought for a moment to look for their quarry almost in their midst.
The great fire at the docks cast an eerie glow over the whole city, and Steve thought wryly that if enemy bombers were seeking the city, that conflagration would guide them like a beacon, in spite of the blackout. This thing had been planned very thoroughly, with devilish attention paid to detail.
Steve had his two automatics back, for Kerrigan hadn't needed a gun once he was out of the district; he had promised to bring more ammunition when he returned.
Steve lit a cigarette, and watched the small group who emerged from the house next to Number Thirteen. Immediately, he stiffened.
There were four people in that group. One of them was the woman who had given the name of Madam X. She had a fur coat on now. Two of the men with her were of ordinary stature; one was fair-haired, with distinctly Teutonic features, while the other was a little shorter, and very dark. But it was the third man who drew Klaw's attention.
This one was built on gigantic proportions. He was so huge that he made the two men and the woman look like pygmies. This massive giant wore only a pair of trousers and a thin, short- sleeved shirt. The man's face was a dreadful gargoyle as he walked through the shrieking, screaming mob in front of Number Thirteen.
As soon as the frenzied mob spotted him, all sound ceased. A dreadful and a terrified silence descended upon them, and they moved back to make way for him.
He spoke, looking contemptuously over their heads. His voice was a deep, rumbling bass, which seemed to emanate from the very bowels of the earth. His words were in a strange and foreign tongue, and they seemed to strike like lashes at the men who appeared to be the leaders of the mob.
They looked at him blankly, apparently not comprehending what he said, but understanding that he was frightfully angry with them.
When he ceased talking, there was utter silence, and the men in the mob turned to the woman, questioningly. She spoke to them in English:
"The Diva-God is angry with you," she interpreted. "He says that you have earned death a thousand times, by letting those three Americans escape. You left the roofs unguarded, and they escaped. He is angry with me—I, too, have earned death. But he needs me yet awhile. You twelve, he does not need. You must pay now for your foolishness. Now!"
THE rest of the mob had slunk away into the night, leaving only the giant with his three companions, and those twelve miserable wretches.
Across the street, Stephen Klaw had melted into the shadows of a doorway, from where he watched the scene. The woman's words had struck deeply into the chords of his memory. Years ago, before ever he had thought of being a G-man, he had been a soldier of fortune. One of his jobs had been a confidential mission for Chiang-Kai-shek, in Korea, and it was there that he had first met Dan Murdoch, who was then a Marine aviator on duty with the American consul at Keijo, the Korean capital. And, in company with Murdoch, he had visited Shaman temples where they had seen the gigantic statues of the weirdly ugly Diva-God, who guarded the entrance of each temple.
The woman had called this giant the Diva-God!
Things clicked into order in Steve's brain. He understood now, the hold which the Imperial Devil of Nippon had upon these poor fools here in America. He understood, too, the reckless fanaticism with which they had thrown away their lives upstairs in Number Thirteen. The answer was Shamanism—a religion of fear and utter, abject slavery. The fools looked upon this giant as the earthly incarnation of their god of the old country!
Stephen Klaw was treated to an object lesson in the power of this oriental religion over its disciples.
The twelve miserable fools threw themselves upon their knees before the giant. In the hand of each there appeared a gun.
The giant uttered a single word, and twelve guns were raised to twelve temples. The giant spoke another word, and twelve triggers were pulled, as if by a single finger. The twelve shots blended into one, and the next moment, a dozen still figures lay in the street.
The giant grunted. Then he spoke over his shoulder to the woman and two men, and started to walk slowly down the street.
Stephen Klaw had both his guns out; he could have shot that giant easily from where he stood. But he refrained from doing so.
To kill that so-called Diva-God would not remove the threat which lay over the city. There was no doubt that the air raid planned for tonight would proceed along its pre-determined lines, whether the Diva-God were killed or not. The only chance of preventing that raid lay in following these people.
Steve kept in the shadows as much as he could. They walked purposefully, those four, with swift strides, as if they had a definite task to accomplish. The woman and the two men almost had to run to keep up with the giant. As if by magic, the street was completely deserted now; it looked no different from any other in the city under blackout conditions.
Steve stopped short in the shadow of a doorway, as the four abruptly started to cross the street in the middle of the block. He was a little behind them, and they did not even turn to see if they were followed. He saw now where they were heading. There was a long limousine parked down the street. The fair-haired man got in under the wheel, and the other man held the door for the giant and the woman. Then the other man got in, and the car moved away.
Stephen Klaw cursed. His only chance of following them meant reaching that car. He was setting himself for a running leap at the car which would have to pass him when he saw the other car swing into the block. Like the limousine, its headlights were out, but a flashlight blinked three times inside that car.
Steve grinned, let out a sigh of relief, and allowed the limousine to pass him.
Almost at once, the second car pulled up; the door swung open. Steve jumped inside. Johnny Kerrigan was at the wheel, and Dan Murdoch sat beside him.
Klaw snapped, "Keep after that limousine, Johnny. Don't lose it!"
THE limousine was now only a dim shape in the night, far up the street. It was turning the corner. Johnny pulled after it, going just fast enough to keep it in sight.
Swiftly, Stephen Klaw told Murdoch and Kerrigan what had happened. When he finished, he demanded, "How do you two mopes happen to be together?"
"I picked Dan up, around the corner," Johnny explained. "I took Tony Balbo to the Field Office, but there wasn't a soul there except a night man on duty at the telephone. Every available man is out at the river front. I hated to leave the kid there, with only one man to watch him, but there was nothing else to do."
"It would be just too bad if anything happened to Tony," Steve said. "The F.B.I. pledged its word that Tony would be taken care of, if Manuel Balbo got killed. The honor of the F.B.I. is at stake—not to mention that kid's life."
"That kid saved my life tonight," Dan Murdoch said.
"What about the Filipino girl who tipped you off to Balbo, Steve?" Kerrigan asked. "What happened to her?"
"Maria Flores?" Steve said. "I don't know. I'm worried about her. She disappeared right after I talked to her."
The limousine had made two or three turns, moving at a snail- like pace through the black, deserted streets. Now it came to a stop before a low, one-storied building which had at one time been a motion picture theatre but which, from its dilapidated appearance, must have been condemned and closed for years.
Kerrigan coasted to a stop, a hundred yards behind the limousine.
The giant, the woman, and the two men descended from the car, and headed swiftly for the boarded-up entrance of the old theatre.
"What the hell?" exclaimed Johnny. "It looks like they intend to walk through those boards!"
But they didn't. The group stopped in front of a sidewalk elevator lift, at one side of the entrance. The woman pressed a button, and the covers of the lift began to rise. When it was fully opened, all four of them stepped on to the platform, and it began to descend. The lift cover closed over them.
From a bag at his feet Kerrigan extracted a dozen of the new D-42 high-explosive grenades, which had passed army tests, but which had not yet gone into mass production. These D-42s were no larger than a medium-sized lime, but they contained the newly- developed thermo-toluene explosive, which gave them the same demolition power as a twenty-five pound bomb. He gave some to Dan and Steve, and pocketed a few himself. Then he produced fresh clips for Steve's automatics.
"Let's go!" he said.
The three of them walked swiftly, surveying the somber and time-wracked exterior of the theatre.
Dan Murdoch found the button which they had seen the woman press. Immediately, the lift cover began to rise. The platform came to the surface, stopped.
The three G-men looked at each other.
"Here goes nothing!" said Klaw. Kerrigan and Murdoch followed him onto the platform. Murdoch reached over and pressed the button again, and the lift began to descend. The cover closed over them, enveloping them in a black void...
IN a small room within the old theatre, a man sat at a long control panel. He was a thin man, with a sharp nose and a red gash of a mouth, and wide-spaced eyes which denoted a high order of intelligence.
A multitude of gadgets decorated the panel before which he sat. Directly in front of the man was a large television screen, which was blank at the moment. The man's eyes were riveted upon the electric clock on the wall, which showed fourteen minutes before midnight.
A buzzer sounded at his elbow, and he pressed a button in response. Immediately, the door of the room opened. The woman—Madam X—entered, followed by the huge giant whom she had called the Diva-God.
The narrow-eyed man arose from the control panel, clicked his heels, and bowed with military brusqueness.
"Good evening, Madam Setti," he said.
"Good evening, Herr Kapitšn von Berner," she replied. She waved a careless hand at the giant behind her. "This is our Diva- God. I don't believe you have met him before."
The giant was no longer as arrogant as he had appeared in front of Number Thirteen.
"How do you do, von Berner," he said, in careful, precise German. "It is a pleasure to speak my own language again. For ten weeks I have acted the part of that damned Diva-God, for the benefit of witless fools!" He bowed from the waist, as von Berner had done. "I am Heinrich Kojan. You have heard of me?"
"Indeed, yes," said von Berner. "The strongest man in Germany. You acted as Himmler's aide until you were required to play the part of the Diva-God."
"Quite so," said Kojan. "As the representative of the Gestapo here, I take precedence in command over you, whenever I find it necessary. Please tell me what arrangements you have made."
Von Berner suppressed a frown. He answered in precise, military fashion. "The attack is set for midnight. As you see, it lacks twelve minutes of the zero hour. At ten minutes before midnight, the three stratosphere bombers will be somewhere over New York. Their great height will preclude any possibility of their finding the objectives they seek. But at exactly ten minutes of twelve, the crews of the three planes will throw the switches which turn over the controls to me here. Our agents at the three points of contact have laid cable which will act as antennae for the initial contact, after which I will be able to control them by wireless. At the three fields to be bombed, other agents have erected a secret television apparatus, all within a twenty-mile radius of this point, which will enable me to see the objectives on this screen. I will be able to guide the planes unerringly to the targets. The crews will already have bailed out, and will take their assigned positions for sabotage work."
The giant Kojan nodded. "When the three main flying fields have been destroyed, the land-based planes now patrolling will not be able to re-fuel. They will have to return when they exhaust their present fuel, and will be unable to take off again. Then, our bombers, which have long ago started from our carriers in mid-ocean, will be able to fly in, unopposed, before the Americans can bring fighters from other interceptor commands into this district."
"Exactly!" said von Berner. "By dawn, the city will be ours. Once we have wiped out the population by poison gas, and have established a beach-head here, our forces will be too overwhelming to be dislodged. We will march south to Washington, and by tomorrow we will have cut off the two main centers of America from the rest of the country!"
Madam Setti drew herself up proudly. "And I shall have contributed to the victory!"
Von Berner bowed. "In no small part, Madam."
"There is only one thing I regret," she said, frowning. "It is that those three—the Suicide Squad—escaped with the information that Manuel Balbo gave them. Of course, there will not be time for them to guess from those drawings, just what our plan is. But I should not have let them get away!"
"Be patient," said Heinrich Kojan. "Tomorrow, we will find them again. When I have established Gestapo headquarters in New York, those three will be our first—guests!"
"We must also get that boy, Tony Balbo. And the girl, Maria Flores!" Madam Setti said viciously. "It was the Flores girl who betrayed the plan to the G-men, and Balbo who gave them the charts. Balbo is dead, but we can take vengeance upon the boy—make him pay for what his father has done!"
Von Berner smiled. "The Balbo boy was brought to the F.B.I. office tonight, and left in charge of only one man. My men, acting on my orders, killed the watchman and brought the boy here. He is in the execution room now. And so is the girl, Maria Flores!"
Just then the buzzer sounded, and von Berner pushed the button. The door opened, and the fair-haired man who had accompanied the giant appeared, his face working with excitement.
"Those three G-men are coming down in the lift!" he exclaimed.
The woman started toward the door. "This will indeed be a pleasure! Come, Falken!" She took the fair-haired man by the arm. "We shall set the stage for them!"
Just then, a muted bell tinkled on the control board. Von Berner uttered an exclamation of excitement, and turned to the dials. He worked several of the gadgets, speaking into the tube as he did so. Hastily he adjusted earphones on his head, and began to operate the many controls.
Slowly, a picture materialized on the television screen—a picture of the interior of a huge bomber, with grim, hatchet-faced men at the controls.
"I have them! I have them!" von Berner shouted. "I've made contact with the bombers!"
He waved a hand at the woman. "Take care of those G-men, Madam Setti. They must not reach this room!"
"Don't worry," she said. "They won't!"
She nodded to Heinrich Kojan, and went out.
WHEN the platform came to a stop, Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw stood tensely in the dark, waiting. Slowly, a door in front of them began to open. The brilliant light of the room into which it led almost blinded them for an instant.
"Get back, Shrimp," Johnny Kerrigan muttered. "Dan and I are going in first. You cover us."
Shoulder to shoulder, with guns in their hands, Murdoch and Kerrigan stepped out of the elevator and went into the lighted room.
It was a huge room, with a balcony running across the entire far side of it. And upon that balcony was the strangest tableau which a white man might ever have seen.
A man attired in a wide-sleeved Japanese robe stood with a huge two-edged sword gripped in both hands. Little Tony Balbo was lying, his neck stretched across a block at the robed man's feet, his dark hair held by another Jap. Just behind the platform, a man held the pretty Filipino girl, Maria Flores.
At the railing of the balcony, stood the woman, Madam Setti. She was smiling a crooked, twisted smile.
"You have come just in time!" she called down to Kerrigan and Murdoch. "You can witness two executions. These are the people whom you pledged your word to protect. Now you will watch them die!"
"Wait!" Kerrigan shouted. "You can't kill that kid!"
"Indeed we can!" said Madam Setti. "Unless you wish to buy his life, and the life of Maria Flores."
Dan Murdoch wet his lips. "What's the price?" he asked.
There was a light of evil triumph in the woman's eyes as she leaned over the railing. "Throw down your guns and surrender!" she spat at them. "Call your friend out from the elevator, and let him surrender, too. When you are my prisoners, I promise I will release the boy and the girl!"
Maria Flores twisted in the grip of her captor. "Don't believe her!" she screamed. "It's a lie. She'll torture you three, and kill Tony and me anyway—"
Her words were choked off by the hand of her captor as it clamped viciously across her mouth.
Madam Setti's face became livid with fury. She signaled and a door on the lower level was thrust open. A small horde of yellow men came charging into the room.
Kerrigan and Murdoch began to shoot, coolly, deliberately, at the leaders of that throng. From behind them, Stephen Klaw raised his automatic and sent one shot up on to the balcony. It caught the executioner in the chest, sent him hurtling back from the execution block, the broadsword flying from his grip. Then, without too much haste, Klaw took one of the thermo-toluene grenades from his pocket, pulled the pin, and hurled it over the heads of Kerrigan and Murdoch, into the attacking crowd on the main floor.
"Duck, guys!" he yelled, at his comrades.
Just as Kerrigan and Murdoch dropped to the floor, there was a terrific detonation, and metal scrap went flying in every direction. A pall of smoke arose about the massed attackers.
From prone positions on the floor, Kerrigan and Murdoch each threw one more of the grenades into that smoke-filled welter of death at the other end of the room, and dropped flat.
Klaw came out of the elevator shaft and joined them when they got to their feet. As the smoke began to fade, they saw more of the yellow men trying to get through, over the dead bodies.
Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw raced up the balcony stairs side by side, pumping shots ahead of them. Steve Klaw, who was on the outside, turned and sent a few well-placed shots into the crowd below, while Johnny and Dan continued to the top.
Then Steve turned and ran up to join them, and Murdoch dropped two more of the deadly grenades into the welter of killers below.
On the balcony, Madam Setti was lying across the railing, lifeless. There was a sliver of metal in her left temple, where a bomb splinter had caught her. The two Japs who had been holding Tony and Maria had turned to flee, but Kerrigan and Klaw cut them down before they could escape.
Kerrigan patted Tony on the shoulder. "Take it easy, kid," he said. "Everything's going to be all right!"
Maria Flores clung to Steve Klaw's arm. "I feel as if I'd been born again," she said. "I fully expected to die. But hurry. That giant—the Diva-God—is inside, with von Berner. I saw him when he went in!"
"Von Berner!" Dan Murdoch exclaimed. "Then this is their headquarters!"
With Tony and Maria in tow, they hurried down a long corridor. Behind them, a few survivors of the bombs were coming up the stairs.
Steve turned and let them have one more grenade, and that stopped them for good.
At the end of the corridor, there was a closed door. Before they were a dozen feet from it, the door opened, and the huge giant came out.
For a moment he stared unbelievingly at the three.
"Himmel!" he screamed. "They have come through!" He pounded on the door through which he had just come. "Lock yourself in, von Berner!" he shouted in German. "The three devils have got in here!"
Then he put his head down, and charged.
Johnny Kerrigan was in the lead. Grimly, he pointed his revolver at the huge giant and fired five times quickly, and with unerring accuracy.
The shots brought Heinrich Kojan up sharply, stopping him as if they had been a concrete ram. He swayed on his feet, took two steps more, then he pitched forward on his face.
STEPHEN KLAW had already leaped past him to the door. He heard von Berner on the other side, fumbling with the bolt, and he threw all his weight against it. The door gave under the impact, and Steve went sprawling inside, on hands and knees. He turned his head, and saw von Berner's twisted countenance.
"Damn you!" the man shrieked. He leveled his revolver at Steve and his finger tightened on the trigger.
From the hall came a single shot, and von Berner stiffened. A look of strange incredulity passed over his face, then was replaced by the blankness of death as he collapsed.
Stephen Klaw leaped to the television board.
On the screen, there was a huge stratosphere bomber, flying over an Interceptor Command Field. It was just going into a dive.
At his side he heard Dan Murdoch shout: "That's Mitchell Field! Stop that damned thing!"
Stephen Klaw twisted dials and pulled at switches with breathless haste. Still the bomber continued its dive. Dan Murdoch joined him, and they both kept twirling the controls haphazardly. Suddenly they saw the bomber go into a flat dive and burst into flames.
"Eureka!" shouted Steve, at the sight of the flaming ship.
"There must be other bombers like that, aiming for other fields," Murdoch said. "But without this television direction, they'll go astray. They'll probably dive in the ocean. I see the idea now, all right. They wanted to destroy our land-bases for the Interceptor Patrols. There must be a mass air attack on the way now!"
He turned around in search of a phone, saw that flames from outside were licking hungrily down the corridor. In a few moments the building would be completely gutted by flames.
"I think we better be going," said Johnny Kerrigan.
They couldn't get out the front, through the fire, but they found a back exit and made their way to the street. In the darkness they worked around to where they had left their car. They drove swiftly to the Office of the First Interceptor Command.
Major Flanagan was sitting tensely at his desk now, and the Plotting Room was humming with activity.
"We've spotted approaching planes, out at sea!" Flanagan told them. "It's suicide. Those planes can't possibly get through. Our fighters are taking off from all three Interceptor Fields. They'll be able to destroy every one of the bombers before they get within two hundred miles of the coast.
"I'm afraid though, that the enemy has planned some sabotage of the fields. If they did that, we'd be licked!"
Dan Murdoch grinned. "They planned it, all right, Major. But you don't have to worry. We sort of exploded their theory!"
He turned and winked at Tony and Maria, then looked at Steve Klaw and Johnny Kerrigan.
"I think," he said, "that a little drink would be in order."
Steve Klaw nodded. "We'll drink to the S on Madam Setti's shoulder, which we never saw."
He turned and put one hand on Tony's shoulder, the other on Maria's. "And to a brave boy and girl." His eyes clouded. "Also, to the bravest father a boy ever had!"
There were tears in Tony Balbo's eyes as he looked up at Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw.
"We'll try to take his place, son, as best we can," Dan Murdoch whispered to the boy.