STEPHEN KLAW knocked at the door of the Chief's office, and stepped inside. The Chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was on hands and knees behind his desk, searching for something on the floor.
"Good afternoon, sir," said Klaw. "You looking for something?"
The Chief raised his head. "I'm looking for nine thousand able-bodied Japanese men."
Steve raised his eyebrows. "The Japs must be shrinking these days!"
The Chief chuckled, and got to his feet, holding a small metal disk which he had picked up under the desk. "It rolled off the desk," he explained. "Come here, Steve. I sent for you, to look at this."
Steve came over and took the disk which the Chief handed to him. It was bright and shiny, made from some sort of cheap alloy. On one side of it there was a replica of the Rising Sun of Japan; on the other side, there was a series of Japanese characters, together with the number 2864 engraved in Roman numerals.
"Does it mean anything to you, Steve?"
Klaw shook his head. "It looks like a military identification disk. Might be used by Japanese soldiers. But I can't read their damned language."
"I've had it translated," the Chief said grimly. "This particular bit of metal happens to be the identification disk of a lance corporal of the Imperial Nipponese Army."
"Was it sent home from Hawaii or some place?"
"No," the Chief said slowly. "It was found on the body of a Jap who shot himself. He was caught hiding inside a truck that had been wrecked in an accident on Highway 26, in Maryland. The driver of that truck was a white man, but that's all we can tell you about him, because he was burned beyond recognition. The truck was carrying a load of American made Browning rapid-fire rifles."
STEVE whistled softly, but made no comment. The Chief went on, his voice incisive and grim. "Now let me give you the translation of the rest of the writing on this disk. See those characters engraved around the outer circle?"
"Could you possibly guess what they say?"
"I wouldn't try, sir. The ways of the Tokyo Brethern are hard to guess."
"All right, I'll tell you. It says: Imperial Nipponese Expeditionary Force in America!"
"How nice of them," said Steve. "Maybe they've even got a Quisling picked out for us!"
"Perhaps, perhaps," the Chief said. "Although I don't think they'd find an American who'd take the job. But the point is, Steve, that there does exist such an expeditionary force, based at some secret point within the United States. Very likely it's in the State of Maryland. They'd been here for years. They were planted here ten years ago, before we ever suspected that Japan was planning a Pearl Harbor. And what's more, I know the exact number of this so-called expeditionary force. It numbers nine thousand."
"Nine thousand, eh?" Klaw repeated. "That's what you were looking for under your desk."
"I'll tell you how we arrived at that figure, Steve. The last census shows that there were two hundred and forty-seven thousand Japanese aliens residing on the eastern seaboard last year. But this year, when all aliens were required to register, only two hundred and thirty-eight thousand complied. A check of the census shows that the nine thousand who failed to register—and who cannot be located—are all able-bodied men, between twenty-five and forty!"
He paused, and then asked slowly, "Can you imagine what catastrophes could be caused here by a well-trained, well-armed force of nine thousand men, operating from a secret base?"
Stephen Klaw slowly lit a cigarette. "Any clues as to the location of this secret base?"
"None at all. We know definitely, though, that arms and ammunition have been diverted from several large defense plants—stolen, in plain English—and shipped by truck into the base. The Jap who killed himself when caught, was in the act of transporting six crates of the Brownings, with enough ammunition to fire ten thousand rounds each. Lord knows what other equipment they have at this base of theirs, or when and how they plan to strike."
"Have you tried trailing the trucks, sir?"
"Naturally. We concentrated on the Bishop Plant. We know the set-up there, of course. There's a manager named Brandon, in charge of the plant. When he first was promoted to the job, an investigation was made by the Bishop people. It didn't turn up a thing against him; his past was spotless. But now, when we made an investigation of our own, we found plenty. His name isn't Brandon at all. It's Krauswitz. Twenty years ago, he was a professor of chemistry at Hamburg. He came over here and changed his name, and was supplied with forged papers, including naturalization papers. He's running that plant, and he's diverting the Brownings. They've got a couple of hundred Japs working in the loading sheds, sleeping in secret cellars underneath. The loading sheds are separated from the plant proper, so that the workmen never have a chance to see what goes on there. They simply put half the stuff in the trains on the sidings, and at night they put the other half on trucks and drive away."
"It would seem simple enough to follow the trucks when they leave," Steve said.
"Not so simple, Steve. We dare not let them suspect that we're on to the game, because they'll just move their base, or disperse and form somewhere else. We have to follow them discreetly. But when our men do that, the trucks turn out to be going on perfectly harmless missions. They drive to a dock or a warehouse and unload, with their papers in perfect order. Every one of their trucks is tailed by another car, which signals to them if they're followed. You see, every defense plant expects a certain amount of surveillance, so they don't consider it strange that some of their trucks are tailed. But if we tried tailing every one of the trucks leaving the plant, they'd immediately understand that we had concrete suspicions."
"I see," said Stephen Klaw. He drew a deep lungful of cigarette smoke, exhaled it, and met his Chief's eyes. "Kerrigan and Murdoch and I will go right to work on it, sir," he said.
THE Chief smiled wearily. "I knew you'd volunteer. We've lost eight men who tried working their way into the plant. But I've got to ask you to do it. It's imperative that we locate that secret base."
He went to the door with Steve. "All the Facilities of the F.B.I.—and of the Army—are at your disposal. There is only one piece of information I can give you that may be helpful: each of these plants, including the Bishop plant, communicates by short-wave radio with this secret base. We've intercepted and decoded several messages, so that we know they get in touch with someone at the base whenever an emergency arises. But the Base itself never sends on shortwave."
"They're too cagey for that," said Steve. "They know you could locate them with directional finders. And they also know that any one of these plants may be caught any time."
The Chief smiled wryly. "But they also know that we wouldn't raid a plant, even with all the evidence in the world. They know we'd do just what we're doing now—lie low and hope for a break that might lead us to the Base."
Stephen Klaw suddenly smiled. "I have an idea, sir. Could you assign us one of those new Douglas Bombers, with an army pilot"
"I'll see that it's done at once!"
"And clear the skies around the Bishop Plant tonight, so we won't run into any Army Interceptors. Johnny and I will be wearing German uniforms, and we don't want to be shot by our own boys."
"All right, Steve. But what's your plan?"
"With your permission, sir, we'll see if we can't feed the enemy some taffy. Dan Murdoch will go into the Bishop Plant, and raise unholy hell. Then Johnny and I will appear—"
"Masquerading as officers from their Base"
"It's too dangerous, Steve. This Krauswitz will probably know all the Base officers—"
"I'm counting on the fact that he's a well-disciplined man, who will not dare to question authority. It's worth the chance."
The Chief nodded. "All right," he said. "Good luck!"
A LIGHT flickered, two thousand feet below; an ultra-violet light, visible only through a special glass. It flicked five times in quick succession, then once, then five times again.
Stephen Klaw, lying flat on his stomach at the bombardier's sight in the belly of the bomber, spotted it at once; the bomb-sight had been equipped with the special glass which made it possible to see the short light-waves.
He called back to Kerrigan, who was in the after-gun compartment. "That's it, Johnny!"
Lieutenant Cooper, in the pilot's seat, asked, "Shall I drop a flare, Steve?" he asked.
"Hell, no!" Klaw exclaimed. "That would, give the show away. Pull up to about five thousand, and circle around slowly."
Lieutenant Cooper sent the Douglas into a steep climb, and levelled off at five thousand. Kerrigan and Klaw both made their way forward, and Klaw slipped into the co-pilot's seat. He put the earphones on his head.
"Calling Murdoch," he said into the speaker, "calling Murdoch. Klaw standing by at five thousand. Come on in, Dan."
He flipped the hand switch over, and a moment later he caught Murdoch's voice. "Murdoch calling. I hear your motor, Steve. You're directly overhead. I'm signalling from the Bishop Plant. I'm on the roof of Assembly Building Number Three. It's the stuff, all right. There's an open field a half mile due east. You can come down there. When you get to the main gate, give me two shorts and two longs on your whistle, and I'll start the show. Signing off... Acknowledge!"
"Got you, Dan," said Stephen Klaw. "We'll be with you in ten minutes. Hang on, Mope!"
He removed the earphones. His eyes met those of Johnny Kerrigan in a significant glance. "Let's go, Johnny!"
They both had parachutes strapped and ready on their backs. Kerrigan had a Krupp submachine gun strapped on in addition, and Steve Klaw was equipped with a belt of grenades. They both wore the coveralls and helmet of parachute troops, but everything about them, including their weapons, was of foreign manufacture. To look at them, anyone would have sworn that they were members of an Axis invasion force.
Klaw raised his hand in signal, and Lieutenant Cooper pressed a button. Immediately, a double door in the floor of the cabin slid open.
Kerrigan and Klaw stood at the edge of the opening, while the plane circled and steadied, and Lieutenant Cooper studied his instruments.
Suddenly the lieutenant called out, "Now! And don't you fellows forget to count ten!"
Steve waved to him, and jumped. Johnny Kerrigan followed, almost on his heels. The two figures went spinning down through the void, while the plane roared away into the night.
Stephen Klaw counted to ten and pulled his rip-cord, tensed his muscles to take the shock of the opening bag. A second later, Johnny Kerrigan did the same, and then they were both riding easily in the sky.
WORKING in unison, they maneuvered their chutes so as to land in the field Murdoch had mentioned. There was a slight east wind, but they skillfully swung the chutes around when they hit the ground, to avoid being dragged by them. A moment later they were unbuckling themselves out of the unwieldy harness, and rolling up the chutes.
"That was a nice ride, Shrimp," Johnny Kerrigan said. "You think we were spotted coming down?"
"I hope so," said Steve. "It'll simplify things when we get to the gate."
They cut across the field to the road.
"Let's ditch our chutes in the ditch," said Johnny. "We can pick them up later."
They put the folded gear in the ditch alongside the road. Then they both set off swiftly toward the Bishop Plant, whose lights they could see clearly, a half mile away. They did not remove their flying coveralls, but they zipped the tops half way down, exposing the shiny Iron Crosses, Second Class, which each of them wore on his tunic.
"Veil, veil!" Johnny Kerrigan grinned. "Ve are now two officers of the Reich Secret Expeditionary Army in America. Vat iss your name, my goot friendt?"
Stephen Klaw puffed out his chest, thrust his chin out. "I am Oberleutnant Carl Cassel, at your service, Exzellenz!" he said in perfect German.
Johnny Kerrigan's eyes twinkled. "And I," he replied in just as pure German, "am Kapitän Walther von Schön." He added in English, "And don't forget to address me with the deference due my rank, chum!"
Steve made the sound of the raspberry, and then raised his hand and said, "Heil Schicklgruber!"
"Don't make a mistake and say that when we're talking to our friends!"
"If you ask me," said Steve, "if I were Hitler, I'd have changed my name to Cohen, long ago. Some day, he's going to wish his name was Cohen, so he could live in obscurity in some nice quiet concentration camp."
"Not he," said Johnny. "His kind has always got to be the center of the stage. He'll want to go out in a blaze of glory. He'll probably douse himself with synthetic gasoline, and set fire to himself on the steps of that Munich beer garden."
"Nice thought," Steve commented. "But take it easy now. Here's the main gate of the Bishop plant. Watch your step, or we'll go out in a blaze of glory!"
They could see at a glance that there was a lot of excitement inside the gates of the plant. A dozen arc-lights just inside the grounds threw a ghastly glare upon the milling crowd of fifteen or twenty guards in the yard. Several revolvers were in evidence, and a couple of them were taking pop shots at the roof of one of the buildings.
Steve and Johnny began to run toward the gate. A large signboard at the side of the road proclaimed that this was the
BISHOP WHEEL AND AXLE CORPORATION.
Underneath the name, someone had pasted a strip sheet with the following lettering in red:
NOW ENGAGED IN DEFENSE WORK
ALL UNAUTHORIZED PERSONS FORBIDDEN TO ENTER
The shooting within the yard continued, but there were no answering shots from the roof of the building which was the target. That building had a huge number 3 painted in red alongside the doorway.
"That's the building Dan is on!" Steve exclaimed, as they ran. "He isn't returning their fire. Either he's lying low, or they got him with a lucky shot!"
"If they got him," Johnny Kerrigan panted grimly, "I'll take 'em apart two by two, and put them together again—cockeyed!"
THEY came racing up to the gate, and Johnny took hold of it and shook it. He shouted in a thick voice which he made quite guttural, "Open! Open the gate quickly!"
A man detached himself from a small group, and came over and put his face close to the bars. He was a small man, with narrow eyes, and very dark hair. He looked at them keenly, studying their clothing, observing the unmistakable fact that the guns in their holsters were German Lugers. Then he noted the Iron Crosses on their tunics.
"Ah!" he said in German, "you have then come from Base A!"
"Open up, you fool!" Johnny Kerrigan snapped curtly in German. "Do you dare to waste time with your babble when there is an emergency?"
"I am sorry, Exzellenz," the man said hastily.
He blew a whistle, and motioned imperiously to a guard, who hurried over and unlocked the gate. Stephen and Johnny stepped swiftly inside, and the gate was locked again after them.
The men who had been sniping at the roof of Building Number Three ceased firing when they saw the two new arrivals. The thin man with the narrow eyes bowed subserviently to Johnny and Steve.
"I am Doktor Krauswitz," he said in German, "the manager of this plant. I assure your Excellencies that I am entirely at your service."
"Kapitän von Schön." Johnny bowed from the hips, in elegant military style. Then he motioned toward Steve. "My adjutant, Oberleutnant Cassel."
"Indeed, yes," Doktor Krauswitz said eagerly. "It seems that a number of men managed to gain entrance to the plant. There must be at least ten of them, all well-armed."
Johnny Kerrigan barely suppressed the laughter within him. He glanced at Steve Klaw, and saw that he, too, was having difficulty keeping a straight face. For they both knew that Dan Murdoch was the only man making the trouble.
Krauswitz said, "We have already killed two or three of them, yet they continue to shoot from different portions of the roof, all at the same time. There!" He raised a finger and pointed.
Three shadowy figures were visible on the roof, peering over the coping at one corner. At the other corner, there were four more shadowy figures. Six of the shadowy figures fired simultaneously, while the seventh stood up and nonchalantly tossed a grenade down into the yard. Then all seven figures ducked back out of sight.
The grenade exploded in the corner of the yard farthest from the spot where Herr Kapitän von Schön and Oberleutnant Cassel were standing. It tore a crater in the concrete, and the detonation shook the whole yard. But nobody was injured, because every man had sprinted for cover. The only ones who remained standing on their own feet without cover were the pseudo captain and the pseudo lieutenant. Even Doktor Krauswitz had ducked, throwing himself flat on the ground, in the shelter of the guard's shanty close to the gate.
Johnny and Steve grinned at each other. Murdoch had been careful to keep that grenade as far from them as possible.
Krauswitz dusted himself off, and looked shamefacedly at Johnny. "Perhaps," he ventured, "perhaps we should take shelter? One can never tell when those madmen will stand up again—"
"We will remain here," Johnny said coldly. One who fears to lose his life is of no use to the Führer!"
"Of course, of course!" Krauswitz said.
"And now, permit me to tell you, Herr Doktor, that you are a fool!"
"I do not understand, Exzellenz—"
"You do not need to understand. I shall now demonstrate to you how a matter like this should be handled. Oberleutnant Cassel and I will capture or kill these madmen for you!"
"But—but it is too dangerous, Herr Kapitän. There is no access to the roof, except by a narrow skylight, and they would shoot you down like dogs as you showed your heads—"
"We do not need your advice!" Johnny said haughtily. He motioned to Steve.
Steve gave him a snappy salute. They both drew their heavy Lugers, and moved across the yard toward Building Number Three. The guards watched them goggle-eyed.
Johnny and Steve stopped within twenty feet of the building, and Johnny motioned to Steve, who cupped his hands and called up to the roof, in German, "You men, up there! We call upon you to surrender. Show yourselves, with your hands in the air!"
From the roof there came a scattered volley, which went high over everybody's heads. But the guards all scampered for cover.
Johnny and Steve remained alone in the yard. Steve winked at Johnny, cupped his hands again, and called out, this time in English: "Since you do not surrender, we shall come and get you!"
The only answer from the room was a derisive shout.
Johnny and Steve started toward the building.
Doktor Krauswitz came running over to them. "Please be careful, Excellencies. The building is vacant, we do not use this particular building on the night shift. It may be that some of those Yankee devils will ambush you inside the building—"
"Silence!" Johnny thundered. "Do you dare to offer advice to a German Captain?"
"No, no," poor Krauswitz murmured. "Forgive me..."
THEY left him standing there, and hurried in the building. The great, vast assembly shop was deserted, and their footsteps echoed and re-echoed as they went up the iron stairs to the narrow balcony which circled underneath the roof. They found the ladder which led up to the skylight, and Steve went first, with Johnny close behind him. They looked down, and saw that a small collection of guards had come in to watch them. The guards were evidently quite sure that the captain and the lieutenant would meet their death up at the skylight.
Steve and Johnny made a great show of climbing up cautiously, and when Steve got to the top rung he raised his Luger, waited a moment dramatically, then fired four times into the glass. He covered his face with his arm to protect it against the falling glass, then he knocked out the rest of it with the barrel of his gun. He pushed his head up through the opening, and saw Dan Murdoch standing close to the skylight.
"Hi, Mope," he said.
"Hi, Shrimp," Dan Murdoch said, grinning.
They both raised their guns and fired three shots rapidly into the air. Then Steve climbed up swiftly through the frame of the skylight, giving the impression to those on the floor far below that he was going over the top.
Johnny Kerrigan followed him, and in a moment the three of them were in a huddle on the roof. They kept shooting, making a continuous barrage of noise, and Steve Klaw even took out one of his grenades and threw it to the far end of the roof, where it detonated with frightful noise, blowing away part of the parapet.
"Nice going, guys," said Murdoch, as they kept up the barrage into the air. "I see you've got them eating out of your hand."
"Listen, Dan," Steve Klaw demanded. "How the devil did you make them believe there were ten of you?"
Murdoch chuckled, and pointed to a row of sand sacks along the parapet. He had nine or ten of them propped upright against the parapet, with long ropes tied to each, and he had the ends of those ropes all bunched in one hand. In the other hand he had the ends of another series of ropes, the other ends of which were tied to the triggers of rifles, which were, in turn, lashed to the dummies.
"It's all a matter of sandbags and psychology," he said. "I found the bags and the rope up here, all ready for an air raid. I rigged them up like this, and every time I want to give them a blitz, I go around and stand the dummies up, pull the strings, and let the shots fall where they may."
"All right," said Steve. "Let's be going. The idea now is to see if we can kid these birds into sending us back to Base A with a chauffeur."
"Well," said Murdoch, "we can only try. Strange things have been known to happen." He raised his gun and fired a few more shots.
"Think that'll give them enough excitement?" Murdoch asked.
"I guess that's enough," Johnny said. He grinned at Dan. "You are now our prisoner, Herr Murdoch. Kindly descend—and remember, no tricks!"
MURDOCH gave them his gun, and they went over to the skylight. Peering down, they saw a small sea of faces turned upward from the floor below.
"I better put on a good act," Murdoch said, and raised his hands in the air.
The three of them descended the ladder, Klaw first, then Murdoch, then Kerrigan.
Doktor Krauswitz was waiting for them, rubbing his hands, while the guards stood a few feet away, their mouths hanging open.
"Wonderful, Excellency!" exclaimed Krauswitz. "You have wiped them out, and even managed to capture one of their number! It was marvelous! We saw how you went fearlessly upon the roof. Two against ten—"
"You fool!" said Kerrigan. "There was only one man. He tricked you. He has made fools of all of you!"
It took Krauswitz and the others some time to convince themselves that there had been but one man. The Doktor wrung his hands in shame. His eyes blazed hatred at Murdoch.
"You have made of me a laughing-stock, you verdammtes Schwein!" He snatched his revolver out of its holster, and rushed at Murdoch.
Klaw deftly tripped him. "Your pardon, Herr Doktor. My foot must have got in your way." He lifted him by the collar and poked a fist close to his nose. "Next time, this will get in your way, my stupid friend!"
Krauswitz was trembling. His nose was scraped where it had rubbed against the concrete. Kerrigan looked at him severely. "You fool, do you wish to kill our prisoner before we can question him?"
"I am sorry, Excellency—"
"Take us to the sheds."
Krauswitz led the way across the grounds toward the railroad siding. This portion of the grounds was screened from the rest of the buildings by a high wall.
They passed through a door in the wall, and saw a dozen trucks backed up to the loading platform, with small, wiry Japanese busily loading crates into them.
Steve whispered to Kerrigan, "Those crates contain Browning automatic rifles! Boy, they're figuring on using our own guns against us!"
"Let's splash them all over the countryside!" Kerrigan growled. "We've got enough grenades—"
"Nix," said Steve. "Our job is to discover the location of Base A. We can take care of this place, later."
"All right," Johnny grumbled.
They marched Murdoch, with his hands still in the air, over to the loading platform.
"And now," said Kerrigan, frowning sternly at Krauswitz, "we will take our prisoner to Base A. Kindly select a truck which is ready to leave, and instruct the driver to make room for us."
Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw waited tensely to see if the stunt would work. It seemed almost too simple and easy to be true. Krauswitz was eating out of their hand.
"It happens, Excellency," he said, "that we have a young woman here, waiting also for transportation to Base A."
"A young woman?" Johnny asked.
"It is no doubt someone you know, Excellency. She is a very valuable agent—Madame Sylvain. She operates now under the name of Leonora Westlake, in the best of American society!"
"Westlake!" exclaimed Steve. He exchanged a swift glance with Kerrigan. The name was familiar to them, of course, for they had seen it in the society columns. She was foreign born, but she had married Tony Westlake, the polo player, who had been killed in an accident several years ago. Since then she had, as Krauswitz said, mixed in the best social circles. But no finger of suspicion had ever pointed to her.
MURDOCH, who had been permitted by his "captors" to lower his hands, moved over close to Steve, and whispered, "That Westlake dame is bad news for us, Steve. She knows us. Remember, she was at the State Department Ball last year. She was introduced to us!"
Krauswitz was hurrying toward a small shack near the loading platform. "I will get her," he called back. "She will be glad for such distinguished company!"
"Ouch," said Steve Klaw. "This hurts. Just when we were sailing along okay—"
"I'll call him back," Johnny whispered.
"Too late," said Murdoch. "She's seen us. I just saw her face in the window, and she stepped back when she saw me looking. She's recognized us, chums."
Krauswitz was already stepping into the shack.
"Looks like we don't get to Base A," said Steve.
"Here goes nothing!" said Johnny Kerrigan. He unslung the machine gun from his back, and handed it to Murdoch. "Here, prisoner. Go to work!"
Murdoch grinned. "It was nice while it lasted!"
The woman had lost no time in telling Krauswitz the true identity of his two important visitors and the prisoner. For almost at once, his whistle began to blow, apparently in the signal used for an alarm, and the guards came running into the shed. At the same time, the Japanese workmen at the loading platform dropped their work and produced weapons from under their blouses.
Krauswitz came running out of the shack and pointed at Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw.
"Verdammte Yankees!" he screamed. "Kill them! Kill!"
"Sure," said Johnny Kerrigan. "Kill is right!" And he snapped a shot at Krauswitz.
The doctor went down just as the attack began. The guards came in from one side, the Japanese from the other. The guards came in firing haphazardly, but the Japanese suddenly lined up at the sharp blast of a whistle, in military formation, with a small, wiry Jap at their head. The man uttered swift commands, and the line moved forward toward the three Americans, firing as they came.
Dan Murdoch was already down on one knee, making the machine gun sing, and the first line of Jap attackers went down. Johnny Kerrigan was facing in the other direction, standing spraddle-legged, with his own gun in one hand, and Klaw's gun in the other, sending blast after blast into the guards.
Stephen Klaw had given Kerrigan his gun, because he needed both hands. He was pulling the pin from his first grenade when the Japanese line reformed. He threw it swiftly, putting plenty of zip into the pitch, and a mushroom-like explosion enveloped the Japanese.
Klaw sent two more pineapples into their ranks, and that broke them for the moment. He heard Murdoch's machine gun chattering in the other direction, saw that Dan was taking care of the remainder of the guards. But he also saw blood on Murdoch's chest....
Kerrigan noticed it at the same time, and seized hold of him, just as Murdoch dropped the machine gun.
For a moment there was a clear path through the broken ranks of the Japs, and Steve yelled, "This way!" He took his gun back from Kerrigan, and they moved forward, shooting as they went.
The leader of the Japs must have been stunned or grazed by a bullet. He had fallen, momentarily, right in the path of the advancing G-men, with a gun in his hand.
Stephen Klaw had emptied his automatic, and Johnny Kerrigan was supporting Murdoch with one hand, and firing at the Japs with the other.
Klaw said, "Nuts!" and leaped at the Jap. He caught him around the neck, and the two of them went down. The wiry little fellow was powerful, and tricky. He smashed back with both elbows at Steve's solar plexus, but Steve had anticipated that, and he twisted around, arcing his body with the blows. He bent and swung one arm underneath the Jap's leg, lifted him high in the air, and hurled him at the nearest of the Japs, who had come charging in to rescue their leader.
Johnny swung his free hand around, and sent the last remaining shots into that group, and for the moment they were free of attack. They sprinted toward the nearest of the trucks at the loading platform, and Steve hurled one more grenade, which gave them time to climb in.
Murdoch said, "I'm all right, Steve. Give me a couple of pineapples!"
Steve handed him two of them, and as Kerrigan slipped behind the wheel, they both hurled their eggs. The thunderous detonations mingled with the echoes of the other explosions.
Kerrigan sent the truck hurtling down the road, across the railroad siding and out of the plant.
There was another truck, about a quarter of a mile ahead of them, and Kerrigan pointed it out to Steve.
"That's the Westlake dame—alias Madame Sylvain. She scrammed the minute the fight started. Let's catch her—"
"Nix!" said Steve. "Slow up, Johnny. Let her go."
Kerrigan gave him a queer look. Murdoch, who was wiping the blood from a wound in his side, grinned.
"The Shrimp is right, Johnny. Let her go. She's more valuable to us outside of jail. Krauswitz had no time to tell her that he had mentioned her name to us. For all she knows, we're still ignorant of her identity. We've flopped here, but we can try again. We'll contact her, somehow, and maybe she'll lead us to Base A, next time!"
STEPHEN KLAW leaned back drunkenly in the luxurious limousine, and gazed admiringly at the dark, beautiful woman beside him.
"Gawjeous," he said. "Simply gawjeous!"
The woman smiled. She wore an ermine cape over a daring red evening gown. Her black hair was piled high on her head, with a diamond-studded pin thrust through the coils. That pin was long enough, and strong enough, to be used as a dagger. But, of course, such a thought would not occur to a man like Stephen Klaw, steeped in drunken admiration.
She laughed a tinkling little laugh, and put one cool hand on his. "Who is gorgeous?" she asked.
Klaw grinned fatuously. "You are, my dear Leonora. You know you are. Everybody must tell you that. I'm a lucky guy to be invited to this party with you."
He hiccupped violently. Then he said, "Excuse me." He leaned toward her, a suspicious look in his eye. "You sure you invited me jus' because you like me?"
"Of course!" she said. "Why else should I invite you? The Gilpins told me over the phone to bring along someone I liked. And we were having such a good time at the night club, that I didn't have to look any further."
"Yeah," said Stephen Klaw, wiggling a finger at her. "I'm not so sure. Maybe you're a female spy."
She laughed—a forced laugh. "You're so funny, Steve!"
"You're sure you didn't invite me on account of these plans that I told you about?"
"Look here, Stephen Klaw," she said angrily. "If you're going to insult me, we can call this off. I'll tell the chauffeur to turn around and drop you off somewhere. It's too bad you can't forget you're a G-man for a few hours—"
"Can't ever forget," Steve mumbled, thickly. "Always on my mind. Shouldn't be here with you now. Should be getting some sleep. Got to get to work on these plans tomorrow." He tapped his torso with one hand. "Got the plans in an oilskin pouch right here, next to my liver. Can't afford to take chances." Then he suddenly grinned at her. "But you're all right, Leonora. You're no spy, are you? You wouldn't try to get 'em away from me, would you?"
"What do you think?" she asked softly.
"Hah!" said Steve. "Can't ever tell about a woman. Mata Hari was beautiful, too. Remember her?"
"Yes," said Leonora. There was a strange look in her eyes. "Yes, I remember her. They said she was caught because of a moment's weakness." She changed the subject swiftly. "But you look so young to be entrusted with valuable plans."
"Yeah," said Steve. "That's what they all tell me. But this is what counts!"
His hand hadn't seemed to move, yet suddenly there was a small, snub-nosed automatic in it. He grinned at the quick flicker of fear in her face, and slipped the weapon back under the jacket of his tuxedo.
"Drunk or not," he said owlishly, "it'll take some tall hustling to get these plans off my body!"
"Let's not talk about that," Leonora said hastily. She shuddered. "I loathe the sight of guns."
"All right," said Steve. "What'll we talk about?"
"What of your two friends, Kerrigan and Murdoch?"
"Hah! So you know about them?"
"Of course I do. Who doesn't? Everybody has heard of the Suicide Squad. Where are Kerrigan and Murdoch now?"
Steve gave her that owlish look again. "A secret," he told her. "They both have copies of these plans. Tomorrow, we meet at a certain place, an' carry them out. When we finish, there'll be nine thousand Japs less to worry about!"
"Nine thousand Japs!" she exclaimed. "That's a small army. Where are they?"
"Right in this city!"
"I see!" whispered Leonora. "That means that a small Japanese army is ready to go into action, right at our backs!"
"Exactly!" said Klaw. "I shouldn't be telling you this, Leonora. It's a military secret. You could get me court-martialed and shot if you let on that I told you."
"You can trust me!" she said with a smile.
"Sure, baby. Sure I can trust you. You're no Mata Hari. You're just the most beautiful woman in the world." He caressed her arm. "I'm a lucky guy to've met you tonight—"
But she brought him back to the subject. "Do you know where this army of Japs is hiding?"
"Uh-huh. Kerrigan, Murdoch and I found out yesterday. We reported, and got our orders—sealed orders—for tomorrow. Tomorrow we wipe 'em out!"
The limousine had slowed down, and was turning into the driveway of a suburban estate. The house at the top of the knoll, toward which they headed, was brilliantly lighted, and there were more than a dozen expensive cars parked around the semi-circle of the graveled space around the portico.
"Here we are," said Leonora. "Let's enjoy the evening. Let's forget all about your horrid plans for tomorrow."
Her cool fingertips touched his cheek, and she leaned toward him so that he caught the exquisite scent of the perfume of her hair. "Can't you forget you're a G-man, just for tonight?"
"Baby," Stephen Klaw grinned, "I've already forgotten it!"
He stumbled a little as he got out, and the chauffeur had to support him. But Klaw waved the man aside, and took Leonora's arm to help her out of the car. He jerked his head at the man, and winked. "He thinks I'm drunk. He's crazy."
Leonora gave him a queer glance. "I wonder," she said.
They went into the great house, and were announced by a tall and sallow-faced butler, who welcomed Leonora but gave Steve a supercilious stare.
"Good evening, Miss Westlake," he said. "It's good to see you again."
He led them into an enormous room, gayly lit, where people were standing around in small groups with drinks in their hands, engaged in animated conversation. In a corner, a girl was playing the piano; two or three couples were dancing.
The host, Andrew Gilpin, came forward to greet Leonora.
"I'm glad you were able to make it, Leonora!" he exclaimed. He was a stout man, with a round, good-natured face and a pair of shrewd, twinkling eyes.
Leonora introduced him to Stephen Klaw, and he said, "Ah! I've heard of you, of course. You and your two partners have made history in the F.B.I. Too bad they aren't here, too."
Gilpin took them around and introduced them to half a dozen other people, and at once Steve was being monopolized by several beautiful girls.
He talked with them for a while and accepted a cocktail from the butler. He tossed the drink off at a gulp, put the glass back on the tray before the butler could move away.
Leonora had exchanged a few whispered words with Andrew Gilpin, and now she came over to the group, pushed through the girls who were crowded around Steve.
"You promised you'd dance with me first," she said.
"Sure!" Steve put his arm around her, and they moved out on the floor. His arm tightened around her waist.
"Baby," he said, "did I tell you you're gorgeous?"
Her body was soft and yielding against his; she smiled up at him. "Tell me more. I like to hear it—from you."
He maneuvered her over to the French doors, and out on the terrace. He did not release her, but pressed her closer. Her lips were close to his, and she did not resist when he kissed her.
THEY were interrupted by a queer sound which emanated from the pitch blackness of the grounds outside. It sounded clear and sharp, unmistakably the hoot of an owl.
Steve frowned. He took his arm from around her waist.
"Owls!" he said. "Have they got owls here?"
She shrugged. "I wouldn't know."
From somewhere else on the grounds, there came an answering cry: "to-whee... to-whoo..."
"There's another," said Leonora.
Steve said, "Hah! A whole colony of them! I'm superstitious about owls." He was lighting a cigarette, having offered her one. And now, instead of throwing the match away, he held it up in two fingers, allowing it to burn down almost to the bottom before discarding it.
"Why did you do that?" Leonora asked sharply.
He grinned. "Scare the owls away. They don't like fire."
At that moment, Andrew Gilpin came out on the terrace.
"Ah, there you are, Leonora!" he exclaimed. "I was looking for you. Mrs. Gilpin is ill. Headache or something. I told her you were here, and she insists on saying hello to you. Will you come up? I'm sure Mr. Klaw will excuse you."
"Sure," said Steve. "Go ahead. I'll finish this cigarette."
He stood very still after they had left, facing the lighted room, his back to the grounds. He waited that way for perhaps two minutes before he heard the faint rustling behind him. Still he did not move.
The rustling continued, came closer, until it was audible directly beneath the terrace.
Steve raised the cigarette to cover his mouth with his hand.
"Lay off that owl stuff, Johnny," he said. "You sound like a sick cat."
"Nuts to you, Shrimp," said the owl.
"Did you have any trouble following us?" Steve asked.
"Not a bit. Dan and I came in separate cars, to make sure we wouldn't lose you. But we both got here. Dan is out there now."
"Yeah. I heard him. He was the sick owl."
"Next time," Johnny Kerrigan said pettishly, "you can be the owl, and I will be the handsome come-on guy who has the good time. I saw you and the dame in that clinch."
"You don't think she'd fall for a carrot-top like you, do you?"
Kerrigan's chuckle sounded from the darkness. "She didn't fall for anything. That clinch was part of her job. Do you know what she did while you were kissing her?"
"Sure," said Steve. "She picked my pocket. She took my shiny little automatic. I showed it to her while we were in the car, so she'd make a play for it. I just wanted to be sure we were on the right track."
"They're going to try to kill you, Shrimp," Kerrigan warned. "They want those plans pretty badly."
"You lucky dog!" Johnny said bitterly. "You always get the break."
"We tossed for it," Steve reminded him.
"Yes, I know. And I meant to look at that coin of yours. You always win. I'll swear that coin has two heads!"
"Better scram now, Johnny," said Steve. "I've got to do my stuff."
The rustling sound was renewed. "Here it comes, Shrimp. Catch!"
Steve Klaw swung around, and raised a hand. He deftly caught the object which Kerrigan had tossed to him from the darkness. It was a small, snub-nosed automatic, a twin of the one which Leonora had picked out of his pocket.
"See you in hell, Shrimp," called Kerrigan.
"Keep the fires burning," Klaw called back cheerfully.
HE slipped the automatic into the snug pocket on the inside of his jacket, waited a moment more, and then stepped inside. He threaded his way among the dancing couples, avoided a girl who wanted to dance with him, and made for the staircase.
The sallow-faced butler seemed to appear from nowhere, at his elbow. "May I help you, sir? Was there anything you wanted?"
"Wha's your name?" Steve asked, making his voice a little thick.
"Bittrell, eh? I've seen your face someplace. Are you a spy?"
The butler gave him a sickly smile. "I was about to go out on the terrace after you, sir. Mr. Gilpin asked if I would usher you to his library. He has some very special brandy he wants to have you sample."
"Brandy, eh?" said Steve. "Lead me to it."
"This way, sir."
Bittrell took him by the left arm, and guided him around the staircase and through a door which led into a short hallway. He opened a door at the left. "Right in here, sir."
Steve peered into the room. "This isn't the library—"
"But this is where we're going!" The butler's voice had suddenly become chill and hard. He retained his hold on Steve's left elbow, and with his left hand he brought out a small pistol. He pointed it at Steve. "Do you see what I mean?"
"Yes," Stephen Klaw said grimly. "I see what you mean!"
And he pulled the trigger of the snub-nosed automatic, which he had been holding under the jacket.
The shot didn't make much noise, muffled by the cloth of Steve's coat. The slug smashed into Bittrell's left arm, just above the elbow, and Bittrell uttered a hoarse cry. He dropped the pistol, letting go of Steve's elbow at the same time.
Klaw pushed him into the room, kicked the pistol inside, and followed him in. He closed the door behind them, and stood there for a moment, his eyes searching the place. It was a small sitting room. There was no one in there with them.
Bittrell had sunk into a chair. His face was ashen with pain, and he was holding his wounded arm. He glanced venomously at Klaw.
"Where did you get that automatic?" he demanded. "You were supposed to have been disarmed."
Steve laughed. "Is there supposed to be honor among spies?"
Bittrell's eyes widened. A spasm of pain twitched across his face, caused by his wounded arm, but he disregarded it. "The girl!" he spat out. "Leonora! She betrayed us! She told us she'd taken your gun!"
Steve shrugged. He didn't bother to disillusion the butler.
"I'm sorry to have to do this, Bittrell," he said. "But this is war. You don't deserve mercy; you're about as low as they come—a white man taking the pay of the yellow devils who are trying to destroy our country!"
He stepped in close, raising the automatic.
"You—you're not going to kill me!" Bittrell gasped, his face becoming the color of parchment.
"No," Steve said softly. "Not yet. I'll save you for the hangman! I'm just going to see that you're snug for a while."
He brought the barrel of the gun sharply down upon Bittrell's temple. The man collapsed. He toppled off the chair on to the floor, and lay still.
STEPHEN KLAW eyed him bleakly for a moment. Then he stooped and picked up the pistol which the spy had dropped. He raised his right trouser leg, and thrust the pistol in under his garter, where it rested snugly. He let his trouser leg drop over it. Then he slipped the automatic back into its pocket, and went to the door. He set the catch so that the door would lock when it was slammed, and stepped out into the corridor.
He could hear the piano playing in the ballroom, through the closed door down at the right end of the hall. But he went in the other direction, toward the left. He passed two other doors, but he did not open them. He went down to the end of the corridor, found a door there, pushed it open, and stepped through.
As he expected, he found a back staircase, which led to the upper part of the house. A man was standing guard at the foot of the stairs. He was dressed in servant's livery, but he was very evidently there for other purposes than those of service to wandering guests. He had a hard, square jaw, and powerful hands. There was the barely-concealed bulge of a gun in his hip pocket.
He said, "Were you looking for something, sir? These are the servants' quarters."
"It's all right," said Steve. "I'm going up to see Mr. Gilpin in the library. Bittrell suggested that I take the back staircase." He gave the man a significant look. "More privacy, you know."
"Sorry," said the man. "Orders are not to allow anyone up this stairway but the help." He moved over in such a way as to block Steve's progress.
"Well, that's too bad," said Stephen Klaw. He drove a left into the fellow's stomach, and met his advancing chin with a terrific right. The two blows sounded almost as one. That man must have weighed a hundred and eighty; and Stephen Klaw looked more like a college kid than like a tough scrapper. But that youthful look of his had been the undoing of more than one enemy. Behind that slim and boyish appearance, there was a hundred and sixty pounds of bone and muscle, trained to the last hairline of hardness. There was dynamite in that right, as the guard realized—too late. He was out, cold, before he hit the floor.
Steve sighed, rubbed his knuckles, and looked swiftly around. He saw a closet near the stairs, and hauled the unconscious man over to it. Working with speed, he used the man's own belt and garters and handkerchief to bind and gag him, then dumped him in the closet. He took the man's gun and kicked it under the stairs. Then, making sure that the closet door was closed, he went up.
The upper floor was quiet. But a hum of voices came from one room near the head of the stairs. Steve moved over to it, and stood very quietly. He could detect a man's voice and a woman's, then that of a third person, but he could not hear what they were saying.
HE glanced around, and saw that there was another door, only a few feet from this one. He went over and tried that, and found that it was unlocked. He turned the knob gently, and pushed it open a fraction of an inch. The room that this door opened into adjoined the library. It was in darkness. But he saw that it was connected with the library by an arched doorway. The sound of the voices came to him very plainly now. Andrew Gilpin was talking.
"I don't like it, Leonora," he was saying. "We're taking too much of a chance. If Bittrell falls down on the job—"
"How can Bittrell fall down on the job?" the third voice asked suavely. "We know that this Klaw is now disarmed. Here is the automatic, which Leonora took from him. He will be defenseless when Bittrell gets him into the room downstairs. It will only remain to hit him on the head and take the papers from him. Then we will have him taken out on the road, and run over by one of our cars. It will look like an unfortunate accident."
"Yes, I know," Gilpin interrupted. "But this damned Suicide Squad is too dangerous to fool around with. They're dynamite, I tell you!"
Stephen Klaw smiled at that. He moved into the darkened anteroom, closing the door carefully behind him. He heard Leonora Westlake's tinkling laugh.
"He's clever, that Klaw. And what a man! I'm sure he knew that I knew that he wasn't really drunk. And he as much as told me that he suspected me of being a spy. Yet he had the courage to come here."
"That's what I don't like about it," Gilpin grumbled. "It's not like the Suicide Squad to walk into an obvious trap—"
"That, my dear Gilpin," said the suave voice, "is where you are wrong. Believe me, I have studied this Suicide Squad carefully. And that is why I planned it this way. You see, it is not in the nature of those three men to avoid danger. The thing that brought this Klaw here was the scent of danger."
"But look here, Noltz," Gilpin exclaimed. "If he suspected a trap, what was to prevent him from having his friends—Kerrigan and Murdoch—follow him here?"
"Nothing at all, my dear Gilpin. In fact, one of them did follow him. You see, I had Leonora's limousine followed by another car, at a discreet distance. In that way, we discovered that Leonora's limousine was being trailed by another car, driven by the dark-haired chap—Murdoch. He's somewhere on the grounds at this moment, but he shall be properly taken care of. You heard those owls hooting, didn't you? That was the signal Murdoch and Klaw exchanged, between themselves. Murdoch hooted from the grounds, and Klaw from the terrace. Murdoch was at once spotted by my men. They are no doubt watching him now. At the first move he makes, they will take care of him, never fear."
Standing in the dark, Stephen Klaw stiffened as he heard that smooth, suave voice of the man named Noltz, telling how Dan Murdoch would be taken care of. But almost at once, he heard Leonora Westlake speak tensely.
"Wait, Herr Noltz!" she exclaimed. "You said that Murdoch hooted like an owl, and that Klaw answered him?"
"Yes. Surely you heard the owl-hoots? Surely you understood—"
"I heard them!" Leonora said tensely. "I was on the terrace with Klaw when the owls hooted. There were two hoots!"
"Yes, of course. That's what I said."
"But," Leonora Westlake interrupted, "I told you, I was with Klaw on the terrace—and he did not make any hooting sound!"
For a long moment there was silence in the next room, while Stephen Klaw stood quiet. Then came the voice of Herr Noltz, no longer suave and smooth. "Himmel! There must have been two of them out on the grounds. I assumed there was only one, because only one car was observed following you."
"That fellow, Kerrigan, must be out there, too," Andrew Gilpin said. "They always work together, the three of them."
"I must warn the men!" Noltz exclaimed hurriedly. "Ludwig is on guard at the foot of the stairs. I will tell him—"
"I've already told him, my friend," said Stephen Klaw. He stepped out of the anteroom, his automatic significantly in evidence.
The three people in that room stared at him as if he had been a ghost.
STEVE spared only a glance at Leonora and Gilpin. He studied the man named Noltz. He was a thin man, about Steve's size and build, but with a hawk's nose, and a pair of predatory, merciless eyes. He stood tensely, his arms at his sides; but it was plain to be seen that he was ready to seize the first opportunity that presented itself.
Klaw grinned at him. "Relax, Noltz. You won't get any help from your pals." Then he turned to the woman. "Well, Leonora my dear, how goes the spy business tonight?"
She was frightened and desperate. She had thought that Klaw was safely dead or a prisoner by this time. Her lips twitched, but she did not speak.
It was Gilpin who answered.
"My dear Klaw, there must be some mistake. Surely you do not think that Leonora here is implicated in any spy undertaking."
Steve gave him a dry grin. "Skip it, Gilpin. I heard all I need."
It was in that moment, when Steve had apparently turned his head toward Gilpin, that Noltz chose to make his break. He leaped behind Leonora, threw one arm around her waist from behind, and drew a gun. He was shielded by her body from Steve's fire, and he didn't seem to care what happened to her.
"Stand still, you!" he ordered. "I am going to back out of the window. If you shoot, you will kill her."
Steve smiled. He spoke, apparently to someone behind Noltz's back. "Go easy, Dan. Don't kill him. We want him alive."
Noltz laughed sourly. "You cannot trick me that way!"
He stopped, gasping, as a revolver muzzle was thrust against his spine from behind. Dan Murdoch climbed in through the window.
"Just lay your gun down on the floor—easy!" Dan ordered.
For a second it seemed as if Noltz contemplated shooting Klaw anyway, and taking the slug in the spine as the price. Then he weakened.
"Don't shoot!" he whispered. Slowly and carefully, he bent down and put the gun on the floor.
Steve stepped in quickly, picked it up.
"Very nice co-ordination, Dan," he said. "Did you have trouble out there?"
"A little," said Murdoch. "Two guys were keeping their eyes on me. They had followed me all the way from town. They tried to jump me just now, but they didn't know Johnny was around. Too bad."
A moment later, Johnny Kerrigan appeared at the window, and climbed in. He grinned at the tableau.
"Hi, Owl!" he said to Steve.
"Owl yourself!" said Klaw. He gestured toward Noltz. "I think we have the big shot here, the guy who gives the orders all around. Maybe he can take us to Base A."
At the mention of Base A, Noltz started visibly, and glanced at Leonora. She gave him a viperish look in return.
"If I knew where the Base was," she said, "I'd tell them. You didn't care if Klaw shot me just now, did you? Well, I'll tell them everything I know. But—" she looked at Steve—"I swear I don't know where the Base is. You said you knew where it was."
"That was only a come-on," Steve told her. "I have no plans, for the simple reason that we don't know where the damned Base is located."
Noltz sneered. "And you will never know. You will never make me talk, be sure. I—"he drew himself up to his full height—"am an officer of the German Army!"
"Indeed!" said Johnny Kerrigan. "So was I, yesterday. Shake, comrade!"
He grasped Noltz's hand behind him, twisted it around, and drew the helpless officer into the dark anteroom.
"Strip!" he ordered.
"WHAT'S the idea, Johnny?" Steve called.
Kerrigan chuckled. "This guy is the Big Noise. He has a big car downstairs, with a chauffeur. I'm betting that the chauffeur is waiting to take him back to Base A."
Murdoch's eyes twinkled. "You're just about Noltz's size and height, Shrimp," he said.
Steve nodded suddenly. "Keep our guests company, Dan!"
He left Leonora and Gilpin under Murdoch's care, and hurried into the anteroom. In a couple of minutes he returned, attired in Noltz's blue suit, with Noltz's distinctive red-and-black necktie, and with Noltz's purple scarf wound around his neck.
In the meantime, Murdoch had effectively bound and gagged Gilpin, while Leonora Westlake looked on, making no effort to interfere. Kerrigan performed the same service for Noltz, in the anteroom.
As soon as they were through, Klaw went over to Leonora.
"A spy," he said slowly, "must always be prepared to pay the penalty if caught."
Her face was white, but she met his gaze.
"Yes," she whispered in a choked voice. "Do—do they hang spies in—in this country?"
"You know that as well as I do," Steve said.
She put a hand up to her throat. "I— I wouldn't enjoy hanging."
"Believe me," Steve said, "I'd spare you that if it were within my authority. But Kerrigan and Murdoch and I are only soldiers, doing our duty. It's our duty to turn you in."
She looked at him queerly for a moment. Then she said, "Even—even if I—helped you to reach Base A?"
"I can't promise you anything," Steve told her. "I can only tell you that I should have a strong distaste to seeing that pretty neck of yours stretched. If you helped us now, I'd have an even stronger distaste. It might be so strong that I'd have to do something about it."
She thought that over for a moment. "All right," she said at last. "I'll do whatever you say, and leave my life in your hands."
Steve nodded. Over his shoulder he said, "Get going, Mopes. I'll give you three minutes to get set in your cars. Keep your two-way radios going. Get in touch with the First Interceptor Command. Have them put bombers in the air. Call Army H.Q. and have them get the tanks rolling. And for God's sake, don't lose us!"
"Don't worry, Shrimp." Dan Murdoch laughed, as he climbed out the window after Kerrigan. "We'd hate to lose you. We're so used to you now!"
FIVE minutes later, Stephen Klaw, with Leonora on his arm, crossed the grounds and approached a limousine near the outer rim of the parking circle in front of the house.
Klaw had the muffler wrapped well over the lower portion of his face, and he had Noltz's hat brim turned down as far as it would go over his eyes.
A man in chauffeur's uniform was sitting at the wheel, but when he saw the familiar figure of what he thought was Noltz, he jumped down and held the door open.
"There has been a little trouble out here, Colonel Noltz," he said. "Two G-men were skulking around. They got away."
Klaw motioned impatiently with his hand, and climbed in without answering. The chauffeur looked surprised, but Leonora said to him, "The Colonel has been in a fight with one of those G-men. He was almost choked to death. His throat is sore. He wishes to go immediately to Base A. Hurry."
"Yes, Madame," said the chauffeur.
He closed the door, and got behind the wheel. In a moment they were rolling out of the driveway, on to the road.
Inside the car, Klaw and Leonora sat quietly, and Steve still kept his face covered. Once he glanced behind, but could not distinguish the shapes of any cars following them. He was not worried, however, for he knew that Kerrigan and Murdoch surely would have doused their headlights.
The chauffeur took the steep climb up the hill to the north and then swung west. Steve's pulse quickened. They were approaching the State Reservation. After ten minutes more driving along the outer edge of the Reservation, the chauffeur pulled to a stop alongside a thick copse at the side of the road.
He got out of the car and stood for a moment listening. Then he darted to the copse, pulled the boughs and twigs aside, revealing a sort of cave entrance.
"Hurry, please, Colonel and Lady," he said in German. "I think there is another car coming. Do not forget the password, my Colonel, or they will shoot."
Klaw and Leonora had already gotten out of the car. Klaw kept his face in the shadow as much as possible. He felt a cold shudder of disappointment as the man mentioned a password. He nudged Leonora, grunted, and motioned to the chauffeur.
The man looked puzzled. But Leonora was quick to grasp his meaning. "Colonel Noltz cannot talk," she explained. "He wishes that you tell me the password, so that I can give it."
"Yes, Madame. The password tonight is Yokohama—"
He stopped abruptly as Klaw passed in front of him toward the mouth of the cave. "Wait! Colonel Noltz always uses perfume. You do not have perfume. You are not Colonel Noltz—"
"No," said Steve. "I never was!" And he hit him hard on the button.
The man went down like a log. Steve rubbed his knuckles. "Yokohama!" he murmured.
A moment later, two cars pulled up alongside the limousine. Kerrigan and Murdoch got out. Murdoch was carrying a portable sending and receiving set, such as he had used for contacting Steve from the Bishop Plant.
"It looks to me," he said, "as if Base A is located in the State Reservation!"
"Not a bad idea. They must have killed off the staff of rangers, and taken over their job. There's a thousand acres in that Reservation—enough to hide an army ten times nine thousand."
"Well," said Kerrigan, "what are we waiting for?"
Steve looked at Leonora. She stood still and tense, awaiting his word.
"You've done your part," he said. "You've helped us get this far." He glanced at Kerrigan and Murdoch. Murdoch was busy sending on the portable radio, but he nodded. Kerrigan nodded, too.
Steve turned back to her. "It's our, duty to turn you in, Leonora," he said. "If we let you go, we can be court-martialed."
He saw her shoulders sag. "I should have known!" she whispered. "I deserve it too. I've never kept my word to anyone. Why should I expect that you'd keep your word to me?"
Steve grinned. "Quite right, Leonora. So, in the name of the United States of America, I arrest you on the charge of espionage in time of war!"
"All right," she said. "I've lost. But please—shoot me. Don't let them hang me!"
Steve was watching her closely. "Your usefulness as a spy is over, you know," he said casually. "Even if you escaped, you could never be a spy again. Your description and picture will be furnished to every American agent—"
"I'd never be a spy again!" she said passionately. "I have money now. I'd only want to be allowed to live somewhere, peaceably and forgotten. I'd—I'd even fight to keep this country the way it is."
Steve shook his head. "I'd like to believe you, Leonora. I'd like to give you a break. But it's against the rules. I can't let you go."
He turned his back on her, and winked to Kerrigan and Murdoch.
"The motor of that limousine is still running," he said casually over his shoulder. "And we three guys are abominable shots. If anyone should start driving rapidly away, I'm sure we'd never hit the car."
He heard her gasp behind him. "God bless you Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw!" she whispered.
Then, a moment later, they heard the clutch of the limousine grinding. The motor was accelerated, and the car sped away into the night.
Kerrigan breathed a sigh of relief. "I wouldn't have enjoyed seeing that dame hang!"
"Me, neither," said Klaw. "Let's get going!"
Murdoch got up from the ground, and thrust the radio sending set back into his car. "Okay, guys. I've been in touch with, the Army, the Navy, the Marines, and the Air Raid Wardens. Let's clear the way for them!"
KLAW went first into the cave, followed by Kerrigan and Murdoch. His flashlight showed a passage opening into the far end of the cave. They took it single file, and followed it for perhaps a hundred feet, when they came up into a small clearing.
"This must be inside the Reservation," Murdoch whispered.
Klaw, who was in the lead, checked them with an upraised hand. Fortunately, he had turned off his flashlight before stepping out into the clearing, for there was a small group of men standing there, all attired in full military uniform.
Five or six of them were Japanese officers, all of high rank, as was indicated by the collection of stars and bars on their tunics. There were two white men in the group, both attired in uniforms of the German Army. All were engaged in animated conversation. A little behind them, at a respectful distance, stood a squad of Japanese soldiers, with rifles unslung.
Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw remained in the shelter of the passageway, while that group of enemies talked in swift and excited voices, all in German.
One of the Japs was saying, "It is impossible for us to wait longer, Von Rudiger. Our contingent is ready to start. If it is to destroy the Grand Reservoir, it must leave now in order to return before daylight."
"But, General Yamanaka," the German protested, "it is important that we wait for the return of Colonel Noltz. We must have his report."
"Here he comes now," said General Yamanaka, as the sound of Kerrigan's safety catch on his automatic clicked in the night. "I hear him."
Kerrigan nudged Steve. "Go ahead, Shrimp. That's your cue!"
Klaw stepped out into the clearing, keeping his face muffled, and both hands in his pockets.
"Ah, Noltz!" said the German. "You are here at last! Why are you late? We have only been awaiting your report. Speak, man. What have you learned from Gilpin?"
"Nothing that will help you, General!" Steve said in English.
That group of officers acted as if a thunderbolt had hit them.
"It is not Noltz!" the German exclaimed.
The Jap General Yamanaka peered near-sightedly through the darkness at Steve. He raised a whistle which hung from his neck by a silver chain. But he did not yet put it to his lips.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
At the same time, the German backed inconspicuously away, and whispered something to a noncommissioned officer standing at the fringe of the group of general officers. That petty officer turned and issued low-voiced commands to the squad of guards, who immediately spread out, so as to flank the entrance from the tunnel.
But Steve apparently did not notice this furtive activity. He grinned at the Jap general and said casually, "The name is Stephen Klaw. I have a message for you from Gilpin."
"Ach!" said the German officer. "Klaw! It is one of the verdammtes Suicide Squad! Believe him not, Yamanaka. He is poison—he and his two devil-companions. Order him taken—"
But Yamanaka, still with the whistle close to his lips, waved the German aside. His nearsighted eyes were still fixed upon Steve.
"This message you say that you have from Gilpin—what is it?"
Steve's hands were deep into his pockets now. He seemed to be lounging carelessly, but in reality he was as taut as the mainspring of a fully wound watch.
"Why, the message from Gilpin is that he'll see you in hell, Yamanaka!"
"Ah, so!" the Jap said sibilantly. "You are indeed a foolhardy man. You have come here alone perhaps? Or with your two friends? You think that alone you will break up this concentration of Imperial troops?"
"Don't worry," Steve said cheerfully. "We'll have company soon. The bombers are coming over any minute now. They'll blast hell out of you!"
He was talking against time now, for the bombers were overdue. Every moment that he managed to delay Yamanaka from giving decisive orders was so much to the good.
But the Jap general must have sensed his purpose. He glanced around and saw that the two squads of guards were disposed in such a position as to be able to rake Stephen Klaw with fire from two angles.
"You, my foolhardy friend," he said softly, "shall precede us to hell!"
He raised the whistle to his lips and blew a single shrill blast upon it.
THAT was the signal for the outburst of a devil's pandemonium. Both squads of soldiers raised rifles to their shoulders at the sharp singsong commands of their officers. At the same time, the whistle signal was repeated again and again beyond the screen of trees, where the main body of the Jap army was located. The entire striking force of the Japs was swinging into action.
Stephen Klaw brought his hands out of his pockets, with both automatics spitting fire. He was grinning a thin, death's-head grin as he directed both streams of hot lead into the center of that group of brass hats.
He paid no attention to the two squads of soldiers on his flanks. It was almost as if he were sublimely oblivious of their existence. To look at him there, standing there with both feet firmly planted, the guns barking and bucking in his fists, looking neither to the right nor the left, one would have thought that he was throwing his life away in a ridiculously useless manner; for there did not seem to be a chance that he could escape being mowed down by the cross-fire of those two flanking squads of yellow marksmen.
But the secret of it was that Stephen Klaw knew that he had two men at his back upon whom he could depend better than upon a whole army corps.
Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw had worked together for so long, and had faced odds of all kinds, that they operated with the smooth accuracy and perfect timing of precision machinery.
Almost at the sound of the first shot, Kerrigan and Murdoch stepped out from the tunnel behind him, and took up positions on either side of Stephen Klaw, their weapons thundering and roaring in a continuous, rhythmic threnody of thunder as they directed their fire at the two flanking groups.
The sudden barrage cut down those soldiers with deadly precision at the same time that Klaw's slugs smashed into the group of general officers. Then, in the moment of terrible confusion that followed, the three G-men began to move forward, shoulder to shoulder across the clearing, their guns still blasting.
Cries of excitement, confused orders in Japanese, and mingled yells of alarm arose from beyond the trees, where the main body of troops was swinging into emergency battle formation. But Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw moved forward, as if there had not been an army of nine thousand men facing them.
Someone began to fire at them with a machine gun, but the bursts were far too high and too wide. Still they kept moving forward, never stopping, never seeking cover.
They reached the spot in the clearing where the General Officers had stood. Above the rattle of gunfire, Klaw called out, "I can't hear the bombers, Mopes. It looks like we have to keep them entertained for a while longer."
Murdoch grinned. "Let's go!"
Just then, Klaw almost tripped over a prone figure writhing at his feet. It was General Yamanaka. He had been shot in the stomach.
Steve stooped and picked him up. He was no longer a swaggering, blustering Imperial general, but just a little yellow man afraid to die. It was all well and good for the rank and file of the Japanese soldiers to be told that it was an honor and a glory to die for their Emperor. But these men of the General Staff knew that the Emperor was only a man just like themselves, and that he would never reward them in heaven.
Steve fell a pace behind Kerrigan and Murdoch as he helped Yamanaka forward. "You'll die if you don't get medical help quick, my general," he said.
Yamanaka had both hands at his stomach, trying to staunch the flow of blood. "A—doctor!" he gasped.
"Can you yell for one?" Steve demanded callously. "Can you yell loud?"
"I—will do anything you say—"
Steve picked up the whistle which hung from around Yamanaka's neck. It was a gold whistle, on a gold chain.
"How many blasts for retreat?"
"Two!" gasped the frightened Jap.
Steve raised the whistle to his lips and blew two shrill, high blasts upon it.
Almost at once, the two blasts were repeated by the petty officers ahead, and they could hear those two notes echoing in distant reverberations far back among the enemy lines.
The firing ceased completely, as if by magic.
Kerrigan and Murdoch turned around, grinning.
"Boy," said Kerrigan, "the whistle is mightier than the gun! I'd never have believed it!"
It was at that moment that the first formations of bombers came flying over the Reservation. It was a grand sight to see, as they swept across, dropping their flares, to be followed by a second wave, with bomb racks full.
But it was not necessary to drop a single bomb. Those Japs in Malaya and in Sumatra, where they outnumbered their enemies and had the weight of armament in their favor, rode high, wide and handsome. But here, in the heart of an alien country, seeing those mighty bombers overhead, and knowing they could not expect the support of anyone, they were small and frightened, just like their general. They stood there, with their hands held high in the air, shouting their surrender.
"Oh, hell!" said Johnny Kerrigan. "And I was looking for a scrap! These guys can't fight! Wait'll we get enough planes over there—"we'll be eating Japs for breakfast every morning!"
"Nah!" said Murdoch. "You can't eat Japs. They'd give you acid stomach. Me for a good, juicy steak all the time! What say?"
"Amen," said Stephen Klaw. "Let's go back to Gilpin's party. I bet there's a lot of eats left, over there. They must have lost their appetites completely by now!"