ON the seventeenth of August, a furtive Rumanian walked into the United States Consulate in Berne, Switzerland, and whispered that he had information to sell.
Closeted with one of the attachés, he put on a mysterious air, and said that he could tell about the plans of the Flaming Arrow to wreck the United States war effort.
The attaché frowned. "The Flaming Arrow? What are you talking about?"
The Rumanian became more mysterious, and at the same time more furtive and frightened.
"It is the name of the one who can win the war for the Axis. He has been in America now for three years. But only three men in all the world know who the Flaming Arrow really is. Those three are Hitler, Himmler, and Tojo, of Japan. The Axis has paid ten million dollars over to the account of the Flaming Arrow, and there are ninety millions more in banks in every neutral country which he can call upon. For that sum, the Flaming Arrow has agreed to destroy American war power completely."
"You're mad!" said the attaché.
"Mad? You think perhaps that I dream this? Let me tell you: There is a school not far from Berlin, where the Nazis train the youngsters who are smuggled into America to enter the ranks of the Flaming Arrow!"
The little Rumanian became eager, almost voluble. "But that is not all. In Formosa, there is a small island, in the middle of a large lake. None dares go near that island, for it is under the special protection of the Emperor. On that island other men are trained, men of a strange, vicious, mountain race. They are little, wiry men, taken from Korea as children, and dedicated to the service of the Flaming Arrow. These men, too, have been smuggled into America. All are ready for the day when the Supreme Plan of the Flaming Arrow is ready for execution. On that day the Flaming Arrow will wreck America!"
The attaché was annoyed. "Look here, my man, you've been smoking opium!"
"But no! I swear to you that this is all true. I alone have stumbled upon the clue, and I will sell it to you. Cable your government. Ask them. They know of the Flaming Arrow. Ask them how much you may pay me for information that will save your country!"
"All right," the attaché agreed reluctantly. "Come back tomorrow morning at ten o'clock."
So a cable in code went off to the State Department: "What do you know about Axis agent named Flaming Arrow? Am offered information in re above but believe it of no value. Are you interested?"
Then the attaché promptly forgot all about it. But he was awakened at two o'clock in the morning by an urgent radio message in reply: "Get all information possible. Urgent. Flaming Arrow greater menace than fifty divisions!"
Thoroughly aroused, the attaché dressed hurriedly and went to the address which the Rumanian had left with him.
He was five minutes too late. The squalid room in which the informer lived was a mass of flames. Firemen forced their way in, and came out bearing the body of the Rumanian. There was still a bit of flickering life left in him as they laid him in the street, with a two-foot arrow protruding from his chest.
The attaché thought of the name of the Axis agent whom this informer had wished to betray: The Flaming Arrow!
The shaft of the arrow was metal, charred and blackened from end to end. The Rumanian's clothes were burned away from his body.
The Swiss fire chief exclaimed, "The arrow must have burst into flames when it struck him!"
And someone in the crowd whispered, "It is the mark of the Flaming Arrow!"
The word spread quickly. In a moment, the crowd had faded away. Even the firemen and police looked a bit fearful.
The attaché was unaware of all this as he bent over the dying Rumanian, listening to the gurgle of sound which trickled from the informer's lips. Only a word or two was he able to distinguish:
"My brother...in America...find him..."
Then the man was dead.
Nine days later, a man sat in an office on the sixth floor of the Scanda Building, in Stockholm, Sweden. There were papers on his desk, and half a dozen photographs, as well as a roll of developed film. The photographs were weird things, showing a group of small and wiry men, all attired in similar fashion, with short leather jerkins, and metal helmets. Their faces were Mongolian, with such small eyes that they might have belonged to some species of reptile. Their hands were encased in leather gloves, and on their backs they carried a long bow and a quiver of arrows.
One of the pictures showed a group of these men marching down to a ship. The picture had been taken at night, apparently with a flashlight bulb, and it was remarkably clear.
The man who sat at the desk with these photographs before him jiggled the hook of his telephone and barked impatiently, "You must put me through to America at once. I want Washington!"
"This is the transatlantic operator, sir. Your connection is being completed. We will have Mr. Hedges in the State Department in a moment."
Whatever the stocky man might have been about to say, he never said it.
The arrow thrummed its deadly hum of doom, winging through the open window. It thudded into his chest, carrying him backward in his chair, crashing to the floor.
His frantic grip knocked the telephone with him. He lay on his back on the floor, his knees in the air, folded over the chair seat, and the arrow protruding almost three feet from his chest. His body twitched in the throes of death.
From the receiver came an impatient voice: "Bardo! I say there, Bardo! This is Hedges of the State Department!"
There was a jiggling sound, then Hedges's voice again: "Operator! There's nobody on here. What happened to that call?"
The dying Bardo's face became contorted with a strange and fearful effort as he struggled to bring his bloody lips close to the mouthpiece of the phone.
"Hedges!" he gasped. "Hedges, listen! This is Bardo..." He was silent for a second, then his voice erupted once more in a weird and frightful gurgle. "The Flaming Arrow...got me. Look out for the little...bowmen. They're smuggling...thousands of them...planning something big...for September first..."
It was then that a strange phenomenon occurred; the arrow which was quivering in his chest, burst into bright and incandescent flame.
It was like the all-consuming fire of an incendiary bomb, unbearably hot, sizzlingly brilliant, hissing with the sound of burning magnesium. The flame raced down the shaft of the arrow, as if it had been greased with wax. In a moment, the man's body was completely enveloped by the flaming holocaust, which had already spread to the rug, licking out hungrily at the rest of the room...
"WHAT'S this I hear about a flaming arrow?" Stephen Klaw demanded, the moment he got into Dan Murdoch's room at the Berkshire Hotel.
Dan Murdoch was in shirt sleeves. The window was open, but he had the blind pulled all the way down. He was examining a charred stick of metal, about three feet long. There was an arrowhead point on it, and that, too, was blackened as if from a bath of fire.
Murdoch grinned, and exhibited the stick.
Klaw took it, and turned it around curiously in his hands. "A steel arrow!" he exclaimed. "Where did you get it?"
Murdoch chuckled. "It came to me out of the blue!"
"You mean someone shot at you?"
"Nothing else but!"
Klaw's eyes began to glitter. "I take it we're on a case?"
"You bet!" He picked up his coat from the bed, exhibited a rent in the left sleeve. "That's how close it came. It grazed me and hit a brick wall. The next second it burst into flames. There was a small magnesium pencil bomb fitted in the shaft. It burned like the devil for about thirty seconds, and that's all that's left!"
Stephen Klaw said thoughtfully, "If it had hit you, there'd be nothing left of you but blackened bones and a few teeth!"
They were interrupted by a knock at the door. The knock was immediately repeated, three times in quick succession, then three times slow.
"That'll be Johnny!" said Murdoch.
He went over and unlocked the door.
Big, red-headed Johnny Kerrigan entered. "What's all this about?" he growled. "Why this hocus-pocus about meeting in secret, Dan? You registered under a phony name!"
"Take it easy, Johnny," said Murdoch. "It's by order of the State Department. We're going after the Flaming Arrow!"
"Ah!" said Kerrigan. "Now you're talking! When do we start?"
"Don't get ants in your pants," said Murdoch. "We're waiting for the Chief. He's coming here with Under-secretary Hedges of the State Department. This is no pushover, guys. The Flaming Arrow is 'way over the class of anything we've ever handled. Take a look at this arrow, for instance. It was shot at me, less than an hour after I had talked with the Chief over long distance, and he had assigned me to the case."
Hedges was nervous and jumpy. "You'll have to excuse me, boys," he said after he had been introduced. "I've been on edge for ten days. And so has everybody in Washington. Twice in the last ten days we've come within an ace of getting valuable information on the Flaming Arrow; and twice, it was snatched from under our noses by the Flaming Arrow agents, once in Berne, and once in Stockholm. Yesterday, our most valuable man in Europe was killed by a flaming arrow before he could transmit details to us. The arrow that killed him burst into flames and destroyed everything in his room. The only new thing we learned from him was that the grand coup of the Flaming Arrow is planned for September first. This is the twenty-seventh. That gives us only four days."
Hedges looked at Murdoch, and the arrow in his hand. "As for you, there's nothing you can do. It's quite apparent that you are known to the Flaming Arrow. The fact that he made this attempt on your life is sufficient to impair your usefulness. As for you two!" he nodded to Kerrigan and Klaw, "I'm afraid that in asking you to undertake this job, I'm giving you a suicide assignment. But your Director here tells me that it's just such assignments you welcome." He permitted himself a faint smile. "I understand that you are known in the F.B.I. as the Suicide Squad."
Neither Kerrigan nor Murdoch nor Klaw made any reply. Though it was perfectly true that they were called the Suicide Squad, they took no special pride in it. Theirs was a devil-may-care philosophy of life, based on the theory that all three of them had long ago forfeited any right to expect to enjoy old age, ripe or otherwise.
Johnny Kerrigan had once punched a senator's son in the nose; Dan Murdoch had once shot a croupier to death in a crooked gambling joint; and Stephen Klaw had once told the chairman of a Senate investigation committee to go to hell when he had been asked why he had shot to kill in a fight with a band of gunmen.
Any other three federal agents would have been dismissed for these offenses. But the records of Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw were such that even a Senatorial indignation would not have stood against popular demand. The Chief of the F.B.I. had taken advantage of their records to effect a compromise. He had arranged for them to be placed on special duty, where they would never be in danger of coming in contact with anyone whose feelings were likely to be hurt. From that time on, the Director had made it a practice to assign them to such cases as would ordinarily have demanded a call for volunteers.
Thus had been formed the Suicide Squad. Together with a couple of other wild and irreconcilable hellions, they had made a blazing swath of gunfire through the underworld. There had been five of them at the start; then only four; then three; Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw. Tomorrow there might be only two, or one, or none...
But one thing was certain: if the Suicide Squad was wiped out, it would not be without bloody cost to the party of the other part.
Now, here in this room in the Berkshire Hotel, they were being offered the kind of assignment they lived for; and they were eager to get their teeth into it. Especially since the arrow had been launched at Murdoch.
"Let's get down to cases, Mr. Hedges," Stephen Klaw said impatiently. "If there's only a matter of four days between us and the end of the country, let's not waste any more time talking!"
Under-secretary Hedges nodded. "All right," he said curtly, "I'll give it to you straight. The United States Government wants the Flaming Arrow within four days. We don't know who he is, and we don't know his plan for September first. But we do know that the Flaming Arrow is responsible for the three disasters which occurred on the same day last month, one in Oregon, one in Texas and one in Maryland."
Hedges paused, looking from one to the other of them. "And we are further convinced that those three pieces of sabotage were just rehearsals for the big coup four days from now."
"So all you want us to do," Johnny Kerrigan said, "is to lay this Flaming Arrow by the heels, without knowing who or what he is!"
Hedges spread his hands helplessly. "I can't tell you very much more, I confess. We have learned only fragments. We know that the Flaming Arrow is smuggling two groups into this country for his big show. One of those groups consists of specially trained Nazi youths; the other group consists of a wild and savage tribe of men recruited by the Japanese in Korea, and raised on a secret island in Formosa, where they have been educated for years, solely for the purpose of enrollment with the Flaming Arrow. The ramifications of the Flaming Arrow's spy organization must go pretty deep, for he was able to learn apparently, that you, Murdoch, had been assigned to the case. So there is every reason to believe that you three men will be walking to your deaths. Yet I must ask you to dig around, to use your connections in the underworld, to use anything and everything that may come to your hand, in one supreme effort to smoke out the Flaming Arrow within four days..."
Hedges was interrupted by the quick, sharp ring of the telephone on the night table.
Dan Murdoch frowned. "It may be for you sir," he said to the Director of the F.B.I. "Nobody knows that I'm here!"
The Director shook his head. "Nobody knows Hedges and I are here, either. We didn't tell a soul where we were going!"
Murdoch shrugged, and picked up the phone. "Yes?"
The voice at the other end was that of a woman.
"Please don't ask any questions, and don't waste time," the woman said hurriedly. "Listen to me closely if you want to save your country."
"Go on!" Murdoch said, suddenly tense. He had caught the note of urgency in her voice.
"I dare not take the time to explain anything now. But if you want to pick up some information about that certain party whose arrow you have, then be at the Dardanelles Restaurant tonight at six sharp. Come alone. Promise?"
"I promise," said Dan Murdoch solemnly.
"I accept your word. If you break it, you will only bring death to yourself as well as to me. Good-bye!"
There was a tight smile on Murdoch's dark and handsome face as he laid the receiver gently down in its cradle.
"A break!" he whispered. "An unexpected break!"
Swiftly, he told them what the woman had said.
"You lucky stiff!" Kerrigan exclaimed.
But Under-secretary Hedges was not so enthusiastic. "It may be a trap, Murdoch!" he warned. "In fact, it must be a trap. Don't you see? The Flaming Arrow tried for you once and failed. Now he's using this woman to lure you to your death!"
"I certainly hope so!" Murdoch said fervently.
Hedges threw up his hands in disgust. "What kind of men are you three?" He turned appealingly to the Director of the F.B.I. "Look here, you've got to forbid Murdoch to go there. Do you understand? Tell him now that he's not to go near the Dardanelles Restaurant!"
The Director smiled grimly. "Sorry, Hedges. You've given them their assignment. I've given them carte blanche. I make it a rule never to interfere with the Suicide Squad once they've started on a job. It's like trying to take a bone away from a bulldog!"
AT six o'clock sharp Dan Murdoch entered a greasy, foul-smelling Turkish restaurant on Allen Street, down on the lower East Side.
The sign outside read:
Native Turkish Cooking - C. Foolhabi, Prop.
The proprietor was a short, moon-faced man with a pair of thick black eyebrows, and a heavy, drooping mustache. He got up from a table where he was playing checkers, bowed to Murdoch, and conducted him wordlessly to a table.
There were four or five checker games going each game had one or two kibitzers. A radio was playing somewhere in the rear, and a waitress was clattering dishes, and discussions were going on in several languages at some of the other tables.
The whole atmosphere was noisy and unrestful, not in the least adapted to a quiet game of checkers.
Almost every one in the place was drinking thick, black Turkish coffee, without cream, and a few of them were eating sandwiches.
The proprietor didn't waste any time on Murdoch. He dropped a greasy menu in front of him, and went back to his checker game.
Murdoch looked around for the woman who had phoned him. There were half a dozen women in the busy place, and any of them might have been the one he sought. She hadn't given him any clue to her appearance. He could only sit and wait for her to make herself known to him.
He had so maneuvered to get a chair against the wall. He could see all of the restaurant, and at least no one here would be able to put a knife in his back without his seeing it first. Of course, an arrow might be launched from the kitchen, or a gun might be fired from there. But he had to chance that.
When the waitress came over to him, he ordered coffee. He had been watching her serve several of the other customers, and he was trying to guess how she fitted into this place, among these swarthy, dark-complexioned people. For she was distinctly a northern type, tall and fair-skinned, with golden-yellow hair braided high on her head, and clear blue eyes. Dan Murdoch got a distinct shock when he glimpsed the tautness of her lips, the tinge of fright in her eyes.
"Yes, sir," she said. "Coffee. Anything else?"
Murdoch stiffened as he recognized the voice. She was the one who had spoken to him over the phone.
He gave no sign of recognition. He merely said, "That's all."
She bent over the table, wiping an imaginary spot, and she spoke very low. "You kept your word? You came alone?"
"That's good. Watch the man with the wart on the side of his nose, the one who is playing checkers with the man with the thin hands. The man with the wart is the one you are to follow, but the one with the thin hands is the dangerous one. He can move like a magician, and before you know it, there is a knife in your throat!"
Murdoch wanted to ask her a question, but she turned and hurried away.
He let his gaze stray to the table where the two men were playing checkers. The one with the wart on the side of his nose was a stocky, swarthy-skinned fellow, with a shock of black unkempt hair that came down over his eyes. He had thick, sensual lips, and a bull-like neck. He looked like a cutthroat from the waterside of any one of a dozen European cities.
It seemed incongruous that he should be playing checkers with the man with the thin hands. That one was an ascetic man, whose age was difficult to determine. He was carefully dressed in black, with a white shirt and a black tie. His hands were thin and long.
* * * * * * *
The waitress came back with a cup of the thick, black coffee, and placed it before Murdoch. As she bent over him, her lips moved: "The man with the wart is Dagomar. It is he who guides the Flaming Arrow's recruits in to shore at night. The other one is Gallieni, whose duties I do not know. Finish your coffee quickly and go out and wait. Dagomar leaves every night at seven o'clock. Follow him and you will find where the recruits land."
"Who are you?" Murdoch demanded. "Why are you doing this?"
She smiled faintly. "Don't forget to drink your coffee," she whispered. "It would look suspicious if you left without drinking it. They know who you are. If they thought I was helping you, they would kill me."
She wrote out a check for the coffee, and hurried away to attend to other customers.
Murdoch sat for a moment, looking down into the thick, muddy liquid. She had urged him to drink it. He had no way of knowing, at this moment, whether she was a friend or a foe. Undersecretary Hedges had been convinced that this was a trap. It wouldn't have been difficult for her to slip a lethal dose of poison into the coffee.
Murdoch raised his eyes, and saw that Gallieni, the man with the thin hands, was watching him. Gallieni swiftly shifted his glance back to the checker-board, and said something to Dagomar. But the man with the wart on his nose did not turn.
Murdoch shrugged. It was easy enough to find out if his coffee was poisoned. All he had to do was drink it.
He raised the cup to his lips. His hand was steady.
Just then someone screamed, back in the kitchen.
It was a dreadful scream, fraught with mortal terror and pain, stiffening the patrons in their chairs as if they had been shocked by a high-voltage current.
Murdoch was on his feet in a split-second. A single glance told him that the blonde waitress was not out here. She must be in the kitchen.
Foolhabi, the proprietor, sat frozen in his seat, his mouth open and his eyes wide. Gallieni had stopped in the act of making a move. Dagomar was half-crouched in his chair, as if ready to spring out of it.
But it was Dan Murdoch who reached the kitchen first, with his revolver in his hand.
It was the blonde waitress who had screamed. She was lying on the floor, on her back, with a long, feathered arrow quivering in her shoulder. The Turkish cook stood in a far corner, blubbering with terror. As Murdoch entered, he pointed with a shaking hand to the open back door, indicating the direction from which the arrow had come.
Murdoch dropped to his feet beside the waitress, but just as he did so the arrow burst into bright, fierce flame that drove him back by its very fierceness.
Murdoch saw the fire had started in the feathered part of the arrow. It raced down the length of the shaft, licking at the waitress's dress.
Murdoch's face was grim. He reached out and seized the shaft. It seared skin and hand unmercifully, but he yanked hard, tearing the arrow out of the wound. It came easily, for the tip was not deeply embedded. The wound wasn't fatal, but the fire would have finished what the arrow had begun.
Dan flung the arrow through the open door, into the back yard, where it burned itself out on the concrete.
In that moment of bright light, Murdoch caught a glimpse of two small, wiry figures, so strange and horrid that it was almost incredible. They were like some savage beings from another planet, moving in long and sinuous strides that were altogether out of proportion to their small bodies. They were both clad exactly alike, in some kind of leather jerkins, and their heads were tightly encased in metal helmets. Beneath the helmets their yellowish faces gleamed evilly.
Each of those small but monstrous figures had a long bow in his hand, and a quiver on his back. In the moment that Murdoch glimpsed them, they were fitting arrows into the bows. Then the light went out, and the yard outside was plunged in darkness. But the kitchen was brightly illuminated, and Murdoch knew that the bowmen of the Flaming Arrow were intent upon finishing their job.
He threw himself flat on the floor. His right hand throbbed unmercifully with the pain of the burn, but he carried two guns, and, like the other members of the Suicide Squad, he was proficient with both hands. He drew his right-hand gun with his left hand, and sent a fast barrage out into the night.
He had the satisfaction of hearing one scream, pitched high above the blast of the gunfire. But the second of the two must have gone unscathed, for a moment later an arrow hummed through the air and bit into the floor, barely an inch from where he lay.
Murdoch sprang to his feet and raced out into the yard. His right hand hung useless, but he had his other gun out. For a moment, when he emerged into the night, he could see nothing. But he kept running blindly, and almost tripped over the body of one of the Korean bowmen. He recovered his balance, but it was that near-fall which saved him, for a second arrow whined past him and buried itself in the framework of the building. The arrow in the kitchen had already burst into flames, and the cook and several others were fighting the spreading fire. Murdoch paid no attention to that. He had spotted the second bowman, over near a corner of the yard, crouching, fitting a third arrow to his bow.
Grimly, Murdoch threw down his gun and pulled the trigger. The Korean uttered a high-pitched screech, and fell forward on top of his bow and arrow.
The arrow burst into fire, and the leather-jerkined killer's body was enveloped in a sheet of flame.
A police whistle was shrilling somewhere out in the street. Someone was screaming for the fire engines. A single glance told Murdoch that the fire in the kitchen was beyond control. He rushed back, remembering the waitress, but the kitchen was deserted. She must either have been carried out by the cook, or else she had recovered consciousness and had made her way out alone.
Murdoch swung away, and raced to the alley at the side of the yard. The agony of his seared hand was becoming almost unbearable. He ran out into the street, emerging at the mouth of the alley just in time to see the mob of patrons emerging from the restaurant. Among them he glimpsed the blonde waitress, leaning on the arm of Foolhabi, the frightened proprietor.
He gave her only a single glance, then he searched for Dagomar and Gallieni. He spotted them on the fringe of the crowd, whispering hurriedly. Then they separated, Gallieni going east, and Dagomar west, past the dark mouth of the alley where Murdoch stood.
Murdoch stepped out in Dagomar's wake, followed him for half a dozen paces, then saw the slim, wiry figure of Stephen Klaw directly across the street. Farther up the block he spotted the big, powerful form of Johnny Kerrigan.
They were both running swiftly toward the fire, and Murdoch smiled. True to his promise, he had gone alone to the Dardanelles Restaurant. But there was nothing in his agreement to prevent Kerrigan and Klaw from covering the outside, and they had done just that, remained about a block away.
With a quick lift of his good hand, he indicated the figure of the hurrying Dagomar. Stephen Klaw got the signal, and nodded. It was all he needed. These three men had worked together for so long, that they knew each other's thoughts and intentions almost subconsciously. Anyone else might have wondered just what Murdoch wanted done about Dagomar, whether he wanted him stopped, or followed. But Stephen Klaw knew very well that if Murdoch had wanted to stop the man, he'd have done it himself. Therefore, he wanted him followed.
Klaw turned and signaled to Kerrigan, who swiftly turned and hurried back to the car which he had left parked. Klaw waved to Murdoch, and headed back in the direction he had been going, keeping abreast of Dagomar, on the other side of the street.
Murdoch waited only another moment, to make sure that Klaw and Kerrigan were on the trail. Then he made his way through the crowd in front of the restaurant to the ambulance which had come clanging to the scene with the fire engines.
"Fix this hand, will you?" he said to the ambulance attendant. His face was white with pain.
Due to the shortage of doctors, there was only an attendant on the ambulance instead of the usual intern, but the young fellow was competent, and did a good job on the burned hand, using tannic acid.
"Boy," he said, "you sure got it good."
"I say he got it goot!" said a hearty voice at his elbow.
Murdoch turned, and saw the stout round-faced proprietor of the burning restaurant.
Dan's eyes narrowed. "Where's that waitress?"
Foolhabi spread his hands helplessly. "She gone fast. After doctor fix her oop, she scr-ram."
Murdoch glanced at the ambulance attendant. "Was the wound serious?"
"No. Only a flesh wound."
"You haff save her!" Foolhabi exclaimed, patting Murdoch on the back. "I haff see you pool out dose burning arrow. If not for you, poof, she is only ashes!"
"But where did she go?"
Foolhabi shrugged his shoulders. "Whom could tell!"
He was interrupted by an angry, anxious voice. "Where's my niece? What's happened to Hildegarde? Where is she?"
They saw a tall, stoop-shouldered gentleman, with a pair of spectacles sitting perilously low on his nose, who had pushed his way through the crowd.
Foolhabi uttered a groan. "Dose iss the oncle off the waitress. Professor Swenson. He comes effery night to taking her home."
The elderly professor pushed through to the ambulance, saw Foolhabi, and collared him.
"What have you done with my niece?" He gestured toward the raging inferno which the restaurant had become. "Is she safe?"
"Yess, yess, Professor!" Foolhabi exclaimed. "She iss safe. She was shot by a flaming arrow, but this gentleman haff saved her. I haff seen with my own eyes how he haff pulled the burning arrow out. But for him she would be dead."
"Yes, yes," exclaimed the impatient professor. "But where is she now?"
Foolhabi shrugged. "While I do not look, she haff went away. Per'aps home, eh?"
Professor Swenson drew a deep breath, half of relief, half of doubt. He looked at Murdoch. "I'm sorry, sir. I should thank you for saving Hildegarde's life. But—but I'm so nervous these days. Please accept my expression of deepest gratitude. If there is ever anything I can do for you! I am Professor Ernst Swenson, Professor of Applied Chemistry at Corbin University."
"Glad to know you, sir," Dan said. "I'm Daniel Murdoch. I'd like to talk to you about your niece."
"It will be a pleasure. Will you come home with me? Hildegarde is no doubt home by this time! I hope!"
* * * * * * *
Murdoch stayed a few minutes longer to talk to the police. He showed them his F.B.I. identification, but didn't tell them what had brought him here. He merely said he had been having coffee in the restaurant when the leather-jerkined bowmen had attacked. He watched the charred remains of the one Korean, and the dead body of the other being removed in the morgue wagon, and he promised the police captain in charge to be down at headquarters later that evening. Then he went with Professor Swenson.
They took a cab uptown. On the way Professor Swenson told Murdoch how worried he had been of late about Hildegarde.
"I'm sure she's been mixing in some kind of dangerous business where a girl like her doesn't belong. Naturally, she feels she must do something to help the country. We came here as refugees from the Nazi tyranny, escaping with barely our lives. Hildegarde's mother and father died in the terror of 1933, and she has only me and her young brother, who is crippled. I manage to support them on my small salary as professor, but I am developing certain war inventions which should be of great service. I keep telling Hildegarde that she should not expose herself to danger, but she does not listen. For instance, she has taken the job as waitress in the Dardanelles Restaurant, in order to spy upon a certain Axis agent, the Flaming Arrow. This is too dangerous work for a girl. You see what happened tonight!"
They had reached Corbin University, and Professor Swenson led Murdoch across the campus to Carlyle Hall, where he lived.
"I have my laboratory and study here, and I lecture in the chemistry building across the way. It is very convenient."
He led the way down the corridor of Carlyle Hall, and stopped before Apartment Nine. "These are my quarters." He peered at Murdoch over his glasses and said, "You know, I have an idea that you are more than you seem. You were not there in the Dardanelles by accident, eh?"
Murdoch stepped inside, and at once knew that he was in a trap. Half a dozen little yellow men, clad in leather jerkins and helmets, swarmed over him, pinning his one good arm to his side, wrapping their octopus-like arms around him.
"Indeed, my dear Murdoch," Professor Swenson said ironically, "it is a pleasure to entertain you here!" He had taken off his glasses, and now his eyes shone malevolently, with a fiercely burning flame of hatred. "Your search for the Flaming Arrow is over, Murdoch! I am the Flaming Arrow!"
Murdoch stood helpless in the grip of the wiry little Koreans. He glanced across the room, and saw Hildegarde, the blonde waitress, sitting tensely upright in a chair, her hands in her lap, her face wracked by fear and anxiety. Her clothes were torn, but she sat erect, not daring to move, for one of the little brown Koreans was standing directly behind her, holding a keen- bladed knife near her throat.
Murdoch's gaze swung back to the elderly, stoop-shouldered figure of Professor Ernst Swenson.
"So you're the Flaming Arrow," he said. "You're the fabulous guy who's going to wreck America's war power on September first!"
Swenson was watching him with bright eyes. "Quite so, Murdoch. I see you have learned a good deal about my plans. Perhaps you can tell me how much more you have learned? You went to the Dardanelles Restaurant to meet my niece, didn't you?"
"Of course not," Murdoch lied gallantly. "I went there for a cup of Turkish coffee."
"You must excuse me for doubting you," Swenson said with a twisted smile. "At a time like this, with the fate of your country dependent upon your checkmating me, you'd hardly have gone looking for Turkish coffee."
"That's the way I am," Murdoch told him. "Whenever things get tense, I need Turkish coffee."
Swenson snapped his fingers impatiently. "Let's be done with pretense. You're going to talk, Murdoch. I want to know where those two partners of yours are. I'm sure that my niece, here, betrayed me to you in some manner. I don't know exactly how. She swears she didn't, and I hesitate to use drastic measures with her, for I still need her services!"
"Don't tell me she's working for you?"
"She is, indeed, Murdoch!"
Hildegarde Swenson burst out passionately, "He forces me to do it, Mr. Murdoch. If it weren't for my little brother!" She gasped and lapsed into silence as the little brown Korean, at a signal from Swenson, brought his knife closer to her throat.
"Quiet, my dear," said Swenson. He turned back to Murdoch. "One of my Koreans shot her with a flaming arrow. The man is dead, so I can't question him. I don't know whether it was a mistake, or whether he detected her in an act of treachery. But it doesn't matter. You, my dear Murdoch, are going to talk. You are going to tell me just where your two partners are at this moment, and what they are doing!"
Murdoch smiled serenely. "Go to hell!"
Swenson's eyes flickered. He issued an order in a strange, weird tongue, and the little brown men leaped to obey. They dragged Murdoch across the room, into the laboratory beyond. Here, among test tubes and retorts, there was a trap-door in the floor. It was open, and one of the Koreans descended a few rungs of the ladder which led down into the dark cavern below.
It took five of them to handle Murdoch, even with his one hand useless. But they managed to get him down the ladder, partly by throwing him down the last half-dozen rungs. As Murdoch hit the cement floor below, he heard Swenson calling down to him softly, "Very soon, you shall be ready to talk freely. For the time being, I must leave you in the care of my Koreans."
The last thing Murdoch heard before the soundproof trap-door slammed shut above him was the girl's hysterical cry.
"You beast!" she was screaming at her uncle.
One of the Koreans snapped on an electric torch, and they pushed and dragged Murdoch over to a barred cell. He saw now that there were half a dozen such cells down here, and that one other was occupied by a boy of about thirteen. The child looked sick and emaciated in the quick glimpse that Murdoch got of him before his cell door clanged shut and the flashlight went out.
The Koreans moved about in the darkness outside the cell, apparently quite at home in the absence of light.
Murdoch called softly. "What do you say, sonny? How you doing?"
For a moment there was silence, then the thin voice of the boy, "Who—who are you?"
"Dan Murdoch, Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation."
"Did uncle get you, too?"
"Looks like it, sonny," Murdoch chuckled. "What the devil's he keeping you here for?"
"He makes Hildegarde, my sister, do his dirty work for him. He tells her that if she won't do what he says, he'll beat me to death. He's got this whole place wired with explosive, and she knows if she ever sent the F.B.I. here, uncle would make the whole place blow up, with me in it. So she doesn't dare refuse to do what he asks."
"I see," Murdoch said softly. "What's your name, sonny?"
"Holgar, eh? That's a noble name. Norwegian?"
"That's right," the boy said eagerly. "We're Norwegian, Hildegarde and I. And Swenson isn't really our uncle. My real name is Holgar Thornwald. Our father and mother were killed when Norway was invaded. Swenson, he's the Flaming Arrow, came in with the invading army, and Hildegarde and I were captured. At first Swenson was going to have us killed, then he decided to take us to America. He said we'd make a good front for him."
"How come you speak such good English?"
"Our mother was American!" Holgar said proudly.
IT was fortunate that Kerrigan and Klaw had a car with them when they undertook the job of tailing Dagomar, for he rounded the corner and got into a sedan which was waiting there.
Kerrigan kept on the tail of that sedan, winding a tortuous way through the crowded east side streets, then up the East River Drive, and across the Queensboro Bridge into Long Island.
Under the new dim-out regulations, speed within the city boundaries was limited to twenty miles an hour, and their quarry apparently had no desire to become entangled with local law, for they adhered closely to that limit.
Johnny Kerrigan kept a half block behind them all the time, skillfully holding the sedan in sight.
"Dan must have had a nice time back there in the Dardanelles Restaurant," Kerrigan said gloomily. "Did you hear the shooting? Those were his guns. And what a fire!"
"I think Dan was hurt," Steve Klaw said. "He was holding his right hand away from him, high up. But I don't think it could have been bad."
The sedan ahead increased its speed as they hit out into the open country, heading toward the south shore.
"Hey!" said Kerrigan. "This gets interesting. Wonder who we're tailing."
Klaw shrugged. "I hope it's the Flaming Arrow."
They swung into the Merric Road, and here the traffic regulations were even more close to the coast line, and headlights were dangerous. Cars were scarce. Reflector signs at frequent intervals announced that only shielded parking lights might be used, and that speed must not exceed twelve miles an hour. Any motorist who was able to do so chose some other road, and as a result, the two G-men and their quarry had the highway almost entirely to themselves. Kerrigan doused his lights entirely.
The speedometer showed that they had covered almost sixty miles.
Klaw said, "I wonder where those birds get the gas. Honest citizens couldn't make a trip like this."
"They'll make one trip too many!" Johnny grumbled. "It begins to look as if Dan really put us on to something good. Those eggs look like they're heading for monkey business. There they go, turning off on that side road! I know this country like a book. That road leads down to the Mullhaven Estate!"
Stephen Klaw's eyes glittered. "Mullhaven! That's the guy who took a trip around the world in his private yacht in 1936, and got a medal from Hitler! He never gave the medal back, either!"
Kerrigan swung the car off the road, and parked it in a little culvert.
"We'll take it on foot from here!" he said.
The sedan ahead had turned off into the side road, and its tail lights had disappeared. Kerrigan and Klaw stalked it, moving cautiously down the side road.
Up ahead, they saw the lights of the Mullhaven Estate, and they were so close to the sea that they could hear the roar of the breakers. The Mullhaven house stood on a slight rise, and from where Kerrigan and Klaw were they could see it clearly through the trees; but they did not see the car which they had been following. It had not pulled up to the house.
They stopped for a moment, perplexed, and then Klaw tugged silently at Kerrigan's sleeve. He pointed in the opposite direction, down near the shore.
The car was there, close to the beach, parked without lights. They were just able to discern its bulk, and the figures of three or four men moving about it. There had been only two men in the car they had followed, which meant that other men had been down there on the beach to meet them.
As they watched, they heard a slight sound and turned to see the doors of the garage behind the Mullhaven house opening. A moment later, a station wagon drove out, with no lights showing.
Kerrigan and Klaw pulled back into the shadows of a maple tree, thinking that the station wagon would come down the road toward the highway. But instead, it turned toward the beach, and pulled up alongside the other car. Shadowy figures moved around the two vehicles, and Kerrigan and Klaw were able to discern the shapes of sub-machine guns under the arms of several of them.
Silently, Johnny and Steve moved down toward the beach. But they had hardly taken half a dozen steps when Klaw tapped Kerrigan warningly on the shoulder. They both stopped.
Ten paces away, a sentry was standing guard at the side of the road, almost invisible except for the gleam of the metal barrel of the sub-machine gun which was cradled under his arm. He was facing the beach, with his back partly turned to Johnny and Steve. Apparently he was quite sure that he would hear anyone approaching along the road.
Steve looked at Johnny, and tapped his own chest with his thumb, and Johnny nodded reluctantly. Immediately, Steve dropped down on all fours, and inched his way alone into the heavy underbrush.
A minute passed, and then a second and a third, while Johnny kept his eye on the sentry. The fellow was small and compactly built. He wore the same leather jerkin and helmet as those two bowmen who Dan Murdoch had killed at the Dardanelles. Slung across his back was a bow and a quiver of long arrows, as well as the sub-machine gun.
Suddenly, there was a slight noise in the underbrush, several feet behind the sentry. Kerrigan frowned. Steve must have stepped on a dry twig.
The sentry swung around, instantly alert. His gun pushed forward, finger on the trip, his eyes peering intently toward the spot whence the noise had come.
Johnny Kerrigan frowned. While the man was alert like that, Steve wouldn't have a chance.
Swiftly, Johnny bent and picked up a pebble, flipped it with his thumb. The pebble skimmed through the air and landed in the middle of the road, a couple of feet behind the sentry, with a little crunching sound. The fellow spun around, shifting his gun, and in that moment Stephen Klaw leaped at him from out the underbrush. Steve hit him with a flying jump, and threw one arm forward, then swung sideways with it so that the heel of his thumb struck the fellow in the side of the neck. At the same time, Steve drove his left fist into the small of his back.
The fellow uttered a gurgling grunt as the neck blow partly paralyzed him, at the same time that the blow in the back threw him off balance. In that instant, Klaw threw his right arm around his throat and yanked him backward, driving the toe of his right shoe into the back of the fellow's knees. The man came tumbling backward, his arms flailing the air, and Steve put his left hand, with a handkerchief in it, into the sentry's open mouth.
Johnny Kerrigan jumped in and clamped a big hand around the fellow's trigger finger, preventing him from shooting off the sub-machine gun and warning his companions down on the beach.
A moment later they had the jerkined sentry efficiently gagged and bound.
They left him there, and Johnny picked up the sub-machine gun, while Steve took the bow and the quiver of arrows. Shoulder to shoulder they followed the road down to the beach.
* * * * * * *
They halted where the underbrush ceased, perhaps twenty yards from the station wagon and the car. They saw now that the armed men with sub-machine guns were leather-jerkined and helmeted like the sentry they had surprised. The only white men were the two they had followed in the sedan, and a third who had driven the station wagon down from the garage. This one was speaking heatedly to the one whom they had followed.
"I tell you, Dagomar," he was saying, "we can't afford to take another batch in tonight. There are still fourteen men from the last batch who have yet to report to the Flaming Arrow. If we take another bunch in tonight, and leave them loose in the city, they may be captured. It's better to postpone it. Signal the sub to come back tomorrow."
Dagomar grunted unwilling assent. "All right, Mullhaven. But I don't think the Flaming Arrow will like it. He'll want every man set and ready for September first, and if we wait till tomorrow with this last batch, it'll only give him three days to issue instructions to them."
"Nevertheless," Mullhaven said smoothly, "I think it should be done this way. It's too bad neither of us knows where to contact the Flaming Arrow, but since we don't, it's up to us to use our best judgment."
"Well, maybe you're right," said Dagomar. "In view of the fact that the damned Suicide Squad has been assigned to us, we better be careful. Those rumors about them must be true, all right."
"What do you mean? What rumors?"
"The rumors that they have charmed lives. Twice now we tried to get one of them, that Murdoch, the tall, handsome one. Twice the arrows missed him. And I think he killed two of the Koreans tonight."
Mullhaven cursed in a low, intense voice. "That damned Suicide Squad! We must get rid of them somehow. I wrote that in my last memo to the Flaming Arrow, but he told me to mind my own business. I hope he knows what he is doing."
"Don't worry about the Suicide Squad," said Dagomar. "The Flaming Arrow will take care of them. He knows one of them already, and as soon as we find out what the other two look like, we'll get them all, charmed lives or not!"
"Well," said Mullhaven, "let's not waste time. Signal the submarine, and get through with it."
"Okay. One arrow means come back at the same time tomorrow night, doesn't it?"
"Right," said Mullhaven. "And two arrows means come right in, the coast is clear."
Dagomar turned to one of the Korean bowmen and spoke to him swiftly in that queer, staccato tongue of theirs.
The Korean fitted an arrow to his bow, aimed it toward the sky and let fly.
The arrow winged high in the night, becoming almost lost to sight. Then suddenly it took fire, high in the air, and formed a brilliant, flaming arc out over the ocean.
Johnny Kerrigan and Stephen Klaw, crouching in the underbrush, glanced at each other.
"One arrow means come back tomorrow," Johnny repeated softly. "Two arrows means come on in, the coast is clear!"
A slow smile spread on the faces of each of them.
"Go to it, shrimp," said Johnny. "If it works, it's a honey. You do your end, and I'll do mine!"
"Here goes!" said Stephen Klaw.
He took an arrow out of the quiver he had captured from the sentry, and swiftly fitted it to the bow. He got to his feet, and drew the arrow far back. Then he released the shaft, sent it swinging high up into the night.
The twang of the bow was loud and startling in the darkness. And the next moment the arrow burst into fire in the sky, and arced down into the sea.
Almost immediately, a babble of angry and excited voices broke out from the men around the station wagon.
"Who did that?" Mullhaven demanded angrily. "It was one of your damned Koreans, Dagomar! What the hell are we going to do about it?"
Dagomar faced toward the spot from which Klaw had shot the arrow, and a spew of strange words in that foreign tongue burst from his lips. He evidently thought that one of his Koreans had fired the arrow, and was bawling him out in his native language.
In the moment of surprise which the second arrow had caused, Johnny Kerrigan slipped away in the darkness, leaving Klaw alone. Steve stepped out from his place of concealment in the underbrush, carrying the bow and arrow ostentatiously in one hand. In his other hand he gripped one of his automatics, holding it behind him, hidden from the view of Dagomar and the others.
"I wish you'd talk to me in English," he said.
They all stared at him, open-mouthed, as if he were an apparition.
Steve stood there very quietly, grinning. He did not move even when Mullhaven clicked on a flashlight and turned it full on him.
"Who the devil are you?" Mullhaven demanded. The man's surprise had given way to anger now.
"Stephen Klaw, Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, at your service," Klaw said.
"Klaw!" exclaimed Dagomar. "One of the Suicide Squad!"
"Pardon me for intruding," Steve said politely. "But you gentlemen are all under arrest!"
"Arrest!" Dagomar shouted. "There are ten of us here. Are you trying to commit suicide?"
"Ten of you?" Klaw said. "You'd better surrender. Put down your guns and raise your hands in the air!"
"You're mad!" Mullhaven exclaimed, keeping the flashlight centered on Steve's face. "How did you get past our sentry? There can't be anybody else with you!"
"Only the Army, the Navy, and the Marines," Klaw told him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Johnny Kerrigan climb up into the station wagon, and get behind the wheel. He grinned, and brought the automatic out from behind his back. He fired practically from the hip, straight into the blinding cone of Mullhaven's flashlight.
The light disintegrated, to the accompaniment of a cry of anguish from Mullhaven. And at the same time, Kerrigan snapped on the bright headlights of the station wagon, flooding the beach with light, and silhouetting the group of men.
Dagomar uttered a curse, and then shouted a swift, vicious order in that foreign tongue to his Korean bowmen. They crouched low, raising their sub-machine guns as they swung toward the station wagon.
But they were blinded by the powerful headlights, and could see nothing. Dagomar lifted a revolver, with the intention of shooting out the headlights, but Stephen Klaw snapped a single shot at him, smashing his wrist. Then Johnny Kerrigan swung out on the running-board of the station wagon and sent one burst from his sub-machine gun ploughing into the sand at the feet of the massed Koreans.
Klaw threw away the bow and arrows, and came in charging at them like a half-back taking the ball through the line. He rammed viciously into one of the Koreans, sent the men sprawling, and snatched up the fellow's sub-machine gun. Gripping the weapon, he kept going right through the crowd until he emerged on the other side, clear of them.
Kerrigan had held his fire after the first burst, and now one or two of the Koreans began pulling the trips of their quick- firers. They smashed one of the headlights, but by that time Kerrigan and Klaw had opened up with their sub-machine guns, Kerrigan giving it to them from in front, and Klaw taking them in the flank. They sent two bursts into the Koreans, cutting down almost half of them, and then suddenly the remainder of the bowmen threw down their guns in panic and raised their hands in the air. The spirit was knocked out of them by the sight of their leaders. Dagomar and Mullhaven, lying dead on the ground, together with half their companions.
Kerrigan and Klaw rounded them all up, then herded them up to the house on the hill, making them carry their dead and wounded. The house was deserted. Evidently the full complement of armed men had been down at the beach.
The two G-men forced their captives to tie each other up, and then made the rounds to be sure the bonds were secure. Kerrigan went to the phone and called the F.B.I. Field Office, and ordered a couple of cars out on the double quick to pick up the prisoners.
"Better send a doctor, too," he said. "A couple of these birds need medical care." He paused a moment, then said, "Now get this. There'll be a submarine pulling in close to the shore here in a few minutes. Get a patrol of bombers in the air to take care of the baby, but not till after it has unloaded."
"How many men do you expect the submarine to unload?" the agent at the field office asked.
"I don't know," Kerrigan told him. "But we'll take a census for you. Phone the nearest Coast Guard barracks and have them send over a detail of men. We want to capture as many of the Nazis alive as we can. Klaw and I have an idea."
"Okay," said the agent.
"What about Dan Murdoch?" Kerrigan asked.
"Not a word from him, Johnny," the agent said. "We don't know what happened to him."
Kerrigan hung up glumly. He went back into the room where Klaw was guarding the prisoners.
"They haven't heard from Dan yet," he announced.
Steve received the news in silence. By unspoken agreement, these three never indulged in any sort of worrying about each other, out loud. They knew that when fate finally caught up with them, there was nothing to do about it but accept it philosophically. They knew that if Murdoch hadn't contacted the field office by this time, something must have happened to him. They would have preferred, of course, to have it happen when they were all together, so they could go down fighting, shoulder to shoulder, and check out in each other's company. But if this was the way it had to be, then they could take it, with the resolve to make the enemy pay dearly.
The Coast Guard contingent arrived in twelve minutes, with a huge searchlight truck and two jeeps. They were none too soon, for lights blinked out at sea, and a few moments later they discerned a boat pulling for shore. It turned out to contain nine Nazis in civilian clothes, who meekly raised their hands in the air when they were suddenly confronted by the Coast Guard.
A few minutes later they were all treated to the impressive sight of two squadrons of medium bombers roaring out over the sea, and dropping flares over a half-mile-square area of water. The black hulk of the submarine became visible, a mile off shore. It was caught in the act of crash-diving, and the depth-charges rocked the coast as that under-sea craft was blasted into oblivion.
Inside the house, where a squad of F.B.I. men had taken charge, Stephen Klaw and Johnny Kerrigan sat in the library with the Director and one of the Nazis, a young fellow of about Klaw's general build. They had picked him out of the group of captured saboteurs as the most likely prospect. A half hour in a private room with Johnny Kerrigan had been enough to take the starch out of him, and he was ready to cooperate fully with the authorities, in the hope that his life would be spared.
Just as in the case of other groups of saboteurs who had been caught, the government had difficulty in keeping them all from offering to squeal on their pals in order to escape the rope. Though they had been well-trained for their deadly work, they had learned nothing in their Nazi schools about honor.
This particular Nazi's name was Helmut Goermann, and he spilled his guts to save his life.
"We came here to serve the Flaming Arrow," he said. His English was good, for he had been brought to this country as a child, afforded an American education, then had been taken back to Nazi-land to top it off with an education in mass murder.
"What we are to do for the Flaming Arrow, we do not know, nor do we know where he hides. But I can tell you how we are supposed to contact him. See, we are each given an identity disc with a Flaming Arrow on it. We must go at certain appointed times for each of us to a music store on Fourteenth Street. There we give a password and our number, and we receive instructions."
Kerrigan and Klaw exchanged glances. Then they looked over at the table where the possessions of Helmut Goermann were laid out. He had been well equipped for his work, with typical Nazi thoroughness. He had a small box of nitroglycerine tablets, a dagger, several pencil bombs, and a Luger.
Klaw looked at the Director. "It's a shame, sir," he said, "that Helmut Goermann should fail to report at that music store. They'll be disappointed if he doesn't show up."
The Director's eyes twinkled. "You want to go in his place, of course?"
"Now wait a minute!" exclaimed Johnny Kerrigan. "Why should he go? There's a couple of big strapping Nazis in this bunch. I could impersonate one of them!"
"Nix," said Steve. "I thought of it first!"
STEPHEN KLAW walked slowly across Fourteenth Street, carrying a brief case. It was exactly nine o'clock when he came to Moncore's Radio and Phonograph Shop.
A dark-haired, white-faced girl was playing records on a phonograph just inside. Klaw stopped and joined the half-dozen persons who were standing outside, listening. He waited till the record was finished, then went into the store. It was quite a large store, well equipped, with several salesmen waiting on customers. Along the walls there were racks holding thousands of phonograph records. At the rear, there were several soundproof booths where one might listen to selections before buying them.
Klaw stopped beside the dark-haired girl.
"Yes, sir," she said. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Why yes. I would like to buy the Toreador Song from Carmen."
Her eyes flickered suddenly, as he mentioned the song. "You—you wouldn't know offhand what number it is in the catalogue, would you?"
"Certainly," said Steve Klaw. "It's number 79."
"That's an expensive record."
"Nothing is too expensive for our purpose," Steve said. He took a disc from his pocket. On one side of it was pasted a bit of paper upon which was drawn a picture of an arrow. The arrow was drawn in blue pencil, and there were flames rising from its tip, drawn in red.
"You see," he said, "I can pay for it."
He turned the disc over. On the other side was another bit of paper. Attached to the paper was a small snapshot of Stephen Klaw, and underneath it the number, 79.
The girl nodded swiftly. "I have just what you want," she said. "Follow me, please!"
She went to one of the racks, and took a record from the back of the pile. No one in the store paid them any attention as they went toward the rear.
"You may take it into Booth One and play it," she said.
Klaw took the record from her, entered the booth, and carefully closed the door behind him. He took the record from the container, placed it on the phonograph turntable, and started it.
Immediately, a voice began to come from the speaker. It was a low voice, but brittle and clear, with a clipped, authoritative tone:
"Orders for Number Seventy-nine. You have been sent here at great expense from the Fatherland to perform a specific task for me, the Flaming Arrow. The nature of that task has been kept secret from you until now, so that if you were captured immediately after being landed from the U-boat, you would have nothing to reveal. But now I shall tell you what you are to do. You will find instructions on the reverse side of this record. When you have memorized the instructions, destroy the record. If you should, by any chance, be arrested with this disc in your possession, let it drop to the floor. It is made of especially brittle material, and will immediately crumble into a thousand bits. Remember, Number Seventy-nine, that you are on probation until you have accomplished this first task. If you succeed, you shall be given a chance to participate in the Grand Campaign for which you were really sent here, the campaign which will destroy American war power entirely. But if you should be captured in the performance of this first assignment, remember you could attain no greater honor than to lay down your life for the Fuehrer. Heil Hitler!"
The voice ceased speaking, and the needle scratched along the record for a moment until the phonograph stopped automatically.
Klaw's eyes were glittering. He turned the record over, and started the phonograph going.
This time, another voice emerged from speaker. It was a woman's voice, soft and cultured, with a distinct English accent:
"Number Seventy-nine. Your first task will be the assassination of a man. It should not be difficult to accomplish, as this man does not expect attack, and is easy to reach. His name is Professor Ernst Swenson. He is a teacher of applied chemistry at Corbin University. This man fled from Europe at the time that our Fuehrer took power. He has since devoted himself to perfecting several inventions which will be dangerous to the Reich if placed in American hands. He must die, tonight. You will go to his laboratory in Carlyle Hall at the college, and say that you are an inventor in need of advice. He is always willing to help young inventors, and he will take you into his study. Once there, you will stab him to death, between the shoulder blades. He has a safe in his study. Use your nitroglycerin tablets to blow the safe, and take therefrom the plans which you will find. Have no fear of interruption, for we will have other men on the outside to protect you."
"When you leave the university, go out by the side door. A car will be waiting there, with a woman at the wheel. Throw the plans into the car, which will at once drive away. Make your escape, and come here tomorrow night for further instructions. Remember, you are now working for the Flaming Arrow. He brooks no failure, no excuses. We expect those plans tonight, before midnight. Memorize these instructions, and destroy this record. Heil Hitler!"
* * * * * * *
The glitter was gone from Stephen Klaw's eyes as the woman's voice concluded the instructions. In its place there was a cold, bleak light. He took the record off the turntable, and placed it carefully in his brief-case. Out of the briefcase he took another phonograph record. This one he deliberately dropped to the floor.
He opened the door of the booth, and saw that the dark-haired girl was standing just outside, together with a stocky man who was apparently the manager.
Klaw said, "I'm so sorry. I dropped your record, and broke it."
He took out a five dollar bill, and offered it to the girl. She looked at the manager, who waved the bill aside.
"Do not think of it, my dear sir. It was an accident. I regret that we do not have another record of the same song to sell you. Perhaps you will come tomorrow night? We shall try to have another record for you."
"Thank you," said Klaw. "I will be here tomorrow evening, if all goes well."
Klaw nodded to both of them, and hurried from the store.
Outside, he saw a taxicab cruising at the curb. He cast only a single glance at it, and hopped in.
The driver of the cab was a big, red-headed fellow. He nodded, and swung the cab away from the curb, fed her gas, and raced east, then swung north. After a couple of blocks he slowed down.
"We're being tailed," he said.
Klaw nodded. "I expected it, Johnny. It looks like I've been given my first assignment. Guess what."
Johnny Kerrigan shrugged. "Nothing less than murder, I'd say."
"Right on the nose, mope. I'm supposed to stab Professor Ernst Swenson to death, and rifle his safe. It's a sort of test assignment. If I make good, they'll let me in on the Grand Campaign.
"Ouch!" said Kerrigan. "And you've got to make good, or else all our spade-work goes for nothing!"
For several minutes they drove in silence, while Kerrigan made several turns, working north toward Corbin. Klaw glanced two cars which were tailing them. One was a small paneled truck, the other a black coupe.
Klaw sighed. "They're going to watch every step I make from now on, Johnny. If I don't kill Professor Swenson, I'll never get in on the Grand Campaign!"
"Maybe you could go in to Swenson's and talk to him, and explain just why you have to stab him. Maybe Swenson would agree to let you stick a knife a couple of inches into him, just to make it look real."
"Nix," said Steve. "That dame who spoke on the record said that the Flaming Arrow would accept no excuses or alibis. It has to be the real thing, Johnny. Either I kill Professor Swenson, or I give up any hope of working my way into the Flaming Arrow's organization!"
"That's a tough decision to have to make, Steve," said Johnny Kerrigan. "I don't envy you. No, I don't envy you at all!"
CARLYLE HALL was the northermost building on the Corbin University Campus. Kerrigan pulled to a stop, and Klaw got out. He saw that the small truck had already stopped, about a hundred feet back, and the coupe had passed them, but was making a U turn up at the end of the street.
Klaw went through the motions of paying the cab fare. "Watch that brief-case I left in the back. It has the record in it. Better get it down to the F.B.I. office fast, and have copies made of it on a recorder. Some day we may be able to convict the Flaming Arrow by his voice."
"If we catch him!" Kerrigan growled. Then he added, "Watch yourself, shrimp, I smell something phony in the whole setup. I wish Dan Murdoch was here to keep an eye on you, but he won't get in till tomorrow morning. So watch your own back."
"What the devil will I do about Professor Swenson?" Steve demanded, while he ostensibly waited for Kerrigan to count out change. "I can't kill the old man in cold blood. And if I don't, I lose my 'in' with the Flaming Arrow."
"Don't worry about it," Kerrigan said. "You'll think of something when you get in there. And I'll be around to lend you moral support. I'll hide the brief-case under my seat, and pull the cab around in back. I'll stick around till you come out."
"A great help you are!" Klaw grumbled. He took his change and left the cab, going into Carlyle Hall.
The long corridor within was dim and cool. On either side there were numbered laboratories, each the sanctum of one of the science professors. The bulletin board said that Professor Swenson occupied Number Nine, and Steve went down the hall until he reached that door.
Klaw's mind was a miasma of indecision as he pressed the bell and waited for the door to be opened. He had a long wicked knife in a sheath under his coat. But it was unthinkable that he should use the knife on the defenseless old professor of chemistry.
On the other hand, his duty was clear and sharp. This was war, total war, with civilians and soldiers alike under the constant threat of death. No one man's life, whether civilian or soldier, must be allowed to stand in the way of the country's safety.
Klaw shuddered. It was a dreadful decision to make. A Jap or a Nazi wouldn't have hesitated. But Stephen Klaw was a civilized man; and as he heard the footsteps within approaching the door in answer to his ring, he felt his blood growing cold.
Abruptly, the door was opened.
For a moment he stared at the tall, gorgeously beautiful girl who appeared there. He had expected to see a stoop-shoulder, elderly man. Instead, he was greeted by this blonde goddess.
"Good evening," he said. "I-I was looking for Professor Swenson."
The girl didn't smile. There was a strange, tight glint in her blue eyes, and she was holding herself taut, as if laboring under some great emotional strain.
"I'm Hildegarde Swenson," she said. "The Professor's niece. Come in, please. He's in the laboratory. He'll see you in a moment."
She escorted him across the study, and knocked at the door of the laboratory. A voice bade him enter.
"So you are an inventor, eh?" the Professor said, after Steve had introduced himself, giving a fictitious name. "And what can I do for you, young man?"
Steve was about to reply, but he frowned as he heard a tapping sound from somewhere underneath the floor.
"It is some men working on the basement," Swenson said. "Pay no attention to it."
He turned his back on Steve for a moment, and stooped over his desk, reaching for a cigarette. It was as if he were deliberately inviting the knife in the back.
"Look here, Professor," Steve said suddenly. "I'm not an inventor at all. I've got to talk to you."
Swenson turned to look at him quizzically. "So?"
"I've been sent here to murder you, Professor. Don't be alarmed, I'm not going to do it. I'm a G-man. I need your cooperation to lay a devilish Nazi spy by the heels. I'm going to ask you to play dead. Will you do it?"
For a moment, Swenson was silent, studying Steve. And in that silence, the tapping from underneath continued...
Steve put both hands in his coat pockets.
The Professor smiled. "What is your real name, young man?"
"Ah! You are one of the famous Suicide Squad."
"Well, that's what they call us."
"Tell me, Mr. Klaw, how did you come to discover all this about this—er—Flaming Arrow?"
"We caught a whole covey of nazis out on Long Island," Steve explained. "And we sank a submarine. But wait till we tie into the Flaming Arrow himself!"
"I am sure that will be interesting!" Professor Swenson murmured.
As he spoke, he reached to the desk, and his finger moved toward a red button there.
Klaw took an automatic out of his right hand coat pocket.
"Don't push that button, Mr. Flaming Arrow!" he ordered.
Swenson froze. He stood like that for a moment, staring at Klaw. "What makes you think I am the Flaming Arrow?"
Steve smiled. "That tapping we hear is Morse code. You've got Murdoch down under this trap door, and he's been telling me about you!"
Swenson's finger still hovered over the button. "So the Suicide Squad thinks it has bested the Flaming Arrow, eh? I've tested every one of my new agents by ordering them to come here and attempt to kill me. If they go through with it, I know they're the right material. You see, I wear a bulletproof vest."
Klaw grinned. "That's why the orders are to stab you between the shoulder-blades!"
"Exactly. And now, my dear Klaw, the jig may be up with me, personally. But my grand coup will go through on September first, anyway!"
"Because everything is set. Perhaps I will be dead, but the orders are all issued. My men are spread everywhere in the country, and on September first they will all act at a given moment. Water-power, utility plants, bomber factories, mines, all will be destroyed in a moment of time. And there's nothing you can do to stop it. Every name of every agent is in this building. And this building is going up in a terrific blast within thirty seconds!"
Klaw grinned. "Murdoch has been tapping the story up to me. The building won't be exploded unless you press that red button. And you're not going to press it!"
Swenson thrust his hand down at the button...
Stephen Klaw fired three times fast, and every shot smashed into Swenson's arm, driving it back from the button, so that when his hand landed on the desk it was almost six inches from the danger spot. Swenson's face became twisted into a mask of ghastly hate. He fell, screaming something in a foreign language. And whether it was in response to those screamed orders, or as a result of the shots, a panel in the laboratory wall swung open, and a group of the vicious Korean knife-men erupted into the room.
Klaw's other gun came out of his pocket, and he smashed ten shots so swiftly into the massed knife-men that they all sounded like one continuous explosion. The room thundered with the reverberating gunfire as the Koreans were driven back, leaving the floor littered with dead and wounded. But others were pressing in from behind.
Klaw reached over and yanked at the wire along the desk, connecting with the red button. At least now the explosive could not be detonated by remote control. He stooped and yanked at the trapdoor in the middle of the floor. It opened, revealing the ladder which led into the darkness below.
He heard the sounds of a battle going on down there, of men fighting desperately in the dark, and then he was overwhelmed by a second rush of the Koreans. There were many more of them now and their gleaming knives slashed at Steve as their weight carried him over the edge of the trapdoor opening.
They landed in a heap, and Steve pushed up to his feet. For a moment he was free of his clinging enemies in the darkness, but others were dropping down after him, and he heard gunfire far down at the other end.
Then a voice was raised in a centurion shout:
"This way, shrimp!"
Steve's eyes widened. That voice was Johnny Kerrigan's!
But he didn't bother to wonder how Johnny had got in there. He raced through the darkness toward the voice.
Suddenly an arrow hummed through the darkness, struck a wall, and burst into flame. By its light, Steve saw the doors which he had passed. They were open, and the cells untenanted. But at the far end of the cellar, he saw Kerrigan and Murdoch. Ammunition cases were piled high all around them, and Murdoch was firing at a small group of bowmen all the way over to the right, while Kerrigan was trying to boost a boy up through a high, narrow window.
Kerrigan got the boy through just as Steve Klaw joined them. Arrows were humming past his head, thudding into the ammunition cases and bursting into flame. Kerrigan stepped past him and brought his two revolvers into play at Murdoch's side, firing into the bowmen who were now almost invisible, for they had retreated beyond the area of light from the burning arrows.
Klaw swiftly inserted new clips in his automatics, then hurried around to the cases, striking off the flaming arrows with the butts of his guns. Then, when Murdoch emptied his guns, he was relieved by Klaw, who took his place at Kerrigan's side while Dan reloaded.
Kerrigan took his turn at fighting the arrows, and shouted to Klaw, "I heard Dan's Morse code out in back, shrimp, so I shot the grating away from this window and broke in. It looks like it'll be tough to break out, though!"
"They've got to run out of those damned arrows some time!" Murdoch yelled.
* * * * * * *
Just then they heard a grunt from Johnny Kerrigan, and then a yell. They turned around for just a fraction of a second, and saw Johnny locked in a death struggle with one of the Koreans who had slipped in through the high window. The fellow had a gleaming knife, with which he was trying to drive an upward stab at Johnny's stomach.
Kerrigan caught the fellow's wrist, yanked him forward, caught him by one foot, and still holding on to the hand he began spinning around. The Korean shrieked as he went whirling through the air, held by one wrist and one ankle. Klaw and Murdoch dropped flat on the floor, and Kerrigan let go of the fellow. He went sailing out into the darkness where his fellow bowmen were, and an arrow struck him, then burst into flames. The unfortunate Korean thudded to the floor.
The floor illuminated the rest of the cellar, showing the G- men what a shambles the place had become. Dead Koreans lay all over. The Suicide Squad's shooting had been pretty effective, but they hadn't been able to see the result. Now they saw that barely a half-dozen of the Koreans were still in the fight. And when the Koreans saw that their numbers had been so terribly depleted, they quit cold and went scrambling up the ladder to safety.
But they had waited just a little too long. The police and the fire department were outside in force to welcome them.
Not a single one of them escaped.
Twenty minutes later the fire in the cellar was under control, and the ammunition boxes had been sufficiently wetted down so they wouldn't explode.
Professor Swenson, alias the Flaming Arrow, was in custody, with one shattered arm. All the records in the building were being examined by a hastily convened staff of F.B.I. men.
That night, raids took place in every city where an agent of the Flaming Arrow was located. All the next day a dreary procession of surprised and bewildered Nazis were marched into federal courts for arraignment and promise of a speedy trial and execution.
It was almost six o'clock before Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw got through signing complaints and affidavits in the various courts having jurisdiction.
Murdoch's hand was still bandaged, so he was spared the writing, but Steve and Johnny had to do that much extra, while Dan sat on the edge of a desk, watching them with a sardonic smile.
"All right, mope," Steve said, tossing down his pen. "We're all through. Let's go!"
They hurried out the side way of the Supreme Court, in order to avoid the reporters and photographers. Hildegarde and Holgar were waiting for them there.
"Let's snap it up," said Steve. "There's a bus leaving in twenty minutes for Virginia Beach. We can hire a boat tomorrow morning, and go deep-sea fishing. We got a two-day leave."
Hildegarde's face was flushed, and her eyes were at peace for the first time. Little Holgar was capering excitedly.
But just then a Capitol messenger came hurrying down the street after them.
Frowning, Johnny stopped. The messenger said breathlessly, "They sent me after you. Congress is voting you three men a medal, and they want you to come right over for the ceremony!"
"Aw, gee," said Holgar. "No fishing!"
But Kerrigan and Murdoch and Klaw stood looking at each other for a moment. Kerrigan was the first to nod. Then Murdoch nodded. Steve Klaw grinned.
"So be it, mopes!" he said.
Then the three of them got hold of Hildegarde's and Holgar's arms, and began walking swiftly, not toward the Hall of Congress, but in the direction of the bus for the fishing trip!
"What good's a medal?" said Murdoch. "You can't take it with you!"