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EMILE C. TEPPERMAN

WANTED—IN THREE PINE COFFINS

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First published in Ace G-Man Stories, September 1941

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-12-12
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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Cover

Ace G-Man Stories, Sep 1941, with "Wanted—In Three Pine Coffins,"


TABLE OF CONTENTS



Illustration

Hot flame seared their faces, and bullets whipped a leaden hail about them.



The sinister tentacles of Naziism were finally making themselves felt in America, and those who dared fight back were mercilessly murdered! Only the Suicide Squad could stand up before the deadly wave of destruction, but those three cavaliering conquerors of crime were already enmeshed in their own grim battle—dodging the very laws which they fought to uphold!



CHAPTER ONE. — THE REAPER STALKS

A MAN named Petrie, unaware that he had only one more day of life credited to him, glanced swiftly about, then stepped into a Telegraph office. He went to one of the desks and seated himself in such a way that he could look through the plate-glass window out at the street.

His hand was steady as he took one of the blanks and printed his message in block letters:


MR. JASON WELLINGTON
HOTEL HALSEY
WASHINGTON, D.C.

AUNT MINNIE BUNKO IN PLACTIC
VERDANT TONIGHT. GRISLY LATE
HORN OF GAMMA BUT NORING
FITTEN ZENEDU. CRAM FOURTEEN
THROUGH THE MIDDLE.

PETRIE


As he wrote he consulted a small card, which he held under the light in a certain way. When he was through, he took out a match, lit it, and burned the card down to the last corner, holding it between thumb and forefinger until it was nothing but ash.

Still watching the street carefully, he took his block-lettered message to the counter, and handed the form to the girl.

She frowned. "Sorry, but we don't accept code messages, except for the Army or Navy—"

She broke off at sight of the identification card case which the man, Petrie, opened and flashed before her.

"Oh, of course, Lieutenant," the girl said quickly. "This message will go out at once!"

"I'll wait to make sure," said Petrie, quietly.

He turned his back to the counter, and continued to stare outside. His ear followed the clicking of the key which sent his message. Apparently he was an expert in Morse Code, for he nodded when the operator had finished. He must have had that message of his memorized letter perfect.

He said, "That was correct. Now, if anyone should come in and make inquiries as to what message I sent—"

The girl nodded. "I understand, Lieutenant. You can be sure I won't say anything."

Petrie smiled crookedly. "I have no choice but to trust you. I hope—for the sake of all of us—that I haven't made a mistake."

He turned and went out, walking warily, still unaware that his credit account in the book of life was running down to the narrow margin of twenty-three hours. Perhaps he didn't care.

The electric clock in the Telegraph Office said: Four-fifty-one....


JASON WELLINGTON hurried out of the Hotel Halsey in Washington, D.C., and rushed to a cab. "War Department!" he ordered. "As fast as you can!"

Five minutes later, the man named Jason Wellington was standing, breathless, at a desk in an office on the fourth floor of the War Department. Behind the desk sat a gray-haired man in civilian dress. He held the rank of Major-General, and he was in command of every ramified branch of the United States Military Intelligence.

Jason Wellington thrust a telegraph blank into the general's hand.

"This just came, sir. God, we've got to move fast! Petrie couldn't telephone, because my wire was tapped, and I had inserted the coded warning advertisement in the personal columns of all the newspapers where our men are operating. There may still be time—"

The general's eyes dropped to the telegram. Underneath the printed capital letters, Wellington had written the decoded message:


GESTAPO AGENTS HERE IN FORCE PLOTTING SOMETHING BIG FOR TOMORROW NIGHT. SUPREME CHIEF OF NAZI AGENTS OPERATING FROM THIS CITY. THEY HAVE SPOTTED ME AND I AM HELPLESS. NEED AID. SEND HELP CORNER OF SEVENTH AND MYRTLE TOMORROW AT THREE-THIRTY USE IDENTIFICATION CODE FOURTEEN.


The general's face was grim. "Aunt Minnie," he said.

Aunt Minnie was one of the half dozen code words' which Military Intelligence used to designate the German Secret Service in America. Each of the code words referred to a different, specific branch of those activities. "Aunt Minnie" meant that branch which was being operated through the consular offices, directed by agents who enjoyed diplomatic immunity and who could move with much greater freedom than ordinary agents.

"If Aunt Minnie is involved, we've got to watch our step," the general said. "I have orders not to do anything which might provoke a diplomatic break at this time. Have you any men in the Coast City area whom you could send in there?"

Wellington shook his head. "This isn't a job for Military Intelligence any longer, sir. Any action taken by a United States Army officer would take official color—"

"Yes, yes," the general interrupted. "Yet, we've got to get help to Petrie!"

"But how, sir? Even if we could send our own men in there, we haven't got a sufficient number to be of any help. If Aunt Minnie is operating in force, as Petrie says, we should give him a couple of dozen men. The most we could spare from other duties on the Coast would be five or six."

"I have another idea," said the general. "Leave it to me."


FIVE minutes after Jason Wellington had gone, the general got out of a staff car in front of the Department of Justice Building on Constitution Avenue. Three minutes later, he was talking with the Chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in a room where no one could possibly overhear a word of their conversation.

"Have you got two dozen men on the Coast, whom you could assign to a dangerous, critical mission?" he asked.

"Sorry," said the Chief. "The answer's no, General. We're increasing the F B.I. staff as fast as possible, but we're still short of men—"

"You've got to help me," interrupted the general. "You've got to find the men." He produced the decoded telegram. "It's a job for a squad of men who are willing to take chances."

"I see." The Chief of the F B.I. acquired a sudden, faraway look in his eyes. "Maybe I can help you after all. I have one man free in San Diego at the moment, and two in Oakland—"

"Please!" the general cut in quickly. "You don't understand the gravity of the situation. When I said two dozen, I meant just that."

"These three men," the Chief of the F.B.I. went on imperturbably, "are—Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw."

The general's eyes flickered for a moment. "I see.... The Suicide Squad." His fingers drummed on the glass desk-top momentarily. "But they may be throwing away their lives."

"That," said the Chief, "is what they've been trying to do right along. So far, they're still hale and healthy."

"You think then that they'd be willing to do it? To go against the whole damned Gestapo. One false step might cause them to be wiped out in an instant."

The Chief smiled. "I rather think they will accept the assignment—when I've made plain the danger involved."

"All right then," said the general. "I'll insert a coded advertisement in the personal column of the Coast City Courier, advising Petrie that Kerrigan will contact him at the specified time."


IN A hotel room in San Diego, Johnny Kerrigan heard his phone ring. He came out of the bathroom where he had been shaving, picked up the phone.

"Johnny," said a voice, "do you know who this is?"

Kerrigan's eyes suddenly gleamed and his teeth flashed in a quick grin.

"Ah!" he said. "I've been hanging around here all day, waiting for a call from you."

"Go downstairs, Johnny, and phone me on my private line, from a fool-proof booth. I have something for you and your pals."

Kerrigan hung up, finished his shaving in record time and went downstairs. He found a booth in a small cigar store, and called a certain number in Washington, from memory. Immediately, the same voice answered.

"All right, sir," said Kerrigan, "I'm ready."

"This is an SOS from Military Intelligence, Johnny. There's a man named Petrie in Coast City. You're to contact him at three-thirty tomorrow. You can make it with time to spare. Dan and Steve are flying in from Oakland, but they won't reach Coast City till five o'clock. I've reserved a room for them at the Coast Hotel. Get in touch with them there. The three of you are to give Petrie any assistance he requires. It seems he's on to something pretty big. It's outside the jurisdiction of the Military, yet it isn't a civil crime, either."

"Sounds like a riddle."

"It's a fol-de-rol called diplomatic immunity. It may require drastic action not sanctioned by law—"

Johnny Kerrigan grinned into the phone. "I never heard of the law," he said, "What's it?"

"Something that won't help you if you get in trouble. You'll be disowned, repudiated and prosecuted, if you're caught doing anything illegal—provided you're alive. It's your own private war. So the idea is—don't get caught."

"Check," said Johnny. "Where do I contact this Petrie?"

"At Seventh and Myrtle, in Coast City.... Have you got the list of Military Intelligence identification codes?"

"Yes, sir."

"Use Number Fourteen then. Good luck, and God help you."

Johnny grinned once more. "Thank you, sir. God helps those who help themselves!"


AT ten o'clock the next morning, a man named Horst Keppler was sitting in a room in an office building on the main street of Coast City, half a block away from the German Consulate building.

This man Keppler was tall and distinguished, the very picture of a diplomat. His waxed moustache added the dignity his position as the newly appointed Vice Consul of the German Consulate required—and it served to hide the thin and merciless line of his lips. This office in which he now sat was not connected with the Consulate; it was not even known to the regular consulate staff.

Horst Keppler was talking to another man, who was bending over his desk. This other man was fattish, with a pudgy face and a pair of sly eyes that hid themselves behind thick spectacles. On the roster of the Gestapo, he was listed as Herr Doktor Fritz Albrecht, but in other countries he was known by other names. Coast City knew him as Professor Harold Cornish, and he was supposed to be a Swiss mechanical engineer in the employ of the Lane Locomotive Works. But the accomplishments of Professor Harold Cornish, alias Doktor Fritz Albrecht, went far beyond those of engineering.

At this moment, he was demonstrating one of those accomplishments to Keppler.

They had a newspaper spread before them. A copy of the morning edition of the Coast City Courier. It was opened to the personal column. Albrecht—or Cornish, as he preferred to be called, for the time being—held a thick finger on the personal item which read:


Roger: Mother madder bit gracious. Kerrigan belongs gamma cold tonight. Good luck.


Albrecht's small eyes were glittering. "It was difficult to break down the code which Petrie sent yesterday, but this one is easier, Herr Keppler."

Keppler grunted. "The Americans are fools. They still do not understand the meaning of total war. In our country, a telegraph office would not be left unguarded. It was easy for my men to break in there last night after they closed, and to copy the only coded message in their files for the day."

"I hope your men left no trace of their visit?"

Keppler smiled. "My men are experts, do not fear."

"That is good. So, we know that Petrie sent a call for help to Jason Wellington, the Military Intelligence undercover man in Washington. We know they are aware that Wellington's wire is tapped."

Keppler glanced down at the personal item in the Courier. "This, then, is their answer to Petrie? It is in the same code?"

"The same general code, with minor changes. It was not difficult, as I said. Here is the translation."

He produced a slip of paper from his pocket, on which was written:


Petrie: The Chief has arranged for the Suicide Squad to help you. Kerrigan will contact you at the time and place specified.


"I see," said Keppler. "The Suicide Squad. They have always been a thorn in our side, nicht wahr?"

"Yes, yes. But today is their last day. They come to their death. You must allow nothing to interfere with our objective in Coast City. We must cripple or destroy the Lane Locomotive Works, which is making heavy tanks for the British."

"Our plans cannot fail. They have been well conceived—" Keppler inclined his head toward the other—"thanks to your genius, Herr Doktor."

Albrecht waved the praise aside. His little eyes had become almost fanatical. "There is another who must also die."

Keppler nodded. "My esteemed chief, the Consul?"

"Exactly. Johann Strang is out of sympathy with our cause. His son, Paul, has gone to an American university, and is more American than German. Strang—or his son—is quite capable of betraying us."

"I shall see that it is taken care of, Herr Doktor," Keppler said softly.

"And you, Herr Keppler, shall be promoted from vice-consul to consul. Let us hope that this will be only one small step in your career. Some day, who can tell—" the small eyes became dreamy—"you may even be my assistant—when I am the Deputy-Fuehrer of America!"

Albrecht straightened suddenly. "And now, Herr Keppler, I leave you. I have important business. I must make all arrangements at the Lane Locomotive Works."

He strode to the door, stopped for a parting admonition. "Do not underestimate this Suicide Squad. You must make very sure that they die today."

"Have no fears, Herr Doktor," Keppler told him. "Erase the Suicide Squad from your mind—consider them dead. I stake my life upon it!"


CHAPTER TWO. — MURDER IN THE DARK

JOHNNY KERRIGAN stopped at the corner and looked around. The girl in the tan pullover sweater and the short sport skirt was still following him, with a covered tennis racket under her arm. He had noticed her when he got off the train, only a half hour ago. She was not furtive, nor did she seem to be making any effort to conceal the fact that she was tailing him. Indeed, had she wanted to attract attention to herself, she could not have succeeded better than by wearing sport clothes and carrying a tennis racket down here in this queasy slum section of Coast City.

Johnny saw her stop, perhaps fifty feet behind him. The later afternoon sun glinted on her auburn hair. Passing men turned to give her a second glance. But she paid no attention. Her eyes did not leave Johnny Kerrigan.

Johnny frowned, and glanced at his wrist watch. It was exactly three-thirty. He lit a cigarette, then stood there, absently fingering the matchbook, the cigarette hanging from his lips. Idly, his fingers tore the match-book cover; he began to pluck out the remaining matches one by one, and drop them at his feet.

A seedy-looking bum with a three-day growth of dark beard had been wandering aimlessly near the curb, looking for discarded butts in the gutter. The bum approached Johnny.

"How about a lift for the needy?" he asked.

Johnny looked at him impersonally. "It's raining in England today," he said.

The bum's eyes flickered. "Yes," he replied. "It's raining bombs in England. Stukas. You're Johnny Kerrigan."

"And you're Petrie, of Military Intelligence.... Be careful. I've been followed from the station. Don't look now. It's that girl in the tan sweater."

"I spotted her," Petrie told him. "Her name is Ellen Lane. Her father owns the Lane Locomotive Works."

Kerrigan whistled. "What's brewing?"

"We can't talk here any longer," Petrie broke in. "They've spotted me. They know who I am, but I think I've given them the slip temporarily. If I haven't, I'm a goner—and you, too. But we'll soon find out. Meet me in twenty minutes in the East End Theatre. It's a cheap movie house two blocks west. Ten cents admission. It won't look too strange for a bum who's just made a touch to blow a dime on a movie. I'll be in the last row on the right hand side. Sit down next to me. But don't talk to me till I speak first."

Petrie had spoken swiftly. Now he raised his hand. "Slip me a coin to make this look real. We've talked here too long as it is!"

The Military Intelligence man whined his thanks as Kerrigan gave him a quarter. Petrie walked away.

Johnny lit another cigarette with his last remaining match, and looked around, as if he were expecting to meet some one who was late. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the girl in the tan sweater approaching him—Ellen Lane—the daughter of the millionaire locomotive manufacturer, Parker Lane.

She came alongside of him, and her level blue eyes looked up into his gray ones. She was not smiling.

"You're Kerrigan, aren't you?" she asked tautly.

Johnny feigned surprise. "I beg your pardon, Miss?"

She made a gesture of impatience with her free hand. "Please—please don't deny it. You were pointed out to me at the station. I can't be mistaken."

"I'm sorry, Miss," Johnny said, smiling. "You must have mixed me up with some one else."

"Stop it!" she said, her voice rising a bit. "You must listen to me. You came here to meet a lieutenant of Military Intelligence. I want to warn you that the appointment will not be kept. That lieutenant of Military Intelligence is dead. Get out of town before they kill you, too!"

Johnny said, "If this is a practical joke, all right. But if you're serious, you better find this Kerrigan that you think I am. My name happens to be Smith."

"Oh, you fool!" She turned away from him swiftly. Then she turned back, and stretched out an impulsive hand. "Please —believe me, I'm telling you the truth. Your life is in danger. They know whom you've come to meet. They won't let you get farther than any of the others. At least, if you won't go away, be careful!"

Then she swung on her heel and hurried off.

Johnny let her go. He made no attempt to stop her, to question her further. But his eyes were thoughtful as he inhaled the cigarette smoke. And he was watchful. He turned and walked slowly away toward the river front, in the opposite direction from that taken by the girl in the tan sweater.

At the next corner he turned left, entered a subway station. A train was just pulling in. He boarded it, watching behind him to make certain that no one had followed him. He rode two stations, got out and took a taxicab back down to the east side. He got off a block from the East End Theatre, and walked the rest of the way. He was right on time. It was just twenty minutes since Petrie had left him.

He bought a ticket and went inside, into the darkness of the movie house. They were showing a news reel.

Johnny waited until his eyes were more accustomed to the lack of light, then found his way to the right hand side. He spotted the figure of Petrie, sitting in the last row, and slid into the folding wooden seat immediately beside him.

He waited a couple of minutes, but Petrie didn't speak.

Johnny looked around, noting that there was no one near them. He stole a look at the Military Intelligence man, then stiffened, his eyes suddenly hard.

Petrie's head was slumped on his chest. His arms hung limply at his sides. A knife protruded from the back of his neck, the handle supporting Petrie's body, keeping him almost erect.

Petrie's account was closed on the Books. The luminous dial of Johnny Kerrigan's watch showed: Three-fifty-one....


KERRIGAN sat very still in the dark wondering if the killer was still in the theatre. Watching the audience, he could discern no heads turned to look at him. But he had that universal instinct of the fighting man for scenting danger, the definite sensation of being watched.

Slowly, he reached out and touched Petrie's hand. His fingers found something clutched in Petrie's fist. It was a pencil.

Kerrigan's eyes narrowed. He produced a small, bull's-eye flashlight from his vest pocket and flicked the light on, directing the beam first at the back of the seat in front. His guess was correct. Petrie had scribbled a message of warning for him. It was fairly legible:


They have me trapped in here—killers inside and a machine-gun outside. They won't let me leave here alive. If I'm dead when you arrive, go to 23 Slocum Street. Knock twice, then three times. Give the password, AMERICA FOREVER. You can trust the person you will meet there. Don't let them get you!


JOHNNY doused the flashlight, and set about erasing the lower part of the message. Petrie must have been at the end of his rope, to have risked leaving that address and password written there, hoping that Kerrigan would be the first to find it. But Johnny couldn't know, now, whether the killers had seen it too. If so, they would be at 23 Slocum Street before him—

He heard a swift, scraping movement behind him.

Johnny Kerrigan was big, the biggest of the trio of fighting men who were known as the Suicide Squad. He towered head and shoulders above Stephen Klaw, and he topped Dan Murdoch comfortably. His wide, stevedore's shoulders, the solid massiveness of his frame might have given the impression that he was a slow man on his feet, and perhaps a slow thinker.

Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Where a question of physical combat arose, Kerrigan reacted with the split-second timing which is second nature to men who live with danger.

That scraping sound of leather sole upon hardwood floor at his back had hardly reached his ears before he threw himself forward and to the right, in a twisting, snake-like motion.

Something swished viciously down past his shoulder blades, and then there was a dull thwack as a knife-point embedded itself in the veneer of the wooden bench upon which he had been sitting.

Johnny swung around to face the killer who had driven the knife. The man was a powerful fellow, almost as big as Johnny himself. He was wearing a soft hat like Kerrigan's, and thin kid gloves. It was his gloved right hand which held the knife.

The attacker's eyes glittered in the dark as he yanked at the handle, desperately yanking it out of the wood for another attempt.

Kerrigan's laugh was soft, lost in the overtones of the newsreel sounds. On the screen they were showing the goose-stepping march of Nazi troops through the Balkans, with the hob-nailed shoes resounding in regimented unison upon the cobbled streets of a once-peaceful village.

And strangely enough, that clatter of Nazi boots in the village five thousand miles away was to have a deciding effect upon the fortunes of the Nazi plans here in America. In covering the sounds of the struggle there in the back of the East End Theatre, it contributed no little to the events that followed.

The struggle was one of life and death, with no quarter asked or given. And it was silent, because Kerrigan's big right hand drove out to grasp the knife-man's throat with fingers of steel, while his left seized the assailant's right wrist.

The two men stood chest to chest across the narrow back of the bench, straining in mortal combat. The knife-man's muscles bulged with the effort to push his blade home against Johnny's grip on his wrist, while Johnny grimly kept his hold on the killer's throat, his thumb pressing against the windpipe.

It was a struggle of muscle against muscle, of body against body, with every ounce of strength and will thrown into the scales, and death for the loser.

Kerrigan grunted, let go his hold on the thick throat, and seized the knife-wrist in both hands. He jerked downward, and a gasp of pain escaped from the man's lips as the bone cracked. He dropped the dagger.

Johnny let go of him, vaulted over the back of the seat, and caught him by the coat just as he was turning to run.

The fellow snarled, stooped and snatched up the knife in his left hand, tried to slash with it. Johnny stepped in again, and smashed home a left and a right to his face, rocking him back off balance so that the knife could not be swung. The fellow turned to run, heading for the exit at the side.

Johnny started after him, but the man was already at the exit door. He ripped it open, and leaped out into the alley.

Kerrigan was only a couple of feet behind him, coming fast. Abruptly, he heard a sound which slapped against his eardrums with the dread familiarity of doom. It was the sound of a machine gun, beginning its deadly stutter of death.

Johnny stopped short, remaining just inside the theatre, out of the line of fire of that deadly spray of bullets in the alley.

But the other man was already out in the open, facing the gun. Johnny saw the flashing, spitting muzzle of the machine-gun, farther up the alley, toward the street. Petrie had warned him of this. The knife-man must have known about it too, but he was probably dazed by his broken wrist, confused and panic-stricken at his failure.

Whatever the cause of his error, the knife-man was paying for it with his life. He was the same build as Kerrigan, and he wore the same kind of hat. That gunner out there must have been sure that it was Kerrigan. The spray of machine-gun bullets was a little high, but not too high to miss the knife-man....

Almost before the machine-gun ceased its chattering clatter of destruction, Johnny Kerrigan was out in the alley, with a big service revolver in his hand. He glimpsed the figure of the machine-gunner slinging the weapon to his shoulder and turning to run toward a car parked out at the curb, in front of the alley's mouth.

Instinctively Johnny raised his gun. The machine-gunner was an easy mark—Johnny had only to pull the trigger. But his eyes narrowed; and he lowered the gun without firing, an idea growing into a plan within his brain.

He made no attempt to stop the fleeing car into which the machine-gunner had leaped. Instead, he knelt swiftly beside the dead killer, and went through his pockets. The man had removed all identifying marks from his clothing, as well as all objects from his pockets.

Kerrigan took off his own hat and dropped it beside the dead body, picking up the knife-man's hat in exchange. It had fallen from the fellow's head as he had stumbled out into the alley, and had consequently escaped a riddling. It was in serviceable shape.

Johnny thrust the hat on his head, and dashed out of the alley. He heard shouts from the theatre, where the audience had finally awakened to the fact that a real struggle had been taking place right behind their backs. But there was no rush of people out into the alley. They had heard the chopping machine-gun, and they had no desire to court its chattering attention.

Kerrigan ducked down the street, crossed to the other side and disappeared into another alley, just as a uniformed policeman came pounding down from the corner.

Kerrigan stood in the shadows for a moment. The officer, fortunately, had not noticed him.

Johnny found a cab and climbed into it, ordering the driver uptown to Slocum Street. As they pulled away to the accompaniment of the sirens, Kerrigan nodded in bleak satisfaction. That knifeman was no longer recognizable, and he was lying there with Kerrigan's hat beside him—a hat with the initials, JK, in the band, and the maker's name plainly stamped on the label. That dead man would be assumed to be one, Kerrigan, of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Johnny intended to make the most of that piece of good luck.


CHAPTER THREE. — THE LADY AND THE GUN

SLOCUM STREET was residential. It was an old, conservative street, with no great apartment houses. At one time, the aristocracy of the city had lived here. Now these rambling old houses set back from the street, shaded by venerable elms, were a bit seedy and run down, with peeling paint and patched roofs. Several of them had "Furnished Rooms" signs, and on the ground floor of Number 23 there was a modest card:


STELLA LAWRENCE
DRESSMAKER


Kerrigan had his cabby drive past the house without stopping. He got out at the next corner, his keen eyes scanning both sides of the street. He was not yet sure whether that message left by Petrie on the back of the motion picture theatre seat had been seen by anyone else. If it had, then 23 Slocum Street would be covered.

But he could spot nobody in the street, nor could he see anyone lurking at the windows of the neighboring houses.

He walked back from the corner, turned into the flagstone path, and went up the three steps of the porch to the door. Another card over the bell just gave the name of Stella Lawrence.

Kerrigan didn't ring the bell. He remembered, as if it was etched indelibly in his brain, Petrie's death-message: Knock twice, then three times.

If Petrie had said knock, that was what he had meant. But if Petrie's killers had written that message after killing the Military Intelligence man, that signal might be a trap. It was conceivable that the killers had written the message. Kerrigan knew how thorough were the men with whom he had to deal. They made their plans carefully, and then, just to make doubly sure, they made another, supplementary set of plans, in case the first one failed.

He shrugged, raised his hand, and rapped the signal.

He waited, outwardly at ease, inwardly keyed to the steel-spring tension that could erupt into lightning-like action.

From within came the sound of movement, close to the door. A bolt scraped back. The knob turned, and the door opened wide.

Kerrigan looked into a dim hall from which all light had been excluded.

Facing him, about five feet from the door, was the girl in the tan sweater.

She looked just as she had looked earlier. She was still holding that covered tennis racket under her arm.

"Come in," she said.

Johnny Kerrigan didn't move. His eyes swept down the hall behind her, to the open doorway that led into a living room. He could discern no sign of life in there, but he noted that she was five feet from the door. She could not have opened it and stepped back that far. Someone else had opened the door—someone who waited behind the door.

"Good afternoon, Miss Lane," Johnny said, still not moving.

Her eyes flickered. She moved the tennis racket a little. It was resting under her arm, with the wide part close to her body and the handle poking out to the front.

Kerrigan's blood raced as he noted that the end of that handle was not covered. And it was not wood. It was a round, open muzzle! Inside that cover was no tennis racket, but a small sub-machine-gun!

The girl was breathing fast as she pointed the disguised gun.

"Come in," she repeated.

"Sure," said Kerrigan. "Always glad to oblige a lady."

He started forward, threw himself in to a low tackle, and hurtled the short distance between them like a driving catapult.

The girl uttered a startled cry. "Paul! Help!"


SHE could have pulled the trigger and sent a blasting hail of slugs into Kerrigan's body; but his motions had been utterly deceptive. His slow drawl and his even slower start had caught her off guard. And his quick switch to blinding action had taken her completely by surprise. In the second which she needed to ready herself, he struck her, winding his arms around her waist and carrying her backward with him.

Kerrigan swung her off her feet, snatched the machine-gun from her and threw it into a corner. Then he drew his revolver, and swung to face the door, holding her struggling body close to him.

He leveled his gun at the young man who had been hiding behind the door, with an automatic pistol in his hand.

"All right, sport," said Johnny. "Start shooting any time you like."

The young fellow was tall, hardly more than twenty-five or twenty-six, with blond hair and light blue eyes. He said, "Let go of Ellen!"

"Put down the gun, sport, and I'll let her go."

"Put it down, Paul," the girl said tiredly. "He'll kill you."

"Let him kill me. I don't care any more. He'll kill us both anyway."

"You're crazy," Johnny said. "I won't kill either of you. I don't kill kids. I leave that to the Nazis."

The boy's eyes opened wide. "You—you're not—one of Keppler's men?"

Kerrigan laughed harshly. "Ask your girl friend. She knows me. She called me by name this afternoon."

"Put the gun away, Paul," the girl repeated. "And close the door. Let's talk to him. I think we've made a mistake."

The blond young man hesitated, watching Kerrigan covertly.

Johnny grinned. He kept his hold on the girl, but he replaced his revolver in its holster.

"There!" he said. "How's that for disarmament?"

Paul slowly lowered his own automatic, and put it in his pocket.

"Let's go inside," Ellen said, and led the way.

In the living room, the radio was turned on low, to the news reports. Paul put his arm around the girl's shoulders, and they both faced Johnny Kerrigan, studying him, not quite sure of themselves.

"Well?" asked the girl.

"You came over to me today, at the corner of Seventh and Myrtle," Kerrigan said. "You called me by name, warned me to go away. You told me that Petrie, the Military Intelligence man, had been killed."

"Yes," she said. "I told you that."

"How did you know?"

"Before I answer that," she said, "I want to know if you're really Kerrigan. Prove to me that you're Kerrigan."

Johnny took an identification card-case from his pocket, flipped it open, and showed it to her. Paul peered down at it carefully, studying the picture and comparing it with Johnny's features.

"He's Kerrigan, all right," he said.

Suddenly the girl smiled. "I was sure you were Kerrigan, but after I talked to you at the corner of Seventh and Myrtle, I thought perhaps I'd been mistaken. You see, I stood right behind two men at the railroad station who were watching for you. I heard one of them tell the other who you were, and that they were not to follow you, because they knew just where you were going. He said you were to meet a man named Petrie at the corner of Seventh and Myrtle, and that you would be followed from there."

"Tell me more about this," Johnny said grimly. "Who were those men?"

"Two agents of the Gestapo here in Coast City."

The girl glanced inquiringly at Paul. He nodded. "I think it's safe to tell him. Go ahead."

She looked back at Johnny. "I'm Ellen Lane. This is Paul Strang. We're engaged. He's the son of Johann Strang, the German Consul here. His father hates the Nazis. He has refused to cooperate with them. He told Paul a little of what was going on, and Paul told me. There's a man named Fritz Albrecht here in Coast City—a terrible man. He's in charge of all sabotage work in America. They must be plotting something tremendous to bring him here in person. What it is, we don't know. But we do know that Paul's father's life is in danger. We also know that they got hold of the message that Petrie sent to his headquarters, and that they decoded an ad in the personal column of the Courier. They killed Petrie, and they were going to wait till you met your two friends, Murdoch and Klaw, and kill the three of you at once—"

"Just a minute," Johnny interrupted. "You told me before that they had killed Petrie. When did this happen?"

"This morning at eleven o'clock."

"You're sure?"

"Of course we're sure. They killed him out in back of Paul's father's house. They shot him with a machine-gun."

Johnny nodded. "Then Petrie couldn't have met me this afternoon at three-thirty—"

"That's what Ellen's been trying to tell you!" Paul Strang exclaimed.

"What would you say," Kerrigan asked them, "if I told you that I did meet Petrie at three-thirty?"

"Impossible!" said Paul. "My dad went out of town on a secret mission, and while he was out, Petrie called up and said he was coming over—about something important. Dad was working secretly with Petrie, giving him information about Nazi activities. It was because of the information my dad gave him, that Petrie wired Washington for help."

He paused, his arm tightening around Ellen. "Well, Ellen and I waited up for Petrie. We watched for him through the back window of the upstairs bedroom. He was supposed to come in through the rear. We saw him coming across the open lot, from the back street, and then we saw the car coming along the street behind him. He was too far away for us to warn him. Someone stuck a machine-gun out of the car and blasted away. Then the car streaked away."

"Did you see Petrie's face?" Kerrigan asked.

"No. He was too far away. But it was his build, and we were expecting him."

"I'm sorry," said Johnny. "It wasn't Petrie who was killed this morning. I met him. He was killed all right—but not till four o'clock this afternoon!"

The faces of the boy and girl were suddenly white. "Then—then who—"

"I hate to ask this," Kerrigan said slowly, looking Paul Strang squarely in the eyes. "But—what did your father look like? Was his general build the same as Petrie's? Could you have mistaken your father for Petrie?"

He had his answer in the sudden ghastly look of pain in the boy's eyes.

"Yes!" Paul whispered. "God help me, I could have been mistaken!"

"I'm sorry," Johnny said.

The boy's face suddenly hardened, his blue eyes flashed. "They knew they were killing dad! The beasts! They had to get rid of him, so he wouldn't spoil their plans. Well, they haven't heard the last from the Strangs! I'm an American! I have my citizenship papers. With dad dead, I'm not afraid of them any more. By God, I'm going to avenge my father if it means killing the whole damned Nazi crew!"

"I'm with you, Paul!" the girl whispered.

Just then, the voice on the radio changed. A local newscaster came on. Ellen hurried over, and turned the volume up. The announcer was saying:


"Two more killings have quickly followed the murder of the unidentified man who was machine-gunned this morning, behind the home of the German Consul. This time, one man was stabbed to death in a motion picture theatre, and the other was blasted by a machine-gun, in the same manner as the morning's victim. Police are at a loss to assign a motive for these killings. No identification was found on this morning's victim, or on the body of the man who was stabbed. But the man who met his death by machine-gun fire in an alley beside the East End Theatre has been identified by his hat. It contained initials and a Washington men's clothing store address. Through this address, it has been established that the victim is John Kerrigan, an F.B.I. agent...."


Ellen Lane and Paul Strang turned to look at Johnny.

Kerrigan chuckled. "Don't believe everything you hear. Those boys wanted me dead, so I obliged by leaving my hat. Now let's get out of here."

"Where?" demanded Ellen.

"To the Coast Hotel. My two friends ought to be in by this time. They'll be interested to meet my corpse!"


CHAPTER FOUR. — "YOU CAN'T KILL A G-MAN"

IN room 504 of the Coast Hotel, Dan Murdoch snapped off the radio, and stood for a moment with his hand on the knob. His eyes were fixed blankly on the wall. Then he turned around slowly and faced his partner, Stephen Klaw.

"I don't believe it!" he said hoarsely. "Johnny wouldn't let them shoot his head off with a machine-gun—like any dumb lug!"

Stephen Klaw sat very stiff and straight in his chair.

"We have to find out, Dan," he said. "We have to find out if that was really Johnny." He got up, went to the window, and pulled the blind back a little. He peered out through the crack.

"One of the two guys who followed us from the airport is out there across the street, watching this window. The other one must be downstairs in the lobby."

"Let's find out from them," Murdoch said. "Let's bring one of them up here, and—"

"No. If Johnny's dead, he'd want us to carry on. We've got to find out what Petrie had to tell him. If Petrie's dead too, then we must find out some other way. Johnny'd want us to clean up for him."

These two—the other two-thirds of the Suicide Squad—were not ones to show emotion. But each knew how the other felt. They had come a long way together, the three of them. Their lives, individually and severally, were long ago forfeit to the laws of chance and the odds on death. It was their job to pull the beard of the Grim Reaper. Not for nothing were they known as the Suicide Squad. They never got a routine job, but were kept in reserve for the cases which called for their particular qualities—reckless daring and a total disregard for personal safety. It was the way they wanted it.

Once there had been five men in the Suicide Squad. Then only four. Then three.

Now, Murdoch and Klaw sat in this hotel room and wondered whether they were only two. Tomorrow, there might be only one—or none.

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 house; Stephen Klaw had once told a Senate Investigating Committee chairman to go to hell when he had been asked why he had shot to kill, in a gun battle with bandits.

Such offenses would have brought about the immediate discharge of any other F.B.I. men. But such was the record of these three, public resentment would have been raised at their dismissal. The Chief of the F.B.I. had used this argument to good advantage on several occasions in refusing to fire them.

He had been allowed to keep them in service on the condition that they were never given ordinary assignments, where they might come in contact with the powers-that-be. So they got only those jobs which the Chief hesitated to assign, or even to ask for volunteers. They took the jobs gratefully, because it was in their nature to seek that kind of danger. They would have been unhappy—without Death at their elbows.

They had always hoped the end would come for all three of them together; shoulder to shoulder, they'd go down with blazing guns.

"If they really got him," Stephen Klaw said tightly, "we'll give them a show they'll never forget!"

They had just gotten into the hotel a few minutes ago, without baggage. When the Suicide Squad was working on an assignment, they never carried baggage. They worked without benefit of laundry. Theirs was a simple system: they bought fresh clothes, and gave away the dirty. In this way they were never hampered by possessions. Their salary, plus their expense account, adequately covered this unique method of working. Though they never bothered to submit an expense account, the Chief of the F B.I. thoughtfully issued generous vouchers for them whenever he figured they needed money. For money was the last thing in the world to which Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw ever gave any consideration.

Dan Murdoch had come up alongside Steve, and was peering cautiously out the window.

"Well," he said. "It looks like somebody in the hotel is getting company!" A police car had pulled in to the opposite curb. Two plain-clothes men and two uniformed policemen had descended from it. They were crossing toward the hotel.

"I don't like the looks of it," Steve muttered. "They could be coming for us."

"The police in this town are supposed to be okay," said Murdoch.

"Yes. But we ought to play it safe."

"The next room is vacant," said Murdoch. "I saw the key in the reservation box. One of us could cover from there—"

"You do it, Dan."

Murdoch shrugged. He took a set of passkeys from his pocket, and went to the connecting door. In a moment he was through, into the next room.

He wasn't any too soon, for almost at once a knock sounded on the corridor door.

"Open, in the name of the law!"


STEPHEN KLAW'S eyes became dark and hot. "Close the door, Dan."

As soon as Murdoch had closed the connecting door between them, Klaw went to the corridor door.

"Who is it?" he asked.

"Open up," said a voice. "This is Captain Warren of Homicide!"

Steve opened the door.

The headquarters men who had descended from the police car were grouped close to the door. Captain Warren was a large, florid man, with a pair of keen gray eyes. He showed his badge and stepped in, followed by the plain-clothes man and the two uniformed policemen. He eyed Steve carefully.

Klaw was slim and wiry, so youthful in appearance that he could have been mistaken for a college kid on vacation. Few people, looking at him, realized that his compact frame carried one hundred and sixty pounds of bone and muscle.

Captain Warren said, "You don't look like a murderer."

Steve raised his eyebrows. "Murderer?"

Warren motioned to the plain-clothes man beside him. "This is Sergeant Rand, also of Homicide." His eyes strayed around the room. "I thought there were two of you."

"There were," said Steve.

"What happened to the other fellow?"

"I murdered him."

"Now don't get funny!" Captain Warren barked. "How long you been in town?"

"You're asking too many questions," Steve replied. "Suppose I ask one. What are you doing here?"

"We're after a couple of murderers," Warren told him, suddenly smooth again. "We were tipped off that the two killers who machine-gunned that man at the theatre were hiding out in this room. Whoever did that job also pulled the one the morning, near the German consul's house. Anything you say may be used against you—"

"Thank you," said Steve. His eyes were bright and hot. He was being accused of having murdered Johnny Kerrigan! "Of course, if that's the case, I'll answer any questions you have to ask."

"You had a friend with you. Where is he?"

"He left for Alaska five minutes ago—" Sergeant Rand broke in angrily. "He's one of these wise-guys, Captain. Let's take him in—"

Warren raised a hand. "Wait!" He was watching Steve. "All right, never mind your friend for the moment. What time did you get in town?"

"We checked into the hotel at exactly three-fifty-nine. You can check at the desk."

Warren nodded. "Time enough to knock off that guy at the theatre and to get here."

"That's right," said Steve.

"Where do you come from?"

"Oakland, last."

"What's your business?"

"I'm in the exterminating business," Steve told him. "I exterminate rats."

Sergeant Rand uttered a short, barking laugh. "How do you get rid of them? With machine-guns?"

Warren nodded to the two uniformed men. "Go through the room. See what you can find."

"I have no baggage," Steve said.

"I can see that," Warren observed. "It's not baggage we're looking for."

From the bathroom, came the voice of one of the cops. "Here it is, Captain!"

He came out with an extremely long and narrow suitcase. "It was in the bathtub, hidden by the shower sheet."

The cop put the suitcase on the floor and snapped the catch. The lid came open, revealing a shiny, well-oiled machine-gun!

"Well," said Captain Warren. "What's your story?"

"Offhand," Steve replied, "I'd say that you planted it here."

Warren's face flushed. "You little squirt—" He took a step forward, raising a fist.

Steve didn't give an inch. He looked up into Warren's face, smiling thinly, tightly. "Yes, Captain?"

Warren stopped short, his fist still raised. "You're lucky I don't believe in roughhouse!" he growled.

"Lucky?" Steve retorted. "With a machine-gun planted in my room? And a murder rap tied to it?"


WARREN frowned, studying him closely. "There is something smelly about this. You're just a kid. You don't look like a hopped-up gunman who'd work a chopper as cold-bloodedly as this one was worked."

"Thank you, Captain. Do you mind telling me how you knew about that gun?"

"We were tipped off. Anonymously."

"Then this could be a frame?"

"Sure it could. But you're not helping yourself much. What time did you get into town?"

"At three-thirty-seven, from an airliner at the airport."

"Did you come straight here?"

"No, we walked around the town a little, to get acquainted with it."

"So you can't show an alibi for three-fifty-one?"

"I'm sorry, no."

"Well, who are you?"

That was a question Steve couldn't answer. He couldn't say that he was an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, here on official business. Because the Chief had told him, as he had told Kerrigan, that this was to be the Suicide Squad's private war. They were here on official business, all right—but unofficially.

"The name is Klaw," he said. "S. Klaw."

"I know that!" Warren growled impatiently. "It's on the register downstairs. It doesn't mean a thing to me. Tell me more, if you're interested in beating this rap. I'd like to help you, but you're not making it easy."

"I'm sorry, Captain," Steve said sincerely. "I really appreciate the way you're handling this. But there's no more I can tell you."

Warren shrugged. "In that case, I'll have to take you in. I haven't any choice but—"

Suddenly, from out in the hall, there came a wild, frantic scream, followed by a high-pitched shout.

"Help! They're killing me! Help!"

The cry was drowned out by two thunderous revolver shots. The echo of the shots rolled away, and was followed by the slamming of a door somewhere out in the corridor.

Everybody in the room sprang to attention. Warren swung toward the door, followed by Rand and the two cops. For the moment, Stephen Klaw was forgotten.

"It's a killing!" Warren shouted. "Let's go!"

He tore open the corridor door and dashed out, drawing his service revolver, with Rand and the others at his heels.

The smell of cordite was pungent in the hall, indicating that the shooting had taken place right out here. But there was no one in sight.

"Spread out!" Warren ordered. "Casey, Wolfe, try every door! Rand, cover the emergency exit! Watch, the fire-stairs! I'll cover the hall out here in case he tries to make a break for the elevators."

Inside his room, Stephen Klaw did not seem at all excited to this new activity. He stepped calmly to the corridor door, closed and locked it, then called, "Okay Dan. You can come in."

Dan Murdoch entered grinning, through the connecting door of the next room. A smoking revolver was still in his hand.

"How did I do, Shrimp?"

"Not bad, Mope. That scream was a work of art. And you spaced the shots nicely, too. They'll be looking for a body in every room on the floor."

"Now all we have to do is get out of here," said Murdoch.

He went to the window, opened it.

Steve was already yanking sheets off the bed, and tearing them into strips, then twisting them around and knotting them together. No useless words were spoken, no useless instructions given. They had worked so long together that they could almost read each other's minds; they could tell what the other would do under given conditions. And now, as they made a short rope of the sheets, they thought of Johnny Kerrigan....

There was more to this job than mere personal escape from a trap. Now they had nothing to look forward to but being hunted day and night. It would have been easier to declare their identity to the police, and quit, to wire Washington that events had made it impossible for them to continue; that other men must be sent in their stead.

But that was not the way of the Suicide Squad. They had to find out what had really happened to Kerrigan. They had to square things up for him.

Murdoch fastened one end of the knotted sheet to the radiator, pulling hard at it to make sure it wouldn't give under their weight. Then he threw the other end out of the window. The improvised rope was just long enough to reach the window of the room below.

"You first, Shrimp," he said.

Steve shook his head, and bowed elaborately. "After you...."

They were kibitzing around to cover the much deeper feeling which was gnawing at each of them. Their memories were warm with the incidents of a hundred adventures which three of them had shared together.

"I think I'll take this little toy along with me," Steve said, indicating the suitcase with the machine-gun, which Warren's men had left on the floor. He closed the lid, tied another bit of sheet through the handle and around his waist, so that it hung free. Then he went over the sill.


HAND over hand he climbed down to the window below. Hanging there a moment, four stories above the ground, he peered in through the closed window. There was no one inside. He raised his head and nodded to Murdoch, who was watching from above.

"Snap it up, Shrimp," Murdoch called. "I think your friends are coming back. They must smell a rat."

"Here we go," said Steve.

He lashed out with his right foot, shattering the window pane. Then he swung himself over the ledge, into the room.

A moment later, Dan Murdoch joined him. From above, they could hear some one banging hard at the door of the room they had just left.

"Nice timing," said Murdoch.

Steve untied the valise from around his waist, picked it up. The two of them sauntered out into the corridor.

The hall was full of people, milling around and asking excited questions.

"This is an outrage!" a fat man was saying shrilly. "I thought this was a respectable hotel—"

"So did I!" said Dan Murdoch. "My friend and I refuse to remain here another minute!"

They made their way to the elevator, but there was no escape that way. A small crowd was gathered around the shaft, but the cage was not running.

They hurried past, went around the bend, and made for the fire exit. They sped down the stairs, Murdoch in the lead. They encountered no one on the third floor or second floor, but on the way down to the main floor they almost ran into Sergeant Rand, who was on his way up, with his service revolver in his hand.

He saw them coming. He raised the gun.

"Stand still!" he shouted. "So it was all a trick—"

Rand was at the foot of the stairs, and Murdoch, a little in advance of Steve, was on the sixth or seventh step. He bent down, doubling up almost into a knot, and literally rolled the rest of the way, straight at Rand.

The sergeant cursed, and lowered his revolver for a shot at Murdoch. But something came sailing through the air and struck him on the shoulder with irresistible velocity. It was Steve Klaw's valise that had appeared as though shot from a catapult.

With uncanny timing—almost as if he had known exactly what Dan was going to do—Steve had slung that valise.

The sergeant staggered backward, without firing his gun. Dan Murdoch got in front of him, smiling apologetically.

"I regret this exceedingly, Sergeant," Dan said in that suave way of his, and drove a hard fist to Rand's jaw. The blow scarcely traveled five inches.

Rand went down, cold. Murdoch rubbed his knuckles. "The sergeant has a pretty tough jaw. Remind me to apologize to him sometime."

Steve picked up the valise again. "So far, you're batting a thousand, Mope. Let's go!"

They left Rand lying on the floor, and went out through the emergency fire door, into the alley alongside the hotel.

There was a lot of excitement out in the street. A siren was playing a wild dirge, and people were crowding toward the hotel entrance, around the two police cars which were pulling up.

Murdoch and Klaw stepped out into the crowd unobserved.

"Which way do we go, Dan?" Steve asked. "East or west?"

"I think," Dan Murdoch said in a queer, choked voice, "that we will go across the street and punch somebody square in the nose for giving us gray hairs!"

Steve's eyes glinted joyfully as he followed Dan's glance.

"Thank God!" he whispered, his strong fingers on Dan's shoulder.

There, in a taxicab across the street, right behind a police car, they saw Johnny Kerrigan sitting with Ellen Lane and Paul Strang. Johnny was grinning at them like an Andalusian ape.


CHAPTER FIVE. — SUBSCRIPTION—TO DEATH!

HERR HORST KEPPLER was absently polishing his monocle. He was not any too happy. "But my dear Doktor Albrecht," he said, "you must at least grant that I have accomplished a good deal today. My men have eliminated Johann Strang, who was the most dangerous to our plans, for he knew so much of them. In addition, we have liquidated the Military Intelligence man, Petrie, as well as that Kerrigan."

Professor Harold Cornish, alias Doktor Fritz Albrecht, was pacing up and down the secret office. He turned his small eyes, cloaked by the thick lenses, upon Keppler.

"All that is not enough, Keppler. I gave you instructions to eliminate the other two—Murdoch and Klaw."

"That is true, Doktor Albrecht. But a peculiar circumstance arose. My chief lieutenant—Max Gussnig—has disappeared. It was he who stabbed Petrie to death in the motion picture theatre, and who also sent Kerrigan, out into the alley where he was cut down by my machine-gunner. But I have not heard from Gussnig since. Perhaps he was spotted by some one at the theatre, and has had to lie low for a while. It was through him that I intended to issue orders to eliminate Murdoch and Klaw. But I've had to handle them in different fashion, by throwing suspicion upon them for the other killings. I had a machine-gun planted in their room, and informed the police."

"But they have escaped, Keppler."

"They are devils, Herr Doktor. They are very clever."

"Yes, they are very clever," Albrecht agreed. "We should have men like them working for us. Men who can think quickly in an emergency. Not men who flounder around when the slightest detail goes wrong!"

As he said this he looked directly at Keppler, who grew slightly pale.

"I did my best, Herr Doktor—"

"Your best was not enough!"

"And yet, I have succeeded in reducing the danger from those two. They are even now being hunted throughout the city—by their own police. Sooner or later they will be caught. Probably shot on sight."

"Well," growled Albrecht, "I do not feel comfortable while those daredevils are loose. There is no telling what they will do next. Above all, we must keep them from meeting Paul Strang."

"I am sure they are too busy hiding from the police, to be in a position to contact anyone."

"Well, we shall see. We shall see."

Albrecht picked up a telescope from the desk, and went to the window. From here was afforded a clear view of the eastern end of the town, where the great manufacturing plants of Coast City were located. Dominating all the others was the huge, sprawling layout of the Lane Locomotive Works, spread out over forty acres of land, with huge funnels leaning up into the sky, and red-flecked smoke-plumes seething out in the gathering dusk. There were tremendous blast furnaces, forging and welding shops, and a huge assembly plant which alone covered seven acres.

Swinging his telescope, Albrecht sighted the proving grounds, where tanks were being tested, day and night. After the final okay, these machines of war would be ready for the long voyage to Britain.

Albrecht's pudgy face was working strangely as he studied that great unit of American industrial strength which was forging weapons to oppose the Nazi juggernaut abroad.

"Tonight it shall be destroyed!" he muttered. "Utterly destroyed. Tomorrow there will be no smoke-stacks there, no shops, no men. Nothing!"

He lowered the telescope and swung to face Keppler. His eyes were burning with a frightful, fanatical intensity.

"Our plan must proceed according to schedule. Nothing shall stop us. For six months I have worked in that plant—studying, planning. I know every nook and corner of the shops, I know its vital parts. Tonight, when I go back to work on the night shift, I shall bring them a present they will never forget!"


KEPPLER was awed by the fanaticism of the man. "You cannot fail, Herr Doktor. You are too clever for them."

"But you must do your part, Keppler. Do you understand your duties for tonight?"

"Thoroughly, Herr Doktor. At six o'clock, when the night shift goes on, the fifty men whom you have supplied with false identification cards and badges, will enter with the other workers. Each will go to the spot which you have designated on the blueprint map of the plant. At each spot there is a flame-thrower, twenty-five of them in all."

"Exactly," said Albrecht. "I made those flame-throwers myself, in that plant, while they thought I was working on their new tank designs. The stupid Americans!"

"They are no match for us," Keppler said smugly.

Albrecht waved impatiently. "Go on. Go on with the plans."

"I will be among those fifty men, of course," Keppler continued. "We will wait until you give the signal. Three sharp blasts of your whistle, followed by two blasts. At the signal, I will lead ten men to the office. There, we will seize the manager and the executive staff. We will also take the tank plans. In the meantime, the Flammenwerfer will be spreading fire and destruction throughout the plant. We will wait at the gate with our captives until you have set off the secret mine which you placed under the floorboards of your own workshop. Then, we will all leave the plant and escape in the special cars which I have prepared. We will go directly to the beach, where dories will be waiting to take us off to our waiting submarine. We will take the executives with us to Germany, where they will be questioned for the purpose of forcing them to disclose the secret speed-ratios which make their tanks so fast, and which you have been unable to steal."

"Good!" grunted Albrecht. "Also, you must remember that I want the girl, Ellen Lane. She will be there tonight. She comes every night. She must be taken back to Germany with us. Once she is in our hands, we can force her father to, become a friend of our cause, instead of a friend of Britain. Parker Lane is an important figure in American life. If he should suddenly change his views, he will command a great following among Americans who admire him. So do not forget the girl!"

"I shall not forget, Herr Doktor. She shall be my personal responsibility."

Albrecht was picking up his hat and cane, when a strange look crossed his face. Instead of saying good-by, he continued to talk in a loud voice. He came over to the desk, snatched up a pencil. Still talking, he wrote: There is somebody listening at the door!

Keppler's eyes narrowed. He opened a drawer, and snatched out an automatic. Then, while Albrecht continued his monologue, Keppler stepped over to the door, turned the knob, and pulled it open.

Young Paul Strang stood in the hall.

"What are you doing here?" Keppler demanded.

"I came to see you and Herr Doktor Albrecht."

"How did you know I had an office here?"

"I followed you once or twice, when you left the Consulate."

Keppler stepped out in the hall, glancing up and down to make sure Paul was alone. Then he prodded the young man with his gun. "Get in there!"

He pushed Paul roughly into the room.

The Herr Doktor threw an acidulous glance at Keppler. "Is this the efficiency with which you operate? You have allowed this young cur to ferret out your secret headquarters!"

Albrecht turned his small eyes upon Paul. "Why have you come here?"

"To talk with you, Herr Doktor."

"How do you know who I am?"

"My father told me about you. Last week, we saw you in the street, and he pointed you out to me. He said if ever there was trouble here in Coast City, I could be sure you'd be behind it."

"Ah, so!" said Doktor Albrecht. "What is it that you wish to say to me?"

"I want to ask you a question," Paul said. "I want to know why you murdered my father!"


FOR an instant, the Herr Doktor Albrecht was silent. He exchanged a swift glance with Keppler, and then his thick lips wreathed themselves into a smile. "Ah, so! You know that your father is dead. And you believe that it was I who ordered his execution."

"It was murder," Paul said. "This isn't Germany. The laws of Germany don't go here."

"You are mistaken, my young friend," Albrecht replied softly. "A German is subject to the laws of the Third Reich—wherever he may be. Your father was executed because he was a traitor."

"You mean," Paul said hotly, "that he was murdered because he couldn't stomach your damned Nazi treachery?"

Albrecht shrugged. "Have it your own way. Words will mean nothing when the Third Reich finally triumphs. As for you—the day shall come too late for you to see it."

"You can't kill me, too," Paul exclaimed. "You won't get away with it. My father was a subject of the Third German Reich. But not me. I'm an American citizen. My mother was an American. I'm naturalized. I'm not subject to your laws."

He took a step forward. "I don't know what name you're using here in Coast City, Herr Albrecht, but I aim to find out. I intend to find out what it is you're up to, and I'm going to spoil your little game when I do find out!"

"My poor young friend!" Albrecht smiled coldly. "You have talked yourself into an early grave!" He nodded to Keppler, who had reversed his automatic, and was standing just behind Paul. "Now, Keppler!"

Herr Keppler started to bring the gun down on Paul's head in a vicious, skull-cracking blow.

But his arm froze in mid-air. A sharp knock sounded at the door.

"Wait!" Albrecht ordered. "I must not be found here. This young fool does not know what name I am using in this city. But some one else may recognize me!"

He stepped close to Keppler and whispered, "I will leave by the side door. Get rid of whoever it is, then dispose of young Strang. You can leave his body here. After tonight, we will not need this office."

Keppler nodded, his gun digging into Paul's back. Albrecht stepped over to a side-door, opened it and slipped out. That door led through another office, into the service corridor; from there he could make his way, unobserved, out of the building.

The knock at the door was repeated.

Frowning, Keppler went and opened it. Dan Murdoch was standing there, holding half a dozen good magazines.

"Good evening," Dan said politely. "Would you be interested in combination subscriptions to America's most popular magazines? We have a special offer—"

"Gott im Himmel!" snarled Keppler.

He started to close the door, but Murdoch had his foot in the opening. "Surely you read magazines, mister? Don't you want to help me work my way through college? Now for two dollars and fifty cents—"

"Get out!" Keppler screamed.

Dan Murdoch shrugged. "All right, if that's the way you feel about it. But you're missing a real bargain."

He took his foot out of the door. Keppler tried to close it, but suddenly something was jabbed into his side. He had turned away from Paul Strang for a moment, and Paul was now poking a gun into his ribs.

The Nazi Vice-Consul's face grew mottled with rage.

Paul moved quickly out into the corridor. He took Dan Murdoch's arm. "Let's see those magazines of yours," he said. "Maybe I'll take a subscription."

"Why that's fine, mister." Murdoch smiled, and together they moved down the hall toward the elevator.

Keppler fingered the gun in his pocket. He remembered his orders from Albrecht to kill young Strang; but he also realized that in order to do it now, he must also shoot the magazine salesman. To do that, here in a public corridor, would bring plenty of trouble—it would mean that he would not be free to keep his tryst with Albrecht for the big blow-off!

The elevator stopped at the floor. Paul Strang and Dan Murdoch got into it.

"Lucky fool!" Keppler muttered. "If that magazine salesman had not happened to come to the door, you would be dead by now!"

He couldn't know that the "magazine salesman" had not come to the door by accident at all, but rather as the result of a beautifully timed plan.


CHAPTER SIX. — INFERNO!

AT six o'clock every night except Sunday, four thousand men left mammoth Lane Locomotive Works Plant, and four thousand others entered. The change of shifts was an inspiring thing to behold. Only a few months ago, the plant had been crawling along at one-fifth capacity, on a single shift. Now, under the spur of a driving faith in our own way of life and a deep-felt conviction that it must be defended at all costs, this great industrial plant was operating at two hundred percent its former capacity. New shops had been added, new assembly lines, new manpower—and a new spirit.

These skilled workers, coming in with their lunch boxes, wore the happy expressions of men who know they are earning a living and, at the same time, serving their country....

Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw stood with Paul Strang near one of the five employees' gates, watching the workers.

Each of them wore a badge, with his picture and a number on it. Ellen Lane had got them those badges, without which they wouldn't have been able to enter the plant. For months now, she had taken an active interest in the operation of the plant. The workmen loved her; their families swore by her, for she had visited many of them when they were sick.

Steve Klaw had braved the police hunt in the city, to go to a photographer's and have the pictures of himself, Kerrigan and Murdoch printed into the spaces on the badge. Thus, they were all armed with their passports into the Works.

"The way I figure it," Murdoch said, "this must be the place that Albrecht and Keppler are interested in. When the door was open, I got a quick look into the office. There was a telescope on the desk. And the window looked right out toward this plant."

"If you're right," Steve Klaw said, "it was a clever piece of work to send Paul up there. If you're wrong, we'll be wasting our time tonight."

"We might as well go in," said Johnny Kerrigan. "The whistle will be blowing in a minute. If anything's slated to happen, we'd better be inside."

The four of them joined the moving throng, and passed through the gate without being challenged.

Paul Strang looked a little worried. "I'm going over to the Executive Office. Ellen will be there. If anything breaks, I want to be near her."

"Right," said Stephen Klaw. "The program is to separate now, sort of snoop around. If nothing happens in an hour, we meet at this gate."

He glanced around. To the left were the proving grounds for the baby tanks; beyond them, the testing field for the heavy tanks. The baby tanks, under a new plan being formulated by the British, were to be used as a screen for the big monsters. These little ones could travel at sixty miles per hour, and the important secret of the Lane Locomotive Works was their hundred-ton tank which was geared in such proportion that it could travel at the same speed. It was the secret which Albrecht wanted so badly.

"You better take the proving grounds, Shrimp," Kerrigan said. "You took a course in tank maneuver. If there's anything screwy going on over there, you'll be able to smell it out."

"All right," said Steve. "And you better take the forge. Dan will take the Assembly Plant. Remember: Back here in an hour!"


STEPHEN KLAW moved out into the proving grounds, one of a hundred men. His keen eyes studied these others, then swept on to the field, where an experimental baby tank was waiting to be tested.

He was halfway across the grounds when he heard the shrill whistle—three sharp blasts, then two. The sound cut across the field, stopping the men in their tracks. It was a new sound.

Almost at once, a great red streak of fire burst into life behind them, near the gate. It flamed across the yard, struck against the steel of the Administration Building. The hot flame seared the face of the building, swung down and slashed through the windows—at the workers inside!

At the same time, other flame-throwers burst into fiery brilliance in other parts of the plant. Screams came now from all sides.

Stephen Klaw cursed under his breath. Albrecht's men had struck without delay. How many of them there might be, he had no way of telling, but that they would be well organized, he was sure. Their plan would succeed, unless he and Kerrigan and Murdoch stopped it. Three men against an organized group of destruction!

All over the place now, the terrible Flammenwerfer were hurling blazing death at the workers. Thousands of men and women were running about madly, in frenzied panic.

Steve caught sight of Murdoch and Kerrigan, together, their guns blazing in unison as they fought back a group of flame-throwers from a great milling throng of workers. Kerrigan and Murdoch weren't going to join him. They were going to stop right there and protect those defenseless men and women.

Steve groaned. They were throwing away their lives! They couldn't hope to hold those Flammenwerfer off for more than a couple of minutes. When their guns were empty, they would go down....

Steve deliberately turned and ran in the opposite direction!

The men around him had dispersed, seeking shelter as best they could, and he had the field to himself. He covered it like a sprinter, heading straight for that baby tank in the proving grounds.

There was no one near it. He climbed up into the open turret, breathing a silent prayer that it was fully equipped and ready for an action test.

He slid in under the controls, and his practiced fingers found the starter button. He shoved it in, fed her gas, and the tank rumbled a quick response.

Steve Klaw breathed another prayer, one of fervent thanks, this time. The tank reacted to his every touch on the controls. He sent it hurtling across the field, toward where Kerrigan and Murdoch were fighting off the Flammenwerfer. The machine bounced over a rough spot, jolting him hard, but he only grinned, and stepped up the speed. He pulled the trip of the manifold machine-gun on the front of the turret, and let go with a trial burst. The slugs sang across the field, high over the Flammenwerfer.

Kerrigan and Murdoch saw him coming. They shouted to him.

The Flammenwerfer saw the tank too, and turned their attention from the slaughter of defenseless men and women to a real battle. Steve, his eyes glittering with unholy pleasure, lowered the sights of the machine-gun, and sent a burst right into their midst. The hail of slugs from the quadruple-banked forward machine-guns mowed down the flame-throwers.

Steve headed straight for Johnny and Dan, yelling for them to climb aboard. The danger was far from over, for most of the flame-throwers were coming from other parts of the vast plant, in a mass attack on the single tank. At their head was the pudgy figure of Doktor Albrecht, with Keppler at his side.

Steve spied Ellen Lane and Paul Strang, off to the left, running toward them. Paul staggered as a bullet hit him.

Far to the right, Steve spied the source of that shot. Some of the Nazis had captured the guard tower near the gate. They were entrenched there with machine-guns and they were raking the yard.

Steve headed the tank toward Ellen, who was trying to support Paul Strang and run with him at the same time. Kerrigan and Murdoch reached them at the same time, and Steve swung the tank around in such a way as to shield Ellen and Paul from the machine-gun in the guard tower.

Dan Murdoch got hold of Paul, hauled him up, and dumped down inside the tank. Then he stood next to Steve, head and shoulders out of the turret, disdainful of the barrage from the guard tower. He swung the rear machine-guns to bear on the Nazis—just as the attack from the Flammenwerfer broke against them.


THE flame-throwers were spread out in open array, under the direction of Albrecht and Keppler. From three sides at once, the hot fire concentrated on the tank.

Steve held the machine right where it was, for Kerrigan was trying to boost Ellen Lane inside. He couldn't get a hold on the smooth metal side, and Dan Murdoch swiftly ripped off his belt, fastened it around a strut, and let the other end hang.

"Grab it, Johnny!" he yelled, above the sounds of battle.

Kerrigan grinned. He had his arm around Ellen's waist. With his other hand he gripped the strap, and boosted himself up. As soon as he was on, Steve swung the tank around and headed right into the thick of the flame-throwers. Kerrigan dumped Ellen inside, alongside of Paul, and took his place at the port guns. Now, the three of them worked those machine-guns like men possessed. Kerrigan and Klaw turned their fire on the flame-throwers, while Murdoch concentrated on the guard tower....

Hot flame seared their faces, and bullets whipped a leaden hail around them. But the three grinning ghouls of destiny didn't heed the fire or the bullets. They rode down into the flame-throwers without slackening speed....

All through the fight, Stephen Klaw kept his eye on Albrecht. At last, there were only a handful of the flame-throwers left. They had taken refuge in a corner, at the angle where two buildings met. And now, as the tank headed toward them, they threw down their deadly weapons and raised their hands.

"Kamerad!" they shouted. Foremost among those who shouted surrender were Albrecht and Keppler.

Stephen Klaw growled. "Do we have to let those rats live?"

"I think not!" Dan Murdoch said softly. He pointed at a mob of men—workers in the plant—who were sweeping down upon the Nazis.


TEN minutes later, Dan Murdoch said soberly, "Well, Albrecht and Keppler died quickly, anyway. If they had ever got back to Germany, they might have died the hard way, as penalty for failure."

Kerrigan, Murdoch and Klaw looked at each other solemnly. Then they looked at Ellen Lane, who was binding Paul's wound, and whispering in his ear.

"H'mph!" said Kerrigan. "Let's get out of here."

"Let's get a drink," said Dan Murdoch. "I need one."



Follow the thrilling adventures of these three crime-crusaders in future issues of this magazine. Mr. Tepperman tells us that he gets as big a kick out of writing these stories as you get from reading them; and he's promised to keep the Suicide Squad in action for a long while.


THE END



THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
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